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Knife Questionnaire for a newb overwhelmed by all the options

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heymac08

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Hi All,

Thank you in advance for all your help with this!


LOCATION
What country are you in?
US

KNIFE TYPE
What type of knife are you interested in (e.g., chefs knife, slicer, boning knife, utility knife, bread knife, paring knife, cleaver)?
Chef, slicer, bread for sure. Not sure what makes more sense - a utility or paring. A rec for a cleaver would be a nice bonus. A rec for steak knives would be a super bonus.

Are you right or left handed?
Right

Are you interested in a Western handle (e.g., classic Wusthof handle) or Japanese handle?
Japanese

What length of knife (blade) are you interested in (in inches or millimeters)?
The typical size for each? Unsure.

Do you require a stainless knife? (Yes or no)
Unsure, whatever is best

What is your absolute maximum budget for your knife?
~$200 per knife. Unsure how much great Japanese steak knives cost and sharpening supplies.

KNIFE USE
Do you primarily intend to use this knife at home or a professional environment?
Home as I cook a lot.

What are the main tasks you primarily intend to use the knife for (e.g., slicing vegetables, chopping vegetables, mincing vegetables, slicing meats, cutting down poultry, breaking poultry bones, filleting fish, trimming meats, etc.)? (Please identify as many tasks as you would like.)
All of the above given I'm looking for multiple knives.

What knife, if any, are you replacing?
Zwillings Twin Signature Series block set. I'm okay with it, but would like a killer new setup for our soon to be remodeled kitchen.

Do you have a particular grip that you primarily use? (Please click on this LINK for the common types of grips.)
Not really, I sometimes use finger point, hammer.

What cutting motions do you primarily use? (Please click on this LINK for types of cutting motions and identify the two or three most common cutting motions, in order of most used to least used.)
Push
Rocking


What improvements do you want from your current knife? If you are not replacing a knife, please identify as many characteristics identified below in parentheses that you would like this knife to have.)
Something that stays sharper, longer
Lighter with better handle
Prefer a lighter (color) handle

Something that has great edge retention
Usable out of the box


KNIFE MAINTENANCE
Do you use a bamboo, wood, rubber, or synthetic cutting board? (Yes or no.)
Bamboo, walnut and synthetic. Am interested in purchasing anything recommended.

Do you sharpen your own knives? (Yes or no.)
No

If not, are you interested in learning how to sharpen your knives? (Yes or no.)
Yes

Are you interested in purchasing sharpening products for your knives? (Yes or no.)
Yes


SPECIAL REQUESTS/COMMENTS
I'm female with not the biggest hands, preferably nothing too thick in the handle. Lighter colored handle. In a perfect world, I wouldn't want to upgrade any of these knives in the next 5 years, so perhaps knives I would grow into as I learn how to use them. The options on here are so overwhelming, my brain is spread thin looking at them all. Also looking to get a nice magnetic wall piece for the knives.

If you could make me a perfect set of knives and stones (that ill hopefully eventually learn to use), what would they be? Any links to where I could find your suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thank you so much everyone! :)
 

daveb

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Welcome.

I'll suggest a single, 210 - 225mm gyuto as your first knife. Try it on, see what you like about it. A good gyuto will be able to make all manner of big things into little things. Even portioning (slicer) and bread duties. See what you like about it then upgrade / diversify as you like.

Gesshin Wa Stainless from JKI is a great starting point and at $130ish will get you into the shallow end of the pool.

If you want to go right to the deep end, still suggest a single knife but budget 2-300 for it. The gyuto will be the knife you use 90% of the time - even with a rack full of knives. Gessin Uraku, Gesshin Ginga and Gengetsu, all from JKI merit consideration. Kashima Yoshikane from Cleancut and Amekiri or Tanaka from Knives and Stones are also very good choices.

A phone call to Jon and his staff at JKI would be time very well spent.

Before a good recommendation for stones can be made, you should decide if you want soaking stones or splash and go. Difference is not so much getting them wet as getting them dry. Takes a couple days to dry a soaker, s&g are fine overnight. I prefer soakers when I can keep them perma soaked (in water all the time). They feel better to use and are more forgiving. S&G are usually cheaper and have less logistics requirements. A google search of the site should provide a lot of discussion of each.
 
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LostHighway

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Let 's start with cutting boards. Don't buy bamboo, they are hell on knife edges. End grain (butcher block) cherry, maple, or walnut are all good but they tend to be extremely heavy if they are reasonably large. The Japanese Hinoki or Aomori Hiba boards are typically thinner and lighter but a bit more prone to warp, split, absorb odors or stain. These issues can be addressed up to a point. Hi-Soft boards are edge friendly and medium weight. They can stain or warp but IME less so than Hinoki. They are however, heavier for a given size. Asahi and Sani-Tuff are loosely similar but I have no experience with those. The Hasegawa, brown, wood core boards have been a favorite around here lately. Don't use serrated knives on your good board, buy plastic, Epicurean, or San Jamar Tuff-Cut for more brutal use.
Don't spend crazy money on a bread knife, even the $22 Tojiro is adequate. Save your funds for the other knives.
@daveb gave you a good intro to chef knives and sharpening stones. There will probably be more questions to give you more specific advice.
The CCK 1303 or 1302 is the usual cleaver recommendation here but they are not intended for bones so if you need a bone chopper look elsewhere.
Both JKI (Japanese Knife Imports) and K&S are well respected shops. I would add Carbon Knife Co. (Denver) and Bernal, local to you in SF and Oakland, to that list.
 

Noodle Soup

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I second the comment on no bamboo. I do a lot of Chinese/South East Asian cooking and learned the hard way bamboo doesn't stand up to heavy cleaver use.
 

Nemo

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@daveb offers some excellent advice.

Don't buy a set, buy a knife for each role.

Start with a single knife. I suggest a 210mm gyuto given you have small hands. Learn to use a pinch grip. This makes handle size almost irrelevant and gives much greater control over the knife. It also effectively shortens the knife by around an inch (because your grip is further forward).

If you are not sure, start with a stainless knife. Even so, never put it in the dishwasher. Clean it and dry it soon after use. Immediately is better. Did I mention not to put it in the dishwasher?

While on knife care, be aware that the knives that will be recommended here are made of very hard but brittle steel. They are more fragile than you are used to. The thin, brittle edge is especially vulneralble to lateral (sideways) forces. Of course, avoid dropping them or banging the edge on anything hard. Don't cut bones, frozen foods, large hard seeds (such as in an avocado or apricot) or any similarly hard items. Keep your old knives as "beaters" for this job. Avoid scraping with the edge. Flip it over and scrape witht he spine. Avoid rotating the knife while the edge is in forceful contact with the board. It is possible to rock chop without rotating the knife if you are careful. Walk-chopping is much harder to do. Besides, these knives perform much better with push cut, push slice and draw slice techniques.

It may be hard to find light coloured handles without spending a lot.

If you want to prioritise ultimate edge retention, it is hard to go past PM (powder metallurgy) steels. These are often (incorrectly) called super steels. PM is a way of adding lots of alloying elements to the steel which adds a lot of abrasion resistance, which in turn improves edge retention. The downside is that the ultimate level of sharpness is less than carbon steels but they still get pretty sharp and you probably won't notice the difference until you have been sharpening good knives for a year or so. They certainly get orders of magnitude sharper than Western stainless knives.

In this space, look at:
Gesshin Kagero. Comes with a Saya which makes it good value.
Akifusa
Kurosaki Shizuku (also check Kurosaki Shenko but it is a little too thin for a first knife IMO).
Shiro Kamo Syousin Suminagashi/ Shinko Kurokumo

I know that you said you wanted a wa handle but it is worth considering Ryusen Blazen. An excellent all- round knife.

There are other PM knives around that I haven't used- others may chime in.

If edge retention is not so important, there are other options to look at. In some ways these are better entry knives despite their lower (but still ok) edge retention. They are often a little less brittle and you will at least get a bit more practice sharpening.

In this space, Gesshin Stainless and Gesshin Uraku are often recommemded as gateway knives, as is Tanaka Ginsan Nashiji.
 
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Nemo

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I should add that if you are keen to learn how to care for a carbon steel knife (not that hard, really), you will get the benefit of much easier sharpening. Indeed, these are ideal knives to learn sharpening on.

The downsides are that they do not tolerate being left wet or dirty for any length of time. I just wash and throughly dry them immediately after use and they are fine. I also tend to give them a quick rinse and wipe after cutting an acidic ingredient. TBH, my stainless knives get exactly the same treatment.

Another type of steel is semistainless which is almost as easy to sharpen as carbon steel and maybe half as corrosion resistant as stainless steel and tend to have decent edge retention too.

You may wish to consider a stainless clad carbon or semistainless knife. This avoids a patina, except for the exposed core steel, perhaps the first 5mm above the edge (the contrast looks kinda cool IMO). In this space, look at:
Tanaka Blue2 Nashiji.
Yoshikane Nashiji/ Amekiri. Available in carbon (white2) or semistainless (SKD) steels.
Wakui (white2)
Gesshin Gengetsu. One of the best cutters around at its price point. Stainless clad white2 or semistainless.
 
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John O

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I should add that if you are keen to learn how to care for a carbon steel knife (not that hard, really), you will get the benefit of much easier sharpening. Indeed, these are ideal knives to learn sharpening on.

The downsides are that they do not tolerate being left wet or dirty for any length of time. I just wash and throughly dry them immediately after use and they are fine. I also tend to give them a quick rinse and wipe after cutting an acidic ingredient. TBH, my stainless knives get exactly the same treatment.

Another type of steel is semistainless which is almost as easy to sharpen as carbon steel and maybe half as corrosion resistant as stainless steel and tend to have decent edge retention too.

You may wish to consider a stainless clad carbon or semistainless knife. This avoids a patina, except for the exposed core steel, perhaps the first 5mm above the edge (the contrast looks kinda cool IMO). In this space, look at:
Tanaka Blue2 Nashiji.
Yoshikane Nashiji/ Amekiri. Available in carbon (white2) or semistainless (SKD) steels.
Wakui (white2)
Gesshin Gengetsu. One of the best cutters around at its price point. Stainless clad white2 or semistainless.
Is there consensus on whether one of the Gengetsu steels is better than the other beyond normal carbon vs. stainless reasons?
 

Nemo

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Is there consensus on whether one of the Gengetsu steels is better than the other beyond normal carbon vs. stainless reasons?
I've only used the semistainless which is amongst the nicest SS that I have sharpened and has decent edge retention.
 

RockyBasel

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In addition to the above - all sound advice, I would add:
Kaeru- currently on sale at JNS 40% off - less than 200 but you get a great knife - 210 or 240 - you can get stainless or white steel
Also, Yoshikane - Well regarded Sanjo knife - you can at the 220-250 price point, but will require more care in use

Kaeru stainless is a no-brainer, great knife at an unbeatable price
 

M1k3

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Is there consensus on whether one of the Gengetsu steels is better than the other beyond normal carbon vs. stainless reasons?
Not sure if I'm answering your question correctly but I'll chime in a little. I have the Gengetsu in SemiStainless and have been borrowing a Heiji SemiStainless, which is highly regarded for it's SemiStainless steel. Edge retention between the two I'd say is about equal. Sharpening them felt about the same, maybe slight nod to Heiji. I think the Heiji is heat treated ever so slightly harder. Giggity. I also have a Takamura in a SemiStainless. I'd put that slightly behind the Gengetsu and Heiji. In my experience.
 

chiffonodd

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I've only used the semistainless which is amongst the nicest SS that I have sharpened and has decent edge retention.
FWIW I recently got a gengetsu w#2, been using it at home almost nightly for ~2.5 weeks. Lots of veg, mostly soft product. Cutting on a poly board but always careful. No visible microchips or rolls, no perceived loss of "sharpness" when cutting either. So it's early but I'm very happy with the steel so far.
 
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