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Whats wrong with German knives?

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

Hello everyone,

 

I am a newbie to kitchen cutlery and have been extensively researching chef's knives in particular the past couple weeks.  I have heard many different opinions on knives but they all ultimately seem to revolve the idea that German knives cannot even come close to competing with Japanese knives.

 

With that being said, I would love to hear anyone's input on the subject and their opinion of the current technological advances in the making of chef's knives and why the German knives aren't quite up to par.  According to most enthusiasts, the German knives seem to be greatly lacking.  I guess I just want to know all of the reasons why......

 

Hope to hear from ya!

 

Dave

post #2 of 14

I'm not experienced enough to be commenting on this, but I will anyway and some one else can tell me I'm all wet.  I have a German profile chef knife and several J knives.  For an 8" knife I really like the German knife, anything over that up to 12" blades I like the Japanese knives.  Weight has probably got more to do with it than anything.

post #3 of 14
German knives have lower hardness than Japanese knives usually. The Japanese knives will hold a sharper edge than the Germans generally. Another differences is the profile Germans have more of a pronounced belly than the Japanese knives. There's nothing wrong with Germans just depends what you want in a knife.
post #4 of 14

And the Japanese chef knife (gyuto) which is modeled off western knifes often have an almost identical French chef knife profile like the Sabatiers. Except the Japanese gyutos are even thinner and lighter than the French knives, which are also lighter than the German chef knives.

post #5 of 14
Thread Starter 

Keep the insight coming!  How about the different types of steel!?!?

post #6 of 14

With steel, everything is a trade off.  Hardness comes at the expense of brittleness, edge retention at the expense of effort required to put  new edge on when the old one eventually becomes dull.  Some of the newer powdered metals are pretty good, but expensive.

 

Lamination, where a hard steel is forge welded onto a softer iron core is another technique.  While the Japanese are famous for this, the Europeans have been using the same technique on tools (axes, woodworking tools, etc) since the 1600's.

 

IMHO, where the Japanese knives really shine is with meat cutting, both the single bevel and high angle double bevel knives are excellent for cutting fish and meat.  The trade off is with their delicate edge, the edges tend to chip more frequently. These edges don't handle contact with bones or contact with frozen meat very well

 

In most professional kitchens, for every guy cutting meat or fish, there is 4 or 5 "butchering" vegetables. Tough squashes, pineapples, thick dense stuff like potatoes, and fibrous stuff like celery and onions. Block chocolate is, quite frankly, a hard rock.   This is where the German style knife shines.  Thick heavy blades that have mass to power through a pumpkin, shallow bevels that don't get chipped. You can halve or quarter a case of whole chickens with this kind of a knife and it begs for more They (German knives) are an axe, and a axe is the perfect tool to chop down a tree, but not to make fine furniture with.  The trade off is the thick heavy blades are not so good with meat or fish.

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post #7 of 14
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by foodpump View Post

With steel, everything is a trade off.  Hardness comes at the expense of brittleness, edge retention at the expense of effort required to put  new edge on when the old one eventually becomes dull.  Some of the newer powdered metals are pretty good, but expensive.

 

Lamination, where a hard steel is forge welded onto a softer iron core is another technique.  While the Japanese are famous for this, the Europeans have been using the same technique on tools (axes, woodworking tools, etc) since the 1600's.

 

IMHO, where the Japanese knives really shine is with meat cutting, both the single bevel and high angle double bevel knives are excellent for cutting fish and meat.  The trade off is with their delicate edge, the edges tend to chip more frequently. These edges don't handle contact with bones or contact with frozen meat very well

 

In most professional kitchens, for every guy cutting meat or fish, there is 4 or 5 "butchering" vegetables. Tough squashes, pineapples, thick dense stuff like potatoes, and fibrous stuff like celery and onions. Block chocolate is, quite frankly, a hard rock.   This is where the German style knife shines.  Thick heavy blades that have mass to power through a pumpkin, shallow bevels that don't get chipped. You can halve or quarter a case of whole chickens with this kind of a knife and it begs for more They (German knives) are an axe, and a axe is the perfect tool to chop down a tree, but not to make fine furniture with.  The trade off is the thick heavy blades are not so good with meat or fish.


That was one of the most succinct and concise analogies I have read on this website!  Great job of putting it into the terms of the layman. 

 

Here's a question for you... You said Japanese knives are great with cutting meat, as along as it's not frozen.  I literally never cut fish, if I were to I'd use my fillet knife on a Blue Gill.  Otherwise I am not very inclined to buy fresh fish.  But I am an avid deer hunter and every year I make large batches of venison jerky where I could be slicing a 50-100 lbs of meat at a time.  When I slice my jerky I prefer to flash freeze it so it easier to get thin, consistent slices.  Would this be an example where a Japanese knife would be inferior to a German knife in your opinion?  Keep in mind the meat is not completely frozen, but sometimes it's close!

 

And on another note, it sometimes perplexes me when I hear people constantly blabbering about edge retention on Japanese knives.  If you are an at home cook that might use your knife a total of 30 minutes each day, do you really need to be concerned about if your knive's steel isn't at 61 Rockwell hardness??  And if you are planning on sharpening your knife, which you obviously are, you are just postponing the inevitable for a couple weeks maybe?

 

I'm not trying to dog on the Japanese knives, I just want to understand every aspect before I spend $200 on one.

post #8 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by hambone002 View Post


That was one of the most succinct and concise analogies I have read on this website!  Great job of putting it into the terms of the layman. 

 

Here's a question for you... You said Japanese knives are great with cutting meat, as along as it's not frozen.  I literally never cut fish, if I were to I'd use my fillet knife on a Blue Gill.  Otherwise I am not very inclined to buy fresh fish.  But I am an avid deer hunter and every year I make large batches of venison jerky where I could be slicing a 50-100 lbs of meat at a time.  When I slice my jerky I prefer to flash freeze it so it easier to get thin, consistent slices.  Would this be an example where a Japanese knife would be inferior to a German knife in your opinion?  Keep in mind the meat is not completely frozen, but sometimes it's close!

 

And on another note, it sometimes perplexes me when I hear people constantly blabbering about edge retention on Japanese knives.  If you are an at home cook that might use your knife a total of 30 minutes each day, do you really need to be concerned about if your knive's steel isn't at 61 Rockwell hardness??  And if you are planning on sharpening your knife, which you obviously are, you are just postponing the inevitable for a couple weeks maybe?

 

I'm not trying to dog on the Japanese knives, I just want to understand every aspect before I spend $200 on one.

I would buy a Frost chefs knife for that kind of work, they are cheap to. They are about 58 hrc and thin enough to make nice slices - a good middle ground knife with a little bit of both German and J knife characteristics. 

But, J knifes are just wonderful and you don't need to spend 200 on a knife. Tojiro DP is a good introduction, they are like 80 dollars. 

And about the hrc, there is a big difference between a 55 hrc and 60 hrc knife. J knifes usually are much thinner and with a 15 degree bevel (compared to 30 with most German knifes). The first time you use it it's impossible to go back to your German knifes. I sharpen my J knifes maybe once a month (but even if you don't sharpen them 6 months, they're still sharper than a German knife after a couple of uses), but I need to steel my Victorinox almost every time before I use it because the steel is soft and gets out of true. 

post #9 of 14

That was one of the most succinct and concise analogies I have read on this website!  Great job of putting it into the terms of the layman. 

Unfortunately some of it was -- if not untrue -- unintentionally misleading.  The bottom line is that German-style chef's knives do a few things better than chef's knives typical of Japanese manufacturers, but that the Japanese types do most things better.  The question of what is and what isn't sharp can be very complicated.  But we can shortcut by saying that whatever absolute sharpness is, that knives made with the kind of geometry and alloys typical of Japanese makers' chef's knives ACT sharper.  We can also say that for most users doing most kitchen tasks, sharpness trumps everything else. 

 

If you're going to spend your life chopping chocolate, and skinning pineapple, you'll want something heavy duty.  If you routinely break down pounds and pounds of thick-skinned squash under serious time pressure, you'll want something very stiff.  But, if like most of us, you use your chef's knife for the ordinary variety of kitchen prep -- including potatoes -- you'll probably like a thin, light knife with agile geometry and an extremely good edge. 


Here's a question for you... You said Japanese knives are great with cutting meat, as along as it's not frozen...  I am an avid deer hunter and every year I make large batches of venison jerky where I could be slicing a 50-100 lbs of meat at a time.  When I slice my jerky I prefer to flash freeze it so it easier to get thin, consistent slices.  Would this be an example where a Japanese knife would be inferior to a German knife in your opinion?  Keep in mind the meat is not completely frozen, but sometimes it's close!

There's no single right answer to your question.  Your best knife choice for cutting strips semi-frozen meat for jerky would probably be be any one of several  non-chef's Forschner (i.e., Victorinox knives marketed in the US as Forschner by Victornox) profiles; and I say "probably" because Forschner is the gold standard of butcher's knives). 

 

Since a typical strip of jerky weighs well under an ounce before drying, and 50 lbs of meat would make for around 1000 strips, I think you'd be better off doing some basic butchering with a reciprocating saw; portioning the meat into appropriate sized blocks with good meat knife like a 10" Forschner Cimeter, for instance; and cutting your jerky strips with an electric slicer. 

 

Here, you're not really asking about an all-around knife of the type you'd choose for versatility in a basic but comprehensive set.  You're asking for a specialist.  The rule is "horses for courses." 

 

And on another note, it sometimes perplexes me when I hear people constantly blabbering about edge retention on Japanese knives.  If you are an at home cook that might use your knife a total of 30 minutes each day, do you really need to be concerned about if your knive's steel isn't at 61 Rockwell hardness?? 

You've got a few false underlying assumptions here.  First, you don't understand the processes by which knives dull.  By and large, the sorts of chef's knives made by Japanese makers will not only take a much better initial edge, but retain that superiority -- with far less steeling -- throughout their sharpening cycle.  Whether the sharpening cycle is longer or shorter for one knife versus another is not nearly as important as how the knife behaves through the cycle. 

 

Second, your overemphasizing the importance of "Rockwell hardness."  It's a very common misunderstanding, because Rockwell hardness numbers are so publicized.  The most important alloy characteristics in the knife context are strength, toughness, and the balance between the two.  Hardness, as a metric, is mostly important as a metaphor for strength.  There are three types of relevant hardness.  Impact, scratch, and indentation.  Impact and scratch hardness tell you a lot about what to expect from a knife.  Rockwell hardness is "indentation hardness," and is only valuable as a metaphor for strength and the other types of hardness.  

 

Rockwell hardness is difficult to measure accurately.  Differences in a point or two in figures from the Rockwell "C" scale (which is what the knife makers and sellers report) often don't mean much.  Don't read too much into them. 

 

And if you are planning on sharpening your knife, which you obviously are, you are just postponing the inevitable for a couple weeks maybe?

As I already explained, that's not really the right question. 

 

The silver lining is that you're asking about sharpness and sharpening, and those are the two arrows which are aimed at the heart of the matter.  It's a very good thing that your search is for the best tool to bring sharpness to your prep.  Sharp, sharp, sharp.

 

I'm not trying to dog on the Japanese knives, I just want to understand every aspect before I spend $200 on one.

There are too many aspects and some of them are too deep for you to gain complete understanding of all of them before buying a mid-priced chef's knife.  But seeking some general knowledge as opposed to a few scattered recommendations is absolutely the right way to go.  We'll see what we can do. 

 

Keep asking questions,

BDL

post #10 of 14
Thread Starter 

BDL,

 

Once again you have taken the time to make a detailed, personalized post.  I appreciate that and I will retain that knowledge.  Sunday night I ordered a Kikuichi TKC 240 mm gyuto from Mark at CKTG.  Turns out I live only 90 minutes from Madison, WI where he is located.  What a small world.  Anyway...

 

How do you feel about that purchase for a novice?  I also ordered a 1000 grit water stone.  What is the best sharpening combination for that knife in particular?  Do I still need a honing rod if I purchase a very fine grit stone, such as a 5000 or 6000?

post #11 of 14

The TKC is a really nice knife.  You'll need a finishing stone for it. 

 

There are a lot of ways to true a knife without using a steel.  You can use a fine stone to "touch up" or to strop, and that's two of them.  Neither method is nearly as quick as steeling, but both are somewhat easier to do without chipping a very hard alloy or an extremely asymmetric edge.  As a practical matter, steeling is better for some knives, touching up/stropping better for others, and the published specs for the TKC put it somewhere in the middle of the "tough to say" group.  

 

If your other knives can be profitably steeled, I'd invest in a good steel like an Idahone "fine" ceramic and give steeling a try.  FWIW, the vast majority of people, including television chefs use their steels wrongly.

 

You're going to need a fine stone anyway, so you're only looking at the cost of the steel -- less than $40 -- as additional outlay.

 

It's common  among people who don't know how to sharpen yet to believe that (a) finer grits mean sharper edges; (b) a medium/coarse grit stone (like a 1K) will get a knife medium sharp; and (c) medium sharp is good enough for awhile.  It doesn't work that way though.  Finer grits mean finer (less coarse) edge; and finer edges are more durable and last longer.  But there's a limit.  Ultra-fine grits (around 6K and above, depending on the stone) polish more than they refine.  There's also a limit to how big a "jump" you can make coming off your 1K stone, but that limit depends as much on the particular medium/coarse and fine stones as on theoretical considerations.  For instance, an Arashiyama 6K can be used after some 1Ks without an intermediate stone.

 

BDL

post #12 of 14
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by boar_d_laze View Post

The TKC is a really nice knife.  You'll need a finishing stone for it. 

 

There are a lot of ways to true a knife without using a steel.  You can use a fine stone to "touch up" or to strop, and that's two of them.  Neither method is nearly as quick as steeling, but both are somewhat easier to do without chipping a very hard alloy or an extremely asymmetric edge.  As a practical matter, steeling is better for some knives, touching up/stropping better for others, and the published specs for the TKC put it somewhere in the middle of the "tough to say" group.  

 

If your other knives can be profitably steeled, I'd invest in a good steel like an Idahone "fine" ceramic and give steeling a try.  FWIW, the vast majority of people, including television chefs use their steels wrongly.

 

You're going to need a fine stone anyway, so you're only looking at the cost of the steel -- less than $40 -- as additional outlay.

 

It's common  among people who don't know how to sharpen yet to believe that (a) finer grits mean sharper edges; (b) a medium/coarse grit stone (like a 1K) will get a knife medium sharp; and (c) medium sharp is good enough for awhile.  It doesn't work that way though.  Finer grits mean finer (less coarse) edge; and finer edges are more durable and last longer.  But there's a limit.  Ultra-fine grits (around 6K and above, depending on the stone) polish more than they refine.  There's also a limit to how big a "jump" you can make coming off your 1K stone, but that limit depends as much on the particular medium/coarse and fine stones as on theoretical considerations.  For instance, an Arashiyama 6K can be used after some 1Ks without an intermediate stone.

 

BDL


I received the knife and soon realized that there was no way I could take care of it appropriately.  So I shipped it back immediately.  That knife felt great in the hand and when I practiced mincing an onion I felt like Marco Pierre White.  But there was no way that I could give it the time or respect that it deserves.  But that was by far the sharpest knife I have ever used in my life.  Wow.  I'm going to start with a Victorinix and beat the hell out of it and work on my sharpening skills.

post #13 of 14

Ham, I understand you sending the K- back, though I suspect some will suggest you should have held on to it. Tough to let something of that quality go. I have done the same thing in the past, not feeling "worthy" of the equipment in hand. But I finally said "s**** that" and decided to commit to the J-knives, sold off all my Germans except the one Victorinox, which like you I intend to beat up learning how to sharpen and use properly. In the past when I've wanted to go back to the "better" stuff, it wasn't around any more, or the manufacturer had changed models, etc. Probably not a worry with the TKC, but you never know. Committing to sharp is a good thing, that's the bottom line. Good luck.
 

post #14 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by foodpump View Post

With steel, everything is a trade off.  Hardness comes at the expense of brittleness, edge retention at the expense of effort required to put  new edge on when the old one eventually becomes dull.  Some of the newer powdered metals are pretty good, but expensive.

 

Lamination, where a hard steel is forge welded onto a softer iron core is another technique.  While the Japanese are famous for this, the Europeans have been using the same technique on tools (axes, woodworking tools, etc) since the 1600's.

 

IMHO, where the Japanese knives really shine is with meat cutting, both the single bevel and high angle double bevel knives are excellent for cutting fish and meat.  The trade off is with their delicate edge, the edges tend to chip more frequently. These edges don't handle contact with bones or contact with frozen meat very well

 

In most professional kitchens, for every guy cutting meat or fish, there is 4 or 5 "butchering" vegetables. Tough squashes, pineapples, thick dense stuff like potatoes, and fibrous stuff like celery and onions. Block chocolate is, quite frankly, a hard rock.   This is where the German style knife shines.  Thick heavy blades that have mass to power through a pumpkin, shallow bevels that don't get chipped. You can halve or quarter a case of whole chickens with this kind of a knife and it begs for more They (German knives) are an axe, and a axe is the perfect tool to chop down a tree, but not to make fine furniture with.  The trade off is the thick heavy blades are not so good with meat or fish.

Well said. The other nice bonus with Germans in a professional setting is that no one will steal them every time you turn around. I still have Germans in my kit and they work just fine.

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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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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