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Buying Guides

The guide to selecting a knife:

Fundamental criteria:

Remember that about 60 – 70% of the work is done on one or two knives. Your favourite ones. Whenever you need to use a knife these are usually the ones you pick up first.

So rather than buying a set of knives – some of which are either used very infrequently or never used at all, it best to buy really good knives that you enjoy using all the time and then adding other knives to them as and when you feel the need for a particular size or shape.

Select the knives you need and are comfortable with, rather than leaving it to the manufacturer to sell you what they think you need. For example, you may prefer a chef’s (multi-purpose) knife that is 50mm longer, shorter or bit narrower than the one in a set or you may find a slightly different paring or utility blade more comfortable.

ONLY YOU CAN DECIDE WHAT IS BEST, MOST USEFUL AND COMFORTABLE FOR YOU – SO BUILD YOUR OWN SET – if necessary over a period of time rather than all at once.

Design and Material

The basic design of a knife has changed little in the last 10,000 years – a blade with a handle. What has changed, and is constantly changing, are the materials used in the making of knives and the handle shapes.

In very general terms, the price and quality of the knife are determined by:

  • The quality of steel or alternative material used to create the blade.
  • The method used to create the shape of the blade. (stamped, roll forged, drop forged, hand forged, hand hammered etc.)
  • The sharpness, the longevity of the edge and ability to stay sharp (determined by1 & 2)
  • Frequency of resharpening (determined by1 & 2 - though some very fine knives with razor sharp edges may require more upkeep)
  • The balance and feel of the knife
  • Quality of handle and quality of manufacturing

Remember what you are buying is a tool. So function and ergonomics are more important than the look. Buy the finest edge your budget will allow – DO NOT BUY A KNIFE SIMPLY BECAUSE IT LOOKS GOOD IN YOUR KITCHEN. Don’t make the mistake of buying a set of beautiful handles – a knife is the one tool that has to perform well in your hands several times a day. It is like a good pen, iron or vacuum cleaner – if it doesn’t work well it causes immediate frustration so buy the very best you can afford.

A sharp edge, the ability to hold a good edge, balance, ease of resharpening and a comfortable grip are what is important. Of course, it is important that the knives are aesthetically pleasing but feasting the eye is not the primary function of a knife – being able to cut easily with complete control is.

The knife is NOT a sculpture IT IS A TOOL. The beautiful presentation and controlled preparation of food that a good knife facilitates cannot be compared.

General rules for choosing the shapes:

The broader the blade the more it is designed for vegetables & fruit, the narrower the blade the more it is designed for cutting raw flesh.

Narrow blades are not suitable for cutting fast or with a traditional rolling action. They are also not suitable for chopping.

Wide blades, as they generally (the Kodeba, Kobocho & Houcho are exceptions) tend to be longer than their narrower cousins and therefore difficult to use for paring, peeling and general cutting in the hands.

The more curved the edge the more it is designed for slicing and cutting with a rolling action (as you see some professionals doing) and for chopping (with the tip on the board). The straighter the edge the easier it is for slicing (with a lateral action as in slicing smoked salmon), dicing (as you would potatoes or hard vegetables) and chopping with a straight vertical cut.

Paring / Peeling / Utility Knives –

These are the most commonly used knives in most domestic kitchens. The blade is normally between 100mm & 150mm in length it is a narrow slim blade and can be used for peeling, paring and slicing. The longer the length the larger the food you can cut and the easier it is to use for slicing. This blade should not be used for chopping because the knuckle of the hand holding the knife will stop the back end of the knife edge touching the cutting surface and so you will not be able to get perfectly clean cuts. The same will apply if you try and use a classic rolling cut action. There is also the danger of cutting your knuckle if you try and employ a rolling cut as the knife needs to be guided and controlled by the knuckle of the hand holding the food in a claw with the finger tips well away from the knife edge.

This style of the blade is known as Petit in Japan.

Multi-Purpose Chef’s Knives

These are generally between 165mm and 240mm in length. Wide at the handle end so that chopping and cutting with a rolling action are safe, comfortable and effective. The blade has a slightly curved edge with a straight part at the handle end so that it is easier to roll the blade and yet slice right through the cut during fast slicing. This type of edge profile also facilitates clean cut chopping with the back end of the knife with the tip on the cutting surface during the chopping action.

If preparing more raw meat & fish than fruit &vegetables look for a blade that is narrower at the tip end - a Gyuto or Bunka is a good choice. The Gyuto also makes a very good carving knife that can double as a Multi-Purpose knife for everyday use.

If preparing more vegetables than raw meat & fish then the Santoku or Funayuki are good Multi-Purpose blades. The Santoku also makes a wonderful knife for chopping herbs etc.

REMEMBER THAT IF YOU WANT A KNIFE THAT IS EXTREMELY SHARP THE EDGE HAS TO BE VERY THIN AND THEREFORE SHOULD NEVER BE USED WITH FORCE, HEAVY INTACT OR ON FROZEN FOOD & BONE OTHERWISE THERE IS A DANGER OF CHIPPING

Use the chart below only as a guide – remember that any very sharp edge will cut anything. The chart is not saying that you can only cut these things with that shape, it is to help you decide the best shape for the functions you want it to carry out most

Food and Desired Cut

Ideal Shape

Alternative

2 nd Choice

Collections

Slicing and Dicing Raw Meat

Gyuto

 

 

Classic; Classic II; Classic Pro; Best Clad BCC, BCS & Professional; Artisan; Hattori; Murata, Multi-Layer

Semai Gyuto

 

 

Dentoo

 

Kansai Poultry

 

Masahiro Old World

Bunka

 

Classic; Best Clad BCC & BCS, Black Caddie

Yanagiba

 

New Tradition;

Masahiro Tradition

Kobayashi

Takohiki

 

Masahiro Tradition

Butaniku

 

Dentoo

 

Santoku

Classic; Classic II; Classic Pro; Best Clad BCC, BCS & Professional; Harima; Artisan; Hattori; Murata; Multi-Layer; Masahiro Tradition; Ceramic

Funayuki

Classic; Classic II; Classic Pro; Best Clad BCC, BCS; Dentoo

Chopping and Dicing Large Joints of Raw Meat with Bone

Meat Cleaver

 

 

Carbon Cleavers

Chopping and Dicing Large Joints of Raw Meat without Bone

Slicing Cleaver

 

 

Cleavers

 

Meat Cleaver

 

 

Carbon Cleavers

Deba

 

New Tradition; Kobayashi

Ai Deba

 

Masahiro Tradition

 

Usuba

Classic; Best Clad BCC, BCS & Professional; Harima; Multi Layer; New Tradition; Kobayashi; Masahiro Tradition; Dentoo; Black Caddie

Slicing cold joints & carving

Carving

 

 

Sugimoto;

Masahiro Old World

Granton Edge Slicer

 

 

Misono

 

 

 

 

 

Yanagiba

 

New Tradition; Classic

Masahiro Tradition; Kobayashi

 

Takohiki

 

Masahiro Tradition

 

Gyuto

 

Classic; Classic II; Classic Pro; Best Clad BCC, BCS & Professional; Multi Layer

Artisan; Hattori; Murata

 

Semai Gyuto

 

Dentoo

 

 

 

Bunka

Classic; Best Clad BCC & BCS, Black Caddie

 

 

 

Santoku

Classic; Classic II; Classic Pro; Best Clad BCC, BCS & Professional; Harima; Artisan; Hattori; Murata; Multi Layer; Masahiro Tradition; Ceramic

 

 

 

Funayuki

Classic; Classic II; Classic Pro; Best Clad BCC, BCS; Dentoo

Raw Poultry and Game

Tokyo Poultry

 

 

Sugimoto; Masahiro Old World; Misono

Kansai Poultry

 

 

Masahiro Old World

 

Gyuto

 

Classic; Classic II; Classic Pro; Best Clad BCC, BCS & Professional; Multi Layer

Artisan; Hattori; Murata

 

 

Bunka

 

 

 

 

 

Funayuki

Classic; Classic II; Classic Pro; Best Clad BCC, BCS; Dentoo

 

 

 

Santoku

Classic; Classic II; Classic Pro; Best Clad BCC, BCS & Professional; Harima; Artisan; Hattori; Murata; Multi Layer; Masahiro Tradition; Ceramic

 

 

 

Petit (135mm+)

Classic, Classic II, Classic Pro, Best Clad Professional, Artisan, Misono, Hattori, Murata.

Slicing and filleting raw fish

Yanagiba

 

 

New Tradition;

Masahiro Tradition

Kobayashi

Takohiki

 

 

Masahiro Tradition

 

Gyuto

 

Classic; Classic II; Classic Pro; Best Clad BCC, BCS & Professional; Multi Layer

Artisan; Hattori; Murata

 

Bunka

 

 

 

Sashimi

 

Classic

 

Flexible

 

Misono

 

 

 

 

       

General differences between the steels:

Most Stainless Steel knives do not hold their edge well unless they have been heat treated or hardened by some other method so that the steel has achieved a Rockwell rating of at least 56:58 – anything less than this and the knife will lose its edge fairly quickly. It is also harder to resharpen than High Carbon Steel (both stainless and staining). The basic principle here is that the more Chromium the blade has the harder it is to maintain a good edge. So if buying a Stainless Steel knife look for one that has Molybdenum and Vanadium rather than just Chromium and one that’s been hardened to 58 or more on the HRC scale (any knife seller worth his salt will know the hardness of his various knives).

High Carbon Steel holds its edge very well. Stainless High Carbon Steel is harder to resharpen than High Carbon Steel that does stain (though the difference between these two is marginal)

Tool steels and industrial machine steels are the best.

A general guideline is: the higher the carbon content of the steel, the longer the edge will last and the easier it will be to resharpen.

Blade Material Guide

Material

Carbon Content

Edge Retention

Capacity

 

Initial / First Sharpening

 

 

Frequency of re-sharpening

Ease of Sharpening

 

 

Guideline

Cost of a 165mm Chefs Knife

Stainless Steel

Less than 0.5%

Poor

 

2/3 Months

After every use

Very Difficult

£5 - £10

Stainless Steel with Molybdenum Vanadium

Less than 0.5%

Adequate

3/4 months

Every week

Difficult

 

£25 - £45

High Carbon Stainless Steel

Less than 0.8%

Good

5/6 months

Every 4/6

Weeks

Moderate

£35 - £60

High Carbon Steel

Eg AUS 8, AUS 10 & MBS 26

0.8%+

Good

5/6 months

Every 2/3

Months

Easy

£35 - £60

High Carbon Steel

Eg Yasuki Steel,

Aogami No1 & No 2 Blue

VG10

More than

1%

Very Good

6/8 months

Every 2/3 months

Very Easy

£50 - £80

High-Speed Steel

Eg HRS 15

More than 1.5%

The Best

 

12/18 months

Every 4/5

months

Moderate

 

 

£100 - £150

Zirconium Ceramic

Not applicable

Very, very good

12/18 months

Every 6/9 months

Moderate

Only Diamond

£120+

Titanium

Not applicable

Questionable

Variable *

Every 4/6 months

Difficult

£90 - £130

Advantages of Laminated Steel.

The primary advantage of having a blade made from laminated steel is that having soft outer layers with a very hard central core means that the edge will last longer before blunting and is a lot easier to resharpen.

Laminated, layered and folded steels generally have a High Carbon central core, which forms the cutting edge and so will hold their sharpness as long as a single layer blade made of the same steel. However, as the outer layers (the 2 sides of the blade) are soft stainless steel they are much, much easier to resharpen. As a result, we can make the central core much harder than if the blade were constructed from a steel of the same hardness because it is still easy to resharpen.

Establish your priorities:

  • Budget
  • Does your knife definitely have to be stainless?
  • Are you able to sharpen the knife at home?
  • Are you willing to learn how to sharpen the knife at home?
  • What is a comfortable length for you?
  • Are there specific jobs you want the knife to perform (e.g boning, filleting fish, chopping herbs etc.)

General rules for choosing the shapes:

The broader the blade the more it is designed for vegetables & fruit, the narrower the blade the more it is designed for cutting raw flesh.

Narrow blades are not suitable for cutting fast or with a traditional rolling action. They are also not suitable for chopping.

Wide blades, as they generally (the Kodeba, Kobocho & Houcho are exceptions) tend to be longer than their narrower cousins and therefore difficult to use for paring, peeling and general cutting in the hands.

The more curved the edge the more it is designed for slicing and cutting with a rolling action (as you see some professionals doing) and for chopping (with the tip on the board). The straighter the edge the easier it is for slicing (with a lateral action as in slicing smoked salmon), dicing (as you would potatoes or hard vegetables) and chopping with a straight vertical cut.

Single sided or double sided

Single sided blades are sharpened on one side only, whilst double sided ones are sharpened on both sides.

Traditional Japanese knives are single sided (e.g. New Tradition Collection, Masahiro Tradition Collection or Kobayashi Collection). This allows a finer slice and lifts the slice off the food being cut.

Resharpening requires a different method or the use of a specialist sharpener like the JKC KC110. Resharpening these knives is very easy and a razor edge sharp enough to shave with !! can be very easily achieved.

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