Prep Workhorse


justin thomas

I'm looking for a new knife, and I was wondering what everyone recommends for heavy prep work.  Preferably something stainless that doesn't need too much honing.  I've noticed that alot of the recommended chef knives come with the caveat: "great as long as you don't need to split poultry or portion ribs."  We'll, what do I get when I want to do that in addition to brutalizing piles of vegetables, citrus and herbs?  I'm also partial to the French blade shape and around 10" in length.  Price isn't really an issue, but I'd like to see options at different price points.

Is there such a wonder blade, or will I have to suck it up and keep two on hand?


Joined Aug 3, 2010
I'd suggest something more like a Chinese Chef's knife or a light cleaver as your primary go-to, rather than a French profiled Chef's knife, if splitting bones is a stipulation.

A number of my peers have adopted them as a primary sidearm, and though they obviously lack a bit of the agility, they make up for it with their clout.  More precise tasks like a brunoise will take some adjusting, but are manageable.  My closest friend has used the same J.A. Henckels cleaver as his "chef's knife" for 10 years now and couldn't be happier.  (Well, maybe he could be happier, he's just too content to bother trying.  /img/vbsmilies/smilies/lol.gif)
Joined Oct 9, 2008
Why not buy a French 10" chef's knife? A really good Sabatier should do all of these things just dandy.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
CookinMT's friends are confusing looks with function.  Even though they both look like western cleavers, light and heavy Chinese knives are not the same.  The light knife, which is actually fairly thin-bladed is inappropriate for bones.  FWIW, they use heavy knives for splitting chickens and duck and light knives for everything else.

I'm of the same scrutable thinking.  Two knives are a lot better than one.

Even though my 10" chef's knife, an old French carbon, can stand up to going thorugh a chicken back, that sort of cutting risks chipping the knife at worse, and will absolutely dull it too quickly at best.  I have a 12"  "chef de chef" around which is actually just another big old French carbon, but it's kept sharpened to very durable bevels, and the length gives it some extra leverage -- so I can lean on the knife rather than whacking with it.

Anyone who uses a meat cleaver to even block "planks" to julienne thickness is either a genius, a jackass, or as is more likely, both.  The knife is too thick to make tight cuts easily, not to mention uncomfortably heavy to use for an entire service.  But to each his own.

IMO, you're better with a very good, light knife you can sharpen to fairly acute angles, and something used, inexpensive, heavy and robust you can sharpen obtuse.

Joined Aug 3, 2010
"Anyone who uses a meat cleaver to even block "planks" to julienne thickness is either a genius, a jackass, or as is more likely, both.  The knife is too thick to make tight cuts easily, not to mention uncomfortably heavy to use for an entire service.  But to each his own."

"Both" is pretty accurate.  It's hilarious to watch him cook, as he towers at 6'6" and hunches over his cutting board, peering up close while making these minute little cuts with this hulking Henckels knife.  To really confound--or irritate--you, the last time I thumbed the edge on this thing it had a tangible burr which he seemed to not notice (though I did convince him to hit the stones again). 

I omitted talk of bevel angles because I'd hate to step on your toes (/img/vbsmilies/smilies/biggrin.gif), and while I agree with the multi-knife solution, I'm trying to work in this whole "one-knife-to-rule-them-all" paradigm.  I'd rather use a cleaver for petty's task than a petty for cleaver's task, dig?
Joined Feb 13, 2008
I get it.  I get it.   One knife.  Let's take a look at the options:

Stainless Japanese:
  • Forged Global Chef's knives, maybe.  The blades are certainly thick enough and the alloy isn't hardened past its limits.  Whether or not their (supposed) versatility is enough to trump their many mediocrities... can't say.  And can you live with the handle?
  • Can't think of anything else.
Stainless Euros: 
  • Sabatiers have the profiles for sure.  The stainless alloy the Sabatier companies use is pretty much the same as the ones used in the better German knives; and maybe even slightly less good.
  • Messermeister approaches a decent edge profile, and no edge guards to bedevil you. The big deal German knives have a lot more in common than not, but Messers might just be at the top of your particular pile.
  • Wusthof Ikon has a modified profile, which like Messer, approaches French.  Like them or not, they are beautiful knives.
  • Cheap stamped Rosewood and Fibrox Forschners can get a little sharpener and at least mimic holding an edge longer than other "German" type knives.  Perhaps the best thing with a Forschner, if you don't like the knife, you're not out much.  Mundial too, is cheap enough to toy with, sturdier than Forschner, and like Forschner will at least tell you if you can live with a German belly.
  • The good Germans (and Lamson, too) are really designed for this.  But like the Forschners they have German (duh) profiles.  That might be of some service in terms of power-rocking them through chicken ribs and the like.  German knives are very much in the do everything mold.  If you were pressed to say something good about the alloys European makers use for their good knives, you'd probably point to durability.  And the high end Germans are all so very beautifully made.
Stainless Chinese:
  • Dexter Green River stainless cleavers are about halfway home in terms of capabilities.  But they're relatively short, relatively heavy, will force you to relearn knife handling, and are about un-French as anything can possibly be.  You might want to talk your buddy into one as Green Rivers are much better all-rounders than a Wustie cleaver.  Similar edge characteristics, a lot more funkitude, but not as shiny and quite a bit cheaper. 
The greater question is whether or not its worth it to put up with the limitations in performing 90% of your tasks with one knife, and 10% of your tasks with another, imposed by using a particular knife which can limp through them all.  Since "do-everything" is what European and American made chef's knives are all about, you can probably find quite a few which are adequate -- but probably not any that are very good.

There are reasons the trend with skilled cutters is away from German and towards Japanese knives, even though that means keeping something around for the punishing jobs.  The work goes faster, better, doesn't hurt as much, and is more fun, but otherwise...

To make matters worse, you're handicapping the enterprise a great deal by asking for stainless with a French profile -- thus eliminating the obvious, best choices. 

Adding a "chef de chef" to my block and profiling it and my go-to chef's to their best respective edges made a very positive difference in how I felt about prep and service.  (Yes, I was already pretty well on the way to figuring out edge profiles, and maybe that made a lot of the difference; but sharpening, as much if not more than anything else, defines what a knife is all about. Plus you're starting with the benefit of having that knowledge easily available anyway)

If only as a paranthetical afterthought, it's nice to get to say nice things about German type knives.  While they can't compare to Japanese made knives when edge characteristics are determinative, they are so very good in many ways.

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