It’s past time for new knives! I’m hoping folks here will help me select the right ones.
I want a chef’s knife/gyuto (240mm or longer), a 5” or 6” short slicer/petty, and a long slicer/sujihiki. I already have a Mac Superior bread knife my wife bought me. I might want a small paring knife too.
I’m an at-home cook. Most of the meals my wife or I prepare during the week are quick productions or leftovers, but once a week or so we try to prepare something a little nicer and more elaborate. I do most of that cooking, but my wife will be using the new knives too. And the kids as well someday; the two older like to help, and the oldest is starting to cut things up under Dad’s anxious supervision. Everyone in the family is right-handed, except maybe the baby, who isn’t saying, or even trying to help in the kitchen, the ingrate.
Most of what we cut is vegetables and fruits. We usually purchase meat and poultry pre-portioned, but this could change when the kids get bigger and the food dollar needs to stretch more.
The knives we currently have, as far as I can tell, are these, which we received as a gift some years ago. I don’t know exactly what they are made of or anything, but that’s what we’re used to. They are thick and heavy. I think of them as faux-Wusthof.
I’ve been sharpening them (the ones we use anyway) with a Spyderco Sharpmaker, including occasional use of the diamond rods purchased separately. The Sharpmaker seems to be better than nothing. Friends’ knives, apparently never sharpened, are duller than ours even if higher end. Also, when I recently tried to use our own deboning knife, rarely used and never sharpened, I might as well have used a pencil, but the 5” slicer, often used and periodically sharpened, did the job easily.
Here are my answers to a questionnaire from somewhere or another, with some questions of my own mixed in:
Do you have good knife skills? I would describe my knife skills as plodding and methodical.
Do you pinch grip? I do.
Do you have good sharpening skills? No.
How are you planning to sharpen? I’m leaning toward EdgePro, about which I do have some questions:
Am I exaggerating the learning curve for freehand sharpening? I’m leaning toward the EdgePro because long hours at the office and three children at home don’t leave me time to sit down unmolested and learn to sharpen freehand. I also don’t have a dedicated space for such activities like a shop or basement workbench; I’ll be using the kitchen table or counter when I sharpen.
If I purchase an EdgePro, will the "Essential Set" at Chef Knives To Go work both for my current knives, and for something along the lines of a Mac Pro or even a bit higher end?
How soon do I need that EdgePro (or whatever I get), and how long will I get away with merely honing? Also:
Do you have any sharpening equipment you want to use with your new knife? Dunno; maybe. Will the Sharpmaker be of any use for touch-ups temporarily, or is it useless once I have a knife with harder steel? It sure is easy to grab out of the cabinet and set up!
What knives do you consider absolutely essential? Chef’s knife/gyuto and small slicer/petty. I already have my Mac Superior bread knife. I want a nice slicer/sujihiki too, but for now, for the occasional roast beef or turkey, I hope to get away with using the Mac, which is double billed as a “bread/roast slicer”. Do I need to rethink this strategy? Way down the list would be a short paring knife, but I hardly use the one I have; the only thing I find it better for than the 5” slicer is coring strawberries.
Would you be comfortable with a 10” chef’s knife? I certainly want something longer than the current 8” chef’s knife. There have been many occasions I wished for a blade of greater length, but none when I thought, thank God this knife isn’t the slightest bit longer. I’m leaning toward a 240 mm. But should I consider 270 mm? Or is that crazy talk?
How important is appearance? I wouldn’t pick a prettier knife over one that cuts better or has better ergonomics, but all else being equal, attractive appearance is a plus.
Is there a particular aesthetic you really want or don’t want (for instance, a “damascus” appearance)? All else being equal, I like the look of handles from natural materials. I like the shape of the handles on the Hattori Forums knives at Japanese Chefs Knife, the way they kind of swoop into the bolster. I don’t want a Damascus or hammered blade look unless it’s integral to the knife’s actual construction; it turns me off the same way as fake undersized shutters for window trim. Maybe I'm being silly about that. On the other hand, I do like (for instance) the kanji and flower on the Kikuichi Peformance TKC and the dragon on the Misono Swedish Steel and even the logo amid the scrollwork on the Mac Ultimate series. The unadorned Mac logo on the Mac Pro line does not turn me off, but it is not a plus either.
Will you be buying them all at once? I will not. I will put them on a wish list and buy them as I can, or my wife can use the list for gift inspiration!
Stainless or Carbon? Stainless. But I wonder if semi-stainless is a viable choice? Ninety percent of the time I wash and dry my knife as soon as I use it, but occasionally something like this happens: “Dad, I dropped Barbie in the toilet!” and down goes the knife, and away go I, only later to resume slicing lime for margarita (which by now I really want...)
Japanese handles (wa) or western (yo)? I like the looks of both but have never tried a wa-. I don’t think my cutting skills are so practiced that switching handle type will lead to great problems. But perhaps the more experienced among you can let me know if I am wrong about this?
Do you have a good board, yet? I do not, but I want a Boardsmith board or something similar. For now, I’m using a series of plastic boards and a lower end J.K. Adams wooden board. So maybe I should spring for a cheaper wooden board, for now? I just fret that anything I buy “for now” will still be around to throw on my funeral pyre, never having been replaced.
How big? The plastic ones are about 12”×18” and smaller. The wooden board is like a quarter-circle paddle about 14” across the wide part.
How would you rate “value” as compared to “performance?” I’m not sure. I am willing to pay, say, twice as much for knife that is not quite twice as good, so I suppose increased performance matters more than value, up to a point. Breaking the bank for a marginal improvement seems wasteful; I still have that nice board to buy.
What’s your budget for knives? Chef’s knife, I’ll happily spend in neighborhood of $200, plus or minus, with an absolute upper limit of $300 if I really like something and drink three glasses of wine first. Petty knife, $100 or less, preferably? I have seen some advice around here not to spend too much on a petty, but maybe that’s not a given? Sujihiki, I don’t know. I have a lot of questions about sujihikis, perhaps for another post.
What’s your budget for everything? I’m prepared to spend $1,000+, over time, for knives, board, and sharpening equipment.
Are you comfortable breaking up the purchases over time; or do you want everything now? I will certainly be breaking up the purchases over time. Of course I want everything now...
And finally, here are some other questions I have, that didn’t arise in the questionnaire:
I read a lot about how Japanese blades ought not be used for certain heavy duty tasks. How heavy duty are we talking about here? I rarely split a chicken, and I can keep my old knife for when I do, but I often cut into pineapple, cantaloupe, watermelon, cheddar cheese blocks, and (less often) squash.
Do I want a laser? I’m not experienced enough to know what I don’t know and would appreciate some guidance here. Those Konosuke HH and Gesshin Ginga stainless are lovely to behold, but perhaps I should resist their call for my purposes?
If my ideal chef’s knife comes from one line, does it follow that my ideal petty would come from the same? Or do different brands have different virtues in the different types?
I sometimes see here discussions of the relative flexibility or “whippiness” of various knives. The only knife I own that others here are likely to have experience with is the Mac Superior breadknife, which is noticeably more flexible than my old knives. I’m hoping that someone can tell me where that falls in the “whippiness” spectrum, for comparison purposes.
Thank you in advance to anyone who can help me make this difficult – but fun – set of decisions.