Should I upgrade my knives?

Joined May 3, 2020
Hello chefs! I've been a home cook (for my family) for 35 years and never really bought any exceptional knives. I am thinking of upgrading what I've been using for years, which is mainly:

Calphalon Contemporary 5 inch and 7 inch Santoku Knives, like this one:

J.A. Henkles Eversharp Pro 5 inch and 7 inch micro-serrated Santoku knives like this one:

Please don't cringe too much. I am embarrassed to admit that until today, I didn't realize that I wasn't using a western-style "chef's knife" to do the sort of cut where you are rocking the blade (tip-fulcrum method). I didn't even know what a Santoku knife was or that I had been using one! (These knives were decent and inexpensive. That's why I bought them years ago).

Now the kids are grown and moved out, my husband is learning to cook, and for the first time we're cooking together and upgrading some of our equipment (recently bought some good All Clad stainless pans, for example). I'm thinking about adding to my existing knives by getting a "proper" 8 inch chef's knife, a decent paring knife (I only have a really cheap one), and perhaps a "proper" 5 or 6 inch smaller chef's knife. Honestly, that's all I usually need on a regular basis.

Have I been able to cook well with the 4 inexpensive knives I mention above? Sure. Are they properly sharp? I'm sure you guys wouldn't think so. (I'm still learning, so be easy on me!) I have been researching knives online to be properly educated and buy the best thing for our needs. I think that high carbon no-rust stainless would be better for us than a more delicate or fussy carbon steel blade.

So, with all that in mind....what would you suggest? I suppose I'm really thinking more of a typical western (German or French) chef's knife, and perhaps in the future would consider getting a good thin Japanese knife or two.

My first thought is something like Wursthof Classic or Classic Ikon (I am not sure whether I should get a knife with a bolster; I haven't been using a knife with one up to now....but all the shops are closed due to COVID, so unfortunately I can't go and hold one in my hands right now). Because I can't hold it to see the difference, I will wait until the stores re-open to feel the products before I buy them!

We use high-density polypropylene cutting boards (not sure if that is the best thing, either, so please let me know if another type is preferable).

As far as sharpening the knives....I've taken them to a chef shop to be sharpened now and then, but from what I understand, that might not be recommended with a really good knife. So I'm open to learning how to sharpen at home with the proper tools.

Budget -- $100 to $200 per knife

I appreciate your patience and advice, thank you!

Joined Mar 1, 2017
Hi and welcome to CT! :)

There are many excellent threads in this forum that talk about knives and which types are good in terms of overall quality etc. This forum is fortunate to have several members who are very knowledgeable on this subject. I think you will find some excellent information in those threads.

To partially answer your question, there are many excellent choices out there that will fit your budget. However, choosing a knife is an incredibly personal choice. What is good for one person is rarely good for another.

But, before you get into the process of making a choice, you should answer a few questions for yourself. Those questions are:
- What is the knife's purpose?
- What is your skill level when it comes to handling a knife?
- What sort of ingredients do you prep on a regular basis and their amounts?

These questions are important because they point you in the right direction. They also give you an understanding of what I mean when I say choosing a knife is an incredibly personal choice. For instance, your skill level in handling a knife is probably the most important decision. Some knives come out of the box ready to slice atoms. If you're knife skills are not developed enough or you have bad habits, that knife could easily send you to the hospital. So could a knife that's not sharp enough. Its important to choose a knife that is consistent with your skill level.

Another example of what Im talking about are the ingredients you'll be processing with the knife. A prep cook, for instance, could process several hundred pounds of ingredients in a single day. That means the prep cook is going to look for different qualities in a knife than a home cook who will prep only a fraction of that amount. The prep cook will probably place more emphasis on characteristics such as handle material and comfort because they will be using the knife for several hours a day. They will want a blade that is flexible enough to make reasonably precise cuts but, hard enough to retain an edge. The prep cook will also pay attention to the blade's measurements, especially its horizontal width and blade length. A home cook who is just starting out will probably be looking for different characteristics in a completely different order of preference.

Once you've answered these three questions, the next step is to determine what style of knife you want to perform the tasks you have in mind. By that I mean Western Style? Japanese style? Both? I don't think there's a member in this forum that doesn't have a hodge podge knife collection made up of all different styles of knives, me included.

But, every home cook's knife collection should have the following components: Two good chef's knives (a 7-8 inch and a 9-10 inch; one for smaller ingredients and the other for large ingredients - have you ever tried to break down a butternut squash with a knife that's too small? :) ), a good paring knife, a good bread knife, a good carving knife, poultry shears and most importantly, good honing steel. There's really no point to having a good knife collection without good honing steel.

Once you have these pieces figured out, you can start to build your collection around them based upon your specific needs. For now, I wouldn't get caught up in the minutia of things like types of steel and all that, at least not until you have a fluent vocabulary of what the differences are in terms of the characteristics associated with the different types of steel. Not knowing these details can prove to be rather expensive. Again, there are many threads in this forum that will provide excellent information about different types of steel and their characteristics.

Lastly, there's no point in choosing good knives if you don't know how to sharpen them. Knife sharpeners and sharpening gadgets can very easily ruin a knife blade. Therefore, you should Invest in some sharpening stones and take the time to learn how to use them. They are the secret to achieving a razor sharp edge. It doesn't take long to learn how to use them and you really have to go far out of your way to damage your knives with them. Like anything else, they take a bit of practice, but, the investment in time is worth it. There are many "how to" videos on YouTube that can get you started if you don't know how to use stones or what types to have. There are also good videos that explain when its time to sharpen a knife and the difference between sharpening a knife and restoring the edge.

I hope I have pointed you in the right direction. If you have any questions about a specific knife or what knives are good for certain tasks, don't hesitate to ask.

Good luck. :)
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