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Rank amateur seeks advice on cutlery from all manner of cooks/chefs

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

How do, everyone!  I'm hoping I can get some advice on knives.  I'm a total culinary idiot about anything that doesn't come in a box or can with instructions, so I'm starting from a very basic level.  I hear over and over again on the morning shows and cooking shows that knives are the most important tools in your kitchen, and as such it's worth it to spend the extra money on "good" knives.  However, I have some more specific questions.

 

Maybe I should tell you a little bit more about me first:  I'm right-handed, I'm a pretty big guy but have "smaller" male hands with long thin fingers (my wedding ring is a Size 7 1/2, if that gives you an idea), the only knife technique I know is to grip it by the handle and cut with it, and my experience with knives is limited to Chicago Cutlery and Tramontina.  I don't have a problem paying for good knives and am willing to save up for them if necessary, but I don't want to "pay for a name" -- I'm looking for knives that will do the job for many years to come (with proper care, of course -- I understand that good knives need to be washed by hand and sharpened regularly).

 

So, my questions:

 

1.  The obvious -- which brand(s) would you recommend?

2.  How many knives should I get for starters and what types (Chef's, boning, paring, etc.)? 

3.  Which do you prefer:  High-carbon-steel or stainless steel?

4.  Are knives with ergonomic handles any better than those with more "traditional" handles?

5.  What exactly is a Santoku knife and are they good for beginners like me? 

6.  Are there any knife sharpeners (hand or machine) that you would recommend?

7.  Do you have any recommendations for cutting boards (wood/plastic, any specific brand)?

 

Thanks in advance to everyone who responds!

post #2 of 6



Hi Sarge,

 

1.  The obvious -- which brand(s) would you recommend?

 

In your case, mostly the Victorinox Forschner "Rosewood" line."  You can get better knives, but they'll cost more.

 

2.  How many knives should I get for starters and what types (Chef's, boning, paring, etc.)?

 

Four or five.  8" - 10" chefs.  10" slicer.  8 - 10-1/2" bread.  6" Petty and/or parer(s) whose length(s) depends on whether or not you get a petty.  In addition, you'll also want kitchen shears, as well as something for non-food uses like opening packages and cutting string, etc.

 

I find that a petty covers filleting, boning, paring, and all the other medium and short knife tasks.  That doesn't mean you will or should.

 

I often recommend purchasing a better chefs than the rest of the knives. Whether or not that's a good idea for you is still up in the air.  We'll talk more and it will become clear whether it's better to dump the dough now or hold off for awhile.  If you go with a thin Japanese chef's -- good idea -- you'll also want something to handle tasks which might chip your "gyuto."

 

It's nice to have wonderful knives, for sure.  However, great knives will not make you a better cook -- not in the slightest.  Good, sharp knives will allow you to do things you otherwise couldn't, speed things along, and up the fun quotient.  But you need the skills to use the tools and those don't come in the box.  And let me add, that any dull knife is a dull knife; it doesn't matter how wonderful it was when it was sharp.

 

3.  Which do you prefer:  High-carbon-steel or stainless steel?

 

"High carbon" is a bit of a misnomer, in that all it means is that the steel alloy contains 0.50% carbon or more as do many stainless knife alloys.  And, as long as we're doing terminology, there's a range of stain resistance where different levels and different compositions get different terms.  "Stainless" means the alloy has at least 13% chromium, which in turn means it will be very stain and rust resistant.  There's also "stain resistant," "stain free," "semi-stainless" and other terms which may or may not have specific meanings.  We use the term "carbon" mostly to differentiate it from alloys which were formulated for some degree of stain resistance.

 

Anyway, I like both.  Non-stainless is not for everyone and probably not for you.  While carbon doesn't actually take much more care than stainless, it wants it NOW.  At this stage of the game you probably don't want the complication.  Later, when you've developed some good knife habits and have learned to sharpen you can re-evaluate.

 

Carbon has the reputation of getting sharper and being easier to get sharp.  Neither is anywhere near as true as it used to be.  Carbon does tend to feel better on the stones, but that's kind of low on the priority list isn't it?

 

4.  Are knives with ergonomic handles any better than those with more "traditional" handles?

 

As a rule, the more weirdly "ergonomic" the handle, the less comfortable it usually is and the more it's going to hurt over time.  There are exceptions for individual hands and certain designs.  For now, go with standard handles. 

 

One of the many joys of Forschners are their very comfortable (standard) handles.

 

5.  What exactly is a Santoku knife and are they good for beginners like me?

 

A santoku is a modern Japanese design merging some aspects of the western chef's knife with the nakiri.   In practice, it's a shorter chef's knife and especially useful for those who won't develop the grip to use a 10" chef's. 

 

If you want one you should have one.   Whether or not I like them for my own cooking shouldn't matter to you.


6.  Are there any knife sharpeners (hand or machine) that you would recommend?

 

Yes.  Quite a few.  We're not quite there yet, but I usually recommend either a combi water-stone and a ceramic "steel;" a basic set of oil stones and a ceramic steel; or an appropriate (to your knives) Chef's Choice electric. 

 

There are also a very few good tool and jig gags, such as the Edge Pro.

 

While useful for some purposes -- pocket knives, for instance -- I can't recommend "V" stick gags like the Spyderco Sharpmaker for kitchen knives, because they have trouble getting an adequate edge and take forever to get there. 

 

Just about everything else is wholly inadequate for one reason or another.

 

7.  Do you have any recommendations for cutting boards (wood/plastic, any specific brand)?

 

Wood.  Only and always wood.   

 

The best boards are end-grain up.  I particularly favor "Boardsmith," and Boos.  Those are some expensive boards though and there are plenty of other good boards available for less.  It's not just a question of what you want for your knives but how you want to decorate your kitchen.

 

Hope this helps,

BDL

 

post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 

Thanks Boar_d_laze (cool name!)

 

I was able to find the Victorinox Forschner Rosewood knives at cutleryandmore.com.  They seem to have the best selection and the best prices.  The only knife you listed that I couldn't find was a petty knife, but I'm still looking.  Their 7-piece set has everything else you listed except for a slicing knife, which I can get separately.  Based on your description of the Santoku knife, I think it would be a good addition as my wife suffers from a rare form of muscular dystrophy and has problems handling the Tramontina chef's knife we have.  I figure once we get the new knives I could keep the Tramontina for the "rough" work that might damage the new knives.

 

You're right -- those Boardsmith and Boos boards are expensive!  Decor match isn't an issue -- our kitchen cabinets are light oak veneer and we have dark granite countertops with a black porcelain sink, so no cutting board will match.  Besides, we have a narrow vertical cabinet next to the dishwasher that is ideal for storing things like cutting boards and cookie sheets.  This begs the obvious question:  If I were to invest the money in one high-quality end-grain-up board, do you have a recommendation as to brand and/or type of wood?

 

Thanks again for all your advice!

MS

post #4 of 6

Brands:  Boardsmith or Boos.  We have an 18 x 24 Boardsmith mahogany end-grain and an 18" Boos round maple end-grain.  I'd recommend either in a heart beat.  Highest recommendation for ALL Boardsmith boards -- they're great boards, the caveat being you get what you pay for.  Over the years, I've gone through quite a few Boos maple long-grain boards.  Not quite as easy on your knives, nor as stastistically likely to as long as end grain, but a damn good board.  There's an outfit in the Catskills which makes good boards at a decent price, too.

 

Sometimes you get a board which warps or cracks too soon from even a very good maker.  You play your part in preventing this by oiling the board and keeping it clean and dry (most of the time) and storing it appropriately; but wood is a natural product and sometimes bad things happen to good people.

 

The thing with knives is sharpening.  Sharpening.  SHARPENING.  That's something you want to get on top of ASAP.  You'll enjoy your knives -- and cooking in general -- quite a bit more. 

 

Sorry to hear about your wife's muscular dystrophy.  I'm not convinced that a santoku will do much, but it's not going to hurt either.  There are two things the profile has going for it.  It's high for its length.  The height allows you to use it like the back half of a longer chef's knife.  The short lengths makes it easier to point for people who don't have a good grip. 

 

Speaking of grip... Grip quality is usually more technical than a matter of strength, hand-size, or stature.  Whether or not your wife is capable of learning and using a really good grip is something I can't say.  It might not be in the cards. 

 

In my experience, irrespective of knife size, people with hand problems usually do better with large grips rather than small ones; and with well-designed "normal" grips rather than those which are specifically "ergonomic."  But it's something she's going to have to play around with.

 

As it happens, Forschners have excellent handles; they're a little on the large size in the good way, and nearly everyone like them.  Most of the big name German manufacturers are very good with handles, too.  You might want to look at Wusthof Ikon.  Good knife with a modern design handle which suits a lot of people.  Pricey though.  Of the Japanese makers, MAC is a real standout for comfortable handles.  Global is somewhat idiosyncratic, but she might want to give them a try.

 

Did I mention the importance of sharpening?  All knives get dull, and all dull knives are equal.  It doesn't matter how carefully you chose when you bought.  A dull knife is a dull knife.  You must sharpen. 

 

Don't feel compelled to buy a "set."  Open stock may or may not be more appropriate for your situation.  With a chef's knife for each of you, you can probably do everything else you need -- quite stylishly -- with just a few more knives.  But having more knives won't hurt anything.

 

How about that sharpening, eh?

 

BDL

post #5 of 6

Even though he doesn't answer PM's, I give BDL credit for being as good a knife-person as I've read. I agree w/ him on the V-F knives. Very nice. I've bought a number of the Fibrox sets for my students. I'm not saying to get a set though. They're nice, but not everyone's pick. I'm not positive, but I would guess that some of their 5" or 6" knives could be called "petty knives". They do have 3 different Rosewood "slicing" knives, and 8 Fibrox listed. They offer a Santoku in both lines too. You could probably see from most any of my other "knife" posts that I like "C and M" as a retailer. They have great customer service along w/ pricing. NO, I don't work for them. 

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."

I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

Reply

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."

I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

Reply
post #6 of 6

Thanks for the nice words Ice. I forgot to answer the "what's a petty," question.  You sort of did as well, but at least got close to it. 

 

FWIW, a petty is a knife with a narrow triangular profile, typical of the European slicer and couteau office, sharpened on both sides (makes the edges more robust), and runs in the 5" to 7-1/2" range.  I have two proper petties.  The first one is a T-I "Nogent" 6" slicer, which you may see it on-line at The Best Things; the second is a Konosuke HD 150mm (also 6") petty, on-line at www.chefknivestogo.com and www.japaneseknifeimports.com

 

Sorry about the PM thing.  It's true, I've been a terrible correspondent, but will be catching up soon.

 

BDL

 

 

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