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Buying new knives??

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

Hey guys,


Just joined the forum so I just wanted to introduce myself. My name's Tim and i've been learning how to cook for the past few months. I'm gonna take the plunge and buy my first set of knives. I was at Bed, Bath, and Beyond today and checked out their knives to see the prices and realized I was way over my head.


Are their any websites that have a quick explanation of the common types of kitchen knives and what they're used for? I wanna do some research before I spend some money.



post #2 of 9
Thread Starter 

I did a quick search myself and found this site that was helpful but I want to do a little more research.




Also, How much do you recommend I should spend on my first set?

post #3 of 9

I wrote a long article about precisely this, but since then I've changed my mind about some things. Here's the basics, in a nutshell --- ask lots of questions and you'll find out what you need to know eventually. (Incidentally, when Boar_de_laze shows up and gives advice, listen to him, as he's the best we've got on this subject.)


First of all, you need what I call an "anchor knife." This knife will do 90% of the work in your kitchen. There are 5 contenders, but I am almost certain that the one you want is a chef's knife.


A chef's knife is the single best all-rounder in existence. They come in French and German profiles, and are made all over the world. The best in most respects are made in Japan, but they can be pricey. Every other possible anchor knife gains and loses something with respect to this, so you have to ask yourself whether the gains are worth the losses. Your knife should be 8" to 10".


A santoku is a modern Japanese housewife's knife. Pro: it is shorter, ideally about 7", and takes a little less counter space. This is not an issue if you have a standard-depth American counter, but it may be an issue if you are genuinely terrified of a larger knife. Con: it is in every respect a little or a lot worse than the chef's knife.


A nakiri is an old-fashioned Japanese housewife's knife. Pro: it is shorter, on which see the santoku. It is a little quicker when rough-chopping vegetables. Con: it is truly rotten on all forms of meat and fish.


A Chinese cleaver is the standard Chinese kitchen knife. Pro: it is brilliant for chopping, dicing, and otherwise making things into bite-sized pieces with speed and accuracy. Con: it is not very good for other kinds of cutting, like slicing and such.


An usuba is the Japanese professional's vegetable knife. Pro: it is a terrifying, beautiful knife, capable of doing truly awe-inspiring things to vegetables. Con: it is mediocre at best on anything but vegetables, and it is about the most difficult knife in the world to learn how to use. It is also very expensive and takes a lot of maintenance time.


Conclusion: don't buy a santoku unless you are truly terrified of knives or have a teeny-tiny space to cut in (let's say 18" square). Don't buy a nakiri unless all the santoku things apply and you're a vegetarian. Don't buy a Chinese cleaver unless you are preparing 90% of your meals in bite-sized pieces (a la Chinese cuisine as it is usually practiced). Don't buy an usuba unless you have deep pockets, excellent hand-eye coordination, and are looking for an expensive and frustrating (but absorbing) hobby. Otherwise, buy an 8" to 10" chef's knife.


Second, you need to supplement your chef's knife.


You need a small knife for detail work, preferably a paring or petty knife. A paring is cheaper and at your stage of the game the differences are, in my opinion, trivial.


You need a serrated bread knife, for crusty bread. I am not convinced this is an absolute gotta, but everyone else is, so I acquiesce with good grace because I'm a nice person.


You need a long slicer, for things like ham. If you don't cut hams and sides of smoked salmon into thin slices, don't bother, but eventually you'll want one. They're fun.


If you ever do any butchering, you'll need appropriate knives. This includes a fish knife. If you don't break down fish from whole, skip fish knives, but everyone will try to push you to own one. You do not need any other kind of butchering knife unless you butcher things from primal cuts or close --- like big bone-in hunks of stuff, basically.


You will soon want what I call a brutality knife. This is just a honking big ugly thing that can break bones and shear lobsters and stuff. Just go to some yard sales and look around. What you're looking for is a really big, heavy chef's knife. Don't spend much on it, because you'll use it once in a blue moon.


Conclusion: what you really need is a chef's knife and a paring/petty knife, and with some dexterity and confidence you can get away without the little knife. Fortunately, however, paring knives and bread knives are cheap, so just pick one of each up and spend the rest on your chef's knife.


Third, you need to decide on your sharpening method. Have you ever sharpened a knife? Would you like to learn? In the long run, it will save you money and be an enjoyable skill worth having, but lots of people don't want to have anything to do with this.


Fourth, you need to decide on your budget.


Once you can tell us which knives you want to buy (the shapes I mean), your rough guesses about sharpening, and your budget, we can point you to some terrific knives that will make you a lot happier than anything you can find at Bed, Bath, and Beyond --- and stay in your budget.


Hope to hear from you soon!

post #4 of 9
Originally Posted by homechef33 View Post

I did a quick search myself and found this site that was helpful but I want to do a little more research.




Also, How much do you recommend I should spend on my first set?

That site lists far too little to be of much help, and you have no need for heavy cleavers. Honestly, do you have access to things like whole lamb saddles, and is it cheaper to buy them that way and shear the chine off to turn them into racks? Are you planning to do this sort of thing often? Then skip the cleaver. It's not even much good as a doorstop.


As to price, we can't answer that. But let me tell you why.


Suppose you say, "I've got $500 and I want the very best, but I'm a minimalist." OK, that's easy. I'll say you should get a 10" Masamoto chef's knife -- I like their carbon wa-gyuto KS-270 -- plus a cheap paring knife, a cheap bread knife, and about $100 worth of decent sharpening stones. The paring and bread will cost you maybe $50, and less if you look around. The Masamoto will cost the rest. Is it worth it? Well, it's one of the best off-the-rack chef's knives in the world, no question, and you will never, ever outgrow it.


But suppose you say, "I've got $50 to spend, and no more." OK, there are good knives to fit this budget --- Forschner, F. Dick, Russell, and so on.


If you've got $2000, I hope you wouldn't listen to anyone who'd tell you how to spend it all, but frankly, I could easily come up with a very respectable list of truly excellent knives that are not in any sense rip-offs and would fill up that budget.


But what's good for you? At your stage in cooking, you don't really know, and we don't either. What sort of budget have you got?


I am of the opinion that the world of knives perks up and gets good when you start looking in the $100-$150 range. Below that, there are good knives, but in that range there are pretty great ones. But maybe you don't need a really great knife --- maybe a good knife is all you want. Or maybe you've been dropping $50 a week at the gas pump and just said "the heck with it, I'm riding my bike," and now you've suddenly got $300 burning a hole in your pocket.


I could go on forever. We can't tell you what you should spend. You should tell us what you want to spend. If it's under $100, or under $150 grand total, we're going to try to convince you to pinch some pennies, but we'll also recommend things in your range. If what you've got is $200+, you'll soon see a fun debate about this and that knife, and no no you're wrong because this knife is so hit-or-miss, but that one had handle problems, but that's in the past and they're fine now, and who's selling the things anyway and will they open them right, and blah blah blah a lot of tedious stuff --- but you'll end up with some excellent, well-tested suggestions.


Give us all the information you can, and I assure you we'll do our best to make you happy.

post #5 of 9



Chris makes tons of good points, and provides a lot of information.   


The "basic" set of four knives which is more than good enough for any type of cutting:  8 - 10-1/2 chef's; 8" - 12" slicer, 8" - 10-1/2" bread knife; and a 3" to 6" parer, petty or parer/petty.  If you have special needs or preferences, you may certainly add or alter.  There are a lot of wonderful choices,  There is no one "best" set of knives, no one best knife of any type, and no one best manufacturer.  Not even one best of those things for you.  The idea is to limit your selection to a manageable number of choices, any of which will work well for you. 


If your budget is limited, it's probably best to buy a cheap bread, an inexpensive parer, hold off on the slicer and spend as much as you can on a chef's.


You need, need, need an adequate sharpening kit (or plan) to keep your knives sharp.  All knives get dull, and dull knives are a serious waste of money.  I know it's not sexy, but sharpening should be your first thought.


In addition you'll need a board that won't wreck your knives, and some way to store them better than loose in a drawer.


If you're serious about knives, Bed Bath and Beyond, for all it's virtues, is not a good source. 


Your linked site was a good source of words, but not information.


Here are some things I'd like to know before getting down to recommendations:


  • Can you sharpen yet?  If you have one, what is your plan for sharpening? How much are you willing to invest in a sharpening kit? Are you willing to learn to freehand on bench stones, or does that seem impossibly difficult?
  • What's your total budget for everything?
  • What are your knife skills like?  Do you pinch grip?  Do you score an onion before dicing it?  Can you cut julienne and/or brunoise?  Do you want to?
  • Do you currently own any knives you want to keep?
  • Are you dead set on a "set?"  Or, are you willing to purchase knives from different manufacturers?
  • Is there anything beyond the basic set you feel like you absolutely must have?  Steak knives, for instance.


Let's talk,


Edited by boar_d_laze - 8/26/10 at 7:57am
post #6 of 9

Kinda off topic.

Have been reading through a lot of knife threads and decided to buy the forschner 10" chef but also want to get a petty of decent quality, without spending a ton. Seems like anything I find w/ the label "petty" is more expensive than the forschner chef knife. Long winded intro but would this the forschner 5" or 6" chef knife be the same thing as a petty knife?

Nurses, we're here to get our gloves dirty, and wash our hands frequently.
Nurses, we're here to get our gloves dirty, and wash our hands frequently.
post #7 of 9

More than less. A little on the short side.



post #8 of 9

Howdy, Tim -- and all -- I'm new here, as well.  Stumbling upon this thread, it's something I wish I had several years ago when I was in the position of needing to settle upon a "professional" set of knives.  Since I didn't have the excellent advice above, I was left to my own devices and a whole lot of opinions from coworkers, including the Chef under whom I worked, and it was enough to make my brain melt with all the options coming down to, what I found, was personal preference. 


I also looked at BBandBeyond, and ended up in a couple of local restaurant supply stores and came to the conclusion I had no idea.  Thankfully, where I worked, we had a contract with a local sharpening company who graciously brought in several of the brands they serviced and sold. The rep brought in about 6 different knives ranging from Bagat to Henkels to Wustoff to Forschner.  The Forschner just felt right, in my hands, and worked for me.  That's the important part -- for me.  Your preference will, probably, be different.


So, short story long -- if you can get your hands on the knives and test drive them, to me, that's your best bet.  There's no worse feeling than spending $200 on a knife, getting it home, and thinking, "wow, I'm going to maim myself," or just find it completely unweildy or unusable.


As mentioned above, I also would recommend paying attention to your cutting surfaces -- certain knives hold edges better than others, but more importantly, some cutting boards are just brutal on edges and are to be avioded (basically, any hard, shiny surface...glass, ceramic, etc.).  That, and a wet glass board is a really good way to find out how to filet a human hand...


Happy hunting!



post #9 of 9

I have 40 years of cooking experience. I like fancy knives, but after all the years I have spent cooking, I believe that you do not have to spend a lot to get a good set of knives:


1)Start with a commercial chef's knife, with a white plastic handle, and at least 10 inches long. If you can handle a 12 inch blade comfortably, buy it. This will be your main knife.

These type of knives are cheap, and work well. They clean easily, and will do the job. You can also bring them to a cookout and not be extremely unhappy if they walk away.

2)Get a boning knife, again with a white plastic handle

3)Get a knife to slice bread and tomatoes.....yes, the same knife will do both chores..

4)Buy at least 3-4 paring knives.

5)Buy a good sharpener, maybe an electric one.


Oh....and I have seen two opinions on chef's knifes......some prefer a rather straight blade because they feel that they can get a finer chop with them....others (me included) like their chef's knives to have a "belly" on them, to make for more comfortable rocking. This is another reason for wanting a long chef's knife, so I can cut tall things while still keeping the point on the cutting board....Also, my hands are big, and I find that bigger is safer and more convenient for me.


Use your knives, keep them sharp, and if they wear out, toss them.

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