A chef’s best friend is a sharp knife. However, if you are not a culinary expert, the sheer number of different knives, shapes, and sizes may drive you insane. Many knife enthusiasts are aware that there are two primary types of knife edges from which to choose when purchasing a new knife: serrated or plain edge. The debate over which is better has raged for a long time, so let’s examine the arguments for both sides and determine which is truly superior.
Both types of blades can be spectacular in certain situations, but this does not definitively respond to which is superior. To answer this question honestly, we’ll need to delve a little deeper into the design of the two types of knife edges.
Serrated Blade Knives
Serrated edges are blades with a toothed or saw-like edge ground into the cutting surface. These are intended to pierce the outer layer of whatever you’re cutting and then cut back and forth. They work well with foods that have a hard exterior and a soft interior, such as tomatoes and bread.
The disadvantage of serrated blades is that they cause tearing and do not cut as cleanly as a plain edge knife. Sharpening serrated blades becomes much more difficult when they become dull, necessitating the use of specialized sharpening equipment.
Straight Edge Knives
These are the blades with a single sharp edge. Their most useful application is what most of us imagine when we think of using a knife: strong, consistent pressure. A straight edge knife provides a very smooth cut, as opposed to serrated knives, which tear food. It’s excellent for slicing, dicing, mincing, and chopping.
Including the Hollow Edge Knife also known as the Hollow Ground type. This knife has a straight edge and hollow divots along the blade. These divots create an air pocket between the blade and what you’re cutting, allowing food to easily fall off the blade and juices to flow when you cut fruit or meat.
The Main Difference
The primary distinction between plain edge and serrated blades is how you use your blade. As previously stated, plain edges are preferable for push cuts and serrated edges are preferable for slicing cuts. The Plain provides better control and cleaner cuts which work perfectly to cut through the meat of your Thanksgiving bird. Serrated are better for tougher surfaces and work equally well in cutting through the skin of your turkey which is the favorite part of this sumptuous meal. Additionally, many people believe that serrations indicate that the blade can still cut even when slightly less sharp; this is due in part to the fact that most standard serrations are chisel ground or very thin and sharp.
A Tomato Experiment
The tomato exemplifies this point nicely. You should be able to simply cut a tomato with a knife, so a razor-sharp ‘polished’ plain edge would suffice. However, imagine the tomato is soft, and unless you have a very sharp plain edge knife, the tomato will simply squish when you start pushing. You can and most people do use a slicing motion with your serrated blade, and the tomato will still cut even if the blade is a little dull. Using this sawing motion with a serrated knife (even if it’s dull), your tomato will slice perfectly.
They do provide a good indication of which edge is best suited for a given task. Most of these tests, however, have a flaw. The issue is that in most tests comparing plain versus serrated performance when comparing serrated edges in a slicing test, serrated edges will always win. This is because the tests exclude methods of sharpening a plain-edged knife that does not produce a polished edge.
Sharpening stones such as the coarser stones can be used to improve the performance of the plain edge in slicing tests. We’ve also seen and heard of people sharpening their edges with files in order to create micro serrations for cutting rope, etc. Most tests do not account for these slightly modified knives.
The Pros and Cons
As previously stated, push cuts equal plain edge. The more push cuts that are used, the more important it is for the plain edge to have a ‘polished’ edge. When using higher grit stones, a knife edge becomes more polished. A Japanese water stone with a grit of 6000 or higher would polish the edge even further.
The use of a knife with a plain edge is superior for performing push cuts. The single sharp edge also allows for greater accuracy and cleaner cuts as it will not tear. A distinct advantage is that plain edges are significantly easier to sharpen. There are numerous articles discussing tips for sharpening a knife. Further, plain knives do not necessitate returning them to the factory for sharpening or requiring more specialized sharpening techniques and tools.
One of its major drawbacks is its inability to saw and pull cuts. By having only one type of edge, you may be limiting the number of uses for your knife. Sure, you have the best blades for push cuts, but what if you need to perform slicing cuts and don’t have the ability to adjust the edge on your blade?
Fully Serrated Edge
When slicing through thick, tough materials, the serrated edge is generally superior. Serrated edges easily “grab” or grip the surface of whatever you’re cutting. Because the serration’s high points encounter the object first, there will be more pressure per area available at these high points. This allows the serration to puncture and tear the object more quickly. Even dull serrations excel at slicing objects, which is why many people prefer serrations and believe they stay sharper for longer.
The advantages of the fully serrated edge outweigh the disadvantages of the plain edge. It performs better when cutting tougher materials (due to the increased pressure we just mentioned). Serrations are also thinner (usually chisel ground) than most plain edges, allowing them to cut more effectively than plain edge knives.
While serrated blades are more effective at cutting hard materials, they are less precise than straight edges and can tear the object being sliced. Sharpening serrations is also significantly more difficult. In most cases, if you want to keep the original blade, you’ll need to send it back to the factory for sharpening or purchase some serrated edge sharpening materials which are some tools needed in sharpening a knife, this varied however to your precise need.
In summary, the key to keeping a knife sharp is to keep it sharp. When it comes to cutting, slicing, and dicing, the sharper the knife, the better. Serrated blades, on the other hand, are much more difficult to sharpen and usually necessitate the knowledge and expertise of a professional sharpener.