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Starting To Cook

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

I have recently started to cook for myself, as a regular means, within the last 6 months. So far I have used the knives my roommates' family gave us when we moved into our current apartment. It seems to me a mixed array of pretty low quality knives. I'm looking to get a few basic knives for a good foundation to work with.


I am hoping to get something that will last a long time and perform well. I would prefer not to spend an inordinate amount of money on them, but am willing to pay for a high quality product. I do not eat meat, I figured this was worth mentioning as I would assume some recommendations would be based, at least in part, on a more heavy duty knife need to prepare certain cuts of meat.


I am looking for a basic combination of a chef's knife/Santuko, a serrated knife, a paring knife and a honing steel. I am open to suggestions regarding adding to, or subtracting from that list, as well as any and all advice regarding specific recommendations fulfilling those knife types.


Also, I've yet to use a honing steel, but have watched a few videos online and it seems easy enough to apply. I am interested in any advice as to how often I should be honing the knives that you recommend to me and any other recommendations regarding the honing of knives.


Thanks to all who take the time to help me out.

post #2 of 7
Some reading to start with:
post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the input Benuser, but I'm not looking to learn how to sharpen knives. My main inquiry is as to what experienced knife users would recommend as a good brand to start off with. Keeping in mind the types of knives I am planning to buy and that though I am not too experienced in the kitchen I will be using them a lot to prepare all types of vegetables and fruits.

post #4 of 7

The sharpening advice is given first because how you plan to care for you knife and keep it functional is an important part of what we would then recommend as a knife. 


Recommending a thin "laser" Japanese knife is a poor choice if we don't also know how you'll keep it at laser sharpness. Plus putting the initial laser edge on such a blade is the first thing you do with such a knife in many cases. 


The knife budget comes in two parts. The knife and the maintenance gear. 

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #5 of 7

I agree with both Benuser and Phatch - though I would expand it a bit.


You need to look at the combination as being (1) knives; (2) sharpening process; and (3) cutting surface.


For the ensemble, the first question is, what is your budget?


For knives, you list 3 knives - a chef's knife/santoku, a serrated knife and a paring knife,  Those are pretty much the basic three, so let's start with each.


Ignore matching the knives by brand - you want best bang and performance for the buck, so you should be choosing each knife individually.  But if you can get something better and cheaper by buying some sort of set, that can also work.


Chef's knife/santoku - the main question here is what size.  And I would end up suggesting a chef's knife, rather than a santoku.  Santoku's only go up in length to 170 mm (less than 7 inches) - and a little bit longer will really help, especially with bigger items, such as heads of lettuce.  This is going to be your workhorse knife, so don 't limit yourself for future use by buying too short.  I have hefted as big as 320 mm, as well as 270 mm, 240 mm and 210 mm, but I find the 240 to 250 mm length for the blade is a comfortable length for working through bulk cutting as well as smaller volumes of prep work, especially when using a pinch grip..  I would not suggest anything below 210 mm, especially for a good quality gyuto (Japanese version of a chef's knife).


The style you choose depends on how you cut.  Knives with German profile patterns have a significant "belly" with a pronounced sweep of the edge upwards as that edge approaches the tip.  French pattern knives are a straighter edge profile.  Japanese gyutos tend much more towards the French pattern than towards the German pattern.  Personally, I prefer the "French" style, which works well with a purchase involving gyutos.


The relative thickness of the blade is mostly an aspect of the quality of the steel.  Better steel results in a thinner knife, and much less effort in cutting.through materials.  Think "butternut squash" and you will realize that veggies are not necessarily easier to cut through than meats.


And that brings up stamped vs. forged vs. machined.  It really doesn't matter, except in the minds of knife marketers and sellers.  What matters are the initial steel quality, the heat treatment (annealing, quenching and tempering) of the blade and the degree of quality control in the post-heat treatment finishing of the knife.  Some of the best budget knives are stamped and machined, rather than forged.  And a lot of people prefer their knives not to have thick bolsters at the heel end of the blade, thank you (those thick bolsters simply get in the way of properly sharpening your knife.


If you have very little in your budget fpr a chef's knife (say, under $35), you can buy a 10 inch Victorinox (also formerly marketed as Forschner) chef's knife with fibrox handle (fancy way of saying molded plastic).  It's a basic knife found in commercial kitchens and restaurants throughout the world.  The steel is "X50CrMoV15" - the same steel used in Wusthof's better knives and as used in almost all of the better German knives.  Hardness is around 56 hRc (Rockwell hardness standard) - which is on the low end of acceptable.  The saving grace is price and widespread availability'


For about $5 more, the Wusthof "Pro" line offers better heat treatment of the same steel.  It's also a knife aimed at the commercial market, but the handle can be problematic or downright difficult to use when trying to use a pinch grip.  It's hard to find.  The saving grace(?) is that Wusthof hardens their better steel knives to 58 hRc (even 2 points difference can make a significant difference).


After those two lines, most of the rest of the mass-market knives are just variations on a theme.  More expensive, but either same steel or lesser quality steel.


And then there are Japanese knives.  Here, I am going to bring up the "usual suspects" in budget high-quality Japanese knives.  And there are three suspects.  All are gyutos.  All are available under $100 for at least the 210 mm length, and some are available in 240 mm length for under $100.  The three suspects are: (1) Tojiro DP; (2) Fujiwara FKM and (3) Richmond Artifex (actually, American-made, and available through the on-line retailer of Chef Knives To Go).


Any one of those 3 knives will end up giving you a quality product capable of giving you decades of good service, provided yiou have and use sharpening tools and have and use an appropriate cutting surface.


For a serrated-edge knife, just head to a local to you restaurant supply store and buy a serrated bread knife ($15 to $20).  Victorinox (with fibrox handle) is the preferred, but Dexter Russell Sani-Safe will also do.  Unless you have a way to specifically sharpen serrated edge knives, you are better off just buying an inexpensive commercial knife and replacing it when it gets dull.  That's what a lot of chefs do.


For a paring knife, either you go cheap (Victorinox fibrox handle - under $7) or you go pricey - $40 for the Tojiro DP paring knife, or $60 for the MAC Professional line paring knife.


You will need a honing rod and a separate means to sharpen your knives.  Honing rods (the misnomer name is "sharpening steel") do not sharpen - they re-align the microscopic edge of your knife and push the cutting edge back to vertical.  Otherwise, the pushed-over edge has a lot more resistance when you try to cut.  Honing rods, however, really don't sharpen a dull knife - but they will delay the amount of time between sharpenings  Honing rods need to be harder than the steel in the knife they are honing.  Otherwise, both honing rod and knife WILL be damaged.  Since Japanese knives use steels which are harder than European honing rods made from steel, a ceramic rod (harder than the steels used in Japanese knives) is needed.  For a honing rod, my stock response is to get a 12 inch Idabone ceramic rod ($30).  Save yourself future aggfravation and get the 12 inch length.  The primary quibble is that you need to be careful not to drop the hone - it is brittle and can shatter.


That still leaves sharpening.  Sharpening involves the removal of metal - which the honing rod really doesn't do to any significant extent.  First see Benuser's post above and the link in it.  If you need more information about sharpening, read Chad Ward's book, An Edge In The Kitchen.  Published in 2008, prices are really dated - but the information is good.  To save money, see if you can read it at your local library, or through inter-library loan (sorry, Chad!).  Also, look at videos on-line from Jon Broida of Japanese Knife Imports.


The basic minimum is a general stone - 800 to 1200 grit.  Plenty of recommendations out there - just read through posts   Then go ahead and practice.


An initially pricier alternative is the Edge Pro Apex, starting at $165.  But it will reduce your learning curve in sharpening, compared to freehand sharpening.  And the stone will cost less, since the stones for the Edge Pro are much smaller than stones used in freehand sharpening.


The final recommendation is for a good cutting surface.  I will recommend you look at the recent review by Kokopuffs of his new hard maple end grain board made by The BoardSmith.  $100, but good sized (18" x 12" x 2") and a quality surface that will protect the edges of your knives for decades, provided that it is properly treated (I suggest food-grade mineral oil - I get mine from my local Safeway supermarket for $3.49 per pint).


That does tally up to several hundred dollars, but it's a sound set going beyond just the knives and covering all the bases.


Hope that helps


Galley Swiller

Edited by Galley Swiller - 1/19/14 at 7:59pm
post #6 of 7
Thread Starter 

Galley Swiller,


Thank you very much for taking the time to write that out for me. All of that information is much appreciated, as well as quite helpful. I do have a few questions after reading through your post.


As far as the Wusthof Pro vs the various Japanese recommendations, do you have a preference based on quality and longevity of the blades you mentioned?


In regards to the paring knife recommendations, the disparity of price makes me think that the Victorinox is lesser quality and therefore won't be as long lasting as the other two suggestions. Could you comment a bit further on that?


I've heard elsewhere too about the Rockwell scale and that ceramic is a good option when dealing with stronger steel knives, Japanese in particular, and $30 seems to me like a very reasonable investment for a honing rod that should last for a long time.


The board is a great suggestion also. Currently I'm using composite plastic cutting boards, but wouldn't mind upgrading to something a bit more durable, though they have been great thus far.


Thanks again for your time.

post #7 of 7

The Wusthof Pro is a modest improvement over the Victorinox, in terms of the hardness of the steel (both knives use the same steel, but heat treatment by Wusthof hardens that steel more than the Victorinox).  The downsides to the Wusthof Pro are (1) availability; (2) the handle (not very comfortable in a pinch grip - I had one and didn't like that) and (3) the Wusthof has one heck of a belly.  Maybe those features are okay for you - the grip and the belly may or may not be to your liking.  I tossed it into the discussion, since it and the Victorinox are relatively comparable knives, intended for commercial use and are way better than almost any big box housewares retail store knives.


However, if you are not at the poor house door, then either of those two knives are basically beginner beater knives - and you can do much better with a gyuto.  The Japanese knives are a cut above (pun intended, but language still justifiable),  They really are that much better than the European competition, when it comes to taking and holding a sharp edge.   If I had one knife to recommend of the three I listed, then I would recommend the Richmond Artifex.  Not much in presentation, but a good knife intended as a professional tool.  I have the Tojiro DP and like it, but it's the Artifex that I reach for nowadays.  I haven't handled the Fujiwara FKM, so I can only mention it as a knife that often gets recommended - though the steel (AUS-8) is not brought to quite the hardness level of the other two knives.


As far as paring knives go, upper end knives will give better performance - but the paring knife isn't going to be your reach-for knife.  That will be the chef's knife/gyuto.  The paring knife is basically for those jobs involving fine detail, where the chef's knife is just plain too big - and will therefore not have anywhere near the use that the chef's knife will get.  Since the paring knife is small, it tends to either get lost, or the blade gets worn down a bit quicker, or (insert your own quibble about small and thin knives here).  In short, it tends to get replaced.  Not as often as the bread knife, but occasionally.  For that reason (especially in a busy commercial kitchen, price points for a decent paring knife are a consideration.  The better quality knives (MAC and Tojiro DP, for example), however, can be suitable for a home kitchen where the cook may have the luxury of time and care.  I have both the MAC and Tojiro DP and use them - but they are not where the money should be prioritized.


As for the steel in Japanese knives - they are harder, not stronger.  Hardness generally relates to length of time between sharpening sessions.  Strength and toughness relates to how much abuse the knives can take.  The two are the flip sides to the same coin - if you want the knife to perform as long as possible, then you look for hardness (and accept that the hardness can mean that the edge can chip, if abused).  If you want the knife to take a lot of abuse, then you look for toughness (but you probably will not be able to get it to take a really sharp edge, and the knife will dull a lot quicker).  Japanese knives are about performance.  European knives are about mass-market "don't want them to break".  Take your pick.


There are two major reasons to upgrade your cutting board.  First is sanitary - end grain hard wood cutting boards can be kept more sanitary and reduce pathogens.  Plastic boards develop cuts and crevices during use (much more so than end grain hardwood) - and that's where microscopic food particulates can foster pathogens.  The second reason to switch to end grain hard wood is that the sides of those cuts and crevices can surround the edge of your knife - and even a small twist can cause the edge to break off chips (on the micro scale, there can be a tremendous level of torque applied sideways - even when you might not be aware of it).



Galley Swiller

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