Friday, January 8, 2010

What Knives are the Best?

A friend recently asked for knife recommendations. Weigh in! You can leave your comment on what your favorite is at the end of this post.

This is what I use almost exclusively, the Mercer Santoku. The little impressions in the blade side keep meat from sticking to the knife when slicing. I picked it up at Chez Cherie when I took a cutting class (Blog Post Here). The other little thing I picked up at this class, which has been very valuable, is this little sharpener. A swipe before cutting keeps my knife sharp.

My brother has posted several great posts about his sharpening techniques.
Check them out here (Knife Post Link)

6 comments:

cmc said...

Yeah, my "go-to" knife is very similar to the one you use and I really like it. It's also one of the few that feels right and balanced for my hand.

Keeping the darn things sharp seems to be beyond me. I have a knife sharpener, I follow the instructions, but I really don't think it does anything. Some of my older knives have trouble cutting even soft-ish things like peppers.

Family of Food said...

I have an electric sharpener and a stone. Neither works as well as this simple little plastic thing. cmc, Isn't your birthday coming up?

Family of Food said...

Nevermind, it's done... Sharpy Birthday CMC! Good sharpening.

Son of Food said...

There probably isn't any "best" knife, since much depends on how you use it, the task at hand, what feels good in the hand, budget, and how much effort you are willing to devote to maintaining it.

A santoku is a hybrid knife of relatively modern design, meant for home use and designed to be good at many tasks--a bit like a Chinese cleaver, sort of like a Japanese usuba or nakiri used mainly for vegetables, but it can rock like a European chef's knife. It's not a bad choice, if one only has one good knife, and neither is the European chef's knife for that matter, but people who have the basic traditional Japanese knives would probably say that each does it's specific job better than a santoku, presuming all the knives in question are generally of similar quality. That said, not everyone wants to deal with the maintenance of traditional Japanese knives or to buy three knives instead of one.

High quality carbon steel knives can take a keener edge than stainless, but they interact with some foods and must be cleaned and dried constantly. Stainless is harder to sharpen, but it holds its edge longer and doesn't need to be cleaned constantly.

A forged knife used to be a sign of quality, but today, there are many excellent knives that have been machined from stamped blanks and heat treated to have the same properties as forged knives, so it is may no longer be assumed that a forged knife is inherently better than a machined knife.

Heavy German knives were once thought best, and they are still very desirable, but lightweight knives are increasingly popular. In part I think this depends on whether you generally use your elbow as the fulcrum when chopping, which would favor a lighter knife, or rest the point of the knife on the board and rock it, which would favor the heavier German style.

The increased popularity of Japanese knives and lightweight knives, I think, has also led to the more common use of the "pinch grip," where you grab the blade between the thumb and forefinger to keep the blade from rolling. This was once considered bad practice in European kitchens, and is now considered by many to be good professional technique. At the same time, you don't see Jacques Pepin using the pinch grip, and you can't argue with his knife skills. So it's a matter of finding what's comfortable with the techniques you have.

I can't say that I care for electric sharpeners or sharpening gizmos, but at the same time, not everyone has the inclination to learn to use a flat stone. There are some excellent tools like the Edge Pro guide system that make it much easier to sharpen a knife properly by hand. I highly recommend Chad Ward's introduction to kitchen knives and their maintenance at http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/topic/26036-knife-maintenance-and-sharpening/

Rather than using a gizmo or electric sharpener, if you don't want to invest in a guide system and aren't inclined toward freehand sharpening on a stone, I'd recommend using stainless steel knives that will hold an edge for a long time, finding a good professional knife sharpener (which is admittedly not easy to find), and use a steel in between professional sharpenings.

Personally, I have a collection of Henckels, Wusthof, F. Dick and older carbon steel Sabatier knives, and each has its place. I kept them fairly sharp for many years with a double-sided oil stone and a steel, but they are all much sharper than they used to be since I started using Japanese sharpening technique and Japanese water stones.

Son of Food said...

By "professional knife sharpener," I mean a person who sharpens knives and does it well.

cmc said...

@Family of Food - you sweetie! Thank you! I look forward to giving it a try :)

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