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Old 12-06-2009, 02:56 AM   #1
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Beginners guide to knives?

Ok I've been reading up on these forums and found a lot of useful information but perhaps I've read too much as I am even further from being able to make a decision than when I started!

About me:
Home cook, lots of preparing fruit/veg, meat for stirfrying, lamb/beef for roasts, etc and other general home cooking tasks.
I'd like to have the basic equipment for the above while also being covered (not necessarily with the perfect tool but something adequate) for most other situations that may arise.
Price isn't a large issue as someone has gifted us some money to purchase these with. Normally I would be budget conscious but I am happy to spend a bit more in order to have a set that 'lasts a lifetime'.

I'd like something that is relatively easy to maintain at home. I don't think I'm game to sharpen myself so the longer it will stay sharp between professional sharpening the better.

My questions are as follows:

Having read the above information, which knife styles would you recommend?

Should we stick to a single brand to start out or do some brands do particular styles better than others?

Which brands should I avoid?

I understand that 'knife fit' is important but for basic home use, should we go so far as to get separate chef's knives for my husband and I? We went out and and tried some out, I have really small hands though so all seemed kind of awkward though the Japanese brands a bit better but my husband has much larger hands and we did differ on what we found most comfortable.

I appreciate any help/advice you can offer.

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Old 12-06-2009, 06:42 AM   #2
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Should we stick to a single brand to start out or do some brands do particular styles better than others?
...
Well, I found a make and model I like, so I have purchased a few of those a la carte. That being said, I do have a number of different brands. I tend to buy what I like, not by brand alone.
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Old 12-06-2009, 08:23 AM   #3
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Buy a few different brands. Based on your satisfaction with the few you've purchased you'll have some basis for deciding what to brand to purchase next. Eventually you'll probably wind up with paring, boning, chef's or cook's, carving, utility, bread, petty, and santoku knives.

Unfortunately, if you do not learn how to maintain the sharpness of your cutlery, you will be at a disadvantage when it comes to making a cost benefit analysis.

I've never spent more than $200 for a knife so I'll never know how good the really expensive ones are. Shun's SG2 steel is pretty good. You might want to buy 1 knife made of this material to decide if it's worth the money.
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Old 12-06-2009, 08:30 AM   #4
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I guess I should clarify. I'm confident using a steel to keep the edge maintained but once it is dulled I would rather have them professionally re-sharpened.

Perhaps I am misguided but my understanding was that with moderate home use a good knife could go 6-12 months if properly maintained without needing to be re-sharpened?
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Old 12-06-2009, 08:44 AM   #5
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Better knives, properly maintained, should go for 6 to 12 months without needing to be resharpened.
Glad to hear you know how to use a steel. I use a smooth Balkan for edge conditioning and a fine cut Balkan for more aggressive edge restoration. F. Dick seems to be the only outfit left selling balkan steels these days. Just bought one for $72 because I'm afraid they may cease to be available.
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Old 12-06-2009, 08:44 AM   #6
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If you and DH both use knives regularly, I would recommend you each get one that is comfortable to use. If one of you only uses a knife once in a while, it may not be worthwhile to get two.

There is no special reason to stick with a single brand as long as you stay with quality knives.

I recommend a Chef's knife (6"-10" based on comfort) as your first choice for everyday use. I prefer it over a santoku. Then you probably should look at a paring knife or two and a 10" bread knife.

Avoid any knife brand that offers a "never needs sharpening" blade.
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Old 12-06-2009, 11:41 AM   #7
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I recommend a Chef's knife (6"-10" based on comfort) as your first choice for everyday use. I prefer it over a santoku. Then you probably should look at a paring knife or two and a 10" bread knife.
...
Those three will address the vast majority of your cutting needs.
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Old 12-06-2009, 11:55 AM   #8
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If you and DH both use knives regularly, I would recommend you each get one that is comfortable to use. If one of you only uses a knife once in a while, it may not be worthwhile to get two.

There is no special reason to stick with a single brand as long as you stay with quality knives.

I recommend a Chef's knife (6"-10" based on comfort) as your first choice for everyday use. I prefer it over a santoku. Then you probably should look at a paring knife or two and a 10" bread knife.

Avoid any knife brand that offers a "never needs sharpening" blade.
So many fall for the "never need sharpening" knives. The bad part is that they NEVER CAN be sharpened and when the blade goes to heck (as they often do because they are almost always made of low grade metal) they need to be tossed.

And if you have ever cut yourself with one of those knives, it is very nasty and jagged, taking a long time to heal, compared to a good clean cut from a proper knife that will often heal much quicker.
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Old 12-06-2009, 01:19 PM   #9
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(Not considering bread knifes and such), using a steel every or every other time your chef's knife is used, and hand washing and drying it, and replacing it into the block backbone first so the edge never touches wood except a cutting board, I've found 2 inexpensive but reasonable quality chef's knives, one 6" and the other 8". (10" for me is too unwieldy.)

Someone mentioned a $200 knife, which is a middle of the road price. I paid about $20 per knife that cuts fruit thin enough to read newprint through, and glides through a roast or tenderloin.

After 10 years that other person will have a $200 investment (+pro sharpening) in a 10 year old knife.

After 10 years (and replacing my knife every two years) I will have a $100 total investment in a knife that is never more than 2 years old and probably never needs a professional sharpening.

I'm not saying that professional grade knives aren't worth their substantial investment. But for me, someone who isn't a professional cook but does claim to be gourmet-inclined, and who is a kitchen gadget hound, some investments just make better sense than others.
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Old 12-06-2009, 03:32 PM   #10
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I imagine I'm the other person. I own some 2 dozen kitchen knives, ranging in age from 90+ to 1 year old. I doubt $20 knives will be going for $20 ten years from now, am not interested in ever having to replace my knives, nor shelling out $100+ over ten years for five $20 knives, nor having to resort to having anyone else sharpen my knives.
I think it's false economy to fritter away $20 at a time hoping to find cutlery that will perform as well as and last as long as higher grade knives.
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Old 12-06-2009, 04:56 PM   #11
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I agree with you justplainbill. Over the last year and a half I have purchased some really good knives individually. I do find I like my Santoku knives the best but the Chef's knives and utility knives and paring knives get used a lot too. I am very satisfied and sharpen my own knives.
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Old 12-06-2009, 04:58 PM   #12
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I think it's false economy to fritter away $20 at a time hoping to find cutlery that will perform as well as and last as long as higher grade knives.
There's no "false economy" about it. I'm keeping people employed during the course of that 10 year period, making additional knives.

There's no "fritter" about it. I'm buying a knife that, for all intents and purposes, is as useful in performance as your expensive one at 1/10 the cost. The difference being I renew mine because the steel admittedly isn't as high a quality as yours, and would hardly be worth the cost of having a professional sharpen it. But I don't throw my knives away after two years, I recycle them.

And there is no "hoping to find cutlery that will perform as well..." about it. I don't pull just any old knife off the shelf. I too have done research and get the best value I can find.

What I'm saying is that there is a viable alternative to purchasing expensive knives that not everyone needs but would like.
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Old 12-06-2009, 08:19 PM   #13
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After 10 years (and replacing my knife every two years) I will have a $100 total investment in a knife that is never more than 2 years old and probably never needs a professional sharpening.
Each to their own I guess. I'm not interested in replacing my knives every two years. I don't like buying quantity that I don't need to, e.g. why buy 25 chef's knives over 50 years if I can buy one good one today and keep it maintained for my lifetime? I understand you have your reasons for doing so but for me my preference is quality and longevity.


Thoughts on brands such as Shun, Global, and any other fairly common japanese brands?
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Old 12-06-2009, 08:22 PM   #14
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Me either hi. I have no intention of replacing every 2-3 years. I like to get a good set of knives and roll with them. Like you say....to each their own. :-)
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Old 12-07-2009, 12:04 PM   #15
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My advice is to get an 8" or 9" chef's knife and a smaller 3-4" utility knife. A quality bread knife is another nice thing to have for squishy things like bread and tomatoes. You will need a steel (ceramic for Global, carbon steel for german knives) to keep the edges in good shape after every use or two.

That's it. Those 3 knives will do everything you need to do.

If you plan to buy a lot of large bone-in pieces of meat and cut them, a heavy cleaver is also going to be useful.

From my own experience, Global is a great brand to get. Whatever you choose, make sure it's high quality and you know how to take care of it. Knives should last many years and you do get what you pay for.
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Old 12-09-2009, 02:04 AM   #16
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You'll find no more enthusiastic booster of Japanese knives than me, but they're not for everyone. All else being equal they'll take a much keener edge, cut better and retain that sharpness longer than their European counterparts. That said, they can be more delicate and require a different maintenance routine that some will not feel comfortable with. And taking them for "professional" re-sharpening can be dicey unless the sharpener is knowledgeable about the differences between them and, say, a Wusthof.

Can you get by with sharpening once or twice a year? That depends upon a lot of things, including (but not limited to) the following:

1) How much will the knife be used? The more you use it the faster it will get dull.
2) Will the knife be treated properly, ie no glass cutting boards, no dishwasher, etc.
3) What will you be cutting? Bones and frozen foods will dull a blade quickly.
4) What's your standard for "sharp"? If you're content with a mediocre edge that's serviceable, you won't need frequent sharpening. If you're addicted to that FOtS (Fresh Off the Stone) edge, be aware that screaming edge is fleeting.

If you're not trained (ie no professional cooking experience) and use a "hammer grip" on your knife then look for something that's comfortable to hold. A pro will generally use a pinch grip making the scales a little less important.

There aren't a lot of hard-and-fast rules. I would suggest you avoid Cutco knives like the Swine Flu. They're overpriced and underperforming, certainly not worth the price.

If you want a conventional German knife you can't go wrong with Messermeister. Wusthof is also good. J.A. Henkels makes great knives so long as you avoid the International series and stick with their higher end offerings. IMOHO Germans offer no performance advantages but are easier to maintain. Any competent pro sharpener can put a good edge on them with a belt grinder or with stones. There are also some very good sharpening systems you can use at home on those kinds of knives that require practically no skill at all. I've mentioned this elsewhere but the Edgemaker Pro system will keep your edges sharper-than-new for under $30, shipping included.

Japanese knives are getting more popular thanks to inroads made by companies like Shun and Global, along with the explosion in popularity of food television programs on TV. Japanese knives offer exponentially better performance than most European knives but this comes with a price. J-knives are often more expensive and require different maintenance techniques. Certainly Shun is pretty good but there's a lot better. Almost all my working knives are Japanese, but as much as I love them I'd suggest that if you're not prepared to have them professionally maintained at pretty regular intervals you may be better served with something else.

If you go the Euro knife route, I suggest buying a good ceramic "steel" (or hone), such as an Idahone, along with a set of Edgemaker Pros. That combo can keep a good quality knife sharp enough to shave hair and de-laminate paper with a minimum of effort. Use an end-grain wooden or soft plastic cutting board and it's all good.
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Old 12-09-2009, 08:31 AM   #17
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Thanks for your input Rob Babcock there is some good food for thought there.

You say that Shun is good but there are better Japanese brands. What are some examples? I'd like to try and find some stockiest and have a play with different makes.
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Old 12-09-2009, 05:09 PM   #18
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Some really good J-knife brands: Akifusa, Blazen/Ryusen, Kikuichi, Ichimonji, Hattori, Carter (he's an American but trained in Japan), Tanaka, Takeda, Kanetsune, Hiromoto, Mac, Tojiro, Moritaka, Misono, Nenohi & Yoshikane. There are many more I'm forgetting. There's nothing wrong with Shun, they make good knives, but their Chef's Knives have too much belly (or curvature) to suit me.

The lowest price Shun models are the Classic line; they're clad VG-10. That's a very good steel but entry level by J-knife standards. The Shun Elite line is clad SG-2, a step up in hardness and edge retention. Other makers use a wide array of steels, each with their own advantages and drawbacks.

Japanese knives (I'm speaking here of Western styles like the Gyuto & Santoku) are thinner as a rule than European knives. They're also sharpened to steeper angles than most European blades. Shuns are sharpened to 16 degrees per side or 32 degrees inclusive. 15 degrees per side is about the average for J-knives and many of us will take our own knives edges down even farther. Euro-style knives are generally sharpened to about 22.5 degrees per side or 45 degrees inclusive. So if you're taking your knives to be professionally sharpened, be sure the tinker you're using knows the difference. I sharpened a couple Shuns for coworkers, and the previous owner had used a Tri-stone on them & sharpened 'em to about 45 degrees...they were like axe heads! It took a lot of grinding on a coarse waterstone to bring the edge angle back down to a reasonable level.
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Old 12-09-2009, 05:24 PM   #19
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Some really good J-knife brands: Akifusa, Blazen/Ryusen, Kikuichi, Ichimonji, Hattori, Carter (he's an American but trained in Japan), Tanaka, Takeda, Kanetsune, Hiromoto, Mac, Tojiro, Moritaka, Misono, Nenohi & Yoshikane. There are many more I'm forgetting. There's nothing wrong with Shun, they make good knives, but their Chef's Knives have too much belly (or curvature) to suit me.

The lowest price Shun models are the Classic line; they're clad VG-10. That's a very good steel but entry level by J-knife standards. The Shun Elite line is clad SG-2, a step up in hardness and edge retention. Other makers use a wide array of steels, each with their own advantages and drawbacks.

Japanese knives (I'm speaking here of Western styles like the Gyuto & Santoku) are thinner as a rule than European knives. They're also sharpened to steeper angles than most European blades. Shuns are sharpened to 16 degrees per side or 32 degrees inclusive. 15 degrees per side is about the average for J-knives and many of us will take our own knives edges down even farther. Euro-style knives are generally sharpened to about 22.5 degrees per side or 45 degrees inclusive. So if you're taking your knives to be professionally sharpened, be sure the tinker you're using knows the difference. I sharpened a couple Shuns for coworkers, and the previous owner had used a Tri-stone on them & sharpened 'em to about 45 degrees...they were like axe heads! It took a lot of grinding on a coarse waterstone to bring the edge angle back down to a reasonable level.
Thinner is often good but for some uses a thicker spine (5 mm / .2 ") is more useful.
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Old 12-09-2009, 09:31 PM   #20
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I have one word. CUTCO

I use them. Buy them for house warming gifts all of the time and am still using them for years now. I only have 3 steak knives but they are truly the best cutlery I have ever come across. Only problem they are really expensive.

BUT worth it in my book. They are weirdly hard to buy. I get them from some guy that came to my house now over 4 years ago still.
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