Anyone who has searched online – or in a hardware store for that matter – for kitchen knives has been bound to find that magic word ‘Sabatier’ – but what exactly does it mean? This article seeks to disarm the minefield that is the world of Sabatier knives.

First things first: that name. ‘Sabatier’ actually doesn’t mean anything in particular – it’s just a brand name. The problem is that this particular brand name is used – quite legally – by some eight different cutlery companies. This certainly doesn’t make it easy for a prospective customer to make an informed choice as Sabatier knives, though carrying the same name, aren’t all equal by any means.

So what is a Sabatier knife? Typically it is a kitchen knife of French design, much used by professional chefs for many years. Before the Second World War a type known as the ‘Nogent’, with a rats-tail tang imbedded in the handle, was used extensively but now the modern knives are fully-forged with a tang (the part that the handle material is fixed to) running the complete length of the handle itself with the handle ‘cladding’ riveted in place.

Two materials are typically used to make Sabatier knife blades: stainless steel and high-carbon steel, though only Thiers-Issard now produce a range of carbon-steel blades. Both have their plus points – stainless steel retains its brightness almost indefinitely and has a long-lasting edge. Carbon steel soon becomes ‘patinated’ but carries an arguably finer edge that is easily re-sharpened – unlike stainless steel that is difficult to re-sharpen to the level of carbon steel due to its extreme hardness.

Handle material is almost always black nylon – for toughness and durability it does take some beating but isn’t the best-looking choice. More appealing handles are to be found on only a few of the Sabatier knives now made – notably the ones by Thiers-Issard that include such eye-catching materials as rosewood, natural horn and micarta.

So – how do you tell these knives apart? A prospective buyer may see Sabatier knives offered in many shapes and sizes and a bewildering range of prices – so how does anyone choose? Just remember the old adage – you get what you pay for. Dirt-cheap knives are hardly likely to be as durable as top-of-the-(price)-range ones – it’s just not financially possible to make good things cheaply! So again – another old truism – always buy the very best you can afford. A top-line knife will last a lifetime – as will an expensive pair of shoes, or car, or just about anything built to a standard of quality – not a price.

The real way to tell these knives apart is – and this may seem odd – to leave the name ‘Sabatier’ out and concentrate on the other part of the name. They all have them – no knife is made or marketed wth just the word ‘Sabatier’ on the tang or blade (if it is it’s a cheap forgery and best left alone).

To stop all the wrangling over the word ‘Sabatier’, it was decided that the aforementioned firms could all use it – with the proviso that they had to put their own, very definite trade mark on the blade/tang also. So we have ( amongst others) K-Sabatier, Judge Sabatier, and Thiers-Issard Four-Star Elephant Sabatier (quite a mouthful but very much woth it!). This means that anyone buying these knives can instantly identify the maker and not be confused by their purchase just being another ‘Sabatier’ knife.

The knives themselves come in all shapes and sizes, from (typically) 3-inch blade tomato knives to huge 14-inch blade cooks’ knives – truly fearsome objects worthy of Hollywood horror film! Yet all are just tools for the kitchen or table and, like al tools, have evolved over the years to a point where they can be little – if at all – improved. Yet it is so easy to succumb to temptation and turn one of these fine instruments into a price-driven ‘utility’ item.

So – in conclusion – remember a few points.

1. You get what you pay for – so don’t but just on price!

2. Several companies own the right to use the Sabatier name – but some outshine others!

3. Stainless steel is durable and tough – but carbon steel ha the better edge and is easily looked after.

4. A good knife should last a lifetime – not be tossed aside when the edge dulls (hence the carbon steel choice!)

Keep these points in mind when next you look to purchase a chefs’ or kitchen knife and you won’t go far wrong!