Imagine, you are comfortably seated in a plush, upholstered chair at your favorite local steakhouse. You took your time perusing the menu, lingering on sauce descriptions. You chatted up the server, Jack, about the specials and what’s particularly good tonight. You are celebrating, so you selected the 12oz cut of Filet Mignon and a slightly pricier bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. Jack promised it would be the perfect pairing with its creamy texture and hints of sandalwood and tobacco.
The steak arrives and smells of warm grass and butter. You fluff the white linen napkin and float it down to your lap. Then, you pick up the knife to make your first glorious cut, but to your horror the blade is dull. You desperately search the table only to find that there are no sharp steak knives anywhere.
In reality, fine dining establishments are well aware of the drama and pleasure that a beautiful set of sharp steak knives bring to the culinary experience. Today, food is not just about sustenance, it’s about history, and identity, and the unique qualities that each plant, animal, and location contribute. So how does one select an appropriate set of knives for home use?
History and Craft of Steak Knives
Let’s begin with the provenance of different knife designs. There are many countries in the world that are passionate about beef, but when it comes to knife fabrication, the leading products and designs hail from France, Germany, and Japan.
France, in particular, is known for a style of sharp steak knives called the Laguiole. This is not a brand but speaks to a specific manufacturing region and design. While it began as a pocket knife, and modern folding models are available, the steak knife version is typified by the balanced feel, a blade that slightly curves to a point, and a handle that also gracefully comes to a blunt point.
However, the vast majority of home sets of sharp steak knives are purchased from Germany and Japan. Germany is known for the heft of its blades, while Japan’s blades tend toward the lighter-weight end of the spectrum and are crafted for precision.
Features to Consider
Like with anything, you should buy what you like, but here are some knife qualities to consider as you narrow down the possibilities.
Blade Material: The blade must be durable and not prone to staining; therefore, sharp steak knives are made from two kinds of steel or ceramic. While some people get excited about high carbon steel, versus stainless, because it’s used for chef’s knives, it also requires more upkeep, so that’s worth keeping in mind.
Blade Style: Do you want a serrated blade steak knife or a clean, straight edge blade steak knive? This will depend on the decisions you make about knife maintenance and also how you like to carve meat.
Aesthetic: Here, think about how a knife feels in the hand, the shape of the handle, the shape of the blade, and the weight and balance between the two. For the handle, do you like a modern, brushed metal look, or do you prefer a more classic cherry wood vibe?
Budget, Upkeep, and Storage
Naturally, one critical element to consider when making any home purchase is the budget. How much are you willing to spend on a gorgeous set of sharp steak knives? Consider how often you prepare steak at home and for whom. Do you mostly entertain close friends and family in small numbers or large groups? Will you use your knives for formal events such as inviting the boss or colleagues over for an expertly crafted, yet strategic meal where the staging must be as magnificent as the substance? How you plan to use your knives will help you to assess how large a set you will need, and what the storage and upkeep will likely entail.
For example, only you know whether you are likely to sharpen the knives yourself. Do you own a sharpener? Are you likely to research a local retailer who provides sharpening services?
Most people will tell you not to put your beautiful, carefully crafted, super sharp steak knives in the dishwasher. But let’s be honest, if you are juggling a career and small children, and you are a culinary enthusiast who routinely prepares steak, game hens, pork roasts, or other types of meat that invite precision cutting, you won’t be able to resist the dishwasher safe steak knives. If this is the case, you may consider investing in two sets of steak knives, one for everyday use, and another for guests.