What's the Best Chef's Knife for the Ordinary Home Cook?

Discussion in 'Cooking Knife Reviews' started by cookierat, Jul 7, 2018.

  1. cookierat

    cookierat

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    I want to know what the best knife is for most people...that is to say, for the ordinary home-cook who wants to start out their cooking adventures with something versatile and well- (or well enough-) crafted. Budget, somewhere around $150.
     
  2. rick alan

    rick alan

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    Lots of nice stuff in that price range. First question we need to ask more often these days, where do you live?
     
  3. cookierat

    cookierat

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    Long Island--good question because I'd appreciate something easy to buy, perhaps from Sur La Table which is very close or Williams Sonoma.
     
  4. MnMarc

    MnMarc

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    I have a Mac Pro MTH-80 that costs about $140. It's a great knife for a home cook. Its wicked sharp, thinner than most German knives but still durable enough to cut hard vegetables such as acorn squash. Its fairly easy to sharpen as well. I would budget for a whetstone as well. Any knife will get dull eventually and then you have a dull $150 knife. The King KDS 1000/6000 is a decent starter stone for $55. If your budget is $150 total then I hear the Tojiro DP is a great knife for $80
     
  5. greyeaglem

    greyeaglem

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    You can research overall quality of knives and how hard they would be to sharpen. Beyond that, it's a very personal thing. You have to see what knife feels good in your hand, what kind of handle you like, the balance, etc. Some people like a shorter blade, some a longer blade. I cut and trim a lot of steaks. For trimming, my favorite knife is a filet knife I bought for $5 at a tool sale. I put it on the grinder, got a good edge on it and have been using it for years. Price doesn't really matter, as I just pointed out. All knives get dull, all can be sharpened but some take more work than others. I also have an Icel santuko knife that I like a lot and paid $35 for at a restaurant supply store. I have some more expensive ones that I like too. It's really about individual preference. Buy a couple of cheap knives in a style you think you'll like. If they're easy for you to handle and you think they're what you want, then look for a more quality knife in the same style. Nothing worse than spending $150 for a knife that winds up feeling awkward to use. What I have trouble finding is a good paring knife. The best way to keep a knife sharp is to run it over a butcher's steel a few times after you have used it on something hard, like disjointing a chicken. Using a steel on a regular basis will help retain the edge of the knife so you don't need to sharpen in on a stone as often.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2018
  6. rick alan

    rick alan

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    You're a beginner so let's start at the beginning. How a knife "feels" is a greatly overrated consideration, particularly where the handle is concerned. Any reasonable version of the traditional Western or Japanese handle should feel just fine in your hand, so long as you know how to hold the damn thing! To this end all you really need to know besides the Pinch Grip is that your pinky and ring fingers are your power fingers, and keep everything else relaxed. Surprisingly but I'm rather certain that most kitchen professionals don't understand this.

    Greyaglem gives some good advice, but as steels go around here we typically consider them an expedient for the professional trying to make it through a shift. Ribbed steels will destroy the edge of most performance knives like your typical Japanese. Smooth ceramic steel then, if any, but a few strops on a fine stone is much better.

    So next question, do you already know or are willing to learn to sharpen as part of this new adventure?
     
  7. cookierat

    cookierat

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    Oh boy. When I was in the store I thought that the Chef's Choice Flexhone or the Global Minosharp sharpeners looked like good ways to "learn" sharpening skills.

    I tried using a piece of granite from the beach combined with the bottom of a few plates to fix a few throwaway knives...they cut better than their worst state but definitely not like new. I'm willing to learn if it's important (especially in the future), but if the returns are diminishing I don't quite trust my skills and would rather just use one of those devices (or take it to the store to be sharpened) if they can do justice to the knife. I don't mind spending another $100 on a sharpening gadget...unless theyre going to ruin all the knives I'm looking at. Then I'll learn.

    Mac knife looks cool, I think I saw it in the NYTimes, but I have no idea where to find them in person besides ordering them. I was looking at Wusthof, Shun, Messermeister and Zwilling 8 inch chef knives but have no idea what would make one better or worse. They were all around $150 at Sur La Table.

    If relevant, I'm cutting on a maple edge grain about 12x18x2.25 right now. Just waxed it up today. Cutting with what I think is an 8 inch chef's knife...8 inches from the tip to the square part of the blade. Seems about the right size.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2018
  8. jimyra

    jimyra

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    I know that many on this site obsess over what knife they have. I have been happy with a Forschner Rosewood handle 10" chef for close to forty years. I have used it in the pro kitchen and at home. I sharpen it with a stone once in a while but mostly just us a diamond hone before a shift. The person using the knife is as important as the knife. If you go to this site you will find anything, almost. https://www.knifemerchant.com/product.asp?productID=1546
     
  9. galley swiller

    galley swiller

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    $150. Ouch!

    Since you live on Long Island, my first bit of advice is: does that $150 INCLUDE sales tax? Is it just state sales tax, or are there also local taxes added on as well? Better factor that fiscal bite in as well, either to reduce your actual spending budget, or to increase your overall spending. I'm going to assume an actual $150 budget, with an idealized no sales tax. Otherwise, I'd be driven batty in answering you.

    Think of this as a need for a system, not just for a knife. You've looked at sharpening (e.g., using granite from a beach, and the bottom of plates), but you also need a good cutting surface. So, you need to look at 3 categories: a knife, sharpening gear and a cutting board. Let's tackle each category.

    The Chef's Knife: You need a basic workhorse blade, big enough for larger jobs, such as cutting roasts. Don't even think of anything smaller than 8 inches in blade length. And you need something which has a decent reputation, though nothing fancy. My suggestion is the Mac HB-85. It uses Mac's proprietary steel, it's 210mm (about 8-1/4 inch) blade length and it's decent quality. It's relatively easy to sharpen. It's $69.95 on-line, including Chefknivestogo.com ( https://www.chefknivestogo.com/macchse8gy.html ). There are several stores in New York City (both Manhattan and Brooklyn) that carry Mac knives, though I don't know if they carry the HB-85. All-in-all, Mac knives are my go-to basic quality blades.

    As for the feel of the handle, the Mac HB-85 is decent, with generally goldilocks feel - not too big, not too small. However, I would STRONGLY suggest you learn how to pinch grip your knife, for which the size and shape of most decent handles becomes irrelevant.

    You also need to consider getting a paring knife and a serrated edge bread knife, but these are secondary. I would suggest you don't spend as little money on them as possible, since your primary need is for a good chef's knife. Go to a local restaurant equipment store and buy a plastic handled version of each. For the paring knife, get something with a spear point, where the length of the blade is roughly the length of your longest finger. For the serrated edge knife, get something definitely not shorter than 9 inches, and preferably longer. Victorinox, with a Fibrox (plastic) handle is a good choice, and Dexter Russell is also commonly found. But, again, don't spend much money.

    Sharpening Gear: Normally, I would suggest 3 stones: a coarse stone (500 grit or so) for repairing the edge and thinning the blade when needed; a medium stone (800 to 1200 grit) for general sharpening; and a fine stone (3000 grit or more) for polishing the edge. But, with a budget of $150 overall, fuggedaboudit. You can only invest in one stone. Make it a medium stone. You need something which is AT LEAST 2 inches wide by 8 inches long. My suggestion is the Bester 1200 grit stone from Chefsknifetogo.com ( https://www.chefknivestogo.com/bester1200.html ), $49.95. To get good angles, get a CKTG Angle Guide Set ( https://www.chefknivestogo.com/anguforshst.html ) for $10.95.

    Then to learn sharpening, watch Jon Broida on YouTube, beginning at https://www.youtube.com/user/JKnifeImports. You can't go wrong watching and learning from Jon.

    With a Mac HB-85, a Bester 1200 stone and an Angle Guide set, you've now spent $140. Getting a good Cutting Board is not possible for the remaining $10. But, my nearest suggestion is to go to an off-price store, such as Ross, TJ Maxx, HomeGoods or Marshall's and see if they have a Catskill Craftsmen's End Grain Cutting Board, 12 inches by 16 inches by 1-1/2 inch thick. It's imported, likely from Acacia sapwood, often with filled-in voids, and its availability is extremely rare, though it is sold under $20. This is a Hail Mary item, with large numbers of caveats. But, you take what you can find at that budget point.

    Hope that helps.

    Galley Swiller
     
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  10. MnMarc

    MnMarc

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    If you can put a serviceable edge on a crappy knife using beach granite and the bottom of a plate then learning to use a good whetstone will be a breeze. The John Broida videos Galley Swiller mentioned are great. I also like the Murray Carter sharpening videos on Youtube. It only took me an hour or two watching videos and practicing before I could put a razor sharp edge on a knife and I certainly don't consider myself very handy. As long as you go slow is pretty difficult to mess up. Most mistakes are easy to fix because you are only taking off a few microns of steel at a time.
     
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  11. rick alan

    rick alan

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    I have a 10" Vic Rosewood also, it splits the hard squash, breaks down the swede and in general takes care of the rough chopping/dicing that I do. I don't feel I need a better knife for that particular work. But unlike Jimyra I'd want a much better blade if I had professional sized quantities to deal with.

    The handle on the Rosewood is terrible as-is, but nothing a Dremel and some epoxy can't completely fix quick. The edge is much thinner than a typical German, I still thinned it more, and had to do a lot of thinning putting in much welcome distal taper at the tip.

    Inexpensive knives, and aggressive diamond steels and the like, are fair game in a pro kitchen, where it is typically all about surviving abuse, avoiding theft and getting through the shift. Knives are just consumables here for the most part.

    The Mac HB is a significant step up from the Rosewood, and for the price I could say sharpen it as you will, but of course much more joy (and life span) will be had of it if sharpened properly.

    For an ooh-ahhh Japanese first knife experience around $150 dollars one knife I like to recommend this:
    https://www.japaneseknifeimports.com/products/gonbei-240mm-hammered-damascus-wa-gyuto
    You will definitely want stones/professional sharpening for any knife like this.

    PS Acacia is not an acceptable wood for cutting boards, full of knife-dulling silica, and cheap end-grain boards are throwaways. Place a small High-Soft rubber cutting board over your maple if you really want better protection.
     
  12. rick alan

    rick alan

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    Oh just in case you misunderstood, you are perfectly capable of sharpening a good knife, as MnMarc noted, so long as you have waterstones.