Story by Dana Benner, Photos by Dana Benner and Manufacturers
All too often writers put together articles that deal with blades needed for survival. I know, as I am one of those writers.
But when we look at the big picture, the heart of every homestead is the kitchen. It doesn’t matter whether the homestead is in the middle of the woods or in the heart of the city – the kitchen is where it all happens.
Such an important place needs to have good tools to allow it to function properly. The soul of my kitchen is my knives. Without good knives, the magic of the kitchen wouldn’t happen (not as smoothly at least). What and how many knives are needed? This is a good question.
I have traveled and learned from chefs in New Orleans (The New Orleans School of Cooking), Key West (Smokin’ Tuna), as well as a host of other places, and the one thing I noticed is that all of the chefs had certain knives that they always used. This was even in kitchens full of knives. So, to answer the question, it is not about the number of knives, but the quality and your ability to use the knives that you have.
Like all tools – yes, I consider knives as tools – there are some that are designed for a specific purpose and some that fulfill multiple jobs.
For ease, I like knives that have multiple functions. I have six knives that I use constantly; they are, in no particular order: bread knife, chef knife, prep knife, paring knife, santoku and an ulu.
Who doesn’t like fresh bread? If I can help it, there is no pre-sliced bread for me. The thing about bread is, without the right knife you are likely to make a mess of it when you slice it.
Bread knives usually have long, relatively thin blades that have a series of scalloped serrations running the length on one side. The tip of the blade is rounded, as there is no need to stab a loaf of bread. The length of the blade and the serrations make for clean, easy cuts.
My bread knife is an old timer made by Ekco. It measures 14 inches long and has a 9-inch cutting blade, made in the U.S. from stainless steel. Unlike many modern kitchen knives, this knife has a hardwood handle. I bought this knife about 40 years ago and it can no longer be found, unless you look on vintage websites. Despite its age, this knife is still going strong.
You can find bread knives in many different stores. Inexpensive ones can be found at most chain department stores, while really good ones are available in cooking specialty stores.
MSRP: $5.00-$70.00 depending on its quality and where you purchase it.
The chef knife is the mainstay of every good kitchen and is a thick, heavy knife.
The spine is usually thick near the handle and tapers as it nears the tip, which is pointed. These knives are designed for heavy duty chopping and slicing – but when used properly, the thinner tip can perform some very sensitive cuts.
I use this knife a great deal for chopping vegetables, cutting through thick skinned squash (winter squashes and pumpkins) or breaking through the breastbone of a turkey or goose. I have two chef knives that I really like – the first is the knife that I have had for about 30 years and the second is new.
They are the Calphalon 8-inch Chef’s Knife and the L.T. Wright Camp Kitchen.
Over the years I have used this knife for everything from slicing onions to cutting stew meat. It is forged from high carbon, no stain, German steel.
Overall length is 13 inches, with an 8-inch cutting edge. This knife has full tang construction and – combined with its heavy weight – allows you to cut through good sized roasts or finely mince garlic.
MSRP: See specs below
Like all knives made by L.T. Wright Knives, the Camp Kitchen is created using stock removal. This knife measures 12 inches and has a sharpened edge of 7.5 inches.
It is forged with AEB-L high carbon steel and has a flat grind. The micarta handle features thumb scallops, which allows for a better grip – a feature I really like. Like with any good chef knife, the Camp Kitchen chops and slices equally with ease.
Of all the knives I have in my kitchen, my prep knife sees the most use. It is the knife I use to de-bone chickens, turkeys, pheasant and duck. It is also the knife I use to remove excess fat and skin from red meat. A good prep knife needs to be sharp and have a fairly heavy blade, enabling it to cut through the breastbone of a bird, yet light enough to fillet a fish.
My prep knife is the Large Pouter made by L.T. Wright Knives.
The Large Pouter is a medium sized knife that measures 9 inches long and has a sharpened edge of 5 inches. The blade is made of AEB-L high carbon steel and has a flat grind. The Large Pouter is heavy enough to tackle tough jobs, but light enough for intricate cuts.
For peeling potatoes, apples, squash and just about anything else, the paring knife is the tool for the job. It is also handy for starting orange peels for my granddaughters and opening bags of rice.
Paring knives are the “kitchen utility knives.” Small and light, the paring knife handles those jobs that aren’t practical for the larger blades.
I have a few paring knives, some being better than others. My favorite is the Small Pouter made by L.T. Wright Knives. Like the Large Pouter, the Small Pouter is made of AEB-L high carbon steel and it has a flat grind. Overall length is 6.75 inches with a 3-inch sharpened edge.
Of all my knives, the ulu gets the most comments, as it is not your “typical” knife in the Lower 48. If you travel north to the area around the Arctic Circle, you will find the ulu being the preferred knife of the Native people, who call this area home.
The semi-circular blade, which is located directly below the handle, makes this knife very easy to use and perfect for all types of food preparation. I like the ulu for thin slices I get when I am making jerky – but it is equally at home chopping vegetables or slicing a roast.
My ulu was made by my friend Mike Moore, “The Ulu Maker” in Soldotna, Alaska. It has a 5-inch blade, made of tool grade high carbon steel and the handle is made from caribou antler. Mike no longer makes ulus due to health reasons, but there are some really good ulu makers in Alaska.
Stay away from the tourist blades sold in the gift shops. Find a quality knife maker and get a real ulu.
While I use my Chef knife for chopping, I often find myself using my Santoku for preparing thick skinned squash and even de-boning a turkey. It is lighter than the traditional Chef knife, yet tough enough for some light chopping. Santoku knives come in various sizes, but mine has a 5-inch blade. The Santoku is based on a Japanese design and is made to slice and chop.
The Santoku I use is made by Calphalon, of high-quality, high carbon, no stain German steel and features a full tang. It has an overall length of 10 inches and a 5-inch sharpened edge.
After a hard day of working in the fields, hunting the forests or fishing the streams, all of us want to come back to the warm welcoming safety of the good old homestead.
Once the gear is shed and the gun is put away, we grab a cold beverage and head for the kitchen. Admit it, we all do it. But the last place we want a struggle is in the kitchen – preparing a soul heartening meal is made a great deal easier with good sharp knives.
The knives I’ve described here are what I consider “must haves” in the kitchen. The models I use may, or may not, fit all of your needs – we all have different tastes and styles. That is ok, as it is not the knife but the person using it, that makes all of the difference. K&G
Do you have any knives or knife styles that you like to use in your homestead kitchen? Join the conversation, comment on this story below. >>
Calphalon 8-Inch Chef Knife
Blade Material: High carbon, no stain German steelBlade Length: 8 inches Overall Length: 13 inchesHandle Material: Poly-resinMSRP: $56.99
L.T. Wright Camp Kitchen
Blade Material: AEB-LBlade Length: 7.5 inchesOverall Length: 12 inchesBlade Thickness: 0.125 inchBlade Grind: FlatHandle Material: Natural MicartaMSRP: $200.00
L.T. Wright Large Pouter
Blade Material: AEB-LBlade Length: 5 inchesOverall Length: 9 inchesBlade Thickness: 0.093 inchBlade Grind: FlatWeight: 2 ouncesHandle Material: Natural MicartaMSRP: $119.00
L.T. Wright Small Pouter
Blade Material: AEB-LBlade Length: 3 inchesOverall Length: 6.75 inchesBlade Thickness: 0.093 inchBlade Grind: FlatHandle Material: Natural MicartaMSRP: $96.00
Blade Material: High carbon, no stain German steelBlade Length: 5 inches Overall Length: 10 inchesHandle Material: Poly-resinMSRP: $31.99
L.T. Wright Knives(740) 317-1404www.LTWrightKnives.com
Calphalon Knives(800) 809-7267www.Calphalon.com/en-US
L.T. Wright KnivesCalphalon Knives
Dana Benner has been writing about all aspects of the outdoors, survival, history and culture for over 30 years. His work appears in regional and national publications.
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