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kitchen knives

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
Hi all,

I was wondering if any of you could recommend a good all-purpose knife for the kitchen? The knife will be used mostly for slicing and dicing fruits and vegetables. Obviously it would be nice to have a full set of knives, but if you could only have one knife in your kitchen, which knife would you recommend. Thanks for any advice you can offer.

post #2 of 12
Lots of opinions on this. Most would recommend a Chef's knife of 8 or 10 inches. Which size is really a personal choice. If you're doing a lot of work, the larger knife increases efficiency and you'll come to appreciate it but the size may be a bit awkward at first for some.

Generally speaking, the Forschner Fibrox line is the best bang for the buck and you can get into that for about $35 for an 8" chefs knife. You can get nicer handles too but the price ramps up.

The Wusthof and Henkels lines are of comparable quality but cost more.

For the money of the Wusthof and Henkels, many would now recommend various Japanese knives and I'll let those with more to say on that topic chime in.

If you prefer the Chinese cleaver-style chef's knife--and it is a chef's knife, not a heavy bone chopping cleaver--Forschner again makes a nice 8" with a full height taper for around $35.00.
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 12
I have a lot of knives for very specific applications but, in a pinch, I could prepare a full 6 course Italian spread with 4 knives. An 8" Chef. a 3.5" Paring, an 8" Fillet, and a 14" Bread knife. Get your fish filleted by the monger or at the monger and there's one down. Buy a loaf from a baker and have him do the slicing(they all will), and you're down to two knives for all at home applications..

As for brands, the Forschners are good but, to me at least, they are a little blade heavy. Some like that though. Go to a kitchen supply store, even if you plan on buying online to find a bargain, and take some for a test drive to see what feels best in your hand. Remember, if you aren't comfortable with a knife, you won't use it much.

If we're down to one knife only, I'll take the 8" Chef's knife.
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
post #4 of 12

Yes, almost everyone would choose a chef's. I prefer either a 10" or 27cm myself.

The modern trend seems to be away from a short paring knife and towards a "petty" at around 6".

Really? An 8" fillet? "Filleting" and "boning" knives are usually shorter; the exceptions are a few specialist fish knives and a couple of Globals. Also, are you having the fillet do double duty as a slicer -- or is that the 14" bread knife?

14"?! Really? I don't get that all. Maybe you mean an 8" and 14" length, counting the handle -- but that doesn't make sense, because the paring and chef's lengths clearly do not.

post #5 of 12
That's really two unrelated questions. Your best choice isn't my best choice.

Let's not worry about me, you're a lot more interesting.

Before making specific profile and brand recommendatoins, let's find out a bit about you.

How do you sharpen now? What are your plans for keeping your new knife sharp?

Price range?

Will you be buying other knives in the near future?

How would you describe your cooking style? American? French?

Do you have good knife skills? Do you pinch grip?

Have you ever owned a good knife?

What kind of cutting board do you use?

Anything unusual about your hand size or anything else that might make a particular grip comfortable or uncomfortable.

Reading between the lines of your post, I suspect your best single knife choice might be either a MAC 7" santoku (around $65), or a Forschern Fibrox santoku (around $25), because santokus are very forgiving of untrained technique. You'll also need a way to keep it sharp -- some sort of pull-through, manual sharpener like a Chef's Choice or MAC RollSharp would probably be appropriate in terms of price, (lack of) skills and counterspace.

But don't go with that, answer all the questions and talk about anything else you think might be relevant and we'll take it from there.

post #6 of 12
Modern trends in knife length is none of my concern. I find 6 inches too long for dicing small vegetables like garlic and shallots.

I like a long fillet knife. I also use a cheap Rapala fillet knives. they come out of the box like razors and take an edge well. When you knock one off of a counter and chip the blade, they're only $15 so who cares.
(They also make a 10" but that's just ridiculous)

That one was a typo. 10"

How do the Chef and Paring lengths not make sense, by the way?
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
post #7 of 12
I have a little 7" chef's I use for shallots if I've got a ton of shallots. That is, I use it for brunoise or micro-brunoise when starting with something that's already small. Otherwise I use my 10" chef's knife since it's the knife that's always out; for that matter, I always use it for garlic. Not saying that's the right way to go for anyone else.

The draw of the 6" petty over the parer is that the extra length makes it more versatile, but it's not long enough to compromise precise point work -- at least not once you get used to it.

I'm not suggesting you have some chef's ethical obligation to follow the trend, just commenting that it is the modern trend -- in much the same way the trend is toward Japanese manufactured knives. FWIW, although I recommend Japanese knives almost exclusively when someone asks about "good" knives; almost all of mine are very old French carbons.

I used to use a filleting knife, but a few years ago I started fabricating fish portions "Japanese style." I use one of my chef's (7" and 10" carbon Sabatiers) as a sort of deba to take off the head and tail, and cut out the skeleton; then switch to a 10" slicer (another carbon Sab) to skin, portion and/or slice.

I expressed myself poorly. What I meant to say was that if the chef and paring knife lengths were blade and not blade and handle, then it didn't make sense if the filleting and bread knife lengths were given as blade and handle. It doesn't matter, anyway. You already cleared it up.

You didn't mention a slicer, which was sort of a surprise. Do you use your bread? Or...?

post #8 of 12
I would normally use a scimitar or a straight carving knife. That was an "if I only had the bare minimum" situation. In that case, I would use the fillet and a fork to keep the blade from twisting.
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
post #9 of 12
What you are seeking is what I have taken to calling an "anchor knife." This is the knife that does 75%-95% of the work in your kitchen. It is, with very limited exceptions for specialist professionals, the knife that should eat the majority of the cutlery budget.

(Before going on, let me note that I have some "bottom line" suggestions at the bottom in case this rather long post just overwhelms you with information you don't want. Personally, I hate getting recommendations or advice without explanation of what stands behind it, but your mileage may differ.)

There are five stock choices, which I would suggest reducing very rapidly. They are:
  • Chef's knife (note: the Japanese term "gyuto" refers to this same knife). The standard in Western kitchens. Price extremely variable. Easy to learn. The single most versatile anchor knife known to me.
Because of that last point, any other choice needs justification. What do you gain, and why do you want that over what you will lose? Beyond the blade shape and its natural predilections, note that essentially everything you are ever likely to see about "how to cut things" will assume you're using a chef's knife, so factor that in.

Anyway, back to other choices:
  • Chinese cleaver. Fabulous for chopping and mincing, not great for slicing. (That's by comparison to a chef's knife, as will be the case throughout.) Cheap. Pretty easy to learn.
  • Japanese usuba. Spectacular for almost all vegetable work; in skilled hands, much superior on this score to any chef's knife. Cannot be used for any form of meat or fish. Expensive. Tricky to sharpen and maintain. Very difficult to learn.
  • Japanese santoku. Acceptable for all the same cutting a chef's knife does, but inferior in every way. Superior only in one respect: its preferred length is quite short, on the order of 6"-7". So if you have a very cramped kitchen or are frankly terrified of longer knives, this may be an option. Cheap, unless you're being ripped off. Easy to learn.
  • Japanese nakiri. A nakiri is to an usuba what a santoku is to a chef's knife: mediocre but easy and cheap. Again, cannot be used for any form of meat or fish. Easy to learn.
So if you are a strict vegetarian, you have a couple of options that the rest of us really do not: the nakiri and the usuba. You do not want an anchor knife that cannot cut a large range of the foods you eat, so if you eat meat and fish and poultry, you do not want one of those knives. If you are a strict vegetarian, the usuba is a very good knife, and the nakiri is not, but the latter should be (but rarely is in the U.S.) extremely cheap -- like $25 should cover it. Over $50 and you're being ripped off or you're a collector. You said you would be slicing mostly fruits and vegetables, so I mention these as options, but chances are they're not a good choice.

A santoku is fine if it's cheap, but otherwise it's basically a mediocre chef's knife restructured to make it work decently when very short. If you're somewhere in the vicinity of average size, and an 8" knife does not make you shake with terror, and your kitchen has standard-depth counters, don't bother with one of these. Unless, of course, you can get it for an appropriate price, like under $50.

Chinese cleaver: excellent choice if you mostly cook in a style that requires things to be more or less bite-sized or in whole pieces (or jointed, as for birds). Fast, cheap, fun. If you change your mind later, you can retire the knife to an honorable place doing the heavy brutality work of the kitchen (shearing through chicken bones, lobster shells, etc.). I like the Dexter-Russell Chinese Cleaver, which should run about $50 and has long been the standard in pro Chinese kitchens around the U.S. Indestructible knife that will never let you down. I'd say about 1 in 100 US home cooks should consider (which is not to say convert to) a cleaver.

Usuba: excellent choice under a very limited set of circumstances. You need excellent hand-eye coordination, lots of patience, a slightly obsessive-compulsive approach to getting things just so, and a fair chunk of change. It will help immensely if you almost never cut any meat or poultry, because then you're going to need a second anchor knife, which undermines the whole system. Fish is OK: you get a fish knife for that. If you fit this quite odd profile, I assure you that after 3 months of mild fury, then about a year of really getting the hang of it, this knife will give you immense pleasure. Bear in mind that you will need a good set of waterstones, because this thing cannot to my knowledge be sharpened effectively any way but freehand (fortunately, it's not that difficult to do -- just tedious). Don't expect to get away under $175 for the knife, and if you're going to do it, don't get stainless: if you're not obsessive-compulsive enough to take care of carbon, you're nowhere near obsessive-compulsive enough to learn an usuba on your own. I would say that about 1 in 10,000 US home cooks should consider an usuba.

So if roughly .25% of cooks should use a cleaver, and .0025% an usuba, and maybe let's be generous and say another .1% should use a nakiri or santoku, that leaves 99.65% who should be using a chef's knife.

By "should use" I mean "will get the most value, pleasure, and efficiency from."

For a chef's knife, as to what to buy, I'd say line it up like this:

<$50 : Forschner, Dexter, etc. Good reliable knives, nothing fancy, perfectly reasonable competitors to Wusthof, Henckels, etc. which come at higher prices.

~$100: entry-level Japanese (various lines of Togiharu, Tojiro, MAC, etc.). Excellent knives, at least the equal of and most think much superior to the higher-priced Shuns and Globals.

~$200: mid-high-grade Japanese. I would be very wary of a knife like this if you don't know why you're choosing one knife over another.

>$300: very high-end Japanese. I hope you know what you're doing, because this is collector's territory.

You will need something for sharpening.

If you are not buying Japanese, get an Idahone honing rod and use it religiously, then every 3 months to a year (depending on what you like) do some sharpening. You can have it done by a service, or do it yourself, but if you're doing it once a year I figure send it out -- it's not that expensive and you're never going to learn to do it especially well yourself if you do it that rarely; besides, why invest in all the equipment?

If you are buying Japanese, sharpening becomes a significant issue, and must be factored into your budget. There are many threads around here about this question, and several of us here will be happy to yap interminably about it, so just say the word.

Bottom Line. My guess is that you fit in one of two camps.

One camp is the relatively new cook who wants a basically decent knife and doesn't want to mess around or blow wads of cash where it doesn't get you much. Buy an 8" or 10" Forschner chef's knife and an Idahone and you're in business.

The other camp is the relatively experienced cook who wants to "upgrade" but doesn't want to break the bank on something that isn't worth it. Because you didn't mention it, I'm guessing you don't have any experience with Japanese knives. Buy a Togiharu 240 or 270mm gyuto (chef's knife). As to sharpening, BDL swears that there is a good pull-through electric thing that will get you started, but be forewarned that once you get hooked you're going to be investing in sharpening equipment.

Sorry to go on so long -- been thinking about this problem for a bit!
post #10 of 12
I think you would have to double that number before that statement even began to have a lot of validity. The Masamoto KS series will break that price point and they are not exactly collectors knives. Many working knives from Suisin and numerous others will break that price point with ease. Some fairly popular working WA gyutos over $300.
I agree with pretty much every thing Phatch said with one monior niggle. There is not a lot of comparison in the quality department between Forschner and Wusthof. Wusthof is a nice upgrade from Forschner IMO especially in the handle. However as others have noted you may want to consider the Mac Pro which should be in the same price range.
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
post #11 of 12
I didn't mean "collectors' knives" in the sense that only a collector would be interested. I simply mean that if you are just getting started, know nothing much about knives or sharpening, and you're looking to spend a sane -- neither trivial nor huge -- sum on an excellent knife, a $300+ gyuto is not a great investment.

I am a big fan of my Masamoto KS 270mm gyuto, but I would never recommend it to someone out of the blue. It's carbon, for one thing. For another, you've got to be pretty serious about doing your own sharpening. For a third, you ought to think seriously about whether you really want a western or Japanese handle, and I don't think buyers at this level are in a position to assess this.

That said, if you'd like to bump that number to $400, the point is perhaps clearer: my sense of price points at the higher end is largely conditioned by Japanese prices, and I do sometimes forget that dealers normally mark up knives by 33%-50%.

In any event, if you don't know exactly what you're buying and why, you are in my opinion being foolish if you drop this kind of money on a knife. It's not as if you can't get a really excellent gyuto for about $125, so why spend three times that much? There are reasons -- of course there are, I'm not saying that a Masamoto KS is the same thing as a Togiharu INOX (240mm $100 from Amazon). But I think the differences, real though they are, are not something the first-time buyer is going to get much pleasure from, especially when they cost so much.
post #12 of 12
I see your point and I agree. When you said collectors my thoughts ran to knives that are bought for disply and never used.
I recently picked up a WA gyuto from JCK for roughly $130. I'm thrilled with it at the price point.
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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