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New Set of Knives - Recommendations please

Sun Nov 24, 2013 12:05 pm

I have a set of Cuisinart brand knives I bought a few years ago that I have been commanded by my special lady, who does almost all of the cooking, to replace. I have been asked to get traditional Japanese knives, and I would like to fulfill that request if it makes sense to do so (please see the first question below). I would like to get 3, maybe 4, knives of very high quality for every day use.

The set being replace consists of (1) chef's knife with 5 inch blade; (2) sontuko knife with a 4 1/2 inch blade; (3) paring knife with a 3 1/2 blade and a (4) bread knife. The reason for replacement is that despite all of the knives (except the bread knife) having been sharpened only three months ago and a steel being used on each of them after every use, all of the knives are dull again and, even immediately after sharpening, they never seemed that sharp to begin with.

First Question: I have been asked to get Japanese knives because of superior sharpness, and harder, yet lighter, steel. After some research, I have noticed that most of the knife models for sale tend to be described for use on fish (deba, gyoto, yanagi, maguro, and the knives for octopus and blowfish) and vegetables (nakiri, usaba). I assume these descriptions reflect the Japanese cuisine, and that many Japanese knives -- suntoku, deba and gyoto knives, for example -- can be successfully used for other protein, like chicken and beef. In other words, I would assume that a set of traditional Japanese knives can be used successfully to help prepare typical western foods using chicken and beef dishes, as well as fish and vegetables, but would like your views, particularly if that assumption is incorrect.

Second Question: Assuming the answer to my first question is that traditional Japanese knives are fine for preparing western foods, I would appreciate recommendations for three to four knives. (Traditional Japanese knives is the request I have been asked to fulfill). I would like knives with traditional handles and single edge for right-handed use. My lady friend, the primary user, is small - about 5'2" tall, and small-framed. I, the secondary user, am no guargantuan either. We are fine with washing the knives by hand, and drying the blades after use, but I think the stainless steel outside (kasumi?) construction, which I understand to be lower maintenance, would be preferable to honyaka constructed knives. In addition, neither of us are going to sharpen the knives using whet stones, so I want knives that will have a superior, razor sharp edge between professional sharpenings.

My budget is $400-$800 dollars for the whole shabang, and would love to be on the lower end if I can do that and still have high quality knives that with great edges and lasting power.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Re: New Set of Knives - Recommendations please

Sun Nov 24, 2013 12:57 pm

A few things. The single beveled knives are generally task specific and not general all around knives. Deba, Usuba, Yanagiba are the 3 common single beveled knives. Japan also has double beveled knives that are commonly used: gyuto, santoku, nakiri, sujihiki, petty, etc. Most of the knives available are not that size. You will have a very hard time finding 5" chef, 4.5" santoku knives. They start at 165mm blade length and go up from there. Learning to sharpen is easy and the knives I will list will mostly be carbon core and clad in stainless or carbon and will be very easy to sharpen!

The first 2 blades are redundant. A 5" chefs knife is hard to find, as is a 4.5" santoku. Most chefs knives start at 180mm (~7" blade) and go up from there. Most santoku's are 165mm (6.5" blade). Here are some nice smaller blades to check out; these will all be double bevel! Takeda has some shorter blades, but they are pricey, $230-$300 for smaller ones!

6.5" long blade, but would make a nice santoku/chefs knife for general use!

I have one of these and love it, shaped like a short chefs knife, 6.5" blade or so, very useful in the kitchen!

These are also very nice, too:

Small petty's with Wa handles. A 120mm petty is around a 4.5-4.75" blade, so it's close to the 5" chefs knife:

80-105mm blade pettys:

I would honestly look for a 165mm Santoku or Funayuki, a small 80-100mm blade petty, a 120-150mm petty and for the bread knife, either the Tojiro ITK or Artifex Bread knife. I haven't seen a Wa handled bread knife since bread doesn't seem to be all that common in Japanese cooking. Also, pick up some sharpening stones and learn to sharpen. It will pay for itself the first time vs having a pro sharpen the knives periodically! It's very easy to learn and the knives listed above are almost all carbon core, and sharpen up quickly and easily. Get a strop, too, which is great for maintaining the edge between sharpening sessions!

Re: New Set of Knives - Recommendations please

Sun Nov 24, 2013 1:21 pm

Thank you for the prompt response. I meant to say, and should have, that I did not post the size of the outgoing set to say or imply that I wished to stay at those sizes. I posted them simply to show where we were coming from. I guess the real point is that we are moving to a Big Boy (or Girl) real knife set and part of the recommendations would be what size to use as well as brand recommendations.

Thanks again.

Re: New Set of Knives - Recommendations please

Sun Nov 24, 2013 2:53 pm

Some thoughts:

1) As Taz said, double bevel Japanese knives are great for Western style cooking. The single bevel knives have a learning curve and are more task specific.

2) I think is it a common sentiment on this forum that the basic kit for home cooks is a 210mm gyuto, a Western style paring knife or a Japanese style petty (not the same, but used similarly), and a bread knife. So it looks like you are thinking in a similar vein already. A ~7in santoku, funayuki, or shorter gyuto can be substituted for the longer gyuto if space is cramped or you are more comfortable with the shorter blade.

3) I like all Taz's picks plus a few others for consideration for the gyuto and petty:
http://www.chefknivestogo.com/richmondlaser.html (Available in all stainless, AEB-L; or stainless clad, carbon core)
http://www.chefknivestogo.com/tanakadamascus.html (carbon clad, carbon core)
http://www.chefknivestogo.com/kohetsuknives.html (stainless clad, carbon core)
http://www.chefknivestogo.com/moao2.html (kurouchi finish, carbon core)
http://www.chefknivestogo.com/masakagemizu.html (kurouchi finish, carbon core)
http://www.chefknivestogo.com/anryuhammered.html (stainless clad, carbon core)

4) I think all the recommendations so far have carbon steels in either cores or the cladding. Carbon steel sharpens to a very fine edge with relative ease but it will discolor due to oxidation and if left wet and/or dirty can rust. Care is involves wiping the blade clean and dry periodically when in use, washing as soon as prep is complete and drying thoroughly. It is not very difficult, but you should be aware of that. PS kurouchi finish is the black, rustic finish that helps reduce reactivity.

5) Japanese knives in general, and some of those listed above in particular, have much thinner grinds (the area behind the edge). This thinness is part of why they preform so well. You should be aware, though, that they are a bit more delicate. Mostly this means no cutting through bone, frozen products, and using care with harder produce. Like carbon care, the learning curve is not big, but you should be aware of that. Many forum members keep a cheap beater knife around for these chores.

6) It seems the default, go-to bread knife on the site is the Tojiro ITK: http://www.chefknivestogo.com/toitkbrkn.html

7) A few questions you might consider:
a. Are you cool with the thin carbon edges? If so see all the recommendations above. If not, post here and well have to look exclusively at stainless, maybe something with a thicker grind.

b. Do you want the knives to match? Mixing and matching tend to be the norm on the forum, cause were addicts, but you might prefer to be matchy-matchy

c. Would you consider learning to sharpen? One inexpensive stone, ~$50, is enough for most home kitchen needs. Most of us have more, but I think I mentioned were addicts. Here are a few stones to consider:

Re: New Set of Knives - Recommendations please

Mon Nov 25, 2013 9:21 am

Thank you.

I am comfortable with the carbon edges, so no need to resuggest with exclusively stainless steel options.

Also, no need to match.

I would consider learning to sharpen, but I know I would not do it. And I REALLY do not want to ruin the edge on $200-$400 knives learning to do it. But I appreciate everyone suggesting it, particularly so gently. I think I get it: buying knives of this quality without sharpening is like buying a high performance car and putting no-name regular gas in the tank. I will buy a stone, but I think I know myself well enough that if I can't watch Barcelona v. Real Madrid and sharpen at the same time, it is unlikely that sharpening will happen.

I have been investigating the options presented here and I (think) I have decided to get a 240 mm gyoto, a smaller (160 mm) santuko or funayuki, a kirtsuke (mainly because the knife tip looks cool and useful) a 120-150 mm petty knife, and a small petty knife. I know this will take me over my stated budget, but I am okay with that within reason. Are there any obvious functionality holes here? I assume one or more of these knives, for example, can well perform chopping vegetables like a nakiri. Would it be better to substitute a boning knife for one of these choices?

Finally, your website says masumoto is one of your recommended knife brands, yet none of the choices recommended involved any of the masamoto knives. What are your thoughts of the masamoto wa-gyoto or the santuko?

Thank you again for your help?

Re: New Set of Knives - Recommendations please

Mon Nov 25, 2013 9:50 am

While I do not know enough about the knives to make a suggestion as to which to get, I will say that you can practice sharpening techniques with your cheaper knives that you are replacing. The chances that you will actually all-out ruin a knife by sharpening are slim unless there is gross negligence/abuse involved. Without the abuse or negligence, the worst that might happen is they won't get sharp, and almost anything you do, aside from snapping a knife in half lol, can be fixed. Plus, even if you were to snap something like a gyuto you could still use it as a nakiri-ish knife. ;)

If you practice sharpening on a cheaper knife, or even just get an inexpensive Japanese knife to learn on, you would have some time to get used to the stones and probably have your own system you are comfortable with by the time you have to sharpen your more expensive knives. If it still makes you nervous, you might want to invest in an Edge Pro. Those seem like they would be pretty hard to mess up with.

The thing I am having to get used to is not steeling my Japanese knives. lol I am so used to grabbing my steel every couple of uses to true the edges of my cheaper stainless knives, I'm having to fight the urge to do so with my Japanese knives. lol Hopefully when the time comes to hone I'll remember to grab my strop instead. ;)

Re: New Set of Knives - Recommendations please

Mon Nov 25, 2013 11:33 am

Ah, OK! If you like carbon, look at the Tanaka Sekiso 240mm Gyuto, awesome cutter, blade looks cool with the damascus layers. Great edge holding, too! I like a Funayuki over a Santoku because it has more of a point. Murata, Yamashin and some others make nice Funayuki's and they aren't all that expensive, either! A Kiritsuke is traditionally a single bevel knife, but there are double bevel Kiristuke's. Look at the Tojiro ITK Kiritsuke. If you are getting a smaller petty, I would go with the small one and the 150mm. Tons of good 150mm petty choices, but I myself rarely use a petty, so I don't have much feedback on them.

Tanaka Sekiso 240mm, $190:

Tojiro Kiritsuki, $80:


Murata, flatter profile, $90:
Yamashin, $60, more belly, but a great profile all around:

So you are at $360 tops with these three ($330 if you go with the Yamashin Funy). Since the Funy's are 165mm, you may not need a 150mm petty, depending on how you use a petty. Personally, I don't use a petty much, so I will let some other guys recommend the petty's!

2 sided sharpening stone, $56:

These 2 stones make up an awesome combo:
Nubatama Ume Medium 1K, $67:

And Rika 5K, $50

Strops, stone holder and stone flattener for $60. These are nice to have, but not necessary (I usually just strop on some leather material I have here.):

Re: New Set of Knives - Recommendations please

Mon Nov 25, 2013 2:30 pm

1) Your line up looks fun. There are some overlaps in function though. The gyuto, funayuki, and kiritsuke (assuming double bevel) serve largely similar purposes. The each have strengths and weaknesses, which is why a lot of us have all three, but they still generally all tackle the same to do list. I am not a big petty user, so take this with a grain of salt, but the shorter and longer petty have a bit of overlap too, but some people live by their pettys so that may be appropriate for your habits. Two roles that are not obviously filled that I would miss are a bread knife and a boning knife. If I had to buy all new knives, a bread knife would likely be the second knife I buy. It is used for baked goods (duh), but also melons and since I don't own a slicer I can use my bread knife in a pinch. I cook a lot of whole poultry so a boning knife is really useful. If bone in cuts is not on your menu much, then pass.

2) Sharpening is a good skill to have, but you are the best judge of whether or not you will actually do it. At first it is time consuming because you are learning. I sharpen each of my knives about once every 3-4 months. Because of the number of knives in the rotation they are not dull when I sharpen, just less sharp than they can be. Because I am only ever maintaining an existing edge, it only takes ~10 minutes per knife. Your experience may vary.

3) I am not real familiar with the Masamoto VG and HC. From what I have gleaned on the forum they are good knives, but are not markedly better or more unique and interesting than other knives on the site so they tend to get the soft-sell treatment. The KS and honyakis are held in some esteem (I have not read anything about the KK).

Re: New Set of Knives - Recommendations please

Mon Nov 25, 2013 3:19 pm

Thank you for the comments and recommendations. I will make some decisions and go. Chanukah is extremely early this year, so I have to get cracking -- if the holiday weren't eight days long, I would already be screwed.

Re: New Set of Knives - Recommendations please

Tue Nov 26, 2013 7:46 am

I will add that while getting your own sharpening setup is very much preferred, you can and will survive w/o one. If you get hooked on the quality of the knives most likely you'll come back around and look to sharpen yourself. I went a year w/o sharpening my first one because I knew the sharpening contraptions that served me well with my old stuff weren't appropriate for my new high performers. I can't imagine now how I survived that way (oh the horrors. :)), but I did. If you don't know what you are doing with the "steel" you mentioned I'd keep it away from your new knives.
You can get a one or two stones and spend an hour every couple of months bringing them back to life when you're ready. Personally I'd pick those up and drop one of the redundant knives from your list, but hey either way you'll be good.
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