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Help selecting chef knife

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
So, I've been reading review after review of nice chef knives for the past two days, and I'm as confused as ever.

I'm a home cook, but I cook often, and like to think I'm fairly skilled. I don't have good knives and have been getting really frustrated lately.

I'm a Ph.D. student, and as such, don't have a ton of money. However, from what I've been looking at, I have no problem paying 100-150 for a nice knife if I need it.

I'm not especially rough on knives, I take good care of them and know how to care for them. However, I don't have a honing steel. Is this a huge problem? I suppose I can always get one. But, I'd prefer something that keeps its edge as long as possible.

Wusthof has a decent-looking 2knife set on amazon, which would be ideal, I suppose, and is in my price range. However, I'm not sold on any of what I've read about them.

Shun's look beautiful and, from what I've read, keep their edge for a good time. However, I've also read they're over priced.

I'm a big guy (6'3") and have fairly average sized hands for a guy my height. Therefore, I think I'm in the "large hand" category. I was planning on going with an 8" blade because it's what I'm used to and I've never wanted more. Though, I can never remember using a 10".

I cook a wide variety of home things. Pretty much everything really. Versatility is a plus!

Basically, any thoughts, recommendations, etc are really appreciated. I know I've probably missed similar posts, but please have patience with me :)

post #2 of 25
extremism aside, any of the market standard brands - which does not include stuff like Cutco - are suitable for the home chef.

the handle & heft & blade shape, how it fits and feels in your hand, is imho more important that 2 or 3 degrees on a Rockwell scale.

don't know what you've read about Wueshtof - I have a bunch, since the late '80s - today called their "Classic" line.

I sharpen/touchup on a stone twice a year and use a steel almost everythime I pick a knife up - and I don't have any problems with "sharp" - then again, I do not use my kitchen knives for shaving, so some folks would opine they are not really sharp.

the 8" is heavily used - being tall, I doubt you would have trouble handling a 10" (the elbow height above the counter height permits the amount of swing arc neeeded to effectively "rock")
post #3 of 25
Dillbert said it all very well. I will just add this: You can go to Amazon.com and read reviews on knives, to get a good idea which ones other people prefer. However, You must choose the knife in person. Hold it in your hand and simulate the movements you will be making with it. Looks and brand name mean very little when it comes to daily use. It has to be comfortable in your hand, feel like a natural extension of your arm, and for best balance [imho] should not be longer than the distance from the elbow to the fingertip.

Then, when you have selected the chef's knife that is right for you, get the right cutting board too. The diagonal measurement of the board should be no less than 2" more than the knife's overall length.

Also, don't blow your whole budget on a knife unless you know you will be the only one using it. No one else will be as careful with it as you are. In my kitchen I have a cheap knife set [very cheap---"as seen on TV " cheap], placed prominiently on the counter, and I keep my special knives out of sight. HubbyDearest has no respect for knives, [he's also lefthanded].
"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
post #4 of 25
and past that, warranties mean stuff.

my 26 cm Wuesthof SuperSlicer I bought in Sept 1985. the handle cracked in July 2005.

one email, sent it off, it was replaced, no questions.
post #5 of 25
I really like MAC knives, MAC Knife Inc. USA
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
post #6 of 25
Thread Starter 
Hrmm...I had not looked at these. My two two favorite chefs also use them -- not that that means much to my comfort, but impressive nonetheless.

Any thoughts on which kind to look at most? By quickly looking, it seems the professional series is the most well thought-of. Seems like people really enjoy the 8" w/dimples professional chef.

Also, I can't figure out why many seem to be enamored with santoku knives. Am I missing something?

I wasn't high on the wusthofs, but the reliable warranty is definitely a good thing. Is the Le Cordon Bleu series better than the classic enough to justify a $60 jump in the 2-knife set? Though the macs look really interesting as well.

Thanks for the advice, folks.
post #7 of 25
>>> Is the Le Cordon Bleu series better

careful. one series is being discontinued; could be wrong, but thought that was the one - if so you should be seeing huge discounts.

achtung! the other lines have different handle shapes! go thee forth and try them on.

"stylish" anything in any make is gonna cost more. question is, is them still "stylish" next year?
post #8 of 25
Thread Starter 
I read that they were being discontinued as well, but still found them around on amazon, sur la table, etc. Some seem to think they're much better than the classics, other not so much. I'm intrigued by these MAC knives, too.
post #9 of 25
As long as you stay with the MAC "classic" styles, classic knife skills are appropriate.

However, if you choose the MAC styles, the ones with the rounded ends or the Japanese types, there are different techniques that will fully utilize their design. Not at all difficult to learn, just different.

I've used MACs of both styles since 2000 and have given away all the rest.
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
post #10 of 25
Thread Starter 
Through some more research/review reading, I think I've settled on the MAC knife. Seems like the safest bet in my price range.

So to you I ask: professional or chef series? I suppose the ones I'm debating between are the professional series models MTH-80 or MBK-85 or chef series BK-80/BK-100/TH-80/TH-100. Is the professional series worth my extra 50ish dollars? Also, I've never used a dimpled blade -- I understand why it can be beneficial, but should I nab one? If I go chef's series, I can also nab a paring knife and stay in my range.

Oh my ignorance. Thanks for the help and pointing me towards the MACs. First computers and now knives...macs are infiltrating my life!

post #11 of 25
Oooookay. Hang tight a second, this is complicated.

Time was, the "hold it in your hand" advice was dead-on. I used to be a proponent of that method. It's not accurate now. There has been a revolution in chef's knives, and it changes everything.

What's happened is (awareness of) Japanese steels. These steels are higher quality, and as a result can be tempered to a greater hardness, which means they can hold their edge with less metal behind them. This means that you can have a much lighter, thinner-bladed knife that will out-compete a classic German-style knife in every way.

Now Shun and Global have done wonders in trying to convince folks that they are the cutting-edge (as it were) of this revolution, which is why they can get away with the higher prices. But in fact, those knives are not especially good for the money.

Just as an example, my 10.5" Masamoto will make a laughing-stock of any Henckels, Wusthof, Shun, or Global. It cost me about $200, but I'm in Japan and can get things cheaper than you can. It weighs nothing, takes a terrifying edge, holds an edge against amazing odds, and is really a great pleasure to use. You have no idea what a conversion experience it was to sharpen this thing and slice.

But before continuing, you need to make two extremely important choices. The first has to do with sharpening. Do you want to learn how to sharpen a knife, or do you want to maintain an edge on a steel and then send it out to be sharpened by someone else? This is crucial. If you don't want to sharpen, you need a good steel and you need an extremely durable knife. If you're willing to learn to sharpen, you don't need a steel or anyone's help, and you can benefit from the thin-blade revolution. Myself, I am emphatically in the revolutionary camp, but I grant that not everyone is going to go in for this. I used to be a PhD student, back before I became a starving academic, so I know what you're dealing with in money. On the other hand, I also know that by definition you have odd abilities to obsess about weird things, and in my opinion folks like us are just the right people to get crazy about sharpening. Up to you.

The next question is carbon or stainless. Carbon is generally cheaper and much, much easier to sharpen and maintain (in terms of edge). Stainless is easy when it comes to everything else, and that's significant. I say look at your habits. Can you deal with wiping a blade every time you switch ingredients, and scouring lightly when you finish cutting for the meal/day? Go carbon. Are you sometimes inattentive, just want to slap the knife down and deal with it later? Go stainless. This is not a moral judgment, so think seriously about your tendencies.

Size: Get a 10" and don't fool around. You're a big guy, like me, and you've got no reason to be cutting down. Once you've used a knife like this for a couple days, you'll thank me.

Okay, here we go.


Carbon: Sabatier au carbone
Stainless: I'd still stay Sabatier, but consider Wusthof or Henckels; I for one do not like their excessively deep-bellied shape. Global and Shun are probably too expensive for what you want, though if the prices are good they are probably superior.


Now you're looking at real Japanese knives. I have some recommendations, but if you want to go this route, we need to get a little more specific about what you want. You can get a wonderful knife for $100, and a good stone to keep it frighteningly sharp for $40, and if you're willing to deal with this you will for the rest of your life laugh at fools who use Wusthofs. But we'll need to be pretty detailed, so I'm not going to get into it unless you say this is what you want. You should also be aware that this is a drug I'm pushing: if you buy a knife and stone like this, you'll in five years have several more knives and several more stones, because it's just so much fun.
post #12 of 25
As to MAC, it's a good knife, no problem. If that's what you want, go for it.

Don't get the dimples: they don't do anything worth doing.

But plan to get serious about sharpening, or you'll be getting little out of this knife. It's like driving a fancy sports car to the grocery store on busy city streets: the car will do it, but you're not really getting a lot out of it and you will forever wonder what's supposed to be so great about the car. If you take your MAC to a serious level of sharpness, way beyond how it comes out of the box, you'll enter quite a different world.
post #13 of 25
Thread Starter 
Wow, thanks for the detailed post. I really appreciate the time.

I also appreciate that as a former PhD student, you understand the weird obsessive compulsiveness that accompanies such people. I'm very much in this vein, and when I decide to buy something nice, I usually do it right.

As for your questions, I think I'm going to go with stainless. I know my tendencies in the kitchen and can see myself messing up a high carbon blade. I think it'd be one of those things where I do well with caring for it for the first month or so, then revert to my old ways. Plus, as a former PhDer, you know that sometimes things come up or you have 500 things on your mind -- lapses in concentration can be often! To boot, as I'm just now getting serious in the kitchen again after a couple years of being the "eat out" guy, I know I'll have more lazy habits than I used to. Maybe carbon down the line.

As for sharpening: I've never done it. I don't think I'm wholly opposed to it, since I don't think it takes too much time, but I'm just ignorant. I think the only knives I've sharpened have been my old pocket knives when I was using them often. I think that was one of the appeals of the mac knife -- people seem to think the mac rollsharp is really nice (read: simple and effective). I guess I just don't know enough to fully answer this question -- and I'll be afraid the first couple times about messing it up on inaugural sharpenings.

So, I think I'm mostly in the stainless "real japanese" knives you were talking about. I'm looking at probably 100-150 for the knife. I absolutely cannot go over $200 for knife and stone. At least, not without putting my ability to participate in my brother's bachelor party at risk, which I'm not willing to do. So, knowing this -- what would you suggest. You seem to endorse a MAC knife, but don't seem excited about it.

Part of the allure to a MAC knife was 1) the seeming belief in the rollsharp by many I've read around the webs and 2) if I can go the chef series and not notice large performance loss over the professional series, I could get the paring knife, chef knife, and roll sharp in my price range. But, no one has definitively answered the differences between these two lines (either in this thread or what I've found online). Plus, it seems widely regarded as just a solid knife all around -- and I'm looking for the sure bet, as it were.

I fully expect this to become a drug, like you say. Again, something I'm used to given my slightly obsessive compulsive tendencies. It's happened with hi-fi in-ear monitors -- started with the $30, then the $100, then the $200, and now I'm at the $400 pair (god help me when I go the $1000 pair). Happened with scotch (as I stare at my bottles of Johnny Walker Blue Label and 18-year glenlivet). Happened with tattoos. I'm fully prepared for it to happen with this, and it doesn't really scare me a bit.

Thanks again everyone for chiming it, it's really helping out a lot.
post #14 of 25
IMHO, start with the "Chef Series", I've used the TH-80 for almost ten (10) years and it still cuts like new. Size is really your preference.

I started with the "Original Series" and still use them extensively on a daily basis.

The "dimples" help when slicing "starchy" foods to minimize "sticking to the blade" and do not interfere with other uses.
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
post #15 of 25
well, first off, other than burying the knife in the dirt for a couple years, you cannot "mess up" a carbon steel knife.

it's just a question of "pretty" - carbon stains, it will rust. if you allow your knife to rust, there are other issues. stainless does not stain or discolor.

I have a favorite screwdriver. it's ugly as sin. it works, it's my favorite. I don't care and I frankly don't think the screw notices....

ref sharpening, get over it. there's no magic - go forth and try it - you'll learn it. some basic attention to detail takes care of it - and I use a $15 tri-stone from Sears.
I have nine non-serrated knives to tend to. takes perhaps 45 minutes twice a year. keep in mind, I'm not sharpening from 120 grit to 3000 grit followed by sixteen honing stages. I just want them to cut.

if you buy an expensive knife thinking it'll take less sharpening/maintenance/care - time for a rethunk.

as I said, I don't shave with my kitchen knives. and if I balance a tomato on the cutting edge and let go - no, the knife does not cleave the tomato under it's own weight.

but they do slice dice chop cut filet cleanly and without effort all the foodstuffs I bring in the kitchen.

thin blade thick blade, all hogwash to the home cookery scene. and I totally disagree that one can blindly buy a knife without handling it. it fits, it don't fits, it works for you, it don't works for you, end of story.

if you're charged with dicing 3,000 celery heads per day, you might find a lighter knife advantageous. otherwise it's a meaningless metric.
post #16 of 25
Nope, neither does my MAC.

However, balance the heel of the MAC on a tomato and draw it straight back with no "down pressure" and it WILL slice through the tomato using only the weight of the knife (and NO, it is NOT "heavy" ;) )

I know that BDL and others will shudder at the thought, however, in ten years I've only used the "Roll-o-sharp" on my MACs, and then only ocassionally, and they are still PDS, (pretty darn sharp)..
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post #17 of 25
fortunately I still possess the strength needed to cut a tomato - so fact or fiction, the statement stands without meaning.
post #18 of 25
What this tells me is that you haven't used a very sharp thin-bladed knife. As I say, using one is kind of a conversion experience for an awful lot of people. Cutting without using any force is not just a question of ease; it means you actually cut somewhat differently, with cleaner results.

I can't comment on the MAC rollsharp, not having used one. If it works, go for it.
post #19 of 25
AMEN! Until you have done it you will NOT understand it.I was highly skeptical when Harold Arimato, the MAC distributor for the USA, recommended it nine (9) years ago, I'm now convinced! My MAC knives, and I have, let's see, umm, 9 that I use regularly, have never been sharpened, stoned, or honed on anything but a Roll-a-sharp and, IMHO, they are as sharp, if not sharper, than when I received them
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post #20 of 25
Thread Starter 
well it seems like this is a great scenario then -- I can get the 10" chef w/dimples TH-100, the 5.5" paring HB-55, and the roll sharp for well under my $200 limit.

Unless anyone has other suggestions for a chef knife in this range. I've thrown out wusthof, henckles, shun, and global as it seems like MAC knives will be a better bet for me. Still open to suggestions, though, will be ordering in a couple weeks.
post #21 of 25
Not knowing your geographic domicile, if possible, find SOMEONE who has MAC knives and try them out.

I know you will be happy with them, but the experience will be FAR better if you heed the advice and counsel of someone experienced with their use.
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post #22 of 25
JWS919 I'm sure you'll enjoy those two knives. Would you please give us an update after you've had a chance to put them through their paces?

I have a Mac 9" Pro line chef's knife and I enjoy it quite a bit. My wife has some of the superior series rounded tip knives and I regularly use those as well. The Superior series have a small space at the front of the scales where they meet the blade to allow the thinner blade to flex. I don't know if this feature is shared with the Chefs series. It does aid in certain trimming tasks. But really it's no big deal. The Pro has a bolster and slightly thicker stiffer blade. My Mac is a bit lighter than my 9" Wusthof, and seems somewhat more agile, both are comfortable knives to use. The Mac holds an edge better.

We don't have a roll sharp, but we do have a ceramic steel and the Macs respond quite well to that. My wife's are at least 12 years old and have held up pretty well considering the amount of use they get. I've only sharpened them twice and mostly they maintain a reasonable working edge with regular use of the ceramic rod.

I don't believe the benefits of having a knife with dimples would offset the additional difficulty in cleaning it, or smashing a clove of garlic, but this is only my pedjudice.
post #23 of 25
My admittedly limited experience, plus a great deal of what I've read, suggests that the dimples don't really achieve much if anything. It appears that they may compensate slightly for poor technique and a dull knife, but since you're going to keep your knife sharp, and will I hope put a little effort into decent technique, this doesn't help you.
post #24 of 25
The MAC Chefs are very good knives -- and may well be the best bang for the buck in the MAC line.

The MAC Professionals are better knives, significantly more expensive, are made from the same steel as the Chefs and the only apparent difference is the bolster. However, the Pro is significantly more robust and also stiffer. In fact, it's probably the stiffest of all (reasonably priced) Japanese knives. It also sharpens easier; although it does not get any sharper (unless your skills are limited), and does not hold an edge any longer.

I prefer the Pro for its more robust character and better fit and finish (although you wouldn't believe it if you read Tillster's thread). The Pro handle is slightly better for larger hands, in my opinion.

Some people don't really see the differences other than the Pro's bolster. And they consider the $50 price difference to be a lot of money for a bolster. Given everything you've said about yourself it's not an obvious call, but I recommend spending the extra $50 on the 9-1/2" Pro.

The Chefs and Pros both maintain (but don't sharpen) well on honing rods (aka steels). You'll want a good rod. The best steel for the money is the 12" ceramic Idahone (fine) -- it runs around $25.

A "Rollsharp" will give you a fairly sharp, but fairly rough edge, reliably. No learning curve. A MAC can not only take a fair amount of polish, but hold it for awhile and make good use of it. I wouldn't choose it as anything other than an emergency sharpener. I don't mean any criticism of Pete's choice by this. We like different edges on our knives. So sue us. YOU might find it a good interim solution until you can afford better.

Fortunately the MAC Chefs and Pros are soft enough to sharpen on relativley inexpensive oilstones -- although more expensive waterstones will sharpen faster and better. For the time being, you can start with a decent 1K waterstone or less expensive 1K/5 or 6K combination water stone, or a Hall's 8" tri-stone (two Arkansas and one manmade) -- any of the above will set you back about $50. I think a Lansky diamond rod hone system might be in the same price range too. Good value for the obsessive sharpener.

Another thought, and this might be best for you, is one of the Chef's Choice 15*"Asian" sharpeners -- Model 316. The polishing stage will allow you to hold off on the honing rod for awhile. A lot of people have horror stories about old electric sharpeners, but the Chef's Choice are really pretty good. With minimum attention, they won't hurt your knife. You get a consistently good, polished edge quickly and without any learning curve. Ultimately it's not as good as a skilled sharpener can put on with $150 worth of stones. And take note, they do clog up and wear out to the point of "no mas," after a few years.

I realize the cost of the Pro as compared to the Chef puts a dent in your budget. But as with all tool purchases: You'll regret the expensive tool until the next check, and regret the cheap tool as long as you own it. Make sure you choose the knife you want rather than settling. This doesn't mean buy the expensive knife, it means get what you want. You'll have the knife for years. On the other hand, if you want the Pro and have to wait until after your brother's wedding to buy the knife it's only a few months.

post #25 of 25
>>AMEN! Until you have done it you will NOT understand it.

there's a problem. I have tried them - several days as a house guest helping in the kitchen.
they're very nice knives.
I prefer mine.
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