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Butcher Knives -- How to Choose? How to Use?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
Specialty meat cutting knives come in a variety of profiles, including skinners, breakers, boning knives, butcher's, and cimiters.  Heck, boning knives alone can be narrow, wide, flexible, stiff, semi-stiff, straight, offset or curved.

My own practice is perhaps a bit naive; my own knife set perhaps a bit limited.

With all those knives floating around, there have got to be better ways of doing things -- especially for someone who is interested in buying larger pieces and doing her (or his) own portioning.

I know Mad Cows has a big stock of many choices... 

So.  Beyond my primitive -- How to choose?  How to use?

BDL
Edited by boar_d_laze - 4/9/10 at 9:53am
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What were we talking about?
 
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post #2 of 13
Under use, how does the cutting instrument feel in your own hands?  And its sharpening characteristics - we've been down this road once before.
Edited by kokopuffs - 4/9/10 at 10:47am

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Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.

 

-T

Brot und Wein
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post #3 of 13
I like to use expensive sets because I find them to last longer and has better quality.  I use caribou. what is a great brand other than this one?
post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by kokopuffs View Post
Under use, how does the cutting instrument feel in your own hands?  And its sharpening characteristics - we've been down this road once before.
 
With respect and affection:  Does "how does the cutting instrument feel in your own hands" mean I have to buy one of everything?  Frankly, I was hoping for more insight.  That's why I directed my questions to Daniel of Mad Cows.

And what about sharpening characteristics?  Is there something in particular you want to recommend over everything else? Do you want to do a broad comparison of many brands?  Again, "sharpening characteristics" as two words in isolation doesn't move the conversation along.

Still if you want to discuss the whys and wherefores of when to choose a cimiter instead of a straight slicer for portioning, or sharpening particular alloys to particular edge angles, I want to listen.

Originally Posted by nichole View Post
I like to use expensive sets because I find them to last longer and has better quality.  I use caribou. what is a great brand other than this one?

By caribou you mean Dassaud right?  (Don't be impressed, had to look it up.)   I'm not familiar with the brand so can't make any sort of direct comparison. 

Of the currently manufactured pro style butcher knives I've used, most have been Forschner -- either Fibrox or Rosewood.  Forschner is not the only choice by any means but seems to be most common in good custome butcher shops.

I personally like Forschners for certain purposes -- like specialised meat knives -- because they take an edge so easily and seem to hold it as well or better than most things at the price.  

My only true "butcher's" knife is a carbon, ****Elephant Sabatier straight, boning knife which I reserve for removing awkward bones from big cuts.   For everything else, including fish, I use a petty (6" paring knife), 12" chef's, 10" chef's, 7" chef's and 10" slicer -- French carbon all -- singly or in combination. 

Come to think of it, I also have a Forschner Rosewood wide fillet.  But for the last few years save that for pies, cheese, and the like since switiching to the combination of a chef's and slicer as deba and yanigaba in my travesty of an homage to Japanese style fish fabrication. 

In the seventies I worked boucher in a brigade for about a year, give or take.  I can make straight cuts with a knife and a meat saw.  But, trust me, that does not mean I was ever a good butcher.  I don't really know why a skilled cutter would choose a curved, semi-flexible boning knife over a straight, stiff; and "whatever feels best" doesn't do much to alter the abysm of my ignorance.

At this stage of the game, I doubt I'm going to run out and buy a bunch of specialty meat knives.  I get along pretty well -- but that certainly doesn't mean I don't want to know more; nor do I think I'm the only one who wants to know.  There's a lot of interest and a lot of potential customers.

Anyway, that's why I raised the entire set of issues for Daniel.  Hopefully he'll be around directly.

BDL
Edited by boar_d_laze - 4/9/10 at 5:38pm
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What were we talking about?
 
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post #5 of 13
Sorry it took so long to post--we are just learning how to get around ChefTalk. We get asked about the best butcher knives all the time, especially from the growing home processor and hobby farmers looking to raise or process their own animals, or at least have the animals slaughtered at a facility and primal cuts delivered for home cutting.  We are in the process of finishing up an article for ChefTalk that will get into detail about uses for different knives, but I would like to give a brief summary.  

First, my explanation of the uses of certain butcher knives is not all inclusive--so I will bet that there will be others join in with their uses for certain knife styles.  I come from a restaurant, meat processing and ranching family and had 10 years experience as a federal regulator of the meat industry and have seen meat slaughter and processing plants from coast to coast from the largest, such as Tysons to the smallest mom and pop smokehouses and retail butcher shops.  I am back in the family businesses now, but I thought I would provide a little back-ground about how I have used certain butcher knives and how they are used by the true professional butchers. The bulk of our business at Mad Cow Cutlery is to the commercial accounts--so we know what the top sellers are and how they are being used.

First, the boning knife.  As the names states it was designed for boning out product.  The type, whether straight or curved or flexible or stiff, is dependent on the user, but curved semi-flexible is the best seller.  Straight-stiff is the worst seller.  Six inch blades are the most popular.  On the bone out lines of a majority of plants I have been to, they use a semi-stiff or flexible straight blade so they can curve and bend around bone to get smooth cuts with one quick pass.  The curved boning knife is more popular, because it has more uses--it is used as a slicer for loins, works well as skinner on sheep and goats, used as a small breaking knife at leg joints, works well as a trim knife to remove hide or fecal material off carcasses, works well as a fat trimming knife, and so on.  The curved end makes it easier slice and trim--especially in high speed animal processing facilities.  

The breaking knife is used primarily for breaking down carcasses where you need a longer curved blade to cut all the way through a carcass and need the full range of cutting motion to make a clean cut.  Some of the shorter breaking knives, such as the 8" blade knives have started finding popularity with the bbq crowd for trimming and slicing.  It is favored over the traditional butcher knife and cimeter due to the lighter weight, since the blade is not as wide.  I have observed one butcher use a 8" breaking knife for almost all of his trimming, slicing, etc.

Cimeter knives resemble the middle eastern swords and probably get their name and design from that region (someone can research it and let us know for sure).  This is another take of the butcher knife used for trimming, breaking down cuts, slicing and so on.  I have seen them used in a few larger beef processing plants on the cut-up side being used to trim fat and cut larger pieces down to smaller hunks.  The blade on the cimeters are wider than a breaking knife, and add weight.  In the processing environment, some prefer the wide blade to help keep the cut portions together during slicing, so a uniformed slice is easier to achieve.  

The traditional style butcher knife--or the English version as some call them--are still popular, though we are seeing people using more cimeters, breaking knives and churrascaria style butcher knives.  With the traditional butcher you get a wide blade and slight curve at the tip, which makes it a great all around knife.  For home butchers, a short 7 to 8 inch butcher knife is a great tool.  It works well slicing, trimming, and if needed can be used for skinning larger animals without the need to have to purchase a separate skinning knife.  I actually keep a Victorinox 7" butcher knife as my outdoor hunting/fishing knife, because I find it a handy size for doing any camp food preparation, meat processing, or as a basic utility knife, plus it fits in a scabbard well. 
http://www.madcowcutlery.com/store/pc/Victorinox-7-inch-Butcher-Knife-Fibrox-Handle-153p473.htm

 


The Churrasco or Churrascaria knife has been gaining in popularity.  It is used in churrasco (bbq cooking) or at churrascarias--latin style steakhouses, where the meat is cut off the spicket--though I have been to some that did not.  It is a straight blade that starts wide and narrows at tip.  Some have a slight rocker to the edge or rounds slightly at the tip.  For cutting portions of meat straight off a hunk of cooked product, these can be useful because you get full use of the cutting edge--though you can probably get the same basic results from other knives.

The skinning knife was designed for basically skinning.  In the beef skinning models you have a curved blade that allows for full cut motion, especially up towards the front which is important during skinning.  They usually feature wide blades and are around 5 to 6 inches in length.  They are also useful in removing cheek meat and are used by some online USDA food inspectors to incise lymph nodes in the head and tongue.  Lamb skinners or legging knives don't feature as much up turn on the tip, but are a useful in skinning smaller animals.  I have seen them used in gutting animals, due to the blunt tip prevents some puncture and the slight curve of the blade allows to cut down the mid-section of the animal to release the viscera.  

There are others butcher knives as well that are more specialized, such as sticking knives and gut/tripe knives.

In the US market, you see primarily 4 brands used in meat processing plants--Victorinox, Dexter-Russell, F. Dick, and Mundial (though Mundial is more popular in restaurants).  You will from time to time see other brands such as Mercer and others, but I would say over half the large plants I have been in I see Victorinox.  In the smaller plants and butcher shops you start seeing other brands used more, such as F. Dick and Mundial.  F. Dick is real popular with some of the older established butcher shops and meat processing establishments.  Since, meat slaughter and processing establishments work around extremely wet conditions and wearing gloves, the handle is very important.  High nylon content textured handles that can provide excellent wet grip are really important as well as a comfortable grip that allows for a variety of hand positions.  Handles such as Victorinox's Fibrox and Mundial's new Mundigrip do a good job of providing comfort and grip.  When working around hogs especially, it is best to have a handle that doesn't have ridges or any recessed areas that can fill with fat and make the handle slick.  It is hard to remove the fat and if it isn't removed then you can start cooking the proteins onto the handle and into the crevices when you hot water sanitize.

I hope this short summary helped a little and I hope others respond with their favorite butcher knife.  We will be developing a wiki soon on different knives, blade materials, handle types, etc to help the new butchers/chefs with making a good decision.  Just realize that different manufacturers have a varying degree of how flexible a flexible knife is and will sometimes have a difference of opinion on what is actually a breaking knife and cimeter--so there could be slight blade width differences in both.  Thank you.

Daniel Clay
post #6 of 13
Great post Daniel ! I also love that Victorinox butcher knife for a multi task knife in the field.
Another I like in the field is the Old Hickory 12" Butcher as it actually is a pretty useful  machete
also.
As for comfort in production I must say I prefer the fibrox handle on the Victorinox's over the same knife with the Rosewood handle. My  F. Dick's are wood and I still prefer the fibrox since steel is not an issue. That fibrox grip allows you to hold the knife safely under some very slick conditions where the wood handles require more attention. Also the Vic is easy on the price and maintenance. The grip is probably not an issue for the home cook using a lot of prefabricated
items already broken down or cooking in smaller quantities but for the person who does some sort of production work I think you will notice the advantage quickly.
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post #7 of 13

a sharp stiff curved boner and a hacksaw is all i use to break down any primal. i have a cimiter and there are moments when it would be better suited than the boner, but it really isn't worth switching knives. a technique i like to use in butchering is to hold the knife like i am about the stab someone and this is where a curved blade comes in handy. cut towards or away from you, works just as well. this technique helps you apply more force and lets you use the full length of the knife, which is just long enough to not need a cimeter.

to me, this combination is like the Chef's knife of butcher knives... basically a do-it-all knife.

post #8 of 13
 Fibrox handle knives from Victorinox are probably one of the most popular knives around.  Other companies such as F.Dick and Mundial have come out with knives that are similar, if not slightly better.  F. Dick has their Sani-grip meat processing knives that are close to feel of the Fibrox, though a little bit more smooth--but they come with anti-microbial protection added to the handle, which if you want that in the Victorinox Fibrox you will have to upgrade to the Microbans.  Mundial's new Mundigrip knives probably have one of the better grips.  They are a high nylon textured handle, but for me provide a better wet grip, plus they also feature antimicrobial protection and have a handle design that really lets you have a good grip no matter your hand position.  The other great point is the low cost.  You can see the specs at Mundial's site:

http://mundialusa.com/mundigrip.html

 


As you can see on our site, the price is reasonable for a commercial grade knife:

http://www.madcowcutlery.com/store/pc/Mundial-Mundigrips-c134.htm

 


We have received many good comments about the Mundial Mundigrips, but the one thing you don't get with the Mundial's is a high polished blade--which you see on Victorinox and especially F. Dick.  The steel is probably slightly softer based on the materials used and the remarks from users that the blade seemed easier to sharpen than their Victorinox, though I haven't come across anyone yet that complained about the edge retention.  
post #9 of 13
As stated earlier, the curved boning is one of our most popular sellers.  I have a curved semi-stiff Mundial Mundigrip that I use at home for just about everything.  Over the weekend I sliced up pork loins, sliced vegetables, trimmed a ham, trimmed some chicken breasts, sliced up some ribs, cubed potatoes, and then in the evening cut up some melons--all with my 6" boning knife.  I get asked all the time by new butchers, home processors, etc which knife they should use, and I try to give some direction, but sometimes it is best to try different styles and brands and find what works for you and your technique.  I have been to hundreds, if not nearly a thousand slaughter and meat processing establishments in my life and I have seen some similar knives used for like jobs, but I have also seen 50 different knives used to do the same job.  One thing I do see at many of these establishments is the use of the curved boning knife for many different tasks.  

D. Clay
post #10 of 13

the F Dick is really nice... i was surprised by how sharp it is OOTB and how well it held that edge.

post #11 of 13
 I use a 2 - 6 inch dexter boning knives  One flexe, one stiff all straight blades , An 10 inch ground down ham slicer for fish and 2 cleavers. 1 long machete type knife  for large pieces. I cut a lot of varied meats and fish daily . I need heavy duty not fancy name brands..

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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post #12 of 13
I am glad cleavers were mentioned, because it is a butcher tool that I forgot.  For restaurants, we sell a bunch of the smaller kitchen type cleavers from Mundial that are in the 10 to 12 ounce range, but for most of our butchers and fish processing facilities they usually go for the F. Dick cleavers that get up over 1.5 pounds.  I am amazed how hog and beef splitters still are popular--which I think has to do some with the increased number of home processors we are seeing. They are not a big seller, but we manage to move one to two a month.  Once you have one, you pretty much have one for life.  There is a small slaughter plant in Missouri that I have been to that has a beef splitter that is 30 years old and still going strong.  

I prefer the regular length or short handle cleavers, but some prefer the longer.  Anyone have a preference for the longer handle cleavers?
post #13 of 13

I have been searching a long time for an easy to understand description of the different kinds of butcher knives.  So thank you very much, Daniel Clay for the excellent write up. I have a standard set of Victorinox Fibrox knives, and was looking to buy a Fibrox butcher's knife. The store that I bought my set from could not adequately tell me the differences between a cimitar, a breaking knife, or the curved butcher's knives; other than their shape and that the cimitar was good for filleting fish. Now I know what I want to get.

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