After Dinner Mince...or...up to my knees in these cutleries

I've been wanting to do this post for a long, long, time. I realize that the recommendations I have made throughout this post may seem a little pricey, but If there is only one time you listen to the DISH, let that time be now. While this post may be a little scattered, I hope that it is informative for those thinking about buying a new knife (whether you are just starting to get serious about cooking, or if you are a seasoned cook, looking to upgrade your current cutlery) and also maintaining the knives that you have. We use our knives every day, more than any other tool in the kitchen. They should have our complete respect and we should always go for quality when purchasing them.
ok, photo categories here ( top to bottom): sharpening tools(norton IM200 sharpening system, mac ceramic steel,mac diamond sharpener, and mac IT sharpener), paring knives/misc. knives (mac 4 inch paring, wusthof 3.5 inch paring, mac bird's beak, grapefruit knife (wifeshow), ulu filet knife), slicers/bread knives(mac 11 inch yanagiba, forschner flexible 7-inch filet, mac 10-inch bread knife/slicer, Wusthof 9-inch bread knife), Cleavers (Global 6-inch meat cleaver, Global vegetable cleaver, Mac 6.5 inch cleaver, and Chef's knives (Mac Ultimate series 10 inch chef knife, Henckles 4 star 6-inch).
Over the years, I've amassed a decent collection of cutlery. This certainly does not make me any sort of expert, but I would like to share a few things with you that I have come to understand.
Dish's Rule #1: some of you aren't going to like this one, but I'll say it anyway: It's really hard to find a decent chef's knife for well below the $100 dollar mark. "What?!? how could he?" " I love my trusty chef's knife that I got a super sweet deal on!" While many of you may argue with me on this one, (hey, I tried to go the inexpensive route, see the skinny, flexible boning knife in the "slicer/bread knife" photo? at first it seemed ok, but it has ultimately let me down.) I'm going to have to put my foot down and say you are wrong. I hope that you can eventually look at this as an investment. Yeah, it sucks to spend that much on a single item, but trust me, the moment (but more importantly the next moment, and the next, and so on) you slice through a tomato/pepper/cucumber with no resistance, you'll be hooked. My first "chef's knife" was a henckles 4 star (see photo w/ 2 knife's facing opposite directions). It served me well for a couple years. However, when I started working in a restaurant, I got used to a longer length of knife and was ready to upgrade. So, for my birthday that year, Wifeshow took me to PHG in omaha (I think that they have stopped carrying MAC knives:( ) and bought me the MAC ultimate series 10 inch chef knife. It was totally unexpected. I wouldn't have dropped that amount of coin on myself back then, but if there is anyone out there who is looking for a new chef knife that will outperform most others, this is my recommendation. I can't say enough good things about it. It stays sharp forever with regular "steeling" and I use my stone on it about 2-3 times a year. it is a joy to cut with and so far, I've favored it over all other brands I've tried (Wusthof, Henckles, shun, global, forschner, Kyocera).
DISH's Rule #2: It's all about balance: By this, I mean a couple of things. First, Your knife should have a decent amount of heft. Even the thinner, lighter japanese blades (which I have grown to love, more on that later) aren't so light that they feel like toys. Next, when you rest the knife in the palm of your hand, it should lay reasonably flat, not tipping one way or the other. This makes a big difference during long chopping sessions and, over time, can lead to a duller knife and maybe even wrist problems. The main thing here is that your knife should feel great in your hand. Everyone is different, the best knife for me might not be the one for you and vise versa. however, if you are in the market for a new knife or to upgrade, make sure you do your research. a couple of really good places to go (in omaha, sorry lincolnites) are williams sonoma, sur la table, and PHG. They will let you try their knives out and I think some will even let you cut with them. Or, if you want, just come on over to Casa Dish and I'll let you take mine for a spin. Just not anytime soon, I'm moving, and am super sick right now, probably pig flu.
DISH's Rule #3: I think I'm turning Japanese (I really think so). With the exception of 1 american knife maker, I'm pretty much sold on japanese knives. My favorites, as you can tell from my photos are mac knives and global knives (although Misono and Shun are also very respectable choices) The problem I have with german/european knives is that they take a significant amount of time to sharpen and dull rather quickly compared to their japanese counterparts. This is not to say that german/european knives are bad (henckles and wusthof are two very respected companies), I just prefer Japanese.
DISH's Rule #4: Keep it sharp!: This seems pretty obvious right? at the very least i would recommend getting yourself a good steel. If you plan to go the Japanese route, you can't get a better deal on a ceramic steel than these (white or black). you use a ceramic steel on japanese knives because they are often composed of very hard metals. When sharpening something, the sharpener needs to be harder than the metal being sharpened. This is all rated on a rockwell scale with the typical european knife being in the mid to low fifties and the japanese being in the high fifties to low sixties ("metal steels come in at around 62, white ceramic steel is around 76 and the new black stuff ranks in at 81). I would highly recommend finding out the rockwell scale rating of your knife before you buy, not only to determine the steel you should buy, but it is also good to know that the retailer is knowledgeable enough to tell you this. If you have european knives, I would recommend something like this for a steel. There are a lot of different schools of thought on the proper way to steel a knife. I like to place my steel, tip down, on my cutting board and keep it straight up and down. I then glide my knife from top to bottom, heel to tip, at the proper angle, and then switch sides (10-16 degrees for japanese, 17-25 for european).
Beyond regular "steeling," You may find that your knives need to actually be sharpened. ("steeling just realigns the burrs on your knife's edge, while sharpening takes away a little bit of metal and creates a new rough edge that is ready to be steeled into razor quality.) For this, I recommend (if you are a "do-it your-selfer") the norton Im200 sharpening system. It takes a little practice, but it does come with a handy angle guide to help you get the proper technique down. If you don't want something this bulky, you could always get a couple of plain stones, I would recommend a medium and fine grit. There is the option of getting an automatic or powered sharpener, but I don't think that you will be happy with the results. You can get a much keener edge when you sharpen a knife yourself. My rule is that the finished knife should be able to shave hair off of your arm (don't worry, I always wash the knife afterwards:) You could try cutting a piece of parchment or paper held out loosely in front of you, but that's just a waste of paper, your arm hair grows back. There are also some respected knife sharpeners out there, unfortunately you have to be without your knife for a while. I know that shun will sharpen your knives for free for as long as you have them, but if you wanted to send them somewhere, I would recommend sending them here or here. if there is anywhere around these parts that anyone knows of, let me know.
ok, I hope that this was somewhat informative. I am really passionate about cutlery. A good knife will change the way you cook like nothing else can. You get what you pay for, so please, please, please, save up the coin and buy yourself something respectable. I am going to leave you with a few recommendations here: pieces.
DISH recommends:
for the european-lovers:

Bread/Slicer: Mac 10.5 inch slicer/bread knife (I like this because you can sharpen it with the mac "IT" sharpener
ok, obviously, Any size here would work, I just prefer 10 inch blades on chef knives, and 4 inch on parings.
Other things I should add are: no, I don't find the handles on global knives to become really slippery when wet, and yes, I do have a lot of knives but wifeshow and i use every one of them. she does like the henckles 6 inch chef, because her hands are smaller (and probably because she's german...and stubborn:) I hope this post was informative, albeit a little long. Also, let me know what you guys use for your trusty knives, I am very interested. Also, does anyone out there use a santoku? never have, have always been curious about how they perform.


Chris said...

I could go either way with the santoku. It does its job, thin slices.

Henckels 5" santoku
Wusthof 7" Silverpoint
Chicago Cutlery MC1 5" cleaver

Not a large collection but the get the job done.

Photo here:

Beerorkid said...

Great post. Lots of info in there.

I love knives. Been geeking out hard on them for a while now. Would love to have a fancy one, but I have a decent set that works pretty well for me on how often they are being used.

The wife got me the knife skills illustrated book and a set of Kitchenaid knives a few years back. I watch all the vids about knives I can. Even have Alton Brown's knife episode on my server.

Of my kitchenaid set I use two of them, they are decent made knives in a lot of ways, but nothing like some fancier ones. A really good cheap knif I use most often is the Victorinox 8-Inch Chef's Knife. It is highly recommended and even Chef's Illustrated loves it. I have yet to sharpen it, but I think it is ready. Been sharpening some of my older ones and getting it down pretty good.

the DISH said...

chris: I like the old school (like your cleaver) chicago stuff, they seem to hold an edge better than the new stuff.

BorK: Me too! Total knife geek, I saw a while back that you strop (sp?) your knives after you steel them, do you think it makes a difference? never have tried it. can you just use an old belt? very interested...

Anonymous said...

Yes, wasting one sheet of paper is a no no. :)

I'm not even going to tell you about my knives because they pale. But then again, I bet there are a lot of old grandmas around the world who are fantabulous cooks without having seen a decent knife. Don't shriek at me for saying so.


Beerorkid said...

I got the idea from this vid. After I was playing around with sharpening I tried the stropping and you can just feel it doing something. First it starts off a bit gritty feeling and then it just glides. I feel it makes a difference. I use the belt I wear every day on the back side.

I need a better stone or maybe a better sharpening system. What is your fave?

the DISH said...

I've been happy with my norton stuff. If I were just going to get a single stone, I think I would go with something like this:
i currently have this:
am pretty pleased with results. I work with another dude who used to be a chef and he has the same system. for three stones, it's not a bad deal, but as long as you have a pretty coarse stone and a fine one too I think you are golden.

Mare Bear said...

You CUT IT UP with that one, Steve-o!! ;)

Oh, yes. I went there. REALLY BAD pun, right in your face! Boo-ya!

In all seriousness, great blog. :)