Steak Knife Buying Guide
What should you look for when purchasing a steak knife set? Of course you want sharp steak knives but, other than that, is there really much of a difference between one steak knife and another? You bet there is. The quality of your steak knife and its various specifications will affect the way it cuts your meat, how long it stays sharp, your ability to sharpen it yourself, how long it will remain rust-free, the best way to care for it, and how well it will stand up to regular use.
In this article, we will explore the ways that the type of steak knives you purchase will impact your experience with them. Everyone’s needs and level of knowledge is different when it comes to these types of purchases. For that reason, I have included some handy headers to help you navigate your way through this page.
Straight or Serrated Blade
The type of blade, straight or serrated, makes a big difference in the way you will cut your meat. If you do not think that you know the difference between straight and serrated blades, you are probably wrong. Like many other people, you just may not have heard the word “serrated” before. It is fairly obvious that straight-edge blades are straight. They have no ridges, just a thin, sharp edge for cutting through food. Serrated blades, on the other hand, have ridges or teeth.
You may already know that a straight blade is best for cutting fruit and vegetables and that a serrated blade is preferable for crusty breads. What you may be asking yourself now is, “What’s best for a steak or other types of meat?”
The answer to that question isn’t exactly as straight-forward as you may imagine. First of all, there are two different types of serrated blades – those with small serrations and those with large serrations. Let’s begin by discussing straight-edge steak knives, then move on to discuss smaller serrations and finish off by discussing large serrations.
Straight-edge knives will wear down the fastest of any of the three types of knives, especially when made from high-carbon steel. They wear down quickly because, instead of working atop wood or plastic like most kitchen knives, steak knives usually cut across the top of ceramic or glass plates. So, you will find yourself needing to sharpen your straight-edge steak knives much more often than your serrated steak knives.
So why would anyone want a straight-edge steak knife to begin with? Straight-edge blades create a much cleaner cut. Whereas serrated blades use their teeth to tear through your meat (basically shredding it apart), straight-edge knives (when sharp) make a nice clean, straight cut. Not only does this look nicer, it is also a smoother, more effortless cut. Additionally, it allows all of the wonderfully tasty juices to stay inside the meat instead of bleeding out onto your plate.
I’m making straight-edge steak knives sound rather wonderful, aren’t I? The truth is that many people do find them preferable. However, serrated blades also have their benefits. As you have already seen, they do not require sharpening as often. In fact, the larger the serrations, the less often sharpening will be necessary. You may find that it is necessary to sharpen straight-edge steak knives as often as once every one to three months (depending upon how often you use them). Serrated blades, on the other hand, are much more likely to last well over a year without needing to be sharpened. Also, serrated blades tend to accomplish their goals even when they are becoming dull.
What is the difference between small serrations and large serrations? Small serrations are small gaps between the teeth of the knife. In fact, these teeth are usually very well defined and stick out quite far. Knives with small serrations grow dull faster that those with large serrations, but not as quickly as straight-edge knives. Large serrations are large gaps between the “teeth” of the knife. This type of knife doesn’t feature as obvious of teeth, however. Not only do they feature longer gaps between them than do those with small serrations, the teeth on these knives do not stick out as far.
First and foremost, let’s consider blade material. The two major types of material you will find yourself having to choose between are high-carbon steel and stainless steel. High-carbon steel is usually preferred by most restaurant and home chefs. It is easier to sharpen than stainless steel and stays sharp for much longer. If you are looking for quality, high-carbon is the way to go.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, stainless steel is much more convenient. Although you may need to sharpen it more often and that sharpening will more difficult, this will really only be a major concern if you choose to purchase knives with straight blades. Another positive for stainless steel is that you will not need to worry about it rusting and you can easily throw it in a dishwasher without care. High-carbon steel, on the other hand, should be hand-washed and dried immediately to prevent staining and rusting.
I believe that it is also important to discuss handle material. This isn’t a subject I discuss often when considering other types of knives, but I am well aware than many people base their steak knife purchases upon appearance more than on performance, because these are knives which will be used by guests. There is nothing wrong with coordinating your steak knives to match your décor and other tableware. There are, however, a few things you should consider if you do choose to do that.
Personally, my favorite steak knives are fully forged of steel. They are seamless, from handle to tip, and made from one single piece of metal. This is my preference, simply because I know that this type of knife is never going to fall apart. These knives are, however, quite difficult to find. More often than not, you will find steak knives with wooden handles or plastics handles.
Wooden handles tend to be preferred by many people, because they have a more refined appearance. I know many people who simply will not accept plastic on their tabletops and, thus, choose steak knives with wooden handles. Many of them change their minds rather quickly, however, once they realize that their wooden handles begin to have a terrible odor. This is usually the result of wood rot. It is extremely important not to soak your wooden-handled steak knives. Instead, wash the blade then wipe down the handle with a damp cloth. Even if you remove the knife from the water and dry it with a towel, water will make its way through the wood and it will slowly begin to rot from the inside out. Wood is, however, much more durable than many forms of plastic, which often grow dry and brittle over time. Weigh your decision with all of these things in mind, or just do what I do – look for an almost entire full-metal option.
You Want Full Tang
Even if you aren’t sure what “full tang” means, I am willing to bet that it is something you want. Unless you are lucky enough to find the all-metal knives of which I am a fan, you will find yourself using some sort of steak knife which combines two types of material – metal and wood or metal and plastic. In full tang knives, the metal from the blade of the knife runs all the way through to the bottom of the handle. It is secured to the handle with two or three metal rivets.
Knives whose blades only go half-way down the length of the handle (or less) will not be nearly as strong. Placing pressure on them while cutting through meat can slowly bend the blade. Also, this kind of knife is often held together with only one rivet, making it much more likely to come apart over time.
It is important to pay attention to the size of a set when purchasing steak knives. Some knives are sold in sets of four, others in sets of six. It is even possible to find large sets capable of accommodating up to ten people or more. It is especially important to pay attention to the size of a set when purchasing steak knives online. While it’s easy to notice the difference between small and large sets when holding a box in your hands, it can be much more difficult when searching online. Sometimes, companies do not include the number of knives in the product description and may even include a picture of multiple sets, thus confusing potential purchasers.
Additionally, I suggest selecting a set slightly larger than you think you will need – that way you will have extra knives if you ever receive unexpected guests. I have been to more than one dinner party where I was expected to share a steak knife with the person sitting next to me. Trust me when I tell you that most guests will not be overly impressed if this happens.
It’s All Up To You
As you can see, most things have their upsides and downsides. From straight-edge blades to serrated blades; from wooden handles to plastic handles. The best way to decide between all of the possible options is to figure out what matters to you and base your decision on those wants and desires.