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Equipment & Gear: Chef's Knives Rated
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 26, 2010 8:34 am    Post subject: Workhorse Cutlery Reply with quote

This discussion and article is amazing. Thank you, Michael. I came across the article a couple of years ago when I decided to study up on how working chefs maintain their knives, but never would have imagined that the topic would still be active. There are sharpening fanatics aplenty, but one is usually well advised to see what the guys in the daily trenches use and do.

I have a set of Cutcos that I do not use except for the bread knife (since I don't have another bread knife and rarely cut bread anyway). The handles are unsuitable since I can't shift my hand position to suit what I'm doing.

For that matter, I've eliminated ever owning a Global for the same reason. Had many chances to test drive a set at my brother's house. They're nice (and unmistakeably sharp), but not for me due to the handle shape and lightness.

My "go-to" knife is a 7" Chicago Cutlery santoku. Since I do a good amount of cooking and especially chopping and slicing veggies, I find that it works just fine as long as I steel the edge regularly. (Every time I use it, basically, but that's standard practice.) Took me a while to work the edge back into shape, though, once I realized the factory edge was gone and I had let it go too long. It's great for everything except paper-thin slices of a large onion. Takes a good bit of control to get the onion cut finely the way I like them on a sandwich. Speaking of sandwiches, the back edge of a santoku's blunter point works really well at scooping mayonnaise out of a quart jar and spreading it in a stroke or two. It's been a while since anyone wondered if santokus were a fad, so perhaps we're finally beyond that. I have found it to be an excellent all-around utility knife. Being an engineer myself, I'll have to get a chef's knife just to make sure I can do a proper comparison, but I can say that I'm very happy with the shape and balance of the santoku.

The santoku also makes quick work of small roasts and other cuts of meat. I can even work it around bones quite handily. The weight allows it to act as a light-duty cleaver, which I wouldn't expect a chef's knife to be able to do.

The Chicago Cutlery santoku has the dimples in the blade. They're supposed to break the suction between the blade and what you're cutting and reduce the resulting friction, though it doesn't always work and it's often necessary to flip the blade slightly and manually break the suction when the blade gets about halfway into a slice of cheese. In fact, that might be a good experiment: if two knives could be located that were identical in every way except for the dimples, perhaps we could find out conclusively if they make any difference. I recommend the cheese test.

I also own a Mundial santoku 4109-7 ZT that's decent. I particularly like the all-stainless construction that allows me to run it through the dishwasher without concern. Globals are almost that way, but have little bumps on the handle that may not take the heat and detergents well (they appear to be plastic).

A note on "stainless" steel: the risk of putting a knife through the dishwasher isn't just that it can be jostled into something hard and chip. The chemicals in dishwasher detergents can affect the finish. "Stainless" doesn't mean "corrosion-proof", as many chagrined cutlery aficionadoes have discovered. In fact, the best way to mess up stainless steel is to let it contact a non-stainless steel. The iron will contaminate the stainless and"seed" corrosion into the stainless steel. When I worked for Anheuser-Busch, we had a strict policy that stainless steel piping MUST NOT be placed on plain steel racking. A good way to mess up a nice knife (and especially a mediocre one) is to leave it in an iron skillet or cookie sheet filled with water while you eat. I supect that's what happened to Michael's friend.

The mundial is lighter and shorter and doesn't stack up to the Chicago Cutlery knife, but it's still a good solid performer. The purists will probably scoff at a comparison of the lowly (dare I say mid-grade) hardware, but I stress value and it seems difficult to justify paying a lot for something whose value lies at least partly in its trophy status or as a home decor accessory. Then again, maybe that's the point. We have a working home with 5 kids and a working kitchen to go with it. I'd much rather impress friends and guests with the culinary results. In the interest of disclosure, my viewpoint may stem from our single-income setup that allows my wife to stay home and educate the kids; it doesn't leave much room for niceties or extravagance.

The biggest reason I don't use the Mundial is because the finger guard goes all they way down to the heel of the blade, making for a very knobby heel on the blade. I use the heel of my other knife to puncture things (vegetables--not cans) such as avocados to get a quick start on cutting through the skin. I suppose I could grind the finger guard off of the heel of the Mundial...

Speaking of grinding, sparks aren't necessary to overheat a knife while grinding and ruin its temper (heat treating and hardening). The only way to maintain temper is with frequent dunks in cold water throughout the grinding process. If you see any discoloration of the metal at all--darkening or, God forbid, pretty rainbow colors--you've scorched the metal and probably ruined the blade. You may be able to have it re-treated, but chances are it'll cost as much as a new knife and still not be as good since the stamping/ forging process also adds strength.

A couple of sharpening tips not found in most tutorials:
1. Sharpening and steeling often leave a slight flap on a blade (where the thinnest part of the edge is folded over a bit like a killer whale's dorsal fin). You can find out if your blade has a residual flap by pulling your thumbnail perpendicular across the sharp edge of the blade. Do it slowly with your thumbnail straight up and you'll feel your nail catch on the "flap" if it's there. Check each side of the blade every half inch or so. No catchy spots means you have a deformity-free edge.
2. Another way to check sharpness is to see how steep an angle you can hold your thumbnail and still have the knife catch when held vertically with only the knife's weight bearing on your nail. Keep in mind that the bevel angle will come into play here.
3. For a real eye-opener, get yourself a "pocket microscope" and examine the edge of your blade. A 30x magnification is great. If you use a steel or medium-grit stone, you will be able to see the micro-serration effect (and may see why a pushing stroke works better on a particular knife than a pulling stroke as Michael discovered in the test). It might inspire you to get a ceramic or diamond sharpening stick. I plan to get one. You can get a pocket microscope from american Science and Surplus (and you engineers and gadgetsmiths out there will love their catalog). In a similar vein, if you haven't ever looked at the sky through binoculars on a starry night, you owe it to yourself to do so.
4. If your knife feels "crunchy" or less than silky smooth as you draw it across your sharpening steel, then material has begun to clog the grooves of your steel. To clean the steel, drag it across the edge of your cutting board in the same direction as the board's grain. You will see little gray deposits on the wood. Bear down fairly hard so the ends of the wood grain work their way into the steel's grooves and scrape them clean. The gray doesn't typically stain, but this process will dent the edge of your cutting board slightly. You can get the same results with a piece of scrap wood, or even something as simple as a paint stick, if you prefer to keep your cutting board or block looking as nice as possible.

This thread has evolved into an amazing discussion of knivery. The warnings about chipping and breaking were an eye-opener. As I read through, I thought a high-end knife would be in my future but now I think perhaps I will try a Victorinox. They seem to be sturdy and servicable with great value.

A couple of people mentioned that how you use and care for a knife is the most important factor in how well it will suit your needs. That's excellent advice and reminds me of something a friend of mine once told me: my friend was hitting golf balls at the driving range and was not having a good day. The club professional walked by and my friend, in frustration, said "I need to get a new set of clubs". The pro, upon hearing this, walked over, took the club from my friend, held the club with the head facing BACKWARDS, and hit a perfect shot out into the driving range. He handed the club back and said "it's not the club".

May your culinary adventures be enjoyable--even when not entirely successful.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 03, 2010 7:53 pm    Post subject: Thanks so much for this Reply with quote

Michael - many, many thanks for the time, effort and care that you lavished on this task. It is greatly appreciated.
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 11, 2010 10:41 pm    Post subject: Cutco Reply with quote

Over the years I have owned different knives and I have to say my Cutco santoku knife is exceptional. I have had it over a year now and it still performs like the day I received it. I know many folks who swear by Cutco. All I ever do is hone it prior to every use (you should do that with every knife). It has nice balance. Have to say I was surprised by the review.
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Computer geek

PostPosted: Mon Sep 13, 2010 8:40 pm    Post subject: here's some more info Reply with quote

Well, as a compute geek and have an avid fan of cooking (my waistline can attest to this) I like having quality products. I also don't like paying too much for anything as I am a big fan of certain deal sites around the net that show you how to PM, grab rebates, coupons, clearances, and get high quality items for dirt cheap sometimes.

Anyhow, I've gone through a few culinary classes with my cousin who has finished her degree last year in it so I know a bit. My grandma used to own a pretty big fancy restaurant in Little Rock Arkansas so I picked up a bunch from her and my mom.

My mom owns a set of Henckels 4 stars and they suit her needs she said. I tried them, and they are heavy, cut good, and my mom sends them out for regular professional sharpening. She paid too much in my opinion for them all, but they are quality knives.

When my cousin started school she was given a list of knives she could buy for her classes and she ended up getting the Forschner Victorinox set. It was on the list of approved knives and the cheapest. I tried them, and while they work great for inexpensive knives, neither of us can get used to that plastic handle. They are also very light weight. Nothing as bad as walmart brands, but still light weight. Speaking of walmart brands, I originally bought a set of $20 Tramontina knives when I first moved out from home. All I could afford and they were all serrated. They were also terrible at cutting, but could cut if I used enough pressure. If I known about the Victorinox knives back then I may have tried to save up to purchase those instead.

Now that my income has increased drastically, I started awhile back looking to toss out all my old bachelor and hand me down crap I used since I first moved out on my own. I started first by making a Global Heavy Weight Chefs 8.5" forged knife from Amazon. I liked the heavier knife for my hands and I liked the look of the Global knives for my vanity's sake. I've had it for a number of years and it has held up well. However, I will say that the factory edge was not quite razor sharp. It was good, but it definitely needed to be sharpened. I bought a diamond grit stone set with some guides and went to town. I like the edge I got on it, but I got really pissed at the "guides" that I got as they scratched up the sides of my knife when putting them on and taking them off. So now I can sharpen it just fine without the guides. I hadn't found any deals on knives I wanted though for a long time after that until recently.

Luckily I found out that the Ken Onion line from Shun was being discontinued and that many places were putting them on clearance including Williams-Sonoma. I stopped by there and found a few Shun Ken Onion knives ranging from $30 to $100 bucks still left. I picked them up at the store there to try since they were completely different from the Global I've been using. It took me a second, but I fell in LOVE with these. Looked great, felt great, and were razor sharp from the factory. At least all mine were razor sharp. I've been using them these past few months and have not a single complaint.

Side note though is that I ran across a deal on one of my deal websites for some Saber brand knives from Costco. That's Costco and not Cutco. I looked them up and they were suppose to be a recent company making Henckel 4 star quality knives for a lower cost by doing it in China. My thoughts were China? Yah right. But Costco has an awesome return policy so I figured for $200 for a set of knives that turn out to be as good as my mom's henckels would be a steal. I will say that they seem to be every bit as good as my mom's henckels so far. They came factory sharp but with a hollow ground edge though. I'm a bit leary of the the hollow ground edge because of some edges being way to thin and breaking blades. But they've held up remarkably well so far. I guess China can make some decent products when they want to.

For the curious here is a link.

Normal price is $300, but they were on sale for $200 when I got them. They may go on sale again.

For the last bit of this post, all these Cutco posts are making me laugh. Seriously, who thinks Cutco knives are any good? Also, the double-D edge is a serrated edge. Period. It is also TERRIBLE to use any sort of serrated edge on raw meat of any sort, especially on poultry. Why you may ask? Well meat still has capillaries in it from when it was cut off, shrink-wrapped, frozen, and placed at your grocery store. Inside those capillaries and other vessels are all the juices of your meat. Poultry can get real dry if the juices in the meat are not kept in. Capillaries when cut tend to contract if the cut is clean. This is one reason why it's better to be cut by a sharp knife than a dull one. Ever been cut by a really sharp knife and notice you don't bleed right away? But get a gash or a raspberry on your skin and watch it flow! When you cut meat with a sharp straight edge, the capillaries in the meat contract and keep the juices in. Any sort of serrated blade tears when it cuts. There is not a serrated blade ever made that does not tear when it cuts, including the double-D cutco knives. So while Cutco knives do work in cutting the meat, it screws up the preparation of your meat by doing so. Never prepare meats with a serrated knife. This one reason to never use Cutco or any serrated knife period.

I've since now been visiting and put an order in for a nice gyoto. I know this time around I'm paying a bit too much for a handcrafted knife, but it's for the collectors part of it that I'm doing so as well as getting a top notch knife that will survive my grandkids.
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 15, 2010 1:45 pm    Post subject: Cutco and its poor test results Reply with quote

My friend, who sold Cutco for a time, makes some valid points, regarding Cutco and the very poor test results from the above analysis.

Among other items he mentioned:

"Cutco is made out of a mid-grade steel. This is mostly because of the processing. Cutco is stamped rather than forged. This saves majorly on the manufacturing costs, but causes the knife to lose its edge faster than forged steel.

The real advantage to Cutco comes with the “Double D” edge, commonly mistaken as a serrated knife. This edge is patented by Cutco and keeps their utility knives sharper longer. However, you can’t sharpen them yourself. That being said, you can get free lifetime sharpening and a free lifetime guarantee on sharpness/performance.

The French chef knife tested here does not benefit from the double d edge nor is it made from forged steel. This particular knife is going to perform more poorly for many of these tests. If you selected the proper knife for the job, i.e. cutting tomatoes with the “trimmer,” not the chef’s knife, Cutco would have done much better.

For an all-around knife set which is somewhat overpriced but delivers on the promises made, Cutco is good. The guarantee alone makes them worth the cost. If you want a professional chef’s knife, cutco sucks."
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 21, 2010 6:40 am    Post subject: Miyabi Sandalwood Reply with quote

So I've been following this forum for a while.

I have been an avid user of Shun Knives for about 4 years. I have Shun Pro2, Shun Kramer and Shun Elite knives. They cut amazingly well and have great edge retention.

However, I was looking to add to my collection at Sur la Table last month and I stumbled onto the Miyabi Sandlewood 8 inch chef's knife. While I already own a Shun Elite 8", Shun Pro 2 6.5" Deba, and Shun Kramer 10" Chefs, I just had to buy this new knife.

Easily the sharpest knife I have ever used, including the Shun Elites, when they came out of the box. Furthermore, they are light, and probably the best feature is that they have a rounded spine so pinching the blade is much more comfortable.
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 29, 2010 6:14 pm    Post subject: Cutco Reply with quote

The rating from the web site are extremely untrue. My family has used Cutco for 15 years and it is awesome. They have the best guarantee on the market and have the best customer service. Whoever conducted the demonstrations with each knife was very biased in my opinion. After all they are trying to sell products. I noticed they have no link on how to buy Cutco. Why would they promote Cutco if they can't make a percentage off the sales.
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Michael Chu

Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1654
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Fri Oct 29, 2010 6:21 pm    Post subject: Re: Cutco Reply with quote

tman wrote:
The rating from the web site are extremely untrue. My family has used Cutco for 15 years and it is awesome. They have the best guarantee on the market and have the best customer service. Whoever conducted the demonstrations with each knife was very biased in my opinion. After all they are trying to sell products. I noticed they have no link on how to buy Cutco. Why would they promote Cutco if they can't make a percentage off the sales.

You can't buy Cutco outside of a Cutco salesperson and linking to the website for "full price" info seems unreasonable.
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Joined: 19 Oct 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 29, 2010 8:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

>>They have the best guarantee on the market and have the best customer service.

horse feathers.

I have had first hand up close and personal experience with post purchase service from a non-Cutco cutlery supplier and my experiences could not have been better.

all questions of price to value aside, a _major_ sticky point with such MLM schemes - they may have good or excellent customer service, but I can quite readily assure you it is not "the best" because other companies have similar guarantees/warranties and customer service.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 18, 2010 9:04 pm    Post subject: Henckels disaster near-miss Reply with quote

I had a J.A. Henckels chef's knife whose handle literally disintegrated in my hand while I was slicing an onion. The broken handle exposed the uncovered butt-end of the knife blade that cut me, but, fortunately, not deeply. The knife was 6 years old, and had never been in the dishwasher. I now only purchase chef's knives that have handles that are extensions of the blade.
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Michael Chu

Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1654
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Thu Nov 18, 2010 9:20 pm    Post subject: Re: Henckels disaster near-miss Reply with quote

cyntax wrote:
I had a J.A. Henckels chef's knife whose handle literally disintegrated in my hand while I was slicing an onion. The broken handle exposed the uncovered butt-end of the knife blade that cut me, but, fortunately, not deeply. The knife was 6 years old, and had never been in the dishwasher. I now only purchase chef's knives that have handles that are extensions of the blade.

Out of curiosity, was it a J.A. Henckels International or a Zwilling J.A. Henckels knife? All the Zwilling J.A. Henckels are full tang or 3/4 tang (on the knifes that have molded handles/no seams) so even if the handle falls apart, your hand would normally be grasping the solid portion.
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 22, 2010 2:15 am    Post subject: Cutco owners - don not despair just yet. Reply with quote

After retiring from construction I took up professional knife sharpening and have been doing it for awhile.

RE: Cutco and actually most other knives for that matter.

I have sharpened a few cutco knives from the factory and a few that have been resharpened by their free yearly service. These knives, every case were what I consider to be very dull both factory fresh and sharpened by cutco.

During resharpening, the steel behaved very similarly to D2 steel knives I have serviced, hard and tough. D2 in tests I have seen and in practice, despite the existence of super steels, remains one of the top 5 knife steels. The Cutco knives after wet grinding to a more appropriate angle, honing and fine steeling, took a razor edge (not arm hair shaving, a razor edge), Which I expect will last well given the grinding characteristics of the steel.

So, if you have a knife that you may be disappointed in, you might consider spending $5-10 for a professional sharpening and honing (I don't however recommend the belt sander technique but others do).
No knife that cost more than about $10 has ever failed to take a decent serviceable edge.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 20, 2010 6:15 am    Post subject: Knife reviews Reply with quote

Interesting thread. Let me weigh in on a few observations. I am a home cook with an interest in tools and food. First, the idea of handling a knife before purchase is a good, but often impractical, idea. I live within a couple of hours of DC and Norfolk, and I doubt that I could find more than a handful of knives to handle, let alone use. My own collection consists of Kanetsune, Forschners, and one new Tojiro DP Nakiri none of which are available here. All were purchased mail order, largely based on recommendations by persons who's opinions I respect, and secondly on value and price.
Secondly, many of the advantages and disadvantages are not immediate. Ease of sharpening, ability to hold an edge, and overall durability, are not immediately apparent.
I have seen comments regarding the OOTB sharpness, particularly of Tojiro. The new Tojiro arrived sharper than any knife I have ever experienced. The Kanetsunes were resharpened for me by a very good non professional sharpener a year ago. While sharp when purchased, they benefited from the pro sharpening. My goal was primarily to get a benchmark as to what a quality edge should be before tackling sharpeninhg on my own.
I am a fan of large chef's knifes. My 240 Gyuto is used 5 to 1 over all other blades, including a 210 and a 165 Santoku. Also a fan of damascus steel. The VG 10 steel in the Kanetsunes has held up well over the year. The soft exterior scratches easily, even though the knives have never been near anything other than food, wood, or my hand.
The Forschners are now around 40 years old, and were my work knives in a packing house for 5 years. Knives in this environment get more use and misuse in a month than they would in a home environment in a lifetime. All have held up well. I like the wood handles as it takes a lot of tallow to make them slippery. I would recommend the Forschners as the best inexpensive knife available. At a higher price point, the Tojiro DP cost me $50, and so far outperforms anything at twice the price. I would look at them for the home kitchen. The Kanetsunes and other medium priced damascus knives have a lot in common, and price would definitely play a big part in the decision.
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 31, 2010 3:09 am    Post subject: this fabulous thread Reply with quote

This has been great. Originally this Christmas, my woman was purchasing me a sharpener -- I spend so much time sharpening the 90 cent 8" chef I got at the Salvation Army. Using a broken old ceramic rod, I occasionally bring it to almost frightening sharpness. Still, I spend far too much time working on it. Instead of a sharpener now, we're going for a real knife. With either the Tojiro or Forschner, I'll also be able to get the proper 1000/6000 stone mentioned above. And I can still use my Salvation Army special stainless steel to literally hammer through entire chickens for soup.
And, believe it or not, she's been beside me reading this whole thing -- for hours! Awesome!
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 6:57 am    Post subject: Cutco no go Reply with quote

The problem with Cutco isn't the knives; the problem is that your money is going to a very, very shady organization that takes advantage of the desperate and the gullible.

I have Henckels and Globals, and both are great. The Gloals are better, I think, if you have smaller hands - a Henckels can be too much knife at times.
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