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Big chef's knife vs. small one


Dianabanana
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Searching for a different topic, I re-stumbled on this thread.  It may be blasphemy but I have been thinking of a 5 inch chefs knife.  I can't see the purpose (I caught myself from writing "point") of a petty because none I've seen allow for a pinch grip while keeping one's knuckles off the table.

 

This desire for a small chefs knife was fresh in my mind last night as I was slicing garlic cloves with a pairing knife.

 

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Cooking is cool.  And kitchen gear is even cooler.  -- Chad Ward

 

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I don't think the standard pinch grip is especially useful when using smaller knives. Typically, you pinch at the balance point of the blade to give you better control of the tip of the knife, but since the blade of short chef's knives are so much shorter and lighter, the balance point is usually much farther back -- typically at the bolster or even in the handle. So I often end up holding the bolster on my shorter knives. It's still a pinch grip, but it's non-standard because I'm pinching the handle/bolster/ferrule and not the blade itself.

 

You can also modify your pinch grip to get your fingers up and out of the way to provide board clearance for your knuckles. I use a similar grip to the one featured in this video when using my shorter petties (even my paring knives) and have plenty of clearance.

 

 

You can also adjust your cutting technique to use with shorter blades. Up and down chopping isn't really the strong suit of petties -- at least on taller product. They're better suited toward draw/pull cuts where you leave the tip of the knife on the board and slice backward through the product. But if choppy choppy is your thing, they also make tall petties. 

Edited by btbyrd (log)
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At least a 7 inch santoku. Even longer would be better. 

 

Not a fan of Shuns. They're okay, but if you're going to spend that kind of money you might as well get a smaller production run knife from a respected Japanese smith or brand. Like a Takamura R2 santoku or Tanaka ginsan. These are harder to find, but are better knives for the same (or less) money. 

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1 hour ago, btbyrd said:

At least a 7 inch santoku. Even longer would be better. 

 

Not a fan of Shuns. They're okay, but if you're going to spend that kind of money you might as well get a smaller production run knife from a respected Japanese smith or brand. Like a Takamura R2 santoku or Tanaka ginsan. These are harder to find, but are better knives for the same (or less) money. 

 

But @JoNorvelleWalker was asking about a 5" knife? I was just giving an example.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Let's start with I have way too many knives, and I'm a die-hard Western knives man for myself. I've no quarrel with those who's preference is Eastern knives.

 

In my block are a 10" chef's knife that I use for many tasks, an 8" Wusthoff that is better for some smaller jobs, and another 10" chef's knife that I use for produce-only prep, because that one gets hand washed and has a thinner spine..  I have a 7" Nakiri that was a gift that is rarely used as it's stamped blade is just a tad too fragile for my use.  I have a 7" utility knife that is useful to me, and a 3" paring knife. There are other knives in my block but these are the ones that get used the most.

 

I've been (slowly) transitioning from (International) Henkles to Wusthoff. 

 

I'm still a firm believer in handling the knives in the style your considering and find what feels right in your  hand

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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I always cringe when DW picks up a short paring knife and is 'working' on something like dicing celery . . . .

small, narrow, apt to twist, highly fond of slicing fingers.....

 

I have a 10", 8", 6" chef, and a 7" santoku

. . . . and a large wood cutting board.

 

the 8" chef and the 7" santoku lead in the 'use hours' category by a factor of 40-50.

my 'next used' is a 7" boning knife.

 

I rarely use the smaller "paring knife(s)" - just recent for cutting the pits out of local fresh non-freestone peaches . . . a once a year task....

 

for veggie prep, the santoku is far and away the best 'go to' knife.  it is superb at the flat sliding cut technique, and has a thinner blade.  it's wide - it smashes garlic cloves like nobody's business....

some veggie prep - like large diameter eggplant - I slice with the 8" chef.

 

the others are absolutely top shelf useful for specific tasks -

the 10" chef does watermelon, cantaloupe, pizza 'crunch slicing' just great - big dissection of large loin cuts is another.

the 6" chef is very good for detailed meat trimming - schnipping out tendon/gristle; the boning knife is better at silver skin removal.

 

a large/long knife can be intimidating - especially on a dinky small cutting board.

it kinda' depends on how invested one goes into 'tools of the trade'

an inability to maintain knives to a purpose required level of sharpness will also spoil the experience....

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On 7/10/2022 at 5:15 PM, btbyrd said:

I don't think the standard pinch grip is especially useful when using smaller knives. Typically, you pinch at the balance point of the blade to give you better control of the tip of the knife, but since the blade of short chef's knives are so much shorter and lighter, the balance point is usually much farther back -- typically at the bolster or even in the handle. So I often end up holding the bolster on my shorter knives. It's still a pinch grip, but it's non-standard because I'm pinching the handle/bolster/ferrule and not the blade itself.

 

The standard western pinch grips (along with techniques like rock chopping) were also invented to help you apply more cutting force. They're techniques for knives that aren't very sharp. This isn't a dig at western chef's knives; it's just a fact that in terms of their design, edge geometry, and metallurgy they're traditionally made more for toughness and versatility than pure cutting performance. We compensate with the grips and the techniques we use. 

 

If you're using thinner, sharper blades, these grips and techniques no longer make sense. The whole idea of balance becomes mostly irrelevant, because the knives are lighter. You don't need to apply a lot of force, or create shearing action through rock-chopping (and if you try, you might damage the blade). So the grip is all about control. More like a violin bow than a hatchet. I sometimes use a modified sort of pinch grip when cutting with the tip of a long, lighter knife. But it's a very loose grip. It's just to choke up a bit to get closer to the food, like for slicing garlic. Or it's to let the knife pivot easily, like when doing rapid chopping with the tip. Otherwise, the best grip is often the one that European cooking schools tell you never to use: holding the handle, with your forefinger on the spine of the knife. Forbidden in France, but the Japanese work magic with it. 

 

The chef who taught me Japanese techniques took this a step farther—he let his index finger kind of hover above the blade. He held the handle very lightly with his thumb and middle and ring fingers, and used the tip of his pinkie against the side of the wa-handle to counter any rotation and keep the blade cutting straight. Looked silly, but his cuts were perfect ... looked like they'd been made by a robot with a mandolin. I never got the hang of this technique in its pure form.

 

I personally don't understand the point of a small chef's knife. The western chef's knife is for cutting with power, and for being crazy-versatile. A small one is neither burly nor versatile. If you want something for precise tasks, there are many choices that make more sense. 

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Notes from the underbelly

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Hmm...

8 hours ago, paulraphael said:

I personally don't understand the point of a small chef's knife. The western chef's knife is for cutting with power, and for being crazy-versatile. A small one is neither burly nor versatile. If you want something for precise tasks, there are many choices that make more sense. 

To each his/her/its own.  I tend to reach for the shorter knives, they feel better, but would prefer if they had deeper bellies so I don't end up rapping my knuckles like Kim's husband.  As long as the knife is sharp, it'll do me good.

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I don't think anyone has anything against small knives. It's just small chef's knives that are kind of weird. A santoku or bunka or nakiri or petty or whatever, sure. But a 6" chef's knife is nonideal, if what we're referring to as a chef's knife is something with a classic big-bellied, rock-chopping German profile. In a former life, I had a 6" Wusthof in a set I was gifted, and that thing *never* saw action.

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8 hours ago, btbyrd said:

I don't think anyone has anything against small knives. It's just small chef's knives that are kind of weird. A santoku or bunka or nakiri or petty or whatever, sure. But a 6" chef's knife is nonideal, if what we're referring to as a chef's knife is something with a classic big-bellied, rock-chopping German profile. In a former life, I had a 6" Wusthof in a set I was gifted, and that thing *never* saw action.

 

The place I see pros use smaller knives is during service, when they don't have lots of room to work, and they aren't moving through piles of prep. But don't think I've ever seen 6" chefs knives. Small knife usually means an 8" chef / gyuto, or or a 6" petty. 

 

I've seen knives like these use for prep by the sorry folks who work in liliputian NYC-style galley kitchens. They sometimes have work surfaces and cutting boards that are less than a foot deep. It gets awkward to use a longer blade. 

 

I've read that it's a Thomas Kellerism that you should use the smallest knife you can get away with. No idea why, or what counts as small, or if it's even a true story!

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Notes from the underbelly

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For several years I had fun finding mostly name-brand knives in thrift stores that had been beat to hell and then discarded. I found pleasure in giving them new life by restoring their edges. I used some in my ren Faire kitchens, gave some away, and some ended up in our knife blocks. 2 or 3 years ago I found a 6" Wusthoff chef's knife for maybe $2, bought it, and put a new edge on it. I asked my wife if she thought our younger daughter would like it. Instead, my wife asked for it. Since an 8" chef's knife is her go-to knife, a 6" for small tasks made sense. 

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Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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My go-to favorite knife is a 7inch I purchased as a student in the early 80's. Thrift store. Fast forward 20 years, I took out a magnifying glass in good light and discovered the maker. I guess pedestrian-- HarvardCutlery sold in hardware stores and way out of business. Went on eBay and found a seller that had a dozen new-in-sleeve with most sold but I bought the last three he had. 

That was ten years ago and still they are my go-to all day long. I have 4. Two on my magnetic above my main prep zone and one in my kitchen travel crate. One at the beach home. 

Chuckle all you want. Use what does the job and is comfortable. DH does not touch them. He uses the nice expensive 8 and 9 inch always. 

Gifted Japanese knives are in sleeves in the knife drawer below our main prep. Too many small various pairing knives are handy on the other magnetic. The 5 inch 'all purpose' is most useful for slicing a lemon/lime. 

Most important for me is a clear good size work area and cutting board. Lots of room to work. 

If a family member is using a knuckle busting pairing knife I think they are working in a too small claustrophobic prep zone.

My kitchen is small but efficient with a small triangle work area. 18x18 inch main prep cutting board is clean and clear at all times. Spin and next to the sink is two 18inch Side-by-side for a second work area---bread, spice mixing, etc. Where DH does most of his prep. (the bread baker)

I'm a horrid housekeeper but my kitchen counters are always clean or I can't cook. FU floors and laundry. Our big daily joke is,

"stop wearing clothes!". 

If a five inch chef style is desired, Zwilling seems to have them affordable randomly. For smaller tasks like herbs and garlic. smaller veg sliced. Rarely use our 8-9inch for that reason. If I pick garden basil and roll in a bunch for chiffinade, --the 7 inch is always my go-to. Even greens. 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2022-07-17 at 12.38.35 PM.png

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Nice looking knives, @Annie_H

I have one of these in my collection.  Nice size, extra sharp thanks to the Japanese edge and easy to maintain.  Not expensive..

I've abandoned all of my Western knives and  now use my Japanese knives exclusively.  

 

Edited by lindag (log)
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Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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19 minutes ago, lindag said:

where do I find a knife like yours shown?

 

It's a Takamura VG10 santoku. They're in stock right now at Mutual Trading Company, Carbon Knife Company, and District Cutlery. I think the cheapest is at Carbon, which also has free shipping.

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1 hour ago, btbyrd said:

 

It's a Takamura VG10 santoku. They're in stock right now at Mutual Trading Company, Carbon Knife Company, and District Cutlery. I think the cheapest is at Carbon, which also has free shipping.

 

It is beautiful!

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  • 2 weeks later...

I abandoned the idea of a 5" chef knife and this afternoon ordered an 8" (actual cutting edge length 7.75") from New West:

https://www.newwestknifeworks.com/collections/g-fusion-knives/products/8-chef-knife?variant=29068962889815

 

For eight years the 9" New West (a design that is no longer made) has perhaps been my most used blade.  Certainly most used chef knife.  But I wanted something lighter and shorter.  We shall see.  If New West knives do not feel right they are returnable, unused.  The knives are covered by a lifetime satisfaction guarantee for non-commercial use and a lifetime warranty for commercial use.  Not to mention free lifetime sharpening.

 

And since there is a sale going on right now I confess I ordered a few more New West knives as well.

 

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Cooking is cool.  And kitchen gear is even cooler.  -- Chad Ward

 

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