Beautiful, Sharp, and Mine

On January 7, 2008, in Food and Drink, by peterb

Thanks to the generosity of my dad, I now own a really nice chef’s knife, a Kumagoro 210mm gyuto.


Gyuto – “Cow knife”

Dad decided to give me the gift of a sharp cooking implement for my birthday, on the condition that I research it and pick it myself. I suspect this was his own way of defusing his own lust for an ever-increasing number of knives.

There are a number of internet forums (of course!) discussing cooking knives, knife sharpening techniques, and accessories. At you’ll meet any number of folks whose passion for collecting knives is exceeded only by their passion for talking about them. The forums at are equally helpful.

Particularly useful in my search was the knives section of, although I ended up going off their list; I wanted a “wa” style handle, and I’m a total sucker for the hammer finish on the Kumagoro. I was also intrigued (read: hypnotized) by the Damascus layers on the Hattori HD, but the particular model was want is out of stock.

The common wisdom is that European style knives have a symmetrical bevel, or edge, whereas Asian knives often have an asymmetrical, or sometimes just a single bevel. For this knife, I selected a Japanese-made knife that (apart from the handle) still has a very European form factor. I’ve been cooking with a modest Henckels set for years, and don’t want to throw my technique out the window. For my next knife – as if there’s any question that I’m getting another? – I’m considering something with an assymetrical bevel. I’m also thinking about the Shun Santoku that Alton Brown recommends.

There are those, including the New York Times, who claim that the only knife you need is a cleaver, but this just doesn’t seem to work out for me. I’m used to chef’s knives. And it has to be an 8″ chef’s knife. 10″ knives are for poseurs.

Yes, I’m joking. What knife one uses is, in the end, largely a matter of personal taste. But I am never one to pass up the opportunity to engage in overly detailed discussion on the minutiae of whatever is obsessing me at the moment. So with that in mind, let me throw this open to the floor. What’s your favorite knife? What are you using in your kitchen? What, if money was no object, would you like to be using?

Bonne cuisine!


18 Responses to “Beautiful, Sharp, and Mine”

  1. psu says:

    Wustof Classic 6 or 8 inch chef’s. But, everyone should have a classic Chinese cleaver around if for no other reason than to crush garlic with a single swing.

    Also, in Chinese superstition, knives as gifts are bad luck. You should give your dad a quarter. :)

  2. Benoit says:

    Henckels and Wustof seem to change their knives often enough that I can’t keep track of which model of their enormous lines I like best. Generally, it is not the top-of-the-line ones.

    One wonderful knife I had for a bit, until it snapped in two at the hilt (!), was a paring knife from the Brazilian company that Bourdain, or perhaps some other equally-prominent chef, likes. It cost me $10 at Wal-Mart, but was well-balanced, stiff, and maintained an edge every bit as well as the Henckels I replaced it with. I haven’t seen that knife again; even if it’s going to snap at the hilt, I’d happily pay $10/year for a good paring knife.

  3. DavidR says:

    Super-fancy knives are for suckers.

    Get a good old carbon-steel chef’s knife (that will turn funky black colors, er, I mean, “get a patina”) and a fancy sharpener. Use the sharpener.

  4. Tom Moertel says:

    If I had to pick just one knife, I wouldn’t hesitate to select a good, stamped chef’s knife. It’s what I use 80 percent of the time, and the other 20 percent is mostly unnecessary optimization.

    If I’m dicing onions or potatoes, for example, I’ll usually grab a R H Forschner 8 inch: the chef’s-knife shape makes quick work of dicing (especially onions) and the thin blade passes through vegetable flesh more readily than a thick, forged blade. If I’m cutting something hard, like winter squash, however, I prefer the rigidity of a forged chef’s knife (e.g., Wustof Grand Prix 10 inch) or a cleaver. On rare occasions I’ll grab a Santoku, but for the most part I have found the standard chef’s knife to be superior.

    Yes, it’s hard to beat the stamped chef’s knife. You can get good ones for about $25, which means you can also afford to invest in a good sharpening and edge-aligning setup. (If you don’t keep you knives sharp, what does it matter how good they are?)

  5. Chris C. says:

    I have to admit that over any other characteristic, I like a _sharp_ knife. My main knife is an old Henckle 8″ chef’s knife, but mostly I like sharp.

    Can anyone recommend a good sharpener? I am not looking for fancy gagetry — just simple, and keeps things _sharp_.

  6. Doug says:

    I love my Kasumi 10″ chef’s knife. Yeah, 10″.

    I have only encountered one knife sharper than my kasumi: my dad’s rusty old carbon steel knives with the loose handles.

  7. Tony E. says:

    I’m no cook, which is probably why I have this 6″ stainless serrated-edge steak knife with a wooden handle that used to be lacquered, you can see at the edge and the sinking rivets, but now is more like driftwood. It has done everything I have needed to do in my kitchen for 15 years. It still seems sharp, but you know I am only kidding myself. :(

  8. Thomas says:

    My girlfriend got me a Global 8″ chef’s knife for christmas. Best holiday gift ever. I just had a utility knife before.

    And now you tell me there are knife forums I could be reading? My day is shot before it even really begins.

  9. For sharpening I’m going to spring for one of these:

    I can get good results from my bench stones, but not quickly or predictably. It takes a lot of practice to get the feel… and I resharpen infrequently enough that I have to relearn it each time. With the Edge Pro setup, I can eliminate one of the bigger variables (me.)

  10. Christian says:

    I’m using Wusthof – a 10″ chef and a 8″ santoku-style blade mainly. I’ve got a couple of old carbon steel French knives I found at a very upscale garage sale. They have a great edge if sharpened but I don’t like bothering with them too much. The Wusthof I have found over the years holds an edge better than any comparably priced Henkels (especially the not-so-good Spanish Henkels). Of course, like you all, I never, ever, put my knives in the dishwasher.

    Ok, you don’t really care about that. BUT!

    I wanted to tell anyone who didn’t know about the Kuhn Rikon (Swiss) paring knife. They sell them at Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma and probably other places, for about $10. They come in funky colors and the color extends to an enamel coating on the blade, and a cover matching the colored plastic handle. You may think them a bit silly looking. DON’T PASS THEM BY.

    This is without a doubt the absolute sharpest paring knife I’ve ever seen. I would even say they are wicked sharp. They are so sharp you will be glad of the little cover that means you can take them on a picnic or leave them in a drawer without risking stitches when you reach your hand in to get the knife.

    I consider paring knives disposable, but the oldest is at a year and shows no signs of not staying very sharp indeed. The trick is a carbon steel blade that is mostly coated in funky-colored non-stick enamel. This is a seriously small investment for a knife you will probably love.

  11. Julie says:

    Knife forums?! Trying not to click…

    But seriously, I was given a Global 8″ chef’s knife a couple years ago and I love it. Absolutely love it. Between that and my paring knife, I’m almost always covered. And a bread knife.

  12. Alex says:

    My favorite knife was probably the old Opinel I lost after many years. Not the best for cooking but all around value and utility were high. My favorite in the kitchen is the cheap chef knife I bought, mainly for the thin blade.

  13. Damn it. I lost 6 hours today reading about knives. Ending up ordering a Tojiro DP Damascus Santoku, and a Tojiro SD Petty… supposedly excellent performance for the money.

  14. peterb says:

    Mark: My work here is done.

    (The Tojiro is supposed to be awesome, and it’s beautiful. Let me know how it works out.)

  15. Greg L says:

    Three or four years ago I got a 7″ Henckels santoku and that rapidly became my main knife. I like my 8″ Wusthof chef knife, but there’s something about the way the santoku handles that makes me very happy.

  16. elise says:

    my dad, a fellow foodie, sent me 2 wusthof santoku knives for xmas. i was in the kitchen gleefully destroying a lemon, thin piece by thin piece for quite a while. while they arent the fanciest ever, they are damn fancy for the likes of me. sometimes i just like to go look admire them even if i am not cooking. im an insane person.

  17. dug says:

    got a pet peeve. fancy kitchen ware. ever since i started picking up stuff from the restaurant supply house, i’ve been truly happy.

    white-handled 10″ chef knife for $8, 18″ cast iron pan for $30 (weighing in at 2039482 lbs), 8″ teflon skillets for $12, all made to stand up to heavy use.

  18. I really like the two Tojiro knives. Both were 2nds, but not obviously so. In the UK everything is so damn expensive, the 2nds price resulted in a just under US price.

    The Tojiro DP Santoku is now my goto knife. It’s combines most of what I liked from my Chinese cleaver with some of the functionality of a chef’s knife. The Damascus markings are fairly subtle, but the important bit is that it’s damn sharp and nicely balanced. I’m sure it will take a scary edge once I have a chance to properly sharpen it. It is going to take some time to get used to it’s handling characteristics… I was showing-off with it (an onion rapidly turned into a pile of paper thin slices) and at the “ta-da” moment I looked up then promptly took a paper thin slice off the tip of my thumb.

    The Petty is now my wife’s favorite knife. For me it’s just a big paring knife, but it suits her lemur-like hands well. The single bevel is interesting, and it was wickedly sharp right out of the box.

    Combined with my Henckles Pro-S set, I think I have all I need (for now.)