Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Comparing Chefs Knives

I’ve written about caring for knives before, but never given my opinion on what brand knife I prefer, and why…so here goes

What is the opposite of the expression “Beggars can’t be choosers?” Is it “damn, you is one spoilt bee-atch?” Well, whatever it is, when it comes to crazy-fancy knives and their ownership, I seem to fall into the latter category.

Of course, I could just claim to be a connoisseur or some such, but for the most part, I just happen to be your run-of-the-mill, girl-with-a-lethal-knife-collection. (And people wonder why I’m single…hmmm.) Some find it intimidating, (just the other day the Ombudsman was helping me make some dinner and commented they are pretty durned scary) others just assume its part of the job, but for me, it just is what it is, and well, I’m okay with that.

My collection started because when you show up at cooking school on the first day, they hand you a full kit of knives. Drool. That, coupled with the fact I had been working at a kitchen store for some time and they offer an outrageously generous employee discount got me where I am today. But then it became not about having a lot of knives, but all about finding the perfect knife. Something that felt good in my hand, that was the right weight and contour, held an edge and wasn’t too high maintenance. (For instance, I have a carbon knife, and while that bad boy is sharp as can be, lemme tell ya, the rusting is out of control. Caring for that sucker is a full time job.)

At this juncture I can honestly say, of the big-name brands - - the ones you could buy in any mall in North America - - I’ve got at least one, and use them all. But some are better than others for sure.

The first rule of thumb when buying a knife is to hold it in your hand. You’ll notice that a Japanese knife is much lighter-weight than a German forged and that is part of the narrowing down process. I say the blade on a Japanese knife does the cutting, while the weight of the German knife is really what’s getting the cuts done. What should never be happening is your own force doing the work. If that is the case, its time to get those suckers sharpened.

Since I have written about knives before, you can read about how to pick a knife, but here I’m going to talk pros and cons of the knives I use on a regular basis…and let you decide for yourself what sounds best to you. Here I am only talking about 10-inch chef knives. The best knife, to me, is sharp, easy to hold, and cuts without trouble. So here is my opinion, and just to give myself credibility, I am a trained chef, a former chef-instructor and worked for years as a knife saleswoman, so I figure I have about as much right to an opinion as any other joe-on-the-street.

Calphalon – Stamped knife that is flexible and dull. A bummer waste of money. I use this when I feel like sawing through something – in other words, never.

Wusthof Classic – Weighty, all-purpose, and keeps its edge. This is the knife I always come back to. The classic design fits in my hand and the variety of sizes make the whole line worthwhile. If you do a lot of chopping this is the way to go. The balance of a heavy handle and lighter blade make it a work horse.

Henkeles 4 Star – I don’t know what it is about this knife, but for the most part I typically forget I own it. It’s a bit heavier than Wustoff, and the blade is just a bit more curved, but overall, it’s a good all-purpose knife. Im not the biggest fan of the overall look, but if this was all you had, you’re still in good shape.

Shun Elite – Currently my favorite. Samurai sharp, and a good weight. Easy to manage and so far, the blade is still. I also have a santoku version, which I wish I could return. I am not a fan of that shape, since rocking is not an option. The more classic chef knife – though without a curve in the blade that makes rocking easier – is a dream though and worth every penny.

Global – Wow do I dislike this knife. The light weight bothers me, and I find its design dangerous. The heel (where the blade meets the handle) is pointy and can really hurt you, it also makes them hard to clean. I know they look glam, but wow is this knife is a disaster.

So if you are out looking for knife, my suggestion – get a Shun. They are available at Sur La Table, nationwide.


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My favorite is still the Chicago Cuttlery 10" chef's knife with a rosewood handle. (I don't put any knife in the dishwasher.) Rosewood has a nice feel and doesn't slip when dealing with pork and chicken. The blade is "soft" and needs a touch-up with a sharpening steel almost every time I use it, but it's worth taking care of the blade.

Second favorite for vegetables is a Japanese knife I bought that's Hitori Hanzo sharp. It's a hard steel, but I give it a light touch up sharpening about twice a year. Very hard steel and easy to screw up if you try to over sharpen it.

Third is a Joyce Chen cleaver which is for vegetables; very thin blade. Medium hard steel responds well to a touch up sharpening.

Fourth is a small Japanese blade I bought for paring work. Very, very sharp, light and with a hard blade.

The biggest thing for me regarding Chefs Knives is the knuckle clearance. I have to be able to hold the handle and not bang my knuckles on the board when chopping. Many expensive knives fail this test.

Agree on the Global assessment. Also, Wusthof and Henckels are overpriced, in my opinion.
The first serious knife I ever bought--a Wustof Classic 8" chef--is still my favorite. Even though it doesn't seem to hold an edge as long as I'd like. When it's freshly sharpened, though, look out. I feel like it's the only knife I need. Truly a pleasure to wield.

After that, it's a dead heat among a 10" Henkels chef--which seems to hold an edge longer than the Wustof, but only because I use it less--and a pair of boning knives; one Henkels, one Wustof.

I've actually been very fortunate--everything except the Wustof chef and boner have been gifts from my inlaws. And the knives I bought I got on sale.

All that said, lately I've been getting a lot of use out of my (cover your ears) Braun mini chopper. What can I tell you--it's awesome for mincing garlic. Though, FWIW, I'm taking all my serious knives to be sharpened tomorrow. Honest.
I'd love to know where you can actually try out knives before you purchase. Not just hold them but actually slice something. My first quality knife was a Hinkels (until my ex partner used it to hack the bouganvilla--yep, true story). Now, I've disposed of the man (and sadly the knife) and happily purchased a couple of Globals. I've been really pleased with them, but I'd like to work with others before laying out more $$$.
My favorite knives for general kitchen prep, especially slicing things thin are the Japanese knives that are beveled on one side only: these knives are the only knives that let me slice hard vegetables and roots straight and thin; all the western-style double beveled blades slide outwards and leave my thin slices as thin wedges for slices thinner than 2 mm.

Single beveled blades aren't good for splitting things in half, because the blade will veer off to one side when pushed through hard material; in these instances, a western style blade is preferable, but most of the time, I'm slicing things off of a bluk of material, where the Japanese single-bevel blade is better.

The Shun Pro series are all single beveled, as are most traditional Japanese blades.
Superb blog. Thanks for the information, it is very useful. For all, you have shared a very nice thought. Thanks again! Please visit chefs knives directory for more information all about chefs knives.
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