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We all know that having a set of sharp and effective knives is key for any chef. The right knife can make food prep a breeze, and help you display your culinary talent with each dish.
From meat and veggies, to bakery items, the kitchen knife is an essential kitchen tool. But with so many makes, models, brands and price points, many of us are left with our heads spinning.
At some point, we all want to upgrade our knife set, but are expensive knives worth it? Is there really a big difference between a cheap chef knife and an expensive one?
In this guide, we take a closer look at what you get for your money with an expensive knife, and why it might not make sense to sell a kidney or mortgage your home to buy a ‘top of the line’ knife set.
Is There Really a Difference Between Cheap Knife Sets and Expensive Ones?
No matter if you’re a hobbyist cook, or an aspiring professional chef, upgrading your knife set can be an exciting adventure. But it's one that you’ll have to budget for.
As part of this consideration, you’ll need to figure out whether or not splurging on an expensive knife set is really worth shelling out the extra dough for (pun intended).
The answer is a bit more complicated than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
In reality, there are real, practical aspects that separate a good knife from a bad one. I some cases these aspects are connected to the price, but in others, they aren’t. Confused yet? Don’t worry, we’re about to take you on a culinary adventure into the world of expensive vs affordable kitchen knives.
The Key Differences Between Expensive and Inexpensive Knives
To the passerby and untrained eye, you might not notice any outwardly glaring or prominent differences between an expensive or cheap knife.
Both an expensive knife and a cheap one might look and even feel like a quality one when first purchased. They both come razor sharp out of the box, and might even cut well at first.
But that’s where a high-quality knife and a cheap made one part ways.
NOTE: It is important to highlight that a high-quality knife doesn’t have to be expensive. It certainly won’t be the cheapest knife on the butcher block, but it doesn’t need to be excessively priced either.
Overall Build Quality
This is a broad category that encompasses the overall quality of the knife’s build itself. Generally speaking, cheap knives are also cheaply made. They come out of factories machine-pressing 100s of thousands of units all rubber-stamped and made from cut sheets of cheap steel. By contrast, high-end knives are usually hand-forged, expertly engineered, and designed to both last and perform for decades to come.
Stamped vs Forged Blades
Stamped Kitchen Knives: Stamped knives, as mentioned above, are ‘machine made’. These ‘cookie cutter’ blades are mass-produced and are in many ways inferior to a forged blade. Chemically, its composition is less durable, and they lack in edge retention, balance, ergonomics and blade sharpness. As you might imagine, stamped knives are on the lower end of the price scale.
Forged Knives: Made from solid blocks of carefully selected high-quality steel, forged knives are made under the careful care of an expert craftsman. These knives are heated, cooled, hammered into shape, and tempered to create a superior blade that is strong, perfectly balanced, ergonomic, and that is capable of achieving and maintaining a superior edge. Virtually every mid-grade to high-end knife is forged (including those from Vertoku). Forged knives can last for hundreds of years if well taken care of, and are often passed down through generations.
The Quality of the Steel Used
The right steel can make a world of difference in the experience you have with your kitchen blades. The blade’s alloy combination can be uniquely tailored to the blade’s purpose and to bring out the best qualities in the blade (such as edge retention).
Carbon Steel: Carbon acts to ‘harden’ steel and make it easier to sharpen. High carbon steel also tends to hold an edge longer. Due to its rigidity, high carbon blades can be forged into a thinner design, resulting in enhanced edge geometry. However, this rigid form is less flexible and increasingly brittle when ‘bent’ under force. Many professional chefs swear by high carbon steel. Carbon steel comes in many alloy combinations, generally priced in the mid-range for kitchen knives.
Damascus Steel: The result of a complex and labor-intensive forging process, Damascus steel is layered under the force of heat and pressure, shaping the blade from repeated steel folds. Considered the pinnacle of knife blade quality and aesthetics, genuine Damascus steel is an often-sought out style for those seeking unparalleled quality, beauty and performance. Although often commanding a premium price tag, Damascus steel blades from Vertoku offer superior performance and beauty without the high price tag.
Stainless Steel: Stainless steel might look shiny, but it is considered to be on the lower end of the quality spectrum when it comes to kitchen blades. Although ideal for eating cutlery (such as tableware), it is not the best for chef’s knives and food prep. Less durable, and harder to achieve a sharp edge, stainless steel is economical but will cost you in other aspects of food prep.
Ergonomics and Comfort
Many affordable knives are made with the ‘masses’ in mind, producing millions of units that lack specialized features and fine-tuned ergonomics. Expensive knives are usually made with superior ergonomics, comfort and usability as major considerations. Although this might not make a difference for the average cook quickly slapping dinner meals together with little care…it can make a world of difference when preparing complex, delicate or lengthy meals. Proper knife balance and ergonomics reduces wrist fatigue and stress, while improving blade manipulation resulting in better, more precise, cuts.
Do You Need to Spend a Lot of Money on Chef Knives?
Not at all. Although buying the most affordable options will almost always mean cheap, machine pressed blades that leave a lot to be desired, that doesn’t mean you need to go into debt when upgrading your set of kitchen knives.
At Vertoku we believe that high-quality, Japanese-inspired, authentic Damascus steel kitchen knives should be both accessible and affordable for everyone. We’ve worked tirelessly to develop a line of superior kitchen blades that are as visually stunning as they are performance-minded, all at prices that make them affordable.