Chef, Santoku, Utility, And Pairing Knives for Untrained Home Cook Under $400.00 For Everything

Discussion in 'Cooking Knife Reviews' started by tom wilson, Jul 6, 2014.

  1. tom wilson

    tom wilson

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    4 years ago I purchased the Victorinox Forschner knife with black plastic handles set the fits the discussion above. My family and I consider those knives scary sharp which might only be due to the fact before purchasing these we only had cheapo sets that were after having these I would consider dull from the factory. These in reality could be be used by us for a lot longer, but I want something nicer, but not just the same with a nicer handle.

    I would like to spend the money for better steel and build quality over all, but not necessarily the best. I'm not married to any brands the only thing I know I don't want is full bolsters as I prefer being able to sharpen the entire length. I'll probably continue to use the Forcshners for cutting up chicken and ribs and cooking outdoors. I cook a lot of fish, meat, and vegetables, and occasionally complex carbs. I hand wash and dry all my knives immediately after use and hone them on a steel and plan on purchasing either a Wicked Edge or Edge Pro sharpening system.

    I'm not sure if I want Japanese, German, French, American... I've thought about Japanese brands, but after reading that they are damaged more easily than others I've had second thoughts.

    Any suggested Brands/Models and advice on my quest for the best bang for my buck will be appreciated. I understand that many think a person must handle a bunch of knives to see what best fits them for ballance, etc. I can see the benefit of that if I were using them in a commercial kitchen all day, but I rarely spend more than an hour in the kitchen at time, but I like quality tools as I figure buy once and last a lifetime is better than buy cheap over and over.

    I might be willing to consider spending up to $500 if the knives are significantly better than what I can get for <$400.
     
  2. rick alan

    rick alan

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    Firstly If you do searches for "first good  knife", Japanese vs German, etc, you will find lots of information about specific knives and their particulars attributes.

    Forschener is a good inexpensive knife and the most recommended here as such, a good knife to tide you along till you have a better idea of what you are looking for in a knife.

    +1 for you observation that the ideal handle and feel are not so important for the typical home cook.

    You say you do a lot of fish, but do you also fillet that fish too?  If so you might want to consider the knife choices here, Deba, flexible of rigid fillet'r, happy to just use any slicer or chef knife, etc.

    You're concerned about toughness, but you have to understand that you are not going to want to subject any knife you pay good money for to anything but reasonably careful use and storage.  Needles if toughness is really important then you have ruled out alloys like aogami (blue) super, white (shirogami) or blue #1, and most knives hardened to more than about 61 rc.

    Do those searches and tell us what seems to fit your current thinking and we can then be a lot more helpful.

    Rick
     
  3. tom wilson

    tom wilson

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    Rick Alan: 

    Thanks for the reply! Yes I do a lot of fish as I'm an avid fly fisherman and keep fish when I fish in salt water. I use a fillet knife that I had for years which my father used to keep in his tackle box. It doesn't old edge for long, because it is made of fairly soft steel, but it is sharp and I can flawlessly fillet anything with with it very fast. Matter of fact friend of mine who used to fish commercially and owned a restaurant years ago used to hire me to come in just to fillet for him. I don't have any training, just a lot of years of experience. Nevertheless, I might just relegate that old box to my travel kit to use when I'm camping and buy a better knife for use in my kitchen.

    Perhaps toughness isn't all that important since I do baby my knives so to speak and always use them very carefully, except for an old Chinese cleaver that I use on a rare occasion.   

    After doing a search I can say I've never used a true French style knife so I really don't know how I'd like it. Interestingly though I've been using the pinch method with my knives and didn't even know what it was called. I decided to watch some knife skills videos and it seems I've instinctively used many of the techniques I saw even though I've never been trained. Although I have watched a good number of cooking videos and have purposely paid attention to how chefs held and used their knives so that likely has a lot to do with it. I've found with learning a lot of skills its often better to pay attention to the instructors hands and arms then the words that come out of their mouth. 

    So after watching the videos I think my knife selection is good with the possible addition of a filet knife with a bit of flex. I like the profile of the Forschner chefs it doesn't have a huge belly matter of fact it seems to me that's its kind of a compromise between a French and German Profile. 
     
  4. ordo

    ordo

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    Western or Japanese handles? Have you ever grabbed a Japanese handle?

    From An edge in the kitchen, by Chad Ward

     
  5. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    If you're getting a Chef's and a Utility, then you can skip the Santoku--it serves no purpose not already filled by the other two. 
     
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  6. tom wilson

    tom wilson

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    It seems I have something to learn as I often use my current chefs knife for cutting up whole chickens, but my Santoku only for vegetables. Is this not correct?
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2014
  7. grande

    grande

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    You can cut chickens with your chef knife; you can also cut veggies. I can't stand santokus, personally; but they really shouldn't be used for chickens, etc.
     
  8. rick alan

    rick alan

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    You can use a santoku for whatever you want actually, but I do prefer to have I knife reserved for slicing [soft] vegetable, soft bread, boneless meat.  For me that is a 240 slicer/suji (my idea of a laser).  I too have no use for a santoku, which in Japan is thought of as an all around knife for ordinary housewives.

    Whatever else is handled by a mid-weight 240 gyoto (would prefer a 270 or 300) and 180 petty.  I have large hands so my preference runs toward larger knives.  I have an array of inexpensive small knives I used for paring, cheese, general utility, etc.

    Slicer and chef knife is where I think you'd most benefit in spending the money, I think you would enjoy a nice fillet knife also.

    Rick
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2014
  9. rick alan

    rick alan

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    I have a little free time here at work so I'm going to attempt addressing things here as our absent resident knife expert would.  Everyone has a style that best suites them and BDL was a master at drawing this out.


    Some folks use a chef knife for just about everything except the more intricate tasks, and those who are differentiating will have several of various sizes and weights to suite every occasion, from a "laser" to a "mighty gyotu."  For others one size fits all.

    For myself I already revealed that a 240 slicer/suji is my go-to knife.  It slices my salad onions to 1.5-1mm or a little less (celery is also nice done this thin); slices, wedges, dices tomatoes; whatever needs to be done to fresh herbs; carves chicken breast and roast; etc.  I sharpen it to about 12deg initially, subsequent touch-ups against the rounded edge of an Arkansas stone will increase that angle and at some point I will decide it's times to bring it to the stones.  In use it never does more than barely touch the board, I'm in no rush so I can be careful and maintain the edge of what is not really good or hard steel.  Eventually I like yourself will trade it for a better item.  Right now I still get a kick out of sharpening and maintaining it.

    My mid weight chef/gyotu slices the ends off onions and is relegated to dicing them also being ground very thin at the tip-end for this purpose, some chef knives are better here than others.  It does potatoes and carrots, beets, swede, smashes garlic cloves, etc.  Like the slicer it never contacts bone, but is not sharpened as acutely.  Like with the slicer I use a gliding motion to prevent sudden break through and also don't hurry with it so it also never contacts the board with significant force, so the relatively soft steel holds an edge for a while.  It too will eventually be replaced with better steel, but since I spent some time in refining this knife I still enjoy using it.

    The thing to understand about a good knife is that when properly sharpened it glides through food with such ease that once you get use to it you won't hit the board with much force regardless of how fast you go.

    You've reserved your Santoku for slicing vegies, you may very well find a fine replacement for it desirable.  There are more than a few chefs like them were multi-tasking is called for.  You can consider a higher grade one, or a Nikiri from which the Santoku derives much of its shape and size, but I understand the Usuba is the ultimate precision vegie slicer.

    Except the fillet your current set of knives I'm guessing will be relegated to all uses not mentioned here, or maybe not.  Also you indicated that you may not be limited in your steel choices, but haven't said how you feel about stainless vs carbon, or semi-stainless or a stainless clad carbon which reduces maintenance some.

    So does this help you at all in narrowing down the types and qualities you're looking for in some new knives?  This is not typically such a simple process, but things often sort themselves out sooner rather than later.  Sharpening is next.



    Rick
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2014
  10. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    It's not about correct or incorrect really. Santoku have blades usually in the 6-8 inch range, much like the utility knives do. Or to call it a petty can reduce the size to the 5-7 inch range in many people's definitions. So it struck me (and my biases and preferences) as wanting two knives that have basically the same function. And so you could bump up your budget on the remaining blades and get better tools. 

    To me, it's about blade length and minimal belly-- a French or Japanese profile essentially rather than German. The Santoku doesn't really offer functionality the Chef's and Utility don't already offer. As mentioned, a Chef's will do the vegetable work. Indeed, the extra length of a 9 or 10 inch Chef's knife offers a lot more efficiency in that you can work larger groups of vegetables and still keep the tip on the board for efficient cutting.  A Santoku will struggle on many squash, long cuts in cucumbers, or melons and such.

    If you prefer the shorter blade for your vegie work, that's not wrong. It's just that the utility will do that just as well and with a more useful point for those times the point is useful. But again, there are efficiency gains to be had with the larger blade generally. 

    If you love the Santoku, you love the Santoku and should enjoy it. I gave the Santoku thing a try for a while with a Dexter Russell in 7 inches I think it was. It's not a bad blade, but in the end, I mostly liked it for cutting cheese where the tall blade helped keep the slices a bit more even. It's been in storage now for a few years waiting for one of my kids to claim it for their first college kitchen. I don't miss it. 

    For many home cooks, the chef, bread and paring are the key blades. In the next tier, a slicer and boning knife come into it. Beyond that, there are knives for specialty work or cuisine. I'm a fan of the 8" Chinese Chef's knife (cleaver, but not for hacking-- thin, fine and sharp, a great blade). For most home cooks, the Chef's knife will serve as the slicer until their budget fits a carving knife/slicer. Rick Alan's elevation of the slicer is a little anomalous in my experience for home cooks. Not wrong, certainly, as it serves his needs. 
     
  11. rick alan

    rick alan

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    Phatch is certainly correct that my elevation of the slicer is rather anomalous, it shows though how varied individual preference can be, and the possibilities to consider.

    Despite my physical stature I love the light and nimbleness of a slicer, a chefs' of the same balance would weight double.  But when I reach for a chef its for a [relatively] big job, and I want something BIG, bigger than what many home cooks feel comfortable with.  That's just me.

    A bread knife should probably be a must have for most.  You really can't deal with real crusty bread without one, and it makes a number of items aside from that much easier to deal with, sandwiches for one.  But I don't eat crusty bread and my hands are big enough to stabilize just most any shifty item for the cut.

    I am actually coming to a very specific point here.  As phatch said, "If you love the Santoku, you love the Santoku and should enjoy it."   The only sane reason to spend money on knives is to increase your cooking enjoyment.  That's what it is about.
    • And if these items you purchase don't really satisfy your personal preferences, then you don't enjoy it as much, you don't get your money's worth, no matter how much you spend.
    After not actually having bought a knife in 55 years of existence, just using whatever fell in my lap, and they were none too slick though I did know how to sharpen them at least, one day I just decided to buy something.  Knowing nothing and considering very little I spent close to what Tom is talking about, and very soon after wished I hadn't been so impulsive.  If only I had somehow delayed that impulse for a couple months I would have known of cheftalk, and known better.  I enjoy what I have in comparison to what I had, but I could have enjoyed it a lot more.  I am glad I didn't spend $100 on a MAC bread knife though, I actually have a use for what I did purchase.

    Some newcomers might think some of us are a little overboard here, but really most assuredly all of this here, as far as new knives and your cooking experience goes, is going to make you enjoy it all the more.

    I forget just how BDL put it, but something to the effect that, "No piece of equipment so defines a chef as his knives."

    Rick
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2014
  12. tom wilson

    tom wilson

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    I can't thank you all enough!

    I have decided I really do want Japanese knives and at 51 years old I'm hoping to buy my last knives and the truth is I could spend more, but really don't want to spend more than $500 on the extreme end. I'm nearly positive I want Vg 10 steel. Used only a 8" chef, "flank/sholder knive which I've been using mostly as a slicer, a pairing knife I seldom use, and for about 3 months a free 7" Santoku - which I prefer for vegetables mostly due to it being shorter than the chef/gyuto. I could forget the Santoku as I used the Chef for vegetables for years before I had the Santoku. I'm a man with smallish hands and I recently had carpal tunnel surgery and surgery to relocate nerves in the arm on the same on the same side . I live a couple blocks from the Sonoma Williams in Sacramento perhaps this weekend I'll go in and hold some of the Japanese blades they have. 

    I also am a person that typically enjoys to go against the crowd so brands that are less well known would be great too and I believe with most things there are equipment brand that are less expensive, but as high or better quality than than the more well known brands. I also would like to not have to sharpen them more often then quarterly. However, I have read that that its best to use something other than a steel on Japanese knives so also need to know what I need in place of a steel to maintain the blades between sharpening. For sharpening my intention has been to either obtain a Edge Pro Apex or Wicked Edge system.
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2014
  13. millionsknives

    millionsknives

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    Just curious how you came to decide on VG10.  Was it marketing?  Reviews?

    IMHO, VG10 is just an average stainless steel.  There are worse and there are better (same price range too).  Maybe 10 years ago it was all that was available to the US market, but there are many options now.  If you are totally set on it, Hattori is the best at working the VG10 steel.

    You should get whatever knives make you happy.  I just don't want you getting ripped off.  I have shopped at Sur La Table, Williams Sonoma, and even a Henckels outlet store (miyabi) to check out the knives and hold the handles.  I would use it as information gathering but don't let them pressure you into buying.  You can find cheaper and better online.  Save the money for sharpening gear.
     
  14. millionsknives

    millionsknives

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    p.s. my opinion on VG10 is only based on sharpening and test cutting a few of my friends' knives.  I do not own any to comment on edge retention.
     
  15. rick alan

    rick alan

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    We'll come up with a number of options VG10 and otherwise. VG10  has great edge retention so long as you do not sharpen too acutely, 16deg per side is fine though.

    Hattori does very well with VG10, they are western (Ho) handles

    Tojiro DP (they are vg10) is a very good value for the money but their Japanese (Wa) handles can use some shaving down. They are slightly less than half the price of Hattori, 90 and $100 for 210 and 240 chef respectively.

    These are typically 2 that get mentioned for VG10.

    I have heard nothing but great about HAP40, a new super alloy, one company: http://www.chefknivestogo.com/rihakn.html  

    Extremely fine grain and highly wear resistant as well as tough.  And easy to sharpen!  The alloy sounds almost too good to be true.  If they made a laser version I'd buy it today.  Western handle, same price as the Hattori.  Google hap40 knives and you can find a few more manufacturers.

    Rick
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2014
  16. brianshaw

    brianshaw

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    You can easily accomplish this by checking out the Shun knives when you go to Williams Sonoma.  Try out both the classic and the Premier lines.  Classic has a more Japanese-style handle and Premier is a more American/European handle.  The Premier may be more of what you are looking for.  Both VG-10 I believe and both incredibly sharp with good edge retention.  Plus, as a bonus... you'll be going completely against the grain of most folks here while happily prepping food with a knife that meets all of your desires.  :)
     
  17. rick alan

    rick alan

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    The 2 biggest objections posed here about Shun, Completely Aside from the Bad Price/Performance Ratio, is that their heat treat is unreliable and they are too thick behind the edge.  Also, they may look pretty out of the box, but that quickly fades with any use, especially those decals.  Also too much belly for a lot of peoples tastes.  Tojiro may have homely fit and finish but they do work as they should.  I have a Shun, and I would never buy another.

    Rick
     
  18. rick alan

    rick alan

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    Oops, someone struck a nerve.  ;-)~  Ahahaha, well Tom, now you see why it pays to take some care with your knife purchases.

    Rick
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2014
  19. tom wilson

    tom wilson

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    I cannot express how much I appreciate you all. So if VG10 isn't the best in my price range what others should I look for. I already have the HAP40 recommendation which I'm looking into as that stuff sounds like its pretty good as I've read more even on another forum about it.

    I've only been able to find HAP40 knives  on chefsknivestogo.com and fine-tools.com do you all know of others.
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2014
  20. brianshaw

    brianshaw

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    I'm not sure that I would draw that conclusion, Tom.  I think you may be over-thinking the problem and listening too much to opinions of folks who over-think even more than that.  That is why I steer clear of most of these knife discussions, and I'm willing to bet this is why BDL, God bless his well-meaning heart, has vacated the premises.

    Perhaps your best use of time would be to spend an hour at your local Williams Sonoma.  I know they generally have some veg available, but in case they don't bring a carrot, potato, and onion.  Give a couple of knives a try.  Then judge for yourself based on performance... and forget the nerdy stuff like metal type.  It is more about fit in hand and compatability with your knife skills/style.

    When reading your OP my first reaction is that you would likely be very happy after spending $200 (or so) on an 8" Shun Premier and a box of band-aids.  But every time I say such things it seems to raise folks blood pressure.

    As an alternative, I gladly invite you to my home and you can try out my collection of chef knives - Japanese, German or American.  Where one would do I have amassed chef knifes in triplicate and variying lengths too.  :)
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2014