Kitchen knives – Does size matter?
Do you really need a long utility knife in your kit? What are the pros and cons and why do professionals usually choose longer Gyuto or Chef’s knives?
This was a question recently posed to me by a customer. The customer was not a professional chef and wanted a Gyuto for home use. This was going to be the main knife in the kitchen, the 90% knife. So, I gave him the same advice I give my friends and family, the same advice I am going to give you now.
With regard to utility knives, I have two 165mm Santoku’s and a 240mm Gyuto as well as a 90mm and 150mm Petty in my home kitchen.
This is a very personal subject from my perspective. I actually know many professional chefs that prefer to work with shorter blades, like a Santoku, Bunka or smaller Gyuto. You have to ask yourself, what do I use my knife for?
For me it’s like this. I need a large blade when it comes to cutting a large object. So, if I am cutting through a large melon or cabbage then the longer blade is great. I also prefer the longer blade for slicing terrines and large pieces of meat. When slicing these types of produce you want more length in order to achieve a single stroke as you want to avoid sawing and tearing. Just watch a sushi chef cut fish. They pull the long Yanagiba or Sujihiki blade towards themselves in a single slicing motion to avoid damaging the delicate flesh of the fish.
So, this is where it gets interesting. You might be saying to yourself, I don’t really cut melons and cabbages very often, what do I need such a big knife for?
Well, the thing is, I love my 240mm Tanaka Gyuto, it’s a beautiful knife to use and in the end, there is nothing I cannot do with it. The truth is I use my Santokus 90% of the time though. A Santoku has a good flat section with a nice amount of rock-ability. The 165mm length makes it nimble and easy to wield on a daily basis and the heal to spine height is substantial enough to give me a comfortable amount of clearance. I also find that when speaking with my customers many amateur cooks feel more comfortable with the smaller blade.
With regard to what I spend most of my time cutting, its onions, herbs, small vegetables and smaller pieces of meat. This is my 90%. Then a few times a year I cook a brisket or something else large in size and make coleslaw or something along those lines, then I pull out the Gyuto and use it to chop through the large cabbage. When the meat comes off the grill, I like to use my Sujihiki slicer to carve, but I could just as easily use the Gyuto.
For the above reasons, when I advise my friends and family what knives to buy, usually I suggest that buying a Santoku or a smaller Gyuto like a 180mm or 210mm is a good place to start. I also often suggest purchasing a petty as I would say that the petty is the second most commonly used knife in my kitchen. A smaller Gyuto, Santoku or Bunka plus a Petty are the perfect two knives to have on the work bench when cooking dinner.
To cover the professional perspective, it is true that the majority of professional chefs prefer a 240mm Gyuto. The reason is that, as per the above outlined use cases, a larger Gyuto somewhat covers all situations and so allows the chef to have only one knife out on the work bench. This is part of the training and reduces clutter, is safer and more hygienic in the professional kitchen. In the home kitchen you have more flexibility. You are not working in an environment filled with other chefs and you can have more of your knives out on the work bench without worrying about safety. You are in no rush and so you can work with knives that are directly suited to what you are doing.
As I said earlier in this post it’s a personal thing. I have also observed that taller, larger people are more comfortable with larger blades.
What do you think?