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Cutting Bones with a Standard Chef's Knife


afn33282
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Hey eGullet,

My workhorse knife is a Trident 8", and I am wondering: should I cut through bones with this thing? I mostly deal with chicken bones, but realize I will be dealing with turkey/pork/beef bones in the course of things. Should I purchase a meat cleaver for these tasks, and if so, which ones do you recommend? No $100 wonders, please, as this will be pretty task-specific, and not for general use. What about an inexpensive heavy Chinese cleaver?

Thanks,

Chris

Frau Farbissma: "It's a television commercial! With this cartoon leprechaun! And all of these children are trying to chase him...Hey leprechaun! Leprechaun! We want to get your lucky charms! Haha! Oh, and there's all these little tiny bits of marshmallow just stuck right in the cereal so that when the kids eat them, they think, 'Oh this is candy! I'm having fun!'"
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I've used a Wusthof Trident 10-in. wide chef's knife countless times on chicken bones with no problem. That includes halving chickens and chopping off the ends of the chicken legs with the heel of the knife. It's actually one of the few tasks I have for this knife since switching to the somewhat more fragile Japanese knives.

I bought a German meat cleaver for the same reasons you're thinking about and I only used it a few times for that purpose. I think they are too heavy and too blunt to be optimal for chicken. I completely agree with Ben about getting one of the heavier Chinese cleavers (not a vegetable knife/cleaver), if you're worried about your chef's knife. Those cleavers are great performers for a reasonable price. Another option is a Japanese deba knife. They are designed for tasks like chopping off fish heads and work just fine on chicken.

Edited by esvoboda (log)
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Right on. What about sectioning beef bones to open up the marrow to the stockpot, etc.? Is this basically a job for a professional butcher with a bone saw? What about tasks that are somewhat intermediate between cutting chicken and beef bones? Er, splitting lobster shells? Thanks.

Frau Farbissma: "It's a television commercial! With this cartoon leprechaun! And all of these children are trying to chase him...Hey leprechaun! Leprechaun! We want to get your lucky charms! Haha! Oh, and there's all these little tiny bits of marshmallow just stuck right in the cereal so that when the kids eat them, they think, 'Oh this is candy! I'm having fun!'"
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Make sure you use your steel more often because this sort of behavior is going to more quickly knock your edge out of alignment. Using your steel will extend how long you can go before a sharpening.

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I've damaged the edge of an 8" trident by chopping through chicken bones with it. This was probably 7 or 8 years ago. About 2 inches up from the bolster, there's a ripple in the ege that you can't feel, but if you catch the light right it's easy enough to see.

It's not a lot of damage, and it never seemed to change the way it cut.

Still, it bothered me a lot at the time and I stopped chopping chicken bones with that knife after it happened.

Here's a craptacular picture - sorry it's the best I could take.

orig.jpg

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I was going to recommend this, instead.

And, a manual version, cheaper.

However, I will implore you, if you're cutting beef bones, those things support a 1500 lb animal that can move upwards of 25 mph. I.e. there's a lot of structure there. Stay safe and secure the bone in some form of vice.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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In my grad student days , I would regularly cut through frozen pork or beef roasts, by driving my 11" Sabatier carbon steel chef's knife with a mallet. It worked every time, until one day the handle (like arborite) split into four parts. The blade was otherwise fine.

Somewhat chastened, I reset the edge and put the handle back together with Crazy Glue, and bought a cheap, thick cleaver to satisfy my destructive urge...

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  • 4 weeks later...

I've been using Trident knives for 30 years. Never had a problem sectioning chickens, but I once chipped a blade on turkey bones using a 10" knife. Trident will replace damaged knives for life. I've had two replaced over the years. Some retail outlets will handle it for you.

Having learned that lession, I use a meat cleaver (not a Chinese cleaver, which is for vegetables) for beef, pork, turkey etc.

BTW, I don't like the Wusthof cleaver because it's got a straight handle and slides out of my hand when it's oily/greasy. All their other knives have a knob at the end that cups the heel of the hand.

He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise. --- Henry David Thoreau
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Chef's knives are not meant for chopping bones, period. A good Chinese cook's knife is more properly used for cutting and the thin edge is again not useful for chopping bones. Most of the ones sold are so cheap that you can chop bones and just throw the knife away if you damage it. A good Chinese chef's knife such as a Wustof is such a delgiht to use with its very thin edge and is ceratainly not for bones. Poultry is best cut with a 'Poultry Shears'. Chopping is best done with a proper cleaver which comes in different sizes and edge thicknesses. For bone splitting, Wustof makes a 13" 'Bone Splitter which looks like a BIG chef's knife but will cleave a beef marrow bone with no problem. Use the proper knife for the job. The reason I use Wustof is that they make all the above in various sizes. -Dick

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Chinese chef's knives or cleavers are available in many different sizes and weights for different purposes. They are most definitely not all reserved for vegetables. Not only are some just fine on chicken bones, some are much larger, heavier, and less delicate than a Wusthof meat cleaver. I am talking about two or three times the weight. One Chinese technique is to chop a whole chicken into pieces, bones and all. It's almost like dicing an onion! There's a good illustration of this in Barbara Tropp's The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking. However, I do feel that the thin vegetable models are the most commonly available here and you don't want to be doing this sort of thing with a vegetable model.

One good maker is Chan Chi Kee of Hong Kong. Here is a product list to give you an idea of the variety that are available. You can find these in Chinese restaurant supply houses like those in San Francisco's Chinatown.

Edited by esvoboda (log)
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My old butchers cleaver will split wood if needed. Use the right tool. About 3 lb.

Bruce Frigard

Quality control Taster, Château D'Eau Winery

"Free time is the engine of ingenuity, creativity and innovation"

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  • 12 years later...

At work today I spied a copy of @Chad's book and sat down with it for lunch.  Not that I haven't read it before, but it got me to thinking of a knife need.  For splitting poultry I use my heaviest chef knife.  But for smaller fowl the distance from the spine to the edge (2 inches) is too great to fit through the cavity.  My smaller blades have insufficient heft.

 

I know some people use shears for poultry but that is not for me.  Can anyone suggest a suitable knife style, Japanese or western, that would do the job?  I looked at the Wusthof bone splitter mentioned up thread but the blade height is probably too great, same problem as with my heavy chef knife.

 

Musing about Japanese knives I thought of hamokiri or kurouchi ryodeba.  Thoughts?

 

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56 minutes ago, btbyrd said:

My current go-to poultry knife is the Tojiro 240mm western deba. It's a monster. Also perfect for lobster and crab shells.

 

A little shorter than my heavy chef knife but just as wide unfortunately.  Any deba would probably be too wide for my application.  I've read there are at least 800 types of Japanese kitchen knives.  One of these 800 shapes is probably just right!

 

Meanwhile I made the mistake of visiting New West and ordered a fillet knife on sale:

http://www.newwestknifeworks.com/

 

My most used chef knife is from New West but I don't cut bones with it.  Or any meat for that matter.  Worse, New West has a new 11 inch chef knife that is calling out to me.  But which I don't need.  (Not that I exactly needed another western fillet knife either.)

 

I'm still looking for a knife for chicken bones.  Sadly I've been pricing hamokiri and Watanabe's least expensive hamokiri is $621 at current exchange rates.

 

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It turns out I may already have a solution to my problem -- my bone cutting problem, not my kitchen toy addiction:  a Chicago Cutlery BT43.  I bought this probably back in the 1980's.  I believe it was sold as a carving knife.  The blade is 9 inches and the heel is 1.5 inches.

 

The first two inches of the blade are serrated so I was always afraid to try to sharpen it.  I never found a use.  Long ago the BT43 lost its place in the kitchen, and for most of this millennium has been relegated to a mortuary of broken, useless kitchen junk living in the living room.

 

I plan to grind a new edge and see how it performs on a Cornish game hen.  I don't actually have a Cornish game hen in house but when this heatwave breaks I intend to go out to the store to get one.  (Or actually get two, since that is the only way they come.)

 

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@JoNorvelleWalker,

 

I'm glad you found the likely solution to your problem in your own living room. I have to ask though, what exactly are you trying to do inside the cavity of a whole bird?

 

I always remove the kidneys before cooking, and I have a hard enough time doing that inside a whole bird. A table knife with a blunt tip and very finely serrated edge works best for me for that task. The biggest hassle is to avoid getting injured by the stray broken rib that seems to be so common today in commodity poultry available at the grocery store. I always hope it happened post-mortem.

 

For spatchcocking or cutting up the whole bird, I use a filet/boning knife for the whole job, I do cut on one side of the spine through the ribs. I go at this from the outside of the bird. This knife works fine to disjoint the bird and even split the breast bone in half as long as I start the knife in tip first at the thickest part of the bone toward the middle. I go at this job from what would have been the inside of the cavity with the whole breast skin side down. This operation would benefit from a stouter knife and if I were doing more than a single bird, I'd pull one out. You can't pry with this thin blade, you have to cut and use it as a wedge. I wouldn't try to lop the ends off of drumsticks with it either.

 

If you are crazy dedicated to the culinary arts enough to want to debone a small bird through the cavity, please do report. :)

 

 

> ^ . . ^ <

 

 

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30 minutes ago, Thanks for the Crepes said:

@JoNorvelleWalker,

 

I'm glad you found the likely solution to your problem in your own living room. I have to ask though, what exactly are you trying to do inside the cavity of a whole bird?

 

I always remove the kidneys before cooking, and I have a hard enough time doing that inside a whole bird. A table knife with a blunt tip and very finely serrated edge works best for me for that task. The biggest hassle is to avoid getting injured by the stray broken rib that seems to be so common today in commodity poultry available at the grocery store. I always hope it happened post-mortem.

 

For spatchcocking or cutting up the whole bird, I use a filet/boning knife for the whole job, I do cut on one side of the spine through the ribs. I go at this from the outside of the bird. This knife works fine to disjoint the bird and even split the breast bone in half as long as I start the knife in tip first at the thickest part of the bone toward the middle. I go at this job from what would have been the inside of the cavity with the whole breast skin side down. This operation would benefit from a stouter knife and if I were doing more than a single bird, I'd pull one out. You can't pry with this thin blade, you have to cut and use it as a wedge. I wouldn't try to lop the ends off of drumsticks with it either.

 

If you are crazy dedicated to the culinary arts enough to want to debone a small bird through the cavity, please do report. :)

 

 

 

Nothing so adventuresome as deboning small birds!  I just wish to spatchcock or more often cut in half.

 

To remove the backbone I place the bird on the board on its back, and insert the knife through the nether end, making cuts through the rib bones on either side.  I have never tried going at it from the outside.  Then if I am cutting the bird in half I turn it over on its breast and slice through the sternum.

 

Maybe my technique is not the best?

 

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3 minutes ago, JoNorvelleWalker said:

Maybe my technique is not the best?

 

Good question. Perhaps mine is the aberrant approach. I was taught by my aunts at a major chicken slaughter operation in grandma's kitchen. I just hate getting scratched by rib bones knowing how unclean chickens can be today, and the outside approach seems to provide more room for leverage and just seems easier. Of course, I have the bird with its breast skin side down on the cutting surface when making the incision beside the spine. Opposite of what you do.

 

Now I am really wondering what other people do and what they think is the most efficient way to do this?

 

 

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> ^ . . ^ <

 

 

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When I spatchcock or cut a bird in half for grilling or preparatory to cutting it into pieces, I always cut from the outside, and then use poultry shears, to remove the backbone. I then flatten it on the cutting board, which breaks some of the ribs away from the breastbone, and repeat the process...knife first, then shears. I don't have a good enough aim with the cleaver to use it.

 

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Don't ask. Eat it.

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