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How To Choose Kitchen Knives
Don't Fall For The Marketing Hype

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Good Kitchen Knives Must Have A Full Tang

 - This probably qualifies as a lie, in regards to the kitchen knives for sure. You do need full tang on other heavy duty knives, but not on the kitchen knives. Anyway, without inflammatory debating, let's examine the evidence. Tang is the part of the blade that protrudes from the end of it and that's what the handle is attached to. Hidden or partial tang (sometimes called rat-tail) is the one that is completely hidden inside the handle, perhaps 50%-75% on quality pieces. Full tang extends all the way through the handle and also from the sides, basically dividing the handle into two symmetrical pieces. Then the handle slabs are attached with rivets to the tang. There are minor variations to this design, but the basic model is that.
    Historically there were very few full tang blades for various reasons, all of them justifiable. After all it's extra metal to waste, extra work to do and there are sanitary concerns with full tangs too. Let's take swords, Kukris and famous American Bowie knives for example. All were designed as a fighting implements and hard use blades. Not only they had to cut through the flesh, tendons and bones, but also through rough leather, wood and armor. Now if swords, kukris and other very harsh use cutting instruments could do fine without the full tang why would a kitchen knife designed to cut very delicate and soft ingredients would need all the extra strength of the full tang?
    The truth is that all you need is a reasonably strong blade/handle composition to withstand the intended use and have plenty of reserve just in case. As you can see hidden tangs achieve that with great success for last few thousand years. If you feel you have to use your kitchen knife as a pry bar or hang on it and do pull ups then you perhaps do need a full tang chef's knife, but I suspect the blade will break anyway. So, unless the knife was designed for heavy duty/extreme use such as Busse Battle Mistress, full tang gives you no advantage over hidden tang knives and more importantly adds sanitary and durability problems, contrary to the salesmen statements.
    For one, you'll never see a full tang carbon kitchen knife. Non-stainless steel rusts easily and handle slabs and rivets provide multiple weak spots, i.e. moisture and bacteria can enter those small gaps and cause the handle to rust. With hidden tang the only exposed spot it the enterance for the tang and that one is as usual sealed pretty well with epoxy or something of that sort. Another concern is that eventually handle slabs get loose, around rivets especially. I've seen more than a few broken slabs on the full tang knives, much more on those that ended up in a dishwasher BTW.
    Summarizing all the above, as before, if you like full tang knives, that's your choice and that's what really matters. However, there is absolutely no advantage or benefit in having a full tang kitchen knife over hidden tang. On the contrary, you get a few problems with it. In high end knives it's rather rare to have a full tang knife and you'll never see high-carbon knives or even stainless knives with a full tang.

Knife Sets Are A Better Deal Than Individual Knives

 - This is both tru and false, depending on what you're looking for and what is the set comprised of. Generally speaking you will get more metal in the set compared to purchasing the same pieces individually, that is 100% true. On the other hand, unlikely that you're there to buy metal by weight. You need the best knives for your money and you want to use them. That's where the catch is as usual. Large sets as usual contain large amounts of knives that you will never use, at best you'll use them because all other knives are dull, dirty, already broken (shame on you) and so on. At least that was the conclusion I came to observing a lot of ordinary people around me who bought 10-15 piece or even bigger knife sets. There are exceptions to this rule, again proving the rule ;) I can see a point in buying a set of Chef's knife, small paring knife and a bread knife, good luck finding one though. As usual, the bigger the set, the harder to make 100% match to your actual needs.
    For the fish aficionados Shun(very good knives, especially their Elite line) sells 3 piece set: 240mm Yanagiba, 165mm Nakiri and 165mm Deba. With some stretch I can call it a good set, although most likely if you're on the budget and looking for the fish knives, nakiri is clearly an extra there. Then, for most of the true fish and Japanese cutlery lovers, 240mm Yanagiba is simply too short. Plus, with all that you get a bamboo gift box and it ain't free, you know it right? 12 piece set from the same Shun is gonna cost you around 1000$ and I'd skip on more than half of the knives in it. Bear in mind, I'm the guy who uses 3-4 different knives just to cut the salad, because it's fun and I like variety of knives. Now, imagine if I was on the budget...
    Henckel, well known knife brand. 3 piece set, 8" chef's knife is good, may be short for some, 3.5"paring knife, also good, but 6" utility knife is pretty much useless. Not because it's Henckel, just because those utility knives don't really have useful purpose. I've had some myself, used/handled dozens of them in other kitchens too. Not nearly as good as dedicated knives and too short for serious work, too long for delicate work. You wouldn't buy it inmost of the cases, so you get it in the set. 9 piece essential set from them, of course utility knife is there, buying santoku and chefs knife together isn't that popular and there are some other things that you'd hardly ever use and let's not even go to 19 piece set.
    I figure that's enough of set examination, you get the idea. If you are really looking for the knives that you need to cut then in 99% of the cases skip the set, unless by some chance someone bundled exactly the pieces you need, that is knife type, length everything matches your requirements.
    One more reason to stay away from the sets is the butcher's steel it comes with by default. It's the dreaded grooved smooth steel. If it's grooved it's not smooth anymore, but that's the naming. I've covered various aspects of steeling in Kitchen Knife Maintenance section.
    The only justification, which is hardly a justification for buying the set is that all of the knives have matching handles and that somehow works for the interior design. How do my knives look in the knife block and how do those handles sticking out of the knife block affect overall looks of my kitchen, is not a reason for me to influence my knife choice at all. However, for some folks out there, the looks come first and then the 22 piece set has the point :)

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Last updated - 09/01/11