The battle still continues? Japanese vs. European knives?

Discussion in 'Cooking Knife Reviews' started by sal amander, Mar 21, 2012.

  1. sal amander

    sal amander

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    I have both, and I use both, and I enjoy both.

    Essentially I think it is A chacun a son gout.

    When I slice I prefer a Japanese knife.  When I chop I prefer a German or French knife.

    In the classic book on Japanese cooking, Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, Shizuo Tsuji says, and I quote, " When chopping, use a light touch. A professional chef prefers a heavy knife and allows the weight of the knife to work for him."  Mind you, this is a discussion of Japanese cuisine and Japanese knives.  Note the reference to "heavy".

    My point is that while some of us prefer a heavier knife, such as a German knife, for chopping, it will not be embraced by everyone.  Sometimes it is just a matter of what your are used to, but it also could be a function of the size of your hands, or the type of food you prepare, or whether you cook professionally or not.

     Maybe a compromise is the BDL favorite, an old Sabatier.  I love to use mine.  And they are very, very old.

    Sante,

    Sal
     
  2. chrislehrer

    chrislehrer

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    Well, yes and no. There is an important distinction to be made here -- one that, some years ago when I started to get interested in knives (while in Japan), I utterly misunderstood.

    There are really three categories here, not two. You have two binary distinctions: Japanese-made/Western-made, Japanese-style/Western-style. Since there is no such thing as a Western-made Japanese-style knife, or not worth speaking of, there are effectively only three kinds of knives under discussion here:

    1. Western-made, Western-style knives

    Sabatier's many forms, Wusthof, Henckels, Messermeister, etc. Chef's knife, slicer, paring knife, boning knives, filleting knives, whatever.

    2. Japanese-made, Western-style knives

    When people talk about a gyuto and the like, this is what they are talking about.

    3. Japanese-made, Japanese-style knives

    Usuba, yanagiba, deba, etc.

    The big trick is that Western-made knives are, with few exceptions, made with relatively soft-tempered steel. This has advantages and disadvantages. On the up side, they crush rather than breaking and thus come back to sharpness pretty well with honing rods. On the down side, they can't hold a really sharp, polished edge very well, nor can they be terribly thin in terms of total included angle. For that you need hard-tempered steel, as we usually find in Japanese-made knives, in whatever style.

    The result is that a great Sabatier is a great knife, but a competing Masamoto is frightening. That's not a different style of knife, but rather one made from quite different steel, tempered differently, and for this reason a good deal thinner (and lighter).

    With all due deference to the great Shizuo Tsuji, the "heavy knives do the work" notion doesn't really work -- although it kind of does with an usuba. And let's bear in mind that he actually recommends everyone use an usuba, which shows he's just a hair nuts: do NOT convert to an usuba unless you are bonkers. I did, love it, trust me, you'd be nuts to do it. In the long run, you are much better off with a light knife that is so freakishly sharp and durable that you don't have to do any work at all -- and nor does the knife -- to cut your food.
     
  3. chefedb

    chefedb

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    Only my opinion.

    One should only pay huge sums for a knife only when they can dice, slice, mince, and chop wearing a blindfold. Then you are ready to spend a lot and appreciate them.(In particular students)
     
  4. willbkool

    willbkool

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    I recently purchased an Edgepro Apex with the 5 stones. I didn't want to use it on my German knives until I had some practice with cheaper knives. I have some cheap Japanese knives my folks gave me years ago, made of some kind of mirilium stainless with wood handles. They sharpened up nicely, and now will do all my prep work with no problem. I also sharpened some Chicago Cutlery knives at my lodge and now they are very sharp and usable. While these knives may not hold their edge for long, they are quite sharp.

    I was going to purchase some MAC knives, but I may just use my German knives for a while, as I can now get them very sharp. I've had and used globals, and while they were sharp, I couldn't stand the handles. I defintitely like the german chef knives heft as they cut through anything effortlessly, especially now that I can keep them extremely sharp. I like the Henckel and Wusthof's classic handles, and if and when I decide to try some Japanese knives, I definitely want western style handles.
     
  5. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Really, it all depends on what you're cutting.

    When I did a lot of fruit trays, nothing would beat a big ol' Henckels 5 star to halve and slice watermelons or pineapple, it is also perfect for hacking up huge slabs of chocolate, as well as for butchering stuff like chicken.  Basically, this knife is an axe, strong and thick, and well suited for some purposes but not for others, edge retention is not the big issue, strength, size,  and weight  are. Probably the worst tool to choose for cutting soft foods.

    For making 60 qt kettle after 60 qt kettle of Fr. Onion soup, the "perfect' knife was a Victorinox (Forschner) 10".  Thin enough to slice right through the onions with little effort, heavy enough to take advantage of the forward/cutting/pushing motion,  holds an edge moderately well, and is easily honed on a steel and responds quickly and well to a quick swipe on a stone. Decent enough job on portioning steaks and slicing barons/pr. rib. Can be used for tomatoes and softer fruit, but not ideal

    For slicing/portioning fish, offal like liver and ris de veau, or for many types of fruit a Japanese jobbie is perfect.  Thin and razor sharp but can only be used for these purposes, it doesn't tolerate heavy use well and the edges--particularily single bevels chip easily if handled without care.-- Basically a surgeon's scalpel, perfect for cataract surgery or kidney transplants but the worse tool to choose for cutting down a tree.
     
  6. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Sometimes it's hard to find the right qualifiers and terminology.  There are traditional Japanese profiles -- like yanagibas, usubas and debas; Japanese made western profiles -- for instance, "gyuto" is another name for "cook's" or "chef's," a sujibiki (aka suji) is just a slicer; a petty naifu is a long parer/short slicer; and so on.  A fairly recent trend at or near the high end is American makers making knives that might as well be like those Japanese made westerns.  That is, they're similar in profile, the blades are thin, the factory angles are rather acute and somewhat asymmetric, etc. 

    Anyway... I think the Japanese made western profiles and the American knives made in the same way are superior for nearly all chef's and slicer tasks -- based on their better edge taking and holding qualities.  The exceptions are general butchering -- especially working around bone; and any other really heavy-duty task.  When mass is a big part of the equation, the Japanese knives are just too expensive.

    I love my carbon Sabatiers, keep them extremely sharp, and enjoy using them.  But let's face it, they're not the equal of my Konosuke HD's when it comes to the huge majority of knife tasks.

    A lot depends on what you're trying to do, and how you're trying to do it.  If you have questions about what type of knife or knives would work best for you, it's best to approach those questions directly rather than asking a generic, "which is better."  While I strongly disagree with Foodpump about the onion paradigm, I strongly agree with his larger point of "horses for courses."  

    If you're going to walk away from this thread with one thing, let it be that a knife is only as good as your sharpening.

    BDL 
     
  7. iceman

    iceman

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    [​IMG]  Ding!  Ding!  Ding!           We have a WINNER!!!
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2012
  8. chefknivestogo

    chefknivestogo

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    I was trying to count how many different brands of knives I've tried over my 10 years of retailing them. The number I came to was 52. If you count the number of knives from different lines the number doubles. There are no German knives in the top 15 of those I've tried. That's not to say they're bad, they just don't hold a candle to some of the great knives made by the Japanese or custom makers in both the US and Canada these days. The German production knife brands all have a fatal flaw; soft steel. They are geared up to sell to the home cook market and they know that most home users beat the hell out of their knives and don't know how to sharpen. They all offer lifetime warranty's so this combination makes them develop a knife that won't chip, you can dishwash (don't do this) and is pretty much indestructable. They also won't hold a steep edge no matter how good a sharpener you are. The result is mediocrity from a performance perspective.

    BTW I judge knives on different criteria than many people. I don't care much about how they look. I judge them on how they cut, how they sharpen and how they hold an edge. How pretty they are comes after these three criteria.
     
  9. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Yeah-butt......

    Softer steels also mean that they are easier to sharpen--less effort, less time, less fancier abrasives.  I tend to look at this as a bonus rather than a bad point 

    Why does everyone think that a sharp edge will hold indefinitly?????????????
     
  10. chefknivestogo

    chefknivestogo

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    There are plenty of harder steel knives that are easier to sharpen than softer stainless steel knives that the Germans use. The main issue is that most German knives can't hold an accute angle edge for even a minute's worth of use no matter what you do to it.
     
  11. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Exactly. 

    And if you read my first post, I made it clear that the German knives are ideal for heavier tasks that don't require an acute edge, this is where they shine. They are an axe and sharpen up easily enough when you need an axe.    Where you need an acute angle edge is with soft foods like fish, offal, etc..
     
  12. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    With the exception of the R. H. Forschner Rosewood and Fibrox lines (which are actually Swiss) for butchering, it's very hard to make a case that a German knives are "ideal" for anything.  The problem with the sorts of knives made by Japanese makers for "heavy duty" tasks is price, not suitability. 

    I can't think of any set of tasks for which I'd choose a high-end German over a mid-level (or better) Japanese.  That's not to say that I take issue with people who love their messers; just that they are less than ideal. 

    BDL
     
  13. johnr

    johnr

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    Are J style knives better? I guess so based on the experts and J knife vendors.

    I try and judge a knife by how it can do it's intended task without caring where it's made, sold or what the steel is. I don't care if it can cut paper, shave, made of VG whatever, or have any HR rating at all.

    Can it julienne a tomato? and if so then I'm OK with it.

    At work I use a work owned Dexter 10 inch Chef's knife for 95%+ of what we need to prep.. which can be as delicate as slicing tomatoes or tough enough to portion chicken leg quarters. I touch it up with an (cough) Accusharp at the beginning of the shift and it just does it's job.

    I guess a Gyoto may have similar versatility but at a bit higher price point.

    At home we (wife and I) use a $20 MIU 8 in Chef's knife (Chinese made 440 steel) for most home prep tasks. I last sharpenned it in Dec and can't remember when I last steeled it. I probably should take better care of it.. but as long as it preps decently, I'm OK with it.

    A 10 inch Forschner Chef's (which I rarely use) is available if I need or want a larger knife at home. The Smaller MIU 8 inch serves as a Chef's, Utility, and Parer-I don't often need much else besides it and maybe a Bread Knife.

    I do have one J knife ... A VG-10 Petty (gifted to me) which I haven't used in a while. It's too small for most prep tasks.. the knife does have a small chip at the tip and I don't know how it got there.

    The food industry for the most part uses the German style for their everyday tasks. I once worked in a prep room for a large corporate scratch kitchen (3K± a day) ... and there was a hugh amount of work being done by Forscheners and Dexters every day in that room. I think most of the people in the industry who actually use knives to work with don't care much about what they use as long as it can do it's intended function ... I'm in that category as well.

    Is the Dexter, Forschner, or MIU German style Chef's knives ideal for anything? According to the online experts I guess not. I don't know ... just from my experience I can do most prep tasks with either.

    Maybe it's like using a 90s Accord versus a Ferrari to get to the Grocery store. One is way more impressive to look at, sit in, and probably better in most every way, but they both will get you to the store and back.

    I'm not a knife expert or enthusiast by any means.. The last thing I would want to do is focus my energy in that direction... but just thought I'd add another dimension while I'm passing time between shifts.
     
  14. chinacats

    chinacats

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    Bang for the buck, I believe the best deal on the market is European, only imho the country of origin is France rather than Germany.  Sabatiers (at least ****/Elephants and K-Sab's) take a great edge, hold it very well (if you use a steel) and have the profile the Japanese--or maybe the western cooks who purchase their knives--seem to love more than any other. 

    I may not be able to sharpen to such an acute angle as some J knives, but the Sabs seem to 'act' extremely sharp--so sharp that I've not bothered trying to sharpen to <15* even though I believe it would be possible--and haven't chipped even when they likely should have:>)  Admittedly, I've not tried the 'best' J knives and have no doubt they could outperform my Sab's (in some ways--maybe not others) but the price would certainly be at least double that of the Nogents or the K-Sabs that have me hooked.  I'm currently very happy with my selection though I try to never say never 'cause you never know:>)

    As to the German knives they tend to have very nice factory fit and finish.  Some people love the profile--it was all I knew for many moons--many of these same people likely find their way to Shun or maybe Global.  The heavier weight may or may not be great to someone 'working for a living,' but for someone at home who may cut a small handful of food in a week (many home cooks) this may help them work around bad technique and be able to find pleasure in using their tool of choice.

    Ultimately it really doesn't matter as long as you like it and keep it very SHARP/img/vbsmilies/smilies/thumb.gif

    Cheers,

    Chinacats
     
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2012
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  15. duckfat

    duckfat

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    Put in to the context of a professional kitchen this isn't much of a battle. The vast majority of professional kitchens still see European knives in daily use. German knives would actually be considered an "upgrade" in the majority of working kitchens as Sani-Safe, Dexter and other plastic handled stamped knives pretty much dominate that environment for the rank and file, who are of course the vast majority as a % of knife users in a professional setting.

     Fit and finish is excellent on German knives. Edge retention is solid and unless abused will hold through an entire shift . With a German knife you can bring an edge back in a matter of seconds with a steel. Your kit is far less likely to take a walk if comprised of German or European steel as it's the norm and not the exotic. Take some of the J-knives we talk about here to work for a day and you better not turn your back, drop it on the tip, or have some one else pick it up and use miss-use it. Any of those with a German knife are shoulder shrugging. I'd have proper rigor fits in those instances with my current J- knives based on price point alone, not to mention the work it could take to bring the edge or tip back.

    I wouldn't trade my Wusthof scimitar and I really wish I wouldn't have let my 10" wide heavy go that's in the photo on my Global's review.

    Do I prefer J-knives for some tasks? Yes.

    Do I think they are ideal for many tasks? Yes

    Do I think they are ideal across the board? Not even close.

    I never saw a need for Germany or Europe and Japan to go to battle but rather I saw the benefit of them becoming allies. Axe and laser work well together.

    I've had J-knives and Euro knives in my kit for over 20 years now. I never heard one whimper when I grab the other, more like a high five for being picked for the task at hand.

    In this whole conversation dare I over look my Chinese cleaver?

    I still believe the Chef makes the knife, not the other way around.

    Dave
     
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  16. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Just an observation:  "Bang for the buck" and "most practical" aren't the same things as "ideal."

    BDL
     
  17. chinacats

    chinacats

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    Have to respectfully disagree here.  As with anything I purchase (car, snowboards, bikes, golf clubs) I consider the whole package when determining what is ideal.  For instance, in a car I want a balance of comfort, performance, efficiency, and price--making the ideal car for me different from what someone else may consider ideal.  I always consider costs as part of the equation, with knives that balance for me includes how well the blade takes an edge, how well it cuts, how well it holds the edge, how easy it is to sharpen, comfort in hand, cost, and to a small degree--bling factor.  Again, the beauty of this is that there is no overall ideal knife just as there is no 'best' car or most anything else.  My skills may not allow for some of the factors that only a professional's nuanced touch can take advantage of...just means my ideal knife may be different as well.

    Sabatier is currently my favorite tool in the kitchen and while that may change over time (as many things do) that in itself makes it my ideal knife. /img/vbsmilies/smilies/peace.gif

    Cheers
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2012
  18. valentin

    valentin

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    I have to disagree Dave.

    I still haven't been in a kitchen where it wasn't the norm to bring your own knifes, most of these are comprised of high-end Japanese knives. Sure, the house knives will range from anything to the most worn-out abused Mac knife, to a Victorianox which has survived years and years of use and abuse. Still these don't see much use. Generally people here care very much for their knives and therefore have invested a great deal of money and care into the acquisition of these.

    This might be because of a difference in culture and the kitchen styles between the US and Europe, but it's very very common here to use your own knives from the youngest student to the chef de cuisine.

    Back on topic:

    I have some J-knives that are incredibly exotic and expensive, they take an edge and retain it like nothing else, they are quite fragile and need to be used with care, but for slicing and cutting, nothing beats them. Their sharpness, thin blade and construction mean that they can do very, very delicate things. Things that even a small European knife wouldn't do.

    The downside is however that I will not only take the edge off them, not to mention chipping and ruining them, if I decided to use them for the rough stuff. Boning chickens or whatever it might be. Their hardness also make them near useless for trying to fillet something.

    Personally I have a large chefs knife for cutting and slicing. I have a small petty knife for finer work, a pealing knife for the very delicate things. A good utility knife, my ceramic steel and a fillet knife. Only the chefs knife is Japanese, and I'm most comfortable like that.

    I can use my j-knife for things where I can use it's sharpness and finesse for the best result, without worrying too much about taking the edge off. For everything else I have my trusty German knives, which can take a abuse and sharpen very nicely and easily.

    The best of both worlds really. I wouldn't say one is superior to the other, as long as you recognize they have different uses.

    Quote:
     
  19. duckfat

    duckfat

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    Feel free to disagree! It's those differences in experience that make any topic worthy of conversation. I'm in the USA and I all to often forget that here on CT we have members from around the world. 

    I'm not familiar with European kitchens but here in the states it is not the norm for rank and file cooks to bring their own knives. There are establishments where every cook is using their own tools, but as a % of our entire restaurant/Hotel/Club industry in the US based on my experience it's a minority %.

    I think the more important thing is that we see a common ground in using both Japanese knives and German or European knives.

    It's often said here that the best knife is a sharp knife. To that I'd add the best knife is the one matched to the task at hand.

    Dave

    BTW Welcome to CT!
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2012
  20. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Ehhhh.......

    The big thing now in many chains and hotel kitchens here in Vancouver  is "contracts".

    A knife co. supplies x amount of chefs knives, paring, boning, bread, etc. to the kitchen  After 2-4 weeks they come in, swap out the old knives with fresh ones and on and on.  Bear in mind these knives are butt-ugly, either baby blue or an un-mentionable colour of pink plastic handles, and very plain jane steel and geometry.  They get used, get abused, get replaced and get abused again.

    Many employers find this advantageous, for a number of reasons:

    1) Knives are pretty darn sharp, and the sharpness has nothing to do with the employee.

    2) no locker room brawls, coerced dumpster diving, or garbage bag rifling for lost/stolen knives

    3) no employee-employee knife theft, which can be a major source of locker room brawls and pi**t moods in the kitchen 

    My personal theory is that 90% of the knife work done in a kitchen is grunt work, usually veg prep.  This requires a "F-150" type of knife, not a Porsche or Lexus.  And in 99% of the kitchens I have worked in, in the last 30 odd years, the only guy who cut or portioned meat/fish for a'la carte plates was the Chef or someone who worked with the Chef for quite a number of years.