Enjoying a good steak or other substantial pieces of cooked meat can be challenging without the help of quality steak knives. Steak knives are designed to cut through stringy cuts of meat much more efficiently than serrated butter knives or smooth-bladed kitchen knives. The serrated blades of steak knives allow the diner to cut a bite-sized portion of meat with just a few strokes, while the handles keep the diner’s fingers away from the blade.
The main challenge in cutting a steak or other thick meat is overcoming the grain. Muscle tissue could be thought of as the bristles on a broom. The grain of meat runs in one direction, like the individual bristles of a broom. If a smooth-bladed knife is placed in the same direction or grain as the muscles, carving is relatively easy, as the individual muscles split or move out of the way of the blade when cutting.
If a smooth edge knife blade is placed against the fiber or individual “bristles”, it can only successfully cut a few strands at a time, and it can slip or slide as it does. A serrated knife, on the other hand, can cut through the grain and sever all the “bristles” while cutting through the meat. This ability to cut with or against the grain is what gives steak knives their appeal as cutlery.
Every kitchen should have at least one good set of steak knives, if not more. Other types of knives may be able to cut through softer meats, but steak knives are designed to handle the demands of cutting through stringy meat and fat without slipping or dulling in the process. Using a serrated butter knife can be an exercise in futility, and standard kitchen knives may be too dangerous for younger children to use at the dining table.
Some steak knives can be very pointed and sharp, while others can have rounded edges and smaller serrations. Steakhouses that cater primarily to families may offer oversized, rounded steak knives to their customers, while more upscale steakhouses and chops generally rely on their customers with sharper cutlery. Great care should be taken when washing and storing steak knives as they can get lost in the general cutlery population and cause serious problems for the dishwasher.