Chef Knives

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06 Jan Chef Knives

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I have a confession to make. Although I know intellectually that a good set of knives is a cook’s most valuable tool, until recently I used cheap ones. Really dull, cheap ones.

A good decade ago, I bought a knife set based on laziness convenience and price. Supposedly, the micro-serrated blades would never dull. Not bad for $30. But wait! There’s more. The entire six-knife set came in its own wooden block. How perfect is that?

As it turns out, not very. While the knives cut cleanly at first, they slowly reached the stage where I was throwing my entire body weight into chopping mushrooms. So you won’t think I’m a complete idiot, I never intended these knock offs to be a long-term purchase. They would tide me over until I found the perfect knife.

But I got used to them and there were other things to buy — like latte whips, burr grinders and a stove.

And when I finally began to do serious research? There were new kids on the chopping block — Japanese blades. It was no longer a choice between an 8-inch Henckel and a 10-inch. Did I want rolled or forged steel? What type of handle? There was so much information my brain shut down.

So, I began quizzing professionals. I asked a chef at the Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar what he used. He has small hands and arthritis in his fingers from a skateboarding accident. I have small hands and a wonky thumb. This was perfect. He showed me his ultra-lightweight Globals and even let me pick up his chef’s knife. It was the lighter than I imagined. I immediately wanted one.

Then I asked Dawn Thomas, the voice and hands of Rouxbe Online Cooking School. She uses different knives for different tasks but likes Wusthof and Kasumi. She describes her hands as “medium”, so I thought her choices might be too heavy for my wimpy wrists.

Cook’s Illustrated raved about Macs. Henckel was a classic choice. I was stumped.

In the end, I surprised myself and bought a Wusthof 20cm cook’s knife. They threw in a paring knife, which didn’t hurt their case. When put to the test, the Global blade was too flat. I couldn’t get my comfortable rocking motion going. And I actually preferred a blade with weight. Least expected of all? Onions no longer make me cry. The sharp blade isn’t juicing them.

Need a new knife?

  • Stephanie Stiavetti at Wasabimon is giving away a 2-piece J.A. Henckels Santoku knife set. Drop her a comment to enter the draw.
  • Claire at Culinary Colorado gives a Meticulous Chef’s Knife Evaluation. The comments also contain good information.
  • Kate at Accidental Hedonist breaks things down in her Anatomy of a Knife post. You’ll learn lots, including why tang is not just a breakfast drink.

After you gather all the facts, selecting a knife is a hands-on task. I offer no advice other than:

  • Find a knife that suits your grip.
  • Keep it sharp.
  • NEVER use a glass cutting board, only wood or plastic.

So, what knife do you use?

Photo © Muffet. Published under a Creative Commons License.

 

No Comments
  • cheryl
    Posted at 21:51h, 06 January Reply

    I have 4 Wustofs: a Santoku, a paring knife, a boning knife, and a chef’s knife. I love them all.

    When I was in Dallas recently I used my mother-in-law’s ceramic kyocera knife. It was like cutting with air — so lightweight and sharp.

    If only I could justify the expense, but alas, 4 good knives is more than I deserve.

  • C. Dundee
    Posted at 22:10h, 06 January Reply

    That’s not a knife. THIS is a KNIFE.

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 23:43h, 06 January Reply

    Cheryl, I’m sure you deserve every good knife you own.

    C. Dundee, well, SOMEONE had to say it!

  • Stephanie
    Posted at 00:04h, 07 January Reply

    Thanks Charmain!

    My very favorite knives are the Shun Onion knives. I love the shape of the handles and the blade curves wonderfully.

    I have the 7″ chef knife, but I want the set:

    http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/sku8605834/index.cfm

    They are SO expensive. Maybe next year.

  • Tom
    Posted at 10:00h, 07 January Reply

    I’ve spent a long time on a Wusthof 6″ chef’s and a Wusthof 7″ santoku. And, I have to say, you really want more knife.

    First, length. I’d consider 210 mm (about 8.5″) the bare min for a chef’s knife which has a lot of belly. I have a 240 mm knife.

    Second, you might consider a harder steel. I notice your picture for the article is a Japanese nakiri! German steel is soft, which means it is resilient and can be recovered quickly by daily passes on a honing steel rod, but it cannot hold a razor edge like Japanese steel.

    However, you don’t need a Shun or other super-expensive name brand! There are many excellent western handled Japanese knives out there at better prices. Check out Korin.com and Japaneseschefsknife.com. From Korin I highly recommend from Korin either the Tojiro DP or Togiharu molybdenum, which can come in under $60. Both are as good as basic MACs and cheaper, and from there you can discover the real addiction …

  • One Food Guy
    Posted at 10:25h, 07 January Reply

    Hi Christie, I have a set of several Wusthof Classics and have been using my 7″ (6.5″?) Santoku for some time. However I missed the real comfort of chef’s knife and have been using my 8″ chefs for the last several months!

    I sharpen them every few months with the MinoSharp water sharpener which is designed for global knives but I like the edge it puts on my Wusthofs. I also use the honing steel just before using the knife each day.

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 10:51h, 07 January Reply

    Stephanie, the blade curve is far more important that I’d imagined. I’ll have to check out the Sun Onion when I hit William Sonoma’s next (leaving credit card at home, or things could get expensive!)

    Tom, thanks for the recommendations. You’re right. Knives can become an addiction. I’m already thinking about a boning knife…

    One Food Guy, I saw the water sharpener when I looked at Global. I’d no idea it could be used for any knife. I also use my honing steel daily. Maybe a water sharpener will be next on my list?

  • One Food Guy
    Posted at 11:17h, 07 January Reply

    Hi Christie, I have the MinoSharp Plus and even though they are recommended for Global knives, the Sointu web site that sells them says the Plus model is good for thin bladed Japanese knives as well thicker bladed European and American blades. The store I bought mine at suggested it because it puts a sharper edge on your knife than many of the other manual sharpeners available.

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 12:12h, 07 January Reply

    Thanks, One Food Guy. I’ll look for a MinoSharp PLUS.

  • Dana McCauley
    Posted at 12:28h, 07 January Reply

    My second good knife, bought just before I started chef school, was a Wustof and it’s still going strong. Good choice!

    If you need any more knife opinions, you can check out posts I wrote last year on the topic:

    http://danamccauley.wordpress.com/2008/09/22/worth-replacing-a-good-chefs-knife

    http://danamccauley.wordpress.com/2008/01/15/knife-shopping-size-matters

  • ClaireWalter
    Posted at 12:45h, 07 January Reply

    I found a recent blog post about knives that might be useful: http://www.gastronomicguesswork.com/2009/01/knife-buying-guide-for-home-chef.html

  • Elizabeth Kricfalusi
    Posted at 16:12h, 07 January Reply

    >> Although I know intellectually that a good set of knives is a cook's most valuable tool, until recently I used cheap ones. Really dull, cheap ones.

    I can't imagine any part of your life could be described as dull!

    My knives are the worst. And while I know I would probably benefit from a good one, the thought of paying $100+ for a KNIFE simply does not compute.

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 16:13h, 08 January Reply

    Elizabeth, check out Tom’s advice above and go to the Meticulous review Claire posted (read the comments sections there). Both offer inexpensive but sharp knife options. Believe me. Once you use a good knife you will NOT be able to go back to dull ones.

  • The Culinary Chase
    Posted at 05:42h, 09 January Reply

    I used to use Henckels (2 man logo) until I was introduced to Global knives. It was a match made in heaven & even though I thought I was used to sharp knives, I think I shaved off a bit of skin & nail for the first 2 months of getting used to these wonderful knives. My husband & daughter now refer to the pairing knife as "the killer knife"!

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 10:38h, 09 January Reply

    Culinary Chase, I hear good things about Global but didn’t like the curve of their chef’s knife. I need a good boning knife (Tom was right about the addiction factor) and will put Global on the list for this item. Thanks for weighing in!

  • Carolsue
    Posted at 00:31h, 19 January Reply

    I have several knives by Henckels but not nearly enough and not all of the kinds I would love to have.
    digicat{AT}sbcglobal{DOT}net

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 11:27h, 19 January Reply

    Carolsue, pop on over to Wasabimon.com and enter the chef knife giveaway. You might be able to expand your Henckel collection. Good luck!

  • Global
    Posted at 17:08h, 23 March Reply

    I have used Wusthoff, JA Henckels International, Forschner, and Furi but I must say that my favorite of all was actually a Henckels, second in line was the Forschner. Now I’m dying for a Global Knife or maybe even a Shun

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