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Knife recommendations?

2005-05-04 01:52:33.960315+00 by Shawn 13 comments

K and I have decided it's finally time to buy a good set of kitchen knives. From time to time friends have dropped brand names, but I don't remember any of them, and we know nothing about the industry. So does anybody have recommendations - either specific products or materials/technology - to share?

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-04 12:35:12.860939+00 by: DaveP

I would strongly recommend against buying a set. You won't ever NEED all the knives in a set, and why pay for what you don't need?

I get by just fine with a pair of Wusthof-Trident chef's knives (one 8" and one 10"), a 3" paring knife and a cheapo serrated "bread knife", plus a set of Fiskars scissors that I use as a kitchen shears. An ergonomic utility knife (fancy box-cutter) comes into play when I need to control the blade depth for things like scoring a ham.

The Kershaw Shuns are also Very Nice, but I haven't been willing to pay the premium for them, since until a year ago, the Wusthof-Trident factory outlet (for the entire US) was less than a mile from my house, and I got all my cutlery at 40% off.

Here's the why on the knife selection: 2 chefs knives - I want two so I can turn a chicken into stir-fry bits, as well as chop veggies for a salad without cross-contamination worries. I have two cutting boards for the same reason. The W-T's balance very nicely in my hand, as do the Shuns. A straight paring knife for peeling and delicate work - I actually use a chef's knife for a lot of this, but there are jobs where I'll dig out the paring knife. A serrated knife for slicing bread and also for hacking through frozen things. I use scissors for a lot of prep - they're quicker and mean that I don't have to dirty a cutting board, and they're the one bit of cutlery that goes in the dishwasher. The box-cutter works for some situations (scoring a ham before baking for example - I can get 1/2" deep cuts with no worries) and is always sharp.

In the less-used category, I also have a cleaver. For hacking apart cooked ribs, there's nothing like it. I can't read the brand name on it, since it's about 60 years old and has been re-ground and resharpened multiple times. It's not stainless, but I got it at a rummage sale for a buck, and paid a six-pack of beer to have it reground and cleaned up by a bladesmith I know.

In general, I recommend a high-quality stainless, forged knife for the chefs knives. For the smaller knives, find one in stainless that feels good in your hand. Construction quality isn't as important, since you're less likely to abuse it. For serrated bread knives, I find that the cheap one from Target is just as well-made as anything fancier.

You'll want a way to store them. If you don't have kids to worry about, a magenetic strip on the wall is best, since it'll keep the knives in the open air (so you don't have them being a bacteria farm in a block that you can't clean) and from banging into each other. If you have kids, hang the magnet inside a cupboard with one of those kid-proof latches. Hand wash them, so they're not banging together in the dishwasher (or cutting the coating off the dishwasher rack), and air-dry them before sticking them back on the magnet.

The one knife I think I'll add next is a scalloped slicer for slicing roasts, but I don't think I need to buy that until fall. I might go with an electric knife instead.

I would also look at Alton Brown's Essentials for the non-knife things you might want in the kitchen.

Finally, while AB recommends against it, I believe in sharpening my own knives. I strongly recommend the book on sharpening from Razor Edge Systems which improved my technique after nearly twenty years of getting things "pretty darned sharp". Now I can shave with all my knives and it makes me feel safer in the kitchen.

If you really want to get hard-core, buy Wayne Goddard's Fifty Dollar Knife Shop and learn how to make your own. :)

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-04 12:38:33.044408+00 by: petronius

Get a set with a finish that doesn't show fingerprints. A tip from CSI.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-04 12:40:19.573877+00 by: DaveP

Oh yeah, and you need a steel for touching up the edge. I got a nice W-T one (outlet store!) that's nearly completely smooth. Grooves are not useful. Steels do not sharpen. The book from Razor Edge will teach you how to steel a knife correctly, too.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-04 14:06:08.024461+00 by: other_todd

Definitely Wusthof knives. The only time I don't use these is when I want to use one of my big, heavy, old carbon-steel (the kind that eventually turns black and you have to keep it dry or it rusts) knives of the sort they don't make anymore. They have heft and rounded ends (they're not pennant-shaped, in other words) and they substitute for the square Chinese cleaver I don't own when I need to hack something apart.

All the rest of the time we use an 8" or a 10" chef's knife from Wusthof. My wife, who has smaller hands, prefers the bigger one - go figure. I guess when I want a big knife I prefer my old carbon knives.

We also have a very sharp, tiny boning and paring knife with a thin, flexible blade, and two serrated/bread knives - a large one which I think is often billed as a "ham slicer," and a small one about the size to cut a normal loaf of bread. All Wusthof. That pretty much covers our knife needs.

We got a set with chef's knife, bread knives, and paring knife because we knew we'd use all the blades in it regularly. Unless that's the case with you, I agree that buying them piecemeal is a better bet. You may want to invest in a block, though, because knife storage is important - don't let them bump up against each other or a metal rack or toss them around or let them bang around in the sink. (Don't put them in the dishwasher either.) An even better alternative to a block, if you have a safe place to hang it, is a magnetic knife strip.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-04 14:31:01.455331+00 by: Dan Lyke

I too can say good things about Wusthof. Again, don't buy a set: we get along with two 10" chef's knives, one of 'em's a Wusthof, one of 'em's a Hoffritz.

The main thing about buying knives is to make sure that you're getting a forged blade. The blade should have a marked widening between the tang and the blade, and the tang should be a different thickness than the blade.

There's one exception to this that a professional chef friend of mine keeps trying to sell me on, and that's supposedly Victorinox's line of kitchen knives. They apparently used stamped blades, and she loves them because they're lighter but still use a good enough steel to hold an edge. I don't wield a knife often enough to care about weight as a trade-off to blade quality. And she has a professional sharpening service coming in and going through their kitchen twice weekly.

I'm with Dave on sharpening. Read the assorted sharpening FAQs on the net (the blade angle is steeper than you think!) and get yourself a good stone. It will cost you about the same as a knife (less than a hundred, more than fifty). I like the DMT Sharpening System hybrid steel/diamond stones, I've used their whetstones in fine and extra fine, I'd use "fine" for kitchen cutlery, their web site recommends the diamond benchstones.

I'd start with the chef's knives (one for each of you), then see if you want a paring knife. Frankly, for what I do with paring I'm okay with a flexible stamped blade, but that may just be me being cheap.

#Comment made: 2005-05-04 15:24:01.330938+00 by: ccoryell

For sharpening I strongly reccommend the Spyderco Sharpmaker (~$50) It easily gets all of my knives much sharper than shaving sharp.

I have a 4" paring knife and a 8" chefs knife from Bob Kramer that I bought back before he doubled his prices. I love the high carbon steel blades. http://bladesmiths.com/kramer_knives_euro_line.htm

I believe that those two knives plus a kitchen knife are all you needs. Also if you join cooks illustrated ($4 for one month) they will send you a pdf of their recommended kitchen tools including some decent knife recommendations.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-04 15:56:26.794799+00 by: Diane Reese

I'm not as fancy as all of youse guys (although I sure do raise hell in the kitchen), so I wanted to put in a plug for the Common Person knives I use religiously: Cutco. I have a bunch of knives of varying qualities and I find myself always reaching for one of the four Cutco knives I own (or their shears) over anything else in the rack. I probably literally could not do without the Cutco trimmer: I use it every single day of my life. (I accidentally threw one away with the turkey carcass one Thanksgiving and was despondent until I bought another one. The knife, silly, not the turkey.) I've also got the paring knife, chef, and bread knives and use them regularly. (But it's the trimmer that's attached to my right hand most days.) In fact, I just bought a couple Cutcos (trimmer and petite chef) to send off to college with Oldest Son in the fall.

So yeah, I'm not sophisticated, but I love my Cutco knives. I still have a couple Cutco pieces of my mom's from the '60s and they're entirely useable. I find that they stay sharp for a remarkably long time, and some home salesperson will come to your house and sharpen them for free in your kitchen if you don't mind listening to them encourage you to buy more knives. Just an alternative to the fancy schmancy stuff.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-07 19:38:49.230913+00 by: Shawn

Thanks for the feedback, everybody. We're not master chefs, but we are tired of having knives that don't stay straight. This give us a good start. Wustof is certainly the name we're hearing most. (Cutco looks interesting, but I'm sure I couldn't stomach the home salesperson - thought the breed had died off, and happy of it, actually.)

Thanks also for the other tips. I hadn't considered the bacteria potential of a block. No kids, so our options are open there.

I notice nobody mentioned steak knives. The cheapo set we have now came with six and I find that's what I use most often while cooking. This might be due to my personality quirk of selecting the tool we have the most of so there's always one of anything ready and available, however.

And while we're on the subject of kitchen implements: What does everybody use to remove eyes from potatoes? I've always used the tip of a peeler, but I'm finding if I'm not really careful (and slow) I wind up slicing up my fingers where I'm holding it.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-07 21:01:06.425049+00 by: meuon

Sniff.. You still eat Potatoes? - I never thought much about them until I had to eat properly for my diabetes. The mantra you learn quickly: Carbs Kill.

But on subject: I used to hear that the most important and best vitamins in a Potato are in, or right under, the peel. Now, the 'net is full of issues with 'insecticides, sprout inhibitors, fungicides'.. so I guess peeling potatos is back in style. That being said, I learned to peeling them and de-eye them with just a sharp small knife.

I think your problem is either poor tool and/or poor technique. Buy a GOOD peeler with a good handle.. and keep your hand on the handle.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-08 03:52:29.483642+00 by: Diane Reese

Shawn: no home salesperson needed, if you're interested in Cutco. They have a perfectly serviceable website from which I buy all my knives now.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-08 16:33:10.327801+00 by: Shawn [edit history]

meuon; I'm not peeling the potatoes, just removing the eyes when they start to sprout. We don't eat potatoes very often, and we are currently buying organically grown so I'm not too worried about pesticides. Although I come from a family history of (type 2) diabetes, recent tests show that as fine - likewise my cholesterol levels. The current concern is my blool pressure, which was frighteningly high.

We bought a new peeler this weekend - one that has a guard behind the blade - which I'm hoping will help. Holding only the handle doesn't provide the leverage I need. I've never been a steady hand with hand tools of any kind so I need to hold the tool closer down to the potatoe or risk a slip that could cause even more damage. This generally also precludes using a knife - unless I can find one with a 1/4 inch long blade.

It's a very frustrating situation as I never peel anything (except my finger when I'm removing eyes) so I don't even need the peeling blade. I'd really be happy if I could find a tool that is only that gouging tip and nothing else.

Diane; I had been to the Cutco website, but I just went back to double-check. I see no pricing information, and on the "How to Buy" page I'm told

Cutco cutlery is sold exclusively by Vector Marketing Corporation. You may order using the following convenient methods:
* Order from a Sales Representative
* Call CUTCO Customer Service at 1-800-633-8323
* Email a "How to Buy" Request
* Click Here to "Request a Catalog"

Apparently, I can also place an order by phone, but I don't see anything that looks like an online shopping cart.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-08 19:33:51.70559+00 by: Diane Reese [edit history]

That's quite weird: *I* can buy things there, and just received an order yesterday in the mail (the "take to college" knives), no speaking to humans required! Hmm.... will investigate further and let you know what I find....

EDIT: OK, apparently I can order online because I am a "returning customer" and have a customer number having already had someone come to my house. SO. If you are interested in exploring further, catch me via email and I'll give you my customer number.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-12 17:04:03.305815+00 by: DaveP

For peeling and de-eyeing spuds, this tool rocks. It's a great vegetable peeler, and I use it to prep all kinds of veggies for stir-fry or salads where I want thin slices. I keep thinking I should get a mandoline some day, but the slicer does the job most of the time.

Zyliss also makes the Best Pizza Cutter In The World and a lot of other best-in-category kitchen widgets.