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Choosing a Knife Set


NCSU Foodie
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Just like the title implies, I'm looking for some advice on choosing a knife set. I'm looking to start culinary classes next semester, and have always just wanted a nice set of knives to call my own. I recently was given a Hammer Stahl 8" Chef's knife, and it is by far the best knife I've used to date (things are just so much easier with a sharp knife), but after reading reviews it doesn't seem to be a very good choice of manufacture. I kind of had my heart set on the Wusthoff Blackwood's. I guess I just want to know whether I've been sucked into a name brand recognition thing, and Wusthoff isn't really that much better, or what.

Any advice or preferences would be appreciated.

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I like my knives. I've used the same series since the 1980's and they are still available from the designer's online shop - Robert Welch. The picture on that page doesn't show the full range - there's a better catalogue at the manufacturer, Taylor's Eye Witness.

Blurry photo follows. Sorry.

1_DSCF0049.JPG

Since the time of the picture, I've added a 10" chef's knife and the small paring & veg ones.

Edited by Blether (log)

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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Do not get a "SET".

Knives are just a hunk of steel with a sharp edge, basically an extension of your hand, the magic is in your hands, not the knife.

Because it's an extension of your hand it has to fit well, like shoes, it's very personal, and what works for one guy doesn't work for someone else.

99% of the work done in any professional kitchen is done with 3 or 4 knives: A 10" Chef's, a 5-6" petty or paring, a boning knife, and a serrated bread knife.

Focus on the main knives and only pick up the "other ones" when you need them.

If you get knives over $100 a piece, please, please, prety please leave them at home and get something more "workhorse" like Forschner or Mac for school or at work.

Hope this helps

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Those look like nice knives. From what I've been told/ what I've read I only know to look for a couple things in a knife. The 3 tang's, and the actual steel of the knife running the full length of the back of the handle. Other than that there would be how it feels in your hand and how long it will hold an edge, both of which are very hard to tell in a store setting. What else am I missing?

And thanks for the advice Edward, I'll see if I can save money just picking and choosing the knives that I need.

Edited by NCSU Foodie (log)
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I second what Edward says exactly. I do this for a living, anywhere from 7 to 15 hours a day 6 days a week, and 99% of the time, I'm only using my paring knife, serrated bread knife, and my 10" chefs, along with my trusty fish spat, and maybe a pair of long kitchen tweezers. I have worked with many people who have spent $$ on full sets - anything from cheap knives, to really nice japanese knives, only to maybe use one or two of them at best - it's just not needed.

I would research into a few knives for a bit. Look into your price range, maybe try and see how well their steel holds up, etc - also keep in mind, just because the steel is super hard, doesn't mean it's the best choice either. Being able to keep up with and maintain your knife is just as important, a lot of the super hard steels are a bit more annoying for general upkeep purposes - a really nice knife that doesn't have a good edge, isn't going to be much use to you. Once you have an idea of a decent knifes in your price range, then see if you can feel them out, see if they are comfy. Some decent knife stores will also sometimes let you test them out - let you bring in a cutting board and some potatoes and see how you like them.

And since this is for school, again I have to agree with Edward - you don't want to risk anything great there. Get something good but somewhat on the cheapside for a workhorse at school, but if you are getting a nice one, leave it for personal use at home.

Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality.

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I highly recommend that you read eGullet's Chad Ward's Knife Maintenance and Sharpening or buy his book An Edge in the KItchen. I learned a lot from reading these. If I had read A Edge in the Kitchen sooner I wouldn't have bought a set of knives of which I typically only use 3 out of the 8 knives that came with it. BTW, I use a 10" Forschner when I take knives to someone else's kitchen.

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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What they said. No set. You'll do 90% of your work with your chef's knife, so put most of your money and attention into that. And I wouldn't go crazy. I've heard horror stories from culinary students who had expensive knives. Your knives will be borrowed, sometimes permanently, sometimes just long enough to wreck them.

You'll be fine with a $5 forschner paring knife (I know people who cook in high end restaurants who use nothing but) and a cheap bread knife from the restaurant supply store. For a chef's knife, I'd look at one of the more workmanly Japanese knives that you can get for under $100. Probably 270mm. There are a number of brands that will outperform Wustoff at a much lower price. I'd check out the cutlery section at foodieforums.com and the kitchen section at knifeforums.com for expert advice. Read before you post ... a hundred people have probably asked for the same advice.

And I'd strongly recommend putting some of your saved money into a couple of waterstones (for starters a combination stone, like a 1K / 6K would be great). If you learn to use this passably, you'll likely be the only person in the whole school with sharp knives.

Down the road, when the situation merits, you can treat yourself to something fancier. By then you'll have a better idea of your preferences.

Notes from the underbelly

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Do not get a "SET".

Knives are just a hunk of steel with a sharp edge, basically an extension of your hand, the magic is in your hands, not the knife.

...

99% of the work done in any professional kitchen is done with 3 or 4 knives: A 10" Chef's, a 5-6" petty or paring, a boning knife, and a serrated bread knife.

Focus on the main knives and only pick up the "other ones" when you need them.

If you get knives over $100 a piece, please, please, prety please leave them at home and get something more "workhorse" like Forschner or Mac for school or at work.

This is excellent advice.

My suggestion would be to get some Forschners (they are Victorinox-branded in Europe) - wood handled if you really insist - AND an EdgePro Apex sharpener kit. I'm not the only enthusiast for the EdgePro on this site.

And then you should have sharp knives always.

And do read Chad's tutorial.Yes its quite long, but do read all of it. (After which you may not need to buy the book!)

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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My suggestion would be to get some ... - AND an EdgePro Apex sharpener kit. I'm not the only enthusiast for the EdgePro on this site.

And then you should have sharp knives always.

Edge Pro Thread: My Knife Sharpening Systems - EdgePro, Apex And others

I'll be sharpening my traveling knives today for use in a private kitchen at the Northern California Renaissance Faire for the next 5 weekends. I'll happily be using my Edge Pro Apex.

Edited by Porthos (log)

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

;

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I have 10" Wusthof that my grandpa brought back from Germany after the war (WWII) and it always makes me happy to use it, it just feels good. I also have several Forschners from school that have been very serviceable (plastic handles). Along with the other posters, save money and don't buy a set. Get what you need and add as you can (or wish). Good luck!

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Wow thanks for all the replies. I'm looking at just getting a 10" Forschner Chef's knife and just packing the bread and paring knives I have at home, because they will get the job done. Thanks for all the advice, ya'll probably saved me a lot of money.

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Of the knives I pictured, the four on the left were the ones that I survived on for 10+ years. I got the rest and we built the rack when the sun was shining :-)

Funnily enough the knife I use least is the boning knife, fourth from right. Not much bone-in meat sold here, for one. I like cooking on the bone, for another.

No, you don't need to buy 'a set'. But if you find a range of knives that you like, there's no reason to deliberately avoid them, any more than there's a reason to slavishly stick with them. Where there is value, is in trying different knives so that you're not settling somewhere mediocre, unaware of what's available.

I do like having matching knives, and I'm aware others don't give a monkey's for them. I'm at least honest with myself that it's primarily an aesthetic choice, rather than a practical one. They're still damn good knives.

Edited by Blether (log)

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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Why all the love for Forschners? I read the reviews, recommendation from Test Kitchen... Bought the 10" chef, boning, and a set of paring knives.

Good grip, but they don't hold an edge. I have to sharpen the chef's knife after every other night or they just drive me bonkers.

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What angle are you using Percival? Forschners/Victorinox use good steel (and arguably more importantly, heat treat) for Western knives, but you can't treat them like high-end Japanese knives. They just aren't that hard.

The other possibilities are that you're getting a tiny bit of a wire edge that's collapsing with use or that the grinder burned the edge. If it's the first, use lighter pressure when sharpening, particularly in the final passes; if the second, the problem will go away in time. How long have you had these?

No, you don't need to buy 'a set'. But if you find a range of knives that you like, there's no reason to deliberately avoid them, any more than there's a reason to slavishly stick with them. Where there is value, is in trying different knives so that you're not settling somewhere mediocre, unaware of what's available.

Agreeing with this. I've bought two knife sets in my life, the first when I didn't know any better and the second when woot.com was selling a 9-piece Shun set for under $250. I already had my trusty 240 mm gyuto at the time but the Shuns are hella nice to have around.

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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"I guess I just want to know whether I've been sucked into a name brand recognition thing, and Wusthoff isn't really that much better, or what."

Blackwoods are forged blades, most of the others recommended are stamped. I have a complete set of Wusthof Classic, Wusthof Cordon Bleu and stamped butcher and fillet knives by Dexter for breaking down primal cuts and whole fish in addition to the same types of Wusthof knives.

The forged Wusthof knives will last you almost forever but the stamped knives are much less expensive. My Wusthof's hold an edge quite well but that is only a subjective judgement.

I have not attended a Culinary School but most Schools have some sort of deal with suppliers to provide knives or sets at a good price or so I am told or read. I would contact the School and see what they have to offer, usually I would think these are stamped sets but they certainly will work. I have seen the Blackwoods and they are visually appealing but the simpler design of the Classic handle would be subject to less failures in the long term.

In the final analysis, its what you feel best with that will affect how you perform, so if its Blackwoods, go for it! Good luck.-Dick

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Wow thanks for all the replies. I'm looking at just getting a 10" Forschner Chef's knife and just packing the bread and paring knives I have at home, because they will get the job done. Thanks for all the advice, ya'll probably saved me a lot of money.

Spend some of that saving on an EdgePro, and make it easy to precisely control your sharpening angle(s).

It upgrades your knives.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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I wouldn't worry about the stamped vs. forged distinction; many of the best knives are stamped. Many of the very best are machined, or made by what's called "stock removal." My chef's knife, which is the most expensive thing I've bought for the kitchen, was made this way.

The whole trope of the superiority of forging came from the German knife industry, which is heavily invested in drop forging technology. In fact the only fully forged knives, in the pure sense of the word, are handmade by a smith with a hammer (mostly in Japan and in small shops scattered around the world), and these offer distinction mostly as artisan pieces. Needless to say, such art objects are not the most practical choice for culinary school or most commercial kitchens.

The Tojiro that victornet linked to is a great knife, although these used to cost barely more than half the current price. Their value led to huge popularity. Now they're at a price point with a lot more competition. The current value leader in Japanese knives (as of the last time I looked) is Togiharu's low end line, available at korin.com. These cost significantly more than the forschners, but less than just about anything else worth considering.

Forschner is a great value and has a nice thin blade. The sacrifice is edge holding. You'll have to sharpen more often than with harder knives.

Notes from the underbelly

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Just my $.02, I owned and used a 10" chef's way back in culinary school but when I started in the high end kitchens everyone was just rocking an 8 inch chef's. So to this day I've never bought a 10", 8" is perfect for me as my work horse.

Sleep, bike, cook, feed, repeat...

Chef Facebook HQ Menlo Park, CA

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So to this day I've never bought a 10", 8" is perfect for me as my work horse.

What style of knife? the lighter, 10" Japanese style knives feel pretty light and nimble ... closer to a typical 8" European style knife. A 10" Euro knife is quite a battleaxe.

If you work in a galley kitchen with those 8" deep cutting boards, I can see wanting a shorter knife so you don't go crazy.

Notes from the underbelly

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French style knives, and even French-made German-style knives are often lighter than their German counterparts. My 8" carbon steel Sabatier is significantly lighter than my 8" stainless steel Henckels.

Just from cooking at home, I actually prefer the heavier feel of the German knives. Granted I'm not working in a kitchen doing prep work long enough for the weight of the knife to make me tired.

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I've come to like them both for different things. I grew up using an 8" Henckels, so that feels the most familiar, but the 8" carbon Sabatier takes a finer edge, so it's nice for things that need a very clean cut.

I also have a German-style 12" Sabatier carbon steel knife, and at that length the lighter weight is a real plus. It's perfect for things like chopping a whole bag or two of spinach in one big pile.

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With a lighter knife, if it's really sharp (able to fall through food with a fraction of the force you're used to), you can adapt your technique in ways that will make you faster, nimbler, and more precise.

A heavy knife is great for lopping off the heads of fish and chickens, chopping chocolate, and lending to people. I also like mine for rock-chopping woody herbs like rosemary, or slimy things like sun-dried tomatoes. But for most cutting, a very sharp, light knife with a thin blade will outperform anything else. The caveat is that you have to adapt your techniques to it, because it's more fragile.

Forschners represent a pretty good middleground. Same metalurgy as the big Germans, but a thinner, lighter blade. A forschner chef knife will actually outperform a more expensive Wusthoff, but it won't hold its edge any longer.

Notes from the underbelly

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