Help a perfectionist choose the right knife for the kitchen

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Joined Nov 14, 2016
I know the forum probably gets a lot of these, but I have done a lot of reading and still could use a bit of help so here goes. I would describe myself as a cooking hobbyist who enjoys a scientific approach (I've learned how to cook through Good Eats, Serious Eats and ATK), especially when choosing new equipment. I'm realizing that knives are much more complicated and could use some advice from some who know the market. I am wedding registering for my first quality knives and have done about as much research and handling as I can manage. I had decided on a Shun Classic chef knife, which I know is generally regarded as overpriced and overmarketed and, to be honest, I probably wouldn't buy for myself under normal circumstances. However, I was able to handle it due to the wide availability and really liked the ergonomics when using a pinch grip, especially compared to the mostly german alternatives that were also available (I'm mostly limited to big-box stores). I also might make use of the free sharpening and it certainly looks pretty on the rack. My main concern and one that I've read from experts is the big-bellied profile and I wasn't able to do any board work with it. If someone spends this much on a knife I certainly don't want to end up with accordion cuts. I saw that Shun does make an "Asian Chef knife" which has a more triangular, flat-heeled shape, but it's only 7 inches which I'm not sure about either.

I've seen a lot of recommendations for Tojiro, Mac and Misono, all of which I could register for on Amazon, but I really preferred the D-handle when comparing in the stores and I also prefer it aesthetically. I was able to handle a Wusthoff Ikon and Miyabi Kaizen which are probably comparable to the Shun and didn't like the feel quite as much. I also feel like the Ikon is just as, if not more over-priced and I'd be concerned about chipping the Miyabi.

Basically the perfect knife for me would be D-handle, comfortable/forged collar, lack of full bolster French/Sabatier profile, at least 8 inches, quality Japanese steel, available via Amazon.

I'm also interested in a nakiri, but am probably not as concerned with the handle ergonomics on that one. I handled a Calphalon Katana in store and actually liked the unique feel, but it is much heavier than a Nakiri is probably supposed to be and I could likely get a decent budget Japanese one for the same price rather than one made by a cookware company. I'm considering these:
[product="27702"]Mac Knife Japanese Series Vegetable Cleaver 6 1 2 Inch  [/product][product="27703"]Tojiro Black Finished Shiro Ko Kasumi Nakiri 6 4 16 5cm  [/product]
I appreciate the time!
 
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[product="27704"]Yoshihiro Vg 10 Hammered Damascus Nsw Japanese Chefs Knife Wa Gyuto Style 210mm 8 3  [/product]
This may be what I'm looking for
 
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You should probably be able to find at least part of Yoshihiro's selection of knives on Amazon, then cross reference their website for more comparisons and details
 
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[product="27704"]Yoshihiro Vg 10 Hammered Damascus Nsw Japanese Chefs Knife Wa Gyuto Style 210mm 8 3  [/product]
This may be what I'm looking for. Kind of top of the budget though.
 
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You hadn't listed a budget :) or maintenance equipment, for that matter. At any rate I'd advise against the 7 inch 'Asian chef's' as your primary knife without a longer backup knife, unless you are severely space constrained
 
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Here you go:
[product="27705"]Yoshihiro Powdered Daisu Steel Stainless Gyuto Japanese Chefs Knife 9 5 Inch  [/product]
Though powdered steel like SG2, this steel is tougher and is even used in boning knives.  Yoshihiro is known for nice thin grinds, and even though I've never owned one I've never heard bad about them and would recommend over Shun any day.

But unless you will be sharpening by hand then I'd recommend nothing but cheap knives as I don't think you will notice a significant difference using a pull-thru or power sharpener, and with the latter especially they will wear out too fast.
 
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510
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Joined May 29, 2013
As Foody518 mentioned, you haven't mentioned a budget or knife maintenance. For that matter, you haven't mentioned what kind of cutting surface you will be using as well.

Frankly put, sharpening gear is as important as the knife itself. Without maintaining the edge, what you will invariably end up with is a dull knife. And sending it off to be sharpened by some Neanderthal with a screaming grinding wheel is often the quickest way to destroy the metalurgical quality of the steel immediately at the edge.

You are also going to need a good quality cutting board, preferably at least 12” x 18” (300mm x 450mm). End grain hard northern maple is the usual standard against which other cutting boards are compared. Get something cheaper and either it will dull the edge very quickly (such as glass) or develop grooves which trap food waste and often can lead to subsequent food poisoning (such as plastic, nylon or poly boards).

You also haven't mentioned how you are gripping your knife. Are you using a full fisted clamping of the handle (such as seen when gripping a baseball bat or a tennis racquet)? Or, are you using a pinch grip? Racquet gripping results in the hand being sensitive to the shape of the handle. Personally I find pinch gripping makes the profile of the handle almost irrelevant.

Rick brought up using a powdered metalurgy core knife. Wonderful steel for blades – that is, if you can properly maintain the edge. But, while they can be thinned behind the edge to present a very thin profile, the immediate edge needs a microbevel of at least 16 degrees to prevent chipping. Whether the “professional” sharpener with the power tool mania can deliver such a precise angle is so iffy that I would hide the blade before letting such a “professional” anywhere near it.

Your first post shows two nakiri blades. These are knives used in Japanese households where almost the only food being cut up is vegetables. Very good for their purpose – but not a knife for all-around European or American style cooking.

That all-around knife would probably be the gyuto, which is the Japanese adaptation of the French Sabatier profile chef's knife. There's just a small amount of curvature and the point is also usable A length of 210 mm (8-1/4 inch) is probably the minimum length, but a 240 mm (9-3/8 inch) length is more practical.

I agree with you about not wanting a bolster down the length of the back of the blade. As for a bolster on the tang behind the blade, I find with the pinch grip that it's irrelevant.

On the steel used in the blade, I would probably stay away from VG-10. It can be brought to an extremely sharp edge by proper hand sharpening on waterstones. The problem is that any bead you raise during sharpening needs to be properly abraded down, rather than just snapped off.

I would suggest that your first knife should be a knife you try out and get used to in not just cutting, but also in sharpening. My recommendation would be for a MAC HB-85, which is part of the Chef Series, MAC's basic commercial line. It's a light and thin blade (4-1/2 oz and 2mm thick). It uses the same steel as most of the MAC “Pro” Series gyuto's. True, it doesn't have a metal bolster in front of the handle scales, but that can allow you to more easily custom shape the front of the handle scales to make the scales more individually comfortable for a pinch grip. And, at $70 on discount (from some eBay retailer, or from ChefKnivesToGo), you will also have money for sharpening gear.

If you want something bigger, then a MAC BK-100 should easily do the job. The BK-100 is the same thickness (2.5mm) as the MAC Pro-Series MBK-95 gyuto, the same stiffness (I have quite a few MAC's, including all of the knives I mention here), slightly longer than the MBK-95 (255mm vs 225mm) and at $110 on discount, $75 less expensive than the MBK-95 (which on discount is $185).

MAC's are about hRc 60 in hardness. An Idahone honing rod (get the 12 inch model - $30 – you won't regret the extra length) is excellent for those quick honing jobs for edge alignment between sharpening sessions.

For a first sharpening stone, get a waterstone of about 800 to 1200 grit, with a minimum surface area of 200mm (8 inches) x 50mm (2 inches). And that's a MINIMUM!! Extra length or width is always better. And NEVER use oil as your lubricant – only water.

Hope that helps

Galley Swiller
 
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I would say max budget is 150 but preferably less, especially if I'm also asking for a Nakiri. I realize that I probably won't develop perfect Japanese technique but I often reached for a small Santoku from my previous knife block if I was just chopping something small and prefer the Nakiri style.

I am also getting an end grain maple board and water stones, but will be learning via YouTube. There are also a few local sharpeners that seem very reputable.

Galley Swiller are you saying avoid vg10 until I have more practice sharpening and choose something of lesser hardness?

I do use a pinch grip and found the shun very comfortable, but your right, the blade sharpness is certainly more important.

I will definitely look at the Mac. Thanks
 
510
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Joined May 29, 2013
As I posted above, VG-10 is a good steel when properly sharpened.  But if you have not yet developed sharpening skills, then my recommendation is to avoid it for a first Japanese knife.

I am recommending the MAC HB-85 because it's a basic Japanese gyuto which is low enough priced so that you won't freak out as much about damaging something expensive when you are getting used to practicing sharpening.  If you are wanting to perfect your kitchen, then developing skills (especially sharpening skills) is much more critical than gear.

As for local sharpeners, the one question  I would ask is how do they sharpen?  Are they using motorized grinders or are they doing it entirely by hand?  If they are using motors, then walk away and don't let them even see your knives.  It's as simple as that.

About the best knife sharpening videos that I am aware of are done by Jon Broida of Japanese Knife Imports.  The entry YouTube site is:  https://www.youtube.com/user/JKnifeImports

If you want a written description on how to sharpen, then Chad Ward's posting here is very good:  https://forums.egullet.org/topic/26036-knife-maintenance-and-sharpening/

Before you go for a nakiri, I would suggest that you first use a gyuto for awhile as your go-to blade.  The blade profile for a nakiri is just plain flat.  Even a santoku uses a tiny bit more curvature.  A gyuto does have more curvature than a santoku, but it's less curvature than the Sabatier profile and is nowhere as curved as a German patterned chef's knife, which has belly, belly and MORE belly.  FWIW, I almost never use a nakiri (though I have a few). 

You will find that an 8-1/4 inch blade length (210mm) gyuto is just a tad longer than a regular santoku (which is 180mm, or about 7 inches long).  It also has a practical tip, which is problematic with santokus and non-existent with nakiris.

Hope that helps

Galley Swiller
 
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I did some browsing on chefknivestogo and cross-referenced with Amazon to see what was available and feel that these may be appropriate choices:

Misono Moly Gyuto


Tetsuhiro V Gold Gyuto


They seem to have very similar designs. Any knowledge about the how the steels compare to each other?

Also Galley Sweller thank you very much for the information. I understand what you're saying about not worrying about ruining a cheaper knife. Is there any reason you recommend the Mac over something like a Tojiro DP which does have VG10, but is roughly the same price?
 
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Re. sharpening. I think the one motorized sharpening machine that works very well for sharpening is a Tormek. If a service uses that and are competent, it's good. Most other machines might damage the knife because they heat up the steel in the process of sharpening, the Tormek does not.
 
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Joined May 29, 2013
While a water-cooled grinder is less likely to overheat the edge, it is still highly dependent on the familiarity and skill of the sharpener in creating a proper edge.

One major problem with any sharpening system is that visits for sharpening tend to become few and far between.  When that pattern develops, the user ends up with a blade which starts out sharp or somewhat sharp immediately after being sharpened, but gets progressively duller until taken back.  To really be useful, the edge should be maintained, and the user needs to develop the feel of when an edge is becoming duller.  

It is much, MUCH  BETTER   for a user to do his or her own sharpening.  That way, the knife can be kept sharp and there will be no delay or excuse for letting it get dull.

Working with stones is the time-honored and practical method for keeping cutlery sharp.

After all, a sharp edge is essential for more than just ease in cutting.  A sharp edge also means the knife wielder has much better control over where the edge goes, and control is key to safety.

Get a good ceramic honing rod for between sharpenings, and several grits of stones for sharpening.

GS
 
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It is certainly overkill for a home user sharpening 3 knives a year.   Aside from overheating there is chance to remove a lot of metal if you don't know what you're doing.
 
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Also, sharpening isn't just about grinding away metal.  It's also about smoothing the ridgeline of the edge, so that the edge presents a smooth line along the length of the edge.  This is why polishing of the edge is so important to getting a really sharp edge.

Grinders, such as the Grizzly linked by MillionsKnives, generally only come with a single grinding wheel.  In the case of the Grizzly, that's a 220 grit wheel.  Pretty good for grinding away excess metal.  But not good for polishing the edge.  With something that coarse, you're going to get an extremely toothy edge.  And the bigger teeth will have much more pressure put on them (greater surface area per tooth per cutting point) and then have a tendency to get knocked out much quicker than a smoothed edge.  The result is faster dulling.

That's why stones (which can come in grits as fine as 10,000 or more) are essential for really good edges.

GS
 
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The knife I recommend the most, and I would keep, if I could only keep one of my knives, would be the Masamoto 240mm chefs knife. I'm a little ODC about taking care of my knives, so I would go with the carbon steel version. For the less finicky, the stainless would be a good choice.
Many, on this site, have had good experiences with Chef Knives To Go. It's a good place to buy a Masamoto..

The Tojoro was a poor choice for me. As with others on this site, I experienced a lot of chipping on the edge.
 
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I agree with the above gentlemen, it really depends on your budget and purpose of use. While I can't give an opinion about western type knives, I know a lot about Japanese ones. Within them, you can get a decent kitchen knife within the range of $150-$200. Myself and my partners Anna and Kuba-San specialise in Japanese style knives (for obvious reasons) and our clients who are professional chefs tend to choose R2/SG2 steel knives, Sakai Takayuki and Yu Kurosaki are their favourite blacksmiths.

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We've made a guide to choosing the steel. There is really no "better" steel over another one. Each has a different composition and it's really a trade-off between lasting sharpness vs. difficulty in maintenance. Just because a blade is made from the premium or high-end steels listed above does not automatically mean it’s “better” than the lesser steels. The heat treatment techniques used by the blademaker as well as the design of the blade itself play a huge role in the ultimate outcome of knife performance. That’s what Japanese craftsmen excel in.

Also, once you get your knife, you need not to forget that it is equally important to take care of your knife properly (not putting the knife in a dishwasher is I hope an obvious advice!). 

Let me know if you need any help in choosing. 

Best,
 
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Joined Nov 14, 2016
One of the things that originally attracted me to Shun was the Wa handle felt less obtrusive in a pinch grip and more attractive in my eyes, but I'm having a difficult time finding reputable Wa-handled stainless Gyutos under $150 on Amazon. It's certainly not a deal-breaker, but I was wondering if anyone has any in mind.

I also just noticed that the Shun Classic Kiritsuke is going on sale at most retailers. Traditional Kiritsuke have more of a slicer profile, but this one actually looks to have a better french profile than the Shun chef knife and 40 dollars less to boot. Only problems are that I've read that the tip can chip if dropped or jammed into a cutting board and that VG10 can be difficult to sharpen.

I also may consider getting a cheap Tojiro DP and Tojiro Shirogami. I can practice sharpening on the Shirogami until the DP edge wears out and then hopefully be able to manage that one when the time comes. And if I stain the Shirogami I can go back to the DP as my primary.
 
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A shame that you have the retailer/vendor stipulations. This would be a quality practice knife for carbon care and sharpening https://www.japaneseknifeimports.co...s/zakuri-165mm-blue-1-kurouchi-tosagata-bocho

The tip fragility on kiritsuke style knives is just going to be a given on thinner knives with such a low tip

I don't think VG10 is an insurmountable hurdle to manage for beginner sharpening (you should try to have at least a medium and a fine stone though, to work off the burr). Provided you're okay with practicing also on another knife - either an old knife or something like that. VG10 was the first good steel I sharpened, and only crap stainless before that, and it went fine. I'm sure a better sharpener does way better with it, but a beginner can still fix edge wear and get from a dull knife to a sharper knife. Dunno the variability on this, but my Tojiro DP actually came with a pretty workable primary bevel to model off of when I got the guts to sharpen the thing
 
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Though it's been a while since I have posted anything here I saw your post here Kevin, and thought I may be able to help save you some possible pain in making a decision.

First let me say all the knives mentioned already will cut as needed, and even the worst and best value can do the job so you need to remove all your existing thoughts about knives and ask yourself some questions about your real needs, abilities, and just be honest and you will find your way.

From what you have said earlier I can not emphasize strongly enough the need to forget about what finishes, looks, and styles you think you prefer (you will likely be stunned by these thoughts later after your have spent some time learning and using etc.) And though you may have a desire to work a registry it would benefit you greatly to eliminate this as you are seriously limiting yourself with big box store or that mega online retailer, and in the end you will come up short because of it.

I strongly recommend reading the beginner thread in my signature as it outlines how to pick out what is important, and how to adjust your short list to match real needs rather than marketing BS and fluff that seems to be confusing you.

Also trust in the opinions and suggestions of the senior members here as they are truly helping you avoid a mistake, and though you may not get it just yet there are real reasons they are pushing back on your specific requests, and this is based on years of experience so help yourself and listen to the reasoning etc.

As an example I agree that a Nakiri would not be a good choice for a first Japanese knife, and like many I do have one that I seldom use as it is just not as effective or as good a choice for most jobs that would be better served by a gyuto or petty etc.

If you look around here you will find plenty of info addressing that the three main knives for 95% of jobs are a gyuto, petty, and bread knife, and I would strongly suggest that your first be one of these and specifically recommend a 240-270mm gyuto that is easy to maintain, has a good profile and blade, and fits your budget.

And seriously forget about the different finishes for now as they don't do anything for performance, and try to leave beauty or looks for helping with making a decision from your short list. Otherwise your working it backwards, and may find you got the wrong knife.

Please include the following in your next post, how long using pinch grip, what are your expectations and experience with sharpening on water stones, what is your level of willingness to learn or improve sharpening skills, do you prefer to get two knives that fit existing budget over investing budget to get an improved or better quality single one,

Remember we have all felt your pain at one time, and know it is difficult to pull the trigger on a large purchase of something you have never held or even seen in person, and much as we all got to where we are via different routes we are mostly all happy with the trip and I know I'm not the only one who was stressed because the methods of learning and comparing what to buy could not be accountable in any normal way.

Just clear your thoughts to remove all the crap from marketing, and follow these guys like some sort of Zen etc. And got will find your way.
 
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