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Henckels 5-Star worth it for £150?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
cooks-knives.co.uk/acatalog/Henckels_Five_Star_7_Piece_Bamboo_Knife_Block_Set. html

I suppose the title gives it away. I was looking at this set of Henckel's Knives, wondering if it was worth it. I hear they're pretty good. The site in question is giving away a Whetstone with them, too.

I'm an ameteur cook, and a pescetarian (I eat fish, no meat) but I'm pretty good (if I say so myself), and I hate using crappy stuff. I have a set of Tesco's knives which cost £30. They're not awful, by any means, but they're not the best knives in the world, and don't hold their edge for that long either.

I can't go much more expensive than about £150, though. If there are no good knive sets for that price range, then I can wait and save. I'm ideally looking for a set which will last me a good fifteen to twenty years, not something I'll upgrade after three years or anything.

Thanks for the advice!
post #2 of 13
The Henkels are good knives. They'll last a long time.

They're not the best you can do within your budget as far as knives go. But if you value the look of the block, set and ALL the pieces you're getting, there can be a reason to do so.

You really shouldn't buy a set in my opinion. You'll get a lot of "filler" knives that you really don't need and your money can be focused more intensely on the knives you do if you buy piece by piece.

There are a ton of threads here on this topic. Most of them will direct you to Japanese knives rather than German or French knives for the Chef's knife.

As with most products there is a curve where the cost goes up fairly quickly with smaller and smaller gains for the increased cost The best performance for cost point on that curve is around $50 US and occupied by Forshner/Victorinox with the cheap fibrox handle for Chef's knife.

Good gains in quality and performance can be had up to 80-100 US but they're not twice the knife of the Forschner in my opinion. This doesn't make them a poor purchase, and the enjoyment and comfort you get from them may well exceed the limited analysis of cost/cutting curves.

I have a Henkels 10". I had a Wusthof 10" I liked better but it took a drop to the floor one day and snapped in two. Thus my buying Henkels. I've also got an 8 and 10 inch Forschner I consider superior to both Henkels and Wusthof in performance.

For me, one of the big dings against lots of the French/German knives of Henkels/Wusthof and such are the heavy bolster that drops all the way to the edge. It hampers sharpening and gets in the way of how I use a blade.

I've not really looked at any of the Japanese Chef's knives as I'm very satisfied with the Forschners. I am, however, in the minority on this.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #3 of 13
Worth it? It's a good price for the set, assuming it's Five Star Twin and not Five Star International. If it's Five Star International, forget it.

Worth it for you in particular? They're good knives as German cutlery goes, but given the information you gave about yourself (more than most do), you might be happier acquiring better knives one at a time, until you've built yourself a set you can really live with. Chances are you'll only really use the following knives anyway: Chef's; petty (paring knife, 4" - 6", slicer shape); bread; and a flexible fillet which can double as a slicer (slicer shape aka trenchelard -- not boning shape. Since red meat isn't a big feature for you, I'd forego a regular slicer. If you've got any knife technique at all, you'll probably prefer a 10" chef's over an 8". That means that of the five knives in the set, only one, the petty, really fits your needs.

From a performance standpoint, German stanless knives have been superceded by Japanese. Japanese knives get significantly sharper and stay that way much longer. They're also lighter and more agile. German knives tend to be tougher and more robust, but unless you're a serious knife abuse it's not going to make any practical difference.

Almost all Japanese stainless knives are a step above nearly anything from Europe, but I can't give you much information about prices or availability in England. That said, Global is pretty popular in Merry Olde. They make much better knives than Henckels Five Star. The handles are highly idiosyncratic, you'll want to make sure you're comfortable before buying. Another brand with UK availability is MAC. The MAC Professional line are excellent knives, but I don't know about pricing. If you can afford them, they're my first recommendation.

Interesting to note, that many if not most good Japanese stainless knives are made with Swedish steel.

Carbon isn't for everyone. I use antique (and just plain old) Sabatier carbon, and am a big fan of K-Sabatier au carbone in particular, which is still made and is easily available in England. I also like several of the Thiers Issard Elephant **** (Quatre Etoile) lines [Quote a mouthful, non?]. If you've got good workhabits, carbon might be the best choice for you.

There are also outstanding Japanese carbon choices; although the performance bump in carbon isn't quite what it is in stainless. Japanese carbon doesn't get any sharper, holds an edge longer, is only slightly lighter, not as robust, no more agile, and requires more complicated maintenance.

I can't recommend the Sabatier stainless over decent Japanese. While the French profiles are lighter and more agile than the German, the steel used by French knife makers is no better than that used by Germans.

Hope this helps,

PS. Note, that when I use the term "German" in this context, I mean a knife of the Wusthof, Henckels, F. Dick, Messermeister type which includes knives manufactured in Spain, Switzerland, the US, etc. These are the top of the line, forged, stainless knives that dominated the culinary world until Japanese cutlery exploded onto the scene.
post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 
Thanks for both your feedback. Perhaps just getting a couple of knives WOULD be better. Obviously, no red meat for me, and I eat very little fish, so a couple of smaller vegetable knives would be adequate.

I WAS looking at the Global knives on the same site, initially because they looked very pretty (yes, I know, focusing on the issues at hand). Their GSF series looks a little out of my price range, but they had a set of 3 for £130:

I don't know what their hierarchy and difference between their knife ranges is though. I've been looking over old threads, and Japanese knives do seem to be very highly talked about. It seems like it may well be the way I'll end up going.

Where would I go to try out knives of this quality before I buy? I mean, they aren't located in High Street shops...
post #5 of 13
That Global will be an 8" Chef's knife again. BDL recommended a 10. I switch back and forth a lot between an 8 and a 10. For making mirepoix or other volume cutting, the 10" is my preference.

And for a big summer watermelon, there are times I feel underknifed with a 10" blade.

Once you start mixing and matching, you'll quickly find that knife blocks don't really work well in a mixed knife environment. Kapoosh makes a free-format knife block but it's really only for knives 8" or less. Otherwise a very good idea.

I'm cheap. I'm still using a block that was part of a knife set from my wedding. There are no knives in the block from that crappy knife set. And not all my knives fit in it quite right. I can live with it.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #6 of 13
Thread Starter 
See, I'm thinking that I rarely use the 8" knife I have already, I usually use a 13cm and an 8cm (i.e. 5" and 3"), because I of course am always cutting vegetables. The 8cm one is a little small though.

I've taken the advice about the Global knives, and think perhaps getting their GSF-24, GSF-22 and GSF-15 (their 15, 11 and 8cm knives). I've got a knife block that's, well, a knife block, so that's OK. Then I can get a 800grit whetstone with those and spend £103.

Considering the relative amounts I use the knives I have, I'm certian that the big Chef's knife won't be used, and now I suppose I'm just wondering if cooks-knives.co.uk's free whetstone is what I need for those blades.
post #7 of 13
Speaking of blade length, three questions:

Do you pinch grip? And if you don't know what I'm talking about are you willing to learn? (Counts as one question)

What size is your cutting block?

Are you an organized cook?

I'm not dumb enough to tell you which knife you should use in any given situation beyond saying that you should use whichever knife you darn well please. However, (I am dumb enough to to say) certain knives are more productive than others in those given situations when appropriately used.

In that sense, the best knife for cutting veg is a chef's knife in the 8" - 11" range. People with good knife skills (including grip) tend to gravitate towards the longer end of the scale because, everything else being equal, a longer knife is (a) more productive, and (b) gives you more edge length to dull. A roundabout way of saying it will stay sharp longer.

A longer knife requires a larger board and/or better organizational skills on the board than a shorter. By organizational skills I mean keeping a sufficiently large area of the board clear enough to use the knife, always working in one direction, and getting stuff off the board quickly and into a few bowls you keep for mise, or into the pan.

Personally I consider a 24cm knife a minimum for the primary chef's knife (aka the go-to gyuto), the most used knife in the kitchen.

Just so you know: Global designates their knives as "G," "GS," and "GSF." There is some, but very little overlap in profiles between the various designations. G stands for Global. GS for Global Solid. And GSF for Global Solid Forged. G and GS are the original lines. G knives have hollow handles filled with exactly enough sand to balance the knife at the right point. GS knives were too long to be balanced with sand and have solid handles. GSF knives are forged, and meant to stand up to more abuse. Global does not consider one line to be higher quality than another. A lot of people associate "forged" with higher quality, but they're mistaken -- especially in regard to Global. Precision in the manufacturing process, agile geometry, and truly sharp edges trump mass everytime.

Here in the States, Global gets grief because some people find their handles slippery; and others find that the gyuto/chef's become uncomfortable, even painful, after long use. I haven't heard the same criticism coming from anywhere in the Empire -- where they seem quite popular. There, the criticism seems to be that they're "housewives' knives." That is more high style than function. Personally, I find the handles secure and comfortable, which may be a function of my grip -- which happens to be a very academic "pinch." Globals aren't my personal choice, but they're very good knives nonetheless.

post #8 of 13
Thread Starter 
Well, I'm certainly interested. I never used my 8" knife much before, even though it's from the same set as my 5" and 3" knives. Maybe I should be giving it more of a chance, and I will do so before I make a decision.

In answer to your questions, I don't know how I grip, but I'm willing to learn what it means, certainly. My chopping block is relatively small (probably about 8x12"), but I often use two of them to move food around, and I'm very organised.

Thanks for the information on the Knife range - it's confusing to know whether Global make an EntryLevel/MidRange/Professional when the prices all seemed to overlap so much :D
post #9 of 13
Thread Starter 
I don't know what the cooking term is, but when I use a knife, I grip it tightly, the handle of the knife flat against my palm, my thumb and four fingers wrapped tight around it.
post #10 of 13
As far as I know, Global doesn't make separate entry/mid/"pro" lines. The "G" line is comprised of smaller, lighter knives which would be out of balance if they weren't made with a hollow handle. The "GS" line are knives with blades are too long and heavy to balance in Global's normal way, a measured amount of sand in the handle; they require solid handles instead. The "GSF" are knives which receive a pounding as part of normal use for their type, so the extra strength and heft from forging pays a real dividend.

It's worth repeating, forged knives are not inherently better than stamped. At least not for most purposes. Global's system is extremely well thought out. Global is one of the few major manufacturers which doesn't make multiple lines for different price points. They make what they consider one or two iterations of a given profile -- each of which they consider to be the best for its task. While Globals are by no means my favorite knives, I admire their design philosophy.

8" x 12" is a tiny block, and an 8" knife is the longest practical blade. 12" x 16" is workable, but a little cramped for a 10" knife. 15" x 21" is comfortable, and 16" x 24" very comfortable. The extra size isn't necessary only to fit the blade, but for the volume of production. Also, the edge of the block is not the best place to work. Too messy.

Pinch grip: The user hold the knife blade, just in front of the handle,by gently pinching the pads of thumb and index finger on opposite sides of the blade. The back three fingers curl gently around the handle, holding it no harder than necessary to keep it from twisting.

It will be seen that the knuckles now face outward, rather than down, and the knife may be used to chop without danger that the knuckles will hit the board. One of the primary benefits of the grip. Another is that the knife may be held so the knife tip, and the user's wrist, forearm and elbow form a straignt line. If this relationship is held constant through use, the user can point the knife extremely accurately (and intuitively) my merely looking. The subtle movements of thumb, forefinger, feet and body necessary for tiny correction are instinctive.

It will also be seen that the forefinger wraps over the spine of the knife. Depending on how the knife is made, this may necessitate "easing" (rounding the sharp edges) of the spine by sanding or grinding, or else the grip may result in pain and "knife callouses." Finally, a dull knife will require excessive pressure to use and will be felt with similar results in the same place, where the index finger makes contact with the spine. Knife callouses were once seen as a badge of honor, by they're really the result of poorly made and/or finished tools, poorly maintained and poorly handled.

Offhand, I can't recall for sure if Globals are made with rounded spines or not. It's been a long time since picking one up, but I think they require easing.

post #11 of 13
That's an "overhand," aka "baseball," probably aka "cricket," grip. I don't think there's a specific culinary name for it, other than "$#@!"

If it works for you as a homecook, fine. If you had come to work for me when I was still catering you would have had a new grip, a calloused ear and an enlarged vocabulary within ten minutes. I gained a working knowledge of French and German invective as part of knifeskills. The kitchen's a funny old place.

Or not,
post #12 of 13
Usually called a hammer grip. 'Cause its just like you hold a hammer.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #13 of 13
Thread Starter 
"dollarhashatsignexclamationmark"? That's a daft name. A brief search of the internet tells me that I should be placing the thumb and side of the index finder on either side of the blade, wrapping only three fingers around the handle.

If it tends to work better, I'll give it a go.
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