Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | March 2, 2009

Your chef’s knife 2: a word about size

Yes, it’s supposed to be a BIG knife.

Generally speaking, this isn’t a matter of preference. A good chef’s knife needs to be big enough for the food. “Size” here refers to the length of the blade, point to bolster. A chef’s knife needs to be a minimum of 9” long, though most recommendations are for 10”. The longer the better, however – and most instructors recommend you get “as much knife as you can handle”, whether that’s 9”, 10”, 11” or even 12”. Big food needs a big knife.

There’s a reason for that, which has everything to do with proper knife handling. In short, your knife needs to be long enough to anchor the tip (not the point, the tip) on the board and still provide enough length to slice forward/backward through a whole onion, squash, or whatever. That action takes leverage and leverage requires length – blame Pythagoras. So, no, your 6” knife is NOT big enough and your 8” probably isn’t either. Sorry about that santoku. Very pretty but it’s just not a chef knife replacement.

Is it uncomfortable? Shouldn’t be! If you have itty-bitty hands, the problem is not the blade-length – it’s a matter of handle size. Luckily for you, there are quite a few vendors that sell knives just for you – big blade, tiny handle. Head over to Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma and fondle as many as you can.

The balance of the knife should be forward, dead center of the heel. Why? Because when you use it like you’re supposed to – tip down, cutting with the heel of the knife – the balance works out beautifully. That is, the balance point is where the knife will be hitting the food. Balanced this way, the knife will be easier to use and won’t tire you out as quickly. Not as big a deal when you’re chopping one onion, but when you’re julienning 5 lbs of carrots, it matters quite a bit.

Ok, summing up: don’t compromise. 9” is barely cutting it and anything less is outright dangerous. I’m serious about this. If your knife is too short, you’re not anchoring it. In fact, you can’t anchor it. Which means its waving around out there. Which is dangerous. Put those little knives down and back away.

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