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New chef in the house need help on first Chef Knife

1429 Views 12 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  rick alan
Hey everyone, 

I've been lurking here for a couple months and the forum has been a great help to me and my newly acquired love for cooking. 

We have a cheapo santoku knife that was a hand me down, and its what we use for everything from vegetables to quartering a chicken. I'm not a big fan of how it handles as well as it being somewhat dull. We are getting married in a couple months and my sister said she wants to purchase me a knife of my choice (under $200). I really didn't know where to beginning so I went to a local sur la table and tried some of their knifes. I really enjoyed the 8" Shun Classic and how it felt in my hands, after some research online it sounds like thats just a mediocre knife for the price point and I would be better of with something else. Any recommendations

Thanks in advance
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Just a simple assortment; not in any order; all, save one(1)
I agree with Iceman. But I feel compelled to ask (at the risk of getting hammered by all the "knife experts" here)... are you more willing to believe random opinion on the internet, or your own experience handling some alternatives?

Opinions are like... and you get what you paid for them. :)

Hammer away, folks; I'm your nail.
You get what you pay for, except when you overpay.
There is not a bad knife on that list I put up. I even put up a "Shun" for the point of showing no partiality. From the time of that last post until now, I've trimmed out 50-lbs. of hanger steak. I did it with a $10 "Chicago Cutlery" santuko and a $1.50 "IKEA" petty. I trimmed it out expertly, beautifully and deliciously. Could I have done it any better with a $600 gyuto and a $200 petty?!? NO. Most of the best "really working" chefs that I know and work with have German knives. I've never held any of those that I've liked though. LOL. I've never been in a good kitchen that didn't have good sharp staff knives. Almost every time they were either VF's or Dexters. Almost every one of those kitchens had a "Chef's Choice" electric sharpener too. You can talk all day about big $$$ knives. That's cool. I like knives. This is a forum, you're supposed to talk about stuff. My problem is with every "new to cooking" or "looking for my first knife" person asking for help that gets recommended very expensive knives. Then after a number of posts the OP has disappeared and the tread becomes another knife muscle flexing thread. Big $$$ knives don't make better food. Skills trump expensive equipment.

We work in kitchens ... This ain'te rocket surgery.
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There are many factors that affect what will be an ideal purchase for you. I don't have the time now to walk you through that process, but hopefully others will or you can search the hundreds of similar threads from the last few years. Just to get you started though, here's an excellent general-purpose <$200 option that tends to satisfy the requirements of most people who don't have specific requirements that they know to identify:

I'm going to go somewhat quick and drop some terminology without defining it, but this should get you started.

All knives get dull, and an expensive dull knife is just as useless as an inexpensive dull knife (or even more useless since cheap knives tend to have thicker blades that can slightly compensate for dullness with their weight). If you want a knife that performs well, you will need a method of keeping it sharp. Ideally that means getting a set of waterstones and learning to use them, but it might mean getting a rod-guided device like the Wicked Edge or Edge Pro, or it might mean getting a Chef's Choice electric sharpener. They all have pros and cons, mainly dealing with learning curve, flexibility, and cost. You almost certainly don't want to get them sharpened by a "professional". First, because most "professional" sharpeners aren't professional in any sense but cost and will often end up just running your knife through a metal-eating pull-through device that leaves a highly unpolished edge. Second, because even if the sharpener actually does really know what they're doing, the cost (both in money and time away from the knife) will be high enough that you're not going to do it whenever your knife starts to lose its edge. It depends completely on use, but for a home cook, you'll probably end up wanting to do some degree of sharpening every few weeks to every couple months at the minimum. And if you're using soft European steel (e.g. Victorinox, Wusthof, or Zwilling Henckels), your edge will actually roll to one side and need some form of touching up every day, and multiple times a day at that. If you don't intend to invest in a good sharpening solution soon, then you should split this $200 budget into a less expensive knife and a basic sharpening kit. We can talk more about that if you're more interested in that approach. Chef's knife suggestions at the ~$200 price point are different from suggestions at the ~$150 price point, which themselves are very different from those less than $100.

I mentioned factors that affect what knife you should get. These include things like stainless vs carbon steel (roughly a tradeoff between maintenance and edge properties at a given price point), western-style "yo" handles vs Japanese-style "wa" handles, desired length, how heavy duty, your sense of aesthetic, etc. Regarding heavy duty, there will reach a point for any chef's knife when you'll want to switch to something more heavy duty so that you don't damage the edge. Even with a super soft, tough blade like a Wusthof, you won't want to try cutting through thick bones. Most Japanese knives err on the side of harder and stronger rather than softer and tougher, as well as being lighter and thinner instead of using weight to augment toughness. This roughly translates to taking a sharper edge and holding it longer, but being more easily damaged by improper technique when going through hard objects. That Mac I mentioned above is pretty stiff as far as Japanese knives go, but you still might have trouble going through a winter squash or frozen food without twisting the knife and damaging its edge. With an even thinner and less stiff Japanese knife, the risk of using damaging technique is greater. There are some Japanese knives, though, that do err on the side of toughness.

Some of the things that more money often but not always buys you are better grind, better alloy of steel and quality of its heat treatment (both of which result in better edge properties such as how sharp an edge it can take, how easily it takes it, how long it holds it, etc.), better profile, better handle, better appearance, better fit & finish (F&F), and better out of the box (OOTB) sharpening. Knives with a high failure rate during manufacturing, such as the super thin class of knives known as "lasers", also cost more due to the higher production costs. Stainless knives tend to cost more than carbon knives with comparable edge properties, and at a given price point, carbon knives tend to have better edge properties than stainless knives.

Not all of these things are worth the money to every buyer, and what's worth the money to a knife geek might not be to you, but hopefully these are some useful starting points for research!
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I got my sweetheart the Messermeister Oliva Elite 10 in chef knife and I LOVE it. The handle is made of olive wood, not too bulky but with curves to fit my hand. It is also fairly light and stays very sharp.
There are 2 things that sharp and thin [particularly behind the edge] does:

1) It just makes he cutting experience more enjoyable, except maybe where the Iceman is concerned as I just have the feeling he prefers ripping to cutting for the turn-on here. Nice list of entry-level knives BTW, although the American made Richmonds have had some QC issues.

2) It allows flavor profiles you simply can't get any other way, some examples:

Try adding 0.5mm celery slices to salad or garnish for some appropriate dish. Then try making those with your typical German blade sharpened on a 1K stone, all you will get is celery sawdust instead of smooth translucent slivers.

A similarly unique experience will be had with 0.5mm slices of garlic. I mean whether sprinkled over pasta or a meat dish there is a gross difference between 0.5 and 1mm.

A similar experience will be had with <1mm slices of onion or peppers, particularly when your knife is so sharp and the damage so minimal that the product is dry, no sliminess.

Try similarly slicing up and serving a halved tomato next to some over-easy eggs, quite as wonderful as it is simple.

Despite comments from some about a sharp knife having no effect on eating experience, the fact is that the quality of some product is just superior, and otherwise impossible to attain, without a very sharp knife.++++

Then of course there is edge profile and the handle (of lesser importance to me) to consider in your selection of a sharp knife.

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I love you, bro, but that's the biggest load of malarkey I've ever read. Iceman ripping instead of cutting. I can't imagine a bit of truth in that. Celery sawdust. A bit too exaggerated I'd say.

But your right, cutting with a knife as sharp as a scalpel is a very cool experience!
Ahaha, kisses here too Brian, and don't get conceited and think that comment was directed at you.  As for the Iceman he would certainly let me know in one way or another whether he found my comment entertaining or not, well versed as he is in the subtleties of language.

You might try making 0.5mm celery slices with those Shuns and Henkles you don't use anymore if you want to see celery sawdust.   ;-)~ 

I do and I have Rick but it's not celery sawdust I end up with. That's why I'm calling BS. And, sure, iceman can speak for himself.

You seem to be in a rather confrontational mood today and maybe so am I... so... Peace out.
LOL. Yeah well ... I guess I am relatively well versed in the subtleties of language, and I can speak for myself. For any "home cook", the QC of the Richmond knives is just fine. It's just fine for any working pro-chef/cook too that is not all jacked up on names and price. The Tojiros and VFs are just fine too.

Let me remind you here ... we're talking about a HOME COOK, not a master chef or an Iron Chef on TV. Just a regular real person. My 1974 Chicago Cutlery chef knife, when sharp and used properly, can work just as well as anything you could suggest in the hands of a HOME COOK. Now I'm not at all saying that the OP should get a $4.99 Acme cheapo knife. NO, not at all. I'm just trying to be realistic and suggest something in the "regular standard nice knife" category.

Please try to refrain from challenging my culinary credentials. It's rather insulting.

We work in kitchens ... It ain'te rocket surgery.
Heavens Iceman!, I of all people challenging your credentials?!  Certainly not, never!  Not on your life.  Ripped, ripping ripper, after all folks, do any of these have just one specific meaning outside of a particular context?  Hicup~, excuse me.

Brian, I don't believe you've every cut anything 0.5mm, let alone doing so cleanly, so I'm calling your BS here.

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