First Real Chef's Knife Gyuto: Vic, MAC, Tanaka?

Discussion in 'Cooking Knife Reviews' started by BenGerodin, Dec 4, 2018.

  1. BenGerodin

    BenGerodin

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    Hi all,

    I am a home cook with no professional experience and am looking to buy my first real knife. I would really appreciate your opinions and input on my selection.

    I’ve used chef friends’ knives occasionally, and have long been considering buying some decent knives of my own. I don’t have access to lots of different knives and I don’t know very much about knives except for doing a lot of review on websites, including this one. I’ve seen a lot of good recommendations on recent threads here, and am considering a couple of different approaches mostly with that background. I do recognize that everyone has their own opinion and it’s a subjective issue - and I’d love your thoughts. I’m left handed, FWIW.

    Like many, I initially considered buying a knife block set from a big manufacturer, but it’s obvious after five seconds of research that the quality is not there and also that I don’t need most of the filler knives. I’ve done enough in the kitchen that I use my (lousy) chef’s knife already 90% of the time. So I’m planning to go with the standard suggestions to start with: a good chef’s knife, a serrated bread knife and a paring knife. I’ll probably get the Victorinox paring knife, and the Vic bread knife (10.25 inch) or maybe a Tojiro one (F-687, 270mm) since it’s close to the same price as the Vic. Plus I plan to get an end grain maple board, probably the 20x15 Michigan Maple Block one, and the Idahone honer. I know that everyone recommends sharpening stones as well and I’ll probably do that a little bit down the road.

    The big question as always is the chefs knife. I’m in the US and looking to use it for general home cooking work for typical foods here. As a relative beginner, I worry about upkeep/maintenance, I fear chipping the blade of some knives, and sharpening seems intimidating. I'm sure most beginners have the same concerns.

    Here are a couple of options I am considering. Would love your thoughts, especially regarding additional details on the below or things I’m not considering/don’t know.

    1. The Victorinox fibrox. (~$40 on Amazon) Since I don’t have a ton of experience with quality knives, maybe it makes sense to get the cheaper-but-quality basic one that people seem to like, and use it for a while. Then, down the road, look to get another knife. User Niftynorm recommended this on a recent thread and it makes a lot of sense. I won’t have to worry so much about maintenance and chipping and if I somehow destroy the knife, it’s not a huge deal. What I don’t love about this idea: I have the money now to buy a nicer knife, and kind of want to just get one. The plastic-handle-mass-market doesn’t have a ton of appeal. It’s easy, looking at the nicer options, to just want a nicer one that has serious quality. And at the moment, I can afford a nicer knife; this could conceivably change in the future.

    2. The MAC Professional 9 ½ inch (~$185 on Amazon) or 8 inch. As Galley Swiller recommended on another recent thread, and as I’ve seen in threads and reviews and comments all over the internet, this seems to be a really solid baseline worldwide. Everyone seems to like this knife, and when something is a baseline standard, that’s often because it is really good. I worry more about maintenance of this one, and also chipping the blade somehow, relative to the Vic.

    3. Another, cheaper option here might be the Tojiro DP F-808 8.2” (~$70) or 4098 9.4” (~$99): kind of a compromise between the basic Vic and a higher option.

    4. A Tanaka Ginsan or Blue 240mm (~$230 at knives and stones). I’ve seen a number of recommendations and comments and it seems like people flat out love these knives. Also, if I understand right, these have a real artisan-Japanese-blacksmith pedigree, which is cool. But I’m even more worried about maintenance and chipping with this one than the MAC, largely because I don’t know much about these knives. When you are ignorant there’s some comfort in a standard option, I guess. But then, the Tanaka also feels like a work of art in some ways and is beautiful. Maybe the Blue would help assuage some of my maintenance concerns…? I would of course try to take care of the knife and hopefully have it for many years to come, but haven't had a nice knife before so worry I'd miss something. (and is there a place with more info on these knives and the details about them?)

    Obviously, the above are four options at vastly different price points. The prices aren’t my first concern, but I’d hate to buy a high-maintenance knife that needs babying and mess it up somehow – though I plan to be as careful as possible and follow standard protocols re washing, storage, etc. Right now, I’m less inclined toward full carbon and am favoring some stainless, but I’m not sure I fully understand the practical difference day to day. And having a Japanese blacksmith made cutting tool would be awesome.

    So I guess right now I kind of want a Tanaka – beautiful – but am not sure I know enough at the moment to buy a knife like that. The MAC feels like a safer-ish choice since at least it’s widely used and liked. And the Vic is a really safe choice.

    I’d love any help or insight you might be able to share. Any additional details about these knives, other options I haven’t considered, differences in maintenance, chipping concerns, babying-requirements among these, or other thoughts and considerations here?

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. galley swiller

    galley swiller

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    Welcome to ChefTalk!

    I'm glad to see that you're at least thinking about getting and working with stones, "a little bit down the road". Personally, I hope that becomes the principal emphasis very soon, even more than getting a first good knife.

    I'd probably recommend staying away from the Vic. It's really a pretty standard European knife using "X50CrMoV15" steel (aka "4116" steel), and with the pluses and minuses involved. It's a really tough and tenacious steel, which can only get and hold a middling sharp edge, compared to the steels used in many good Japanese blades. And, in my mind, one of the most important things with any first experience with good cutlery (if not THE most important) is the learning experience in how well you can get the edge to respond to your stones. The Vic is just another 4116 steel blade, and simply won't get to, nor keep, anything close to what a good Japanese blade can reach.

    If you want to play with a Mac at a price less than the Mac Professional MBK-95, then I would suggest either a Mac HB-85 (210mm blade length, 2.0mm thickness at the spine above the heel) or a Mac BK-100 (255mm blade length, 3.0mm thickness at the spine above the heel), both coming from the Mac "Chef" series. What you get is the same steel used in the MBK-95, the same quality of the edge and the same sharpening experience as the more expensive blade. What you don't get is the bolster. Personally, I use a BK-100 as my go-to daily chef's knife (though I have quite a few other blades, including the full range of Mac MBK gyutos). It's a good, solid workhorse. I tossed in the HB-85, since it's lighter weight, slightly more nimble, good in a home kitchen and less expensive than any other Mac gyuto.

    The issue I have with the Tojiro DP is that it uses a core steel of VG-10. Yes, you can get it sharp and it will hold an edge well. The problem is in getting it sharp. VG-10 needs to be carefully abraded on alternating sides by a progressively finer sequence of grits. If you try to use a felt block to deburr during the process, you run the risk of snapping off the burr in a way that removes the edge that you've been working to develop.

    I don't have much experience with Ginsan steel blades, so I'll pass on any comment on your last suggestion.

    Hope that helps.

    Galley Swiller
     
  3. BenGerodin

    BenGerodin

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    Galley - this is fantastic and exactly the sort of detail that I'm looking for. So first off, thanks a million for your input. I will definitely take a look at these different Macs. The HB-85 is only a few bucks more than the Vic, so certainly affordable, and that's great to know about the steel.

    As far as getting stones, I'm looking at the Edge Pro Shapton set that you recommended on another thread. Mostly because I know nothing about sharpening (...I used to sharpen my boy scout knife decades ago...) and it seems like that is the fastest approach to learning, and the least likely to destroy my knives. Pricey, though.

    I'm interested in what you said about getting the edge to respond to stones being one of the most important initial things. Is this primarily because that's foundational for caring for all knives and permanently important in the future? Or are there other reasons as well? And what about (maybe this is heresy on this site) just having your knives sharpened by a third party? Since I've never done it, it seems like that $300 could pay for a lot of professional sharpening. But would love more knowledgeable points of view. And I'm currently planning to just get the set and learn to sharpen in any case.

    Anybody else with thoughts on the Tanaka and/or other points?
     
  4. galley swiller

    galley swiller

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    My putting the emphasis on sharpening as a first priority is that it's a skill - something that's good not just immediately, but down the road as well. And part of the process is to start with a knife which is less expensive, but still able to give you good feedback, and still able to perform well. That's why I'd rather you start with something like the Mac HB-85. You will be less likely to get skittish about taking the edge to the stones on a more frequent basis, if you think that the blade isn't going to break your bank.

    I'd rather you learn how to sharpen on your own, rather than take your blades to a "professional". While there are some good and even excellent professionals who know how to properly sharpen blades, many so-called "professional sharpeners" are little more than grinding wheel hacks, who emphasize the motorized speed and sparks that they can rip off of the steel on a blade to form an edge. In doing so, they are heating the steel to such an extent right along the edge that the tempering of the steel is adversely affected. That sets up one of the conditions for chipping, which induces you to return for more "professional sharpening". It's much better to sharpen your own edges yourself, either by using something like an EdgePro, or by using full sized stones.

    If you are concerned about getting your angles right when freehand sharpening, then get a Wedgek angle guide set (Amazon sells them for about $12, and they are available from other sources, including ChefKnivesToGo), fill in the backside with some sort of filler (such as wood putty), drill in a small diameter hole and mount the individual wedges onto a board or strip of wood of roughly the same thickness as your sharpening stone. That will give you a platform for you to litterally "feel" the individual angles. If you keep your wrist rigid when transferring the edge from the guide to the stone and when sweeping the edge along the stone, then you will be able to significantly maintain your desired angle while sharpening.

    GS
     
  5. BenGerodin

    BenGerodin

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    Yes, that makes a lot of sense. There are certainly a fair amount of horror stories on here about people's problems with "professional" sharpeners (I'm looking at you, Shun). The Wedgek idea seems like a good one. And the more I look at youtube videos and other instructions the more comfortable I am with the idea. There's also a lot of personal value in being able to take care of one's own tools from beginning to end, and be able to customize them to exactly how you want them.

    I may just buy some stones and do a bunch of sharpening of my current junk knives so I'm more comfortable with the sharpening process. Much less worry, then, when I have some nicer knives. Or is there a reason to get the Mac so that I'm already working with good steel from the beginning?
     
  6. rick alan

    rick alan

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    Ginsan (typically Ginsan 3 where kitchen knives are concerned), also known as silver steel, is a high-grade Japanese stainless with very good edge holding. AEB-L, though not Japanese in origin, is another popular stainless with Japanese knives, takes a very fine edge but does not hold it as well as Gin3.
     
  7. galley swiller

    galley swiller

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    My recommendation is for you to skip sharpening with junk knives, and just start sharpening with something good, such as a Mac. The differences in the feel on the stones and in the results are like night and day. With junk steel, you're just going to get frustration.

    GS
     
  8. rick alan

    rick alan

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    For high-grade steel, and top notch grinds, really the 2 Tanakas you considered are at the top, especially the blue 2 which is by far the better for everything, except it is not full stainless, but far less reactive than most carbons, and is stainless clad.
     
  9. BenGerodin

    BenGerodin

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    Guys, BTW, thanks again to both of you for all your input. You've provided some amazing insight here and around the forums and I have learned a ton from your comments.

    GS, seems reasonable to me, and anyway I will be working with the stones trying to start getting to know them and the better knives. Maybe I'll get two knives...overkill perhaps, but fun, gives comparison, and my wife and I cook together.

    Rick, as I research more, I'm becoming more interested in carbon core as you suggest. I do like the stainless clad so that maintenance isn't quite so high - I don't think I want to worry about a fully reactive knife, but just a carbon edge seems worth it to me for better performance.

    I also am finding that, although performance is most important, I wouldn't mind a little bling too. But Tanaka's blue 2 damascus is fully reactive, so in addition to the blue 2 Tanaka Nashiji, I've been looking at the Blue 2 stainless hammered Anryu, https://www.chefknivestogo.com/kaanasgy24.html. I understand the bling makes it trickier/hassle if you have to thin the blade, etc, but that's ok by me. Do you guys know anything about Anryu's work?

    Or alternatively to Anryu or Tanaka, at the ~$150-$250 price, and with similar maintenance and performance profiles, are there other blingish-but-good knives that you might suggest? There's just so many different types of steel and makers that I'm having trouble keeping track of what is worth considering. I've looked at some knives that were discussed on these forums (Gonbei hammered damascus, for example) but I'm unsure of their steel and grind and/or they are out of stock. Overall I'm primarily concerned about performance, but if I could find, say, a hammered knife with similar performance for a few bucks more, I'd be interested.

    On another note: would you guys be concerned about using a Tanaka (or whatever) for things like butternut squash? I've seen a few discussions of this but am still not clear on how much it varies from maker to maker with Japanese knives. Any thoughts on using a second knife (a 3mm Mac, or fatter) for that type of work?

    Thanks,
    Ben
     
  10. galley swiller

    galley swiller

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    Something as hard as butternut squash is generally going to be a bit of an anomaly. It is hard enough so that you almost would want a separate blade just for that purpose. If you use an ordinary blade, the edge will either get very quickly blunted (if not immediately) or will chip. This would be one of the few places where a heavy European 4116 blade would be superior to a Japanese blade, since the ability to take abuse should overwhelm any desire for sharpness.

    For butternut squash or for splitting lobsters, a thicker blade (think a western deba or a lobster splitter) with an edge with higher numbered angles would be preferred. Yeah, a 3mm thick spine would be a start. I would also consider roughly symmetric sharpening with primary edge bevels of 16 to 20 degrees and microbevels of 22 to 25 degrees.

    GS
     
  11. rick alan

    rick alan

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    The Tanaka can bear it if you're careful, but why accelerate the dulling of your good edge like that? The 10" Vic Fibrox or Wusty Pro are the best beater knives out there, the Vic has the better grind, the Pro has harder steel. Take your pick. Squash problem, etc, solved.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2018
  12. BenGerodin

    BenGerodin

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    Makes sense re squash.

    Any thoughts on the Blue 2 stainless hammered Anryu - do you guys know anything about their work? Seems reputable from what I can tell, though maybe not as much posted on various forums for Anryu as I can find for Tanaka.