What could be the difference between a cheap knife and an expensive knife?

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Senior Cook
Jan 18, 2012
Far East
I can find very cheap kitchen knives sold for $1 sold in reputable shopping centers where it is made of stainless steel. I can also find very expensive kitchen knives probably sold for $100 but doesn't look so much different in terms of their shapes and labels. I would assume that a kitchen knife for $1 wouldn't have much difference with one for $10. But it's now talking about $100. What could be their possible difference between a cheaper and a more expensive kitchen knife? Is there really "better" stainless steel?
Yes, there are different grades of stainless steel.

Most cutlery is 316, 420, or 440.

Also, consider carbon steel knives. Carbon steel requires a little more maintenance to prevent rust but they are fine for everyday use.

Price is no indication of value.

Look at the knives that butchers and other professionals use to make their living. In this country, the common choice seems to be Dexter Russell. https://dexter1818.com/

Examine the knives and look for signs of quality.

Handle the knives and pick the one that feels right for you based on size, weight, balance, etc...

Once you become familiar with knife construction consider purchasing high-quality used knives at estate sales, flea markets, etc... and sharpening them.

I have three inexpensive high-quality kitchen knives that have served me well for over thirty years with nothing more than an annual sharpening.

Good luck!
Aunt Bea, what do those numbers mean in so far as making a choice about knives.
The long and the short of it is that the higher the number the better the quality.

I wouldn’t worry about the grade of steel as much as the heft and design of the knife.

Many cheap knives have no bolster or thickness in the spine just one flimsy blade that is stamped from a thin piece of stock as opposed to a heavier molded blade.
The more expensive knives hold their edge longer. I have a set of good knives that I sharpen when needed. The cheaper knives need sharpening after almost every use. And yes, you can tell the difference in the feel of the good vs. cheap knife.
A good cook deserves and needs the better equipment!
Yes, there are different grades of stainless steel.

Most cutlery is 316, 420, or 440.
I disagree that you'll find cutlery in 316. That is usually a pan/pot steel with lots of nickel and very high chrome. Also often used for sinks, restaurant prep surfaces and so on. It won't harden enough to be a good knife.

Otherwise, Aunt Bea's post is useful.

Most of the Henkels/Wusthof types are something like XCrOMV15. You'll also now see lots of Chinese steels like 8CR13MOV These are all OK, usually hardened to 56-58 Rockwell hardness--RC is the common abbreviation. It's a good balance between hardness and toughness.

What does hardness mean? It's a tradeoff between hardness and toughness. Something at 56 hardness will be easy to put an edge on but not hold it as well as something harder. However, the 56 hardness steel will be more resistant to chips, cracks and so on compared to the same steel at a higher hardness

There are lots of higher grade chef's knives out there now that might go as high as 61 RC. Your average home cook probably will find that hard to sharpen. But if you have the waterstones and such, these are very rewarding blades.

You can also find lesser steels hardened too far. A well-meaning friend gave me an AUS 8 blade hardened to 61--at least according to the provided paperwork. That's overhardened in my opinion, being difficult to put a fine edge on but prone to chipping out too. AUS8 is respectable in that 58 range hardness.

If you don't want to dive into the arcane details of metallurgy, that's fine. Just talk with people like us here about what good values particular knives are.

I think there is a lot to like about Forschner/Victorinox at their price point.

I think Wusthof/Henkels are overpriced and too thick. Tojohiro, MAC are better values at those prices. The Wusthof Ikon line is OK, and so on.

Personal preference enters into it too. I don't like bolsters generally, but particularly dropped bolsters. They complicate sharpening and cutting unnecessarily. I prefer the flatter French/Japanese cutting profile compared to the curvier German. These aren't about right and wrong, just what you prefer.
Basically, the difference is stamped or forged, material used, and who and how much the manufacturer pays professionals to use their knives. It's the same with pots and pans. They have to make up the cost of stocking all those cooking shows with All-Clad free-fer-nuthin.
...Look at the knives that butchers and other professionals use to make their living. In this country, the common choice seems to be Dexter Russell. https://dexter1818.com/...
Their factory/outlet is only 7 miles from our house. I've bought several knives from the outlet store and have been happy with the quality.

The outlet was closed during Covid, then reopened "Saturdays only" as life returned to normal. I see that they open on Thursday evenings again. I just might have to take a look-see one more time before we leave this area.
While it's true that some knife are more expensive because they have to pay for advertising expenses such as endorsements or giveaways to TV shows, it's also true that some types of knives are more expensive to make. Some steels, designs, handle materials and hand working drive up the prices.
This is an area where I have a very lot of experience. The best kitchen knives are made in Japan. No question. They are better because the blades are thin and hard. They cut better because of the thin blades and cut longer without the edges folding over longer because they are harder than the knives made elsewhere. lt is not uncommon to find Japanese knives hardened to RC60 or more.

Sadly they are expensive. In my view every cook should have a Japanese gyuto (chef knife) in either carbon or stainless steel. You can save money on the other knives but for the main knife - the chef knife - it is worth investing in a fine Japanese model. If it is advertised on TV, you should probably avoid it.

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