Search for the optimum fish breaking/filleting knife

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LOCATION
What country are you in?USA



KNIFE TYPE
What type of knife are you interested in (e.g., chefs knife, slicer, boning knife, utility knife, bread knife, paring knife, cleaver)? Deba or other fish knife

Are you right or left handed? Right handed

Are you interested in a Western handle (e.g., classic Wusthof handle) or Japanese handle? No preference, although I’d like to try the Japanese style.

What length of knife (blade) are you interested in (in inches or millimeters)? 210-240mm

Do you require a stainless knife? (Yes or no) no

What is your absolute maximum budget for your knife? $500.00



KNIFE USE
Do you primarily intend to use this knife at home or a professional environment? Home. Breaking fish such as golden tilefish, blueline tilefish, black sea bass, yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi, and wahoo down into parts that are manageable in the kitchen.

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.)

What knife, if any, are you replacing? Traditional European and us fillet and boning knives

Do you have a particular grip that you primarily use? (Please click on this LINK for the common types of grips.) Pinch and pointed finger

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 and pull

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.) Better edge retention and smoother cuts

Better aesthetics (e.g., a certain type of finish; layered/Damascus or other pattern of steel; different handle color/pattern/shape/wood; better scratch resistance; better stain resistance)? No preference. However I do appreciate attractive knives

Comfort (e.g., lighter/heavier knife; better handle material; better handle shape; rounded spine/choil of the knife; improved balance)? Heavier with proper balance

Ease of Use (e.g., ability to use the knife right out of the box; smoother rock chopping, push cutting, or slicing motion; less wedging; better food release; less reactivity with food; easier to sharpen)? I would like the knife sharpened to its fullest potential right out of the box. Quartering and filleting. Must be able to withstand scales and ribs.

Edge Retention (i.e., length of time you want the edge to last without sharpening)? 4-6 hrs of fish cutting



KNIFE MAINTENANCE
Do you use a bamboo, wood, rubber, or synthetic cutting board? (Yes or no.)wood and HDPE, but will budget for good Japanese board

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.) Not really.

Are you interested in purchasing sharpening products for your knives? (Yes or no.) Not unless absolutely necessary



SPECIAL REQUESTS/COMMENTS
 
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210 mm is pretty big for a deba and pretty heavy. If you have experience with deba, they're great, but 180 mm will see you through most fish. For the new deba user, a 210 mm will just feel like an axe.

Only real tip I have is definitely learn to sharpen. A dull deba is waaaay less good than a dull western style filet knife - you get all of the bulk and none of the benefits of a single bevel. The advantage of single bevels (IMO) is that they're easy and quick to sharpen once you get the hang of it.

Pretty much any deba on the market will do you just fine - I would just aim for a carbon one over stainless. I definitely wouldn't spend a boatload on your first single bevel since you'll probably mess it up. But once you get used to the technique and how to sharpen it, a deba will make fileting (especially in bulk) a much more enjoyable and easy experience.
 

Greasylake

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:Iagree:

The only other thing I'd add is in those longer lengths, consider an ai deba. Generally similar thickness to a regular deba but less tall, which makes them lighter and easier to handle the longer the knife gets
 
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For Western fillets both Greg Cimms and ShiHan make some nice knives.
 
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If I’m gonna be dragged kicking and screaming into knife sharpening, what sort of paraphernalia will this endeavor require and what brand/steel type of Deba should I start with?

Years ago I purchased an enormous Norton three stone oil stone apparatus, and a ceramic rod. Never used them. Is that of any use in this application?
 
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For Western fillets both Greg Cimms and ShiHan make some nice knives.
That is certainly an attractive knife.
 

HumbleHomeCook

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If I’m gonna be dragged kicking and screaming into knife sharpening, what sort of paraphernalia will this endeavor require and what brand/steel type of Deba should I start with?

Years ago I purchased an enormous Norton three stone oil stone apparatus, and a ceramic rod. Never used them. Is that of any use in this application?

It's all abrasives. Sure they will work but I don't think you'll like the oil aspect for proper sharpening technique on Japanese knives. Your fingers can slick and that's less than ideal.

Now, guys like @cotedupy, @Desert Rat, @stringer and others can help with de-oiling if you wish. You can always post up a pic in the Sharpening Station sub-forum so the fellas can know the exact stones you have. Many of us are fans of India stones and you might well have one on that set.

That said, and please understand I have no deba experience, but my instinct is to recommend a Shapton Pro or Kuromaku (same thing) 1000 grit and one of the cheap 140 grit diamond plates from Chef Knives To Go for flattening. These are splash and go stones and the case acts as a stone holder so a nice way to get started and might be portable for you.

You'll want some other grits eventually but this might get ya started.

On YouTube, avoid Burrfection. Just trust me on this one. Look to Japanese Knife Imports, Peter Nowlan, and Korin as examples for good tutorial videos.
 

Jovidah

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I don't really see the point in investing in knives, particularly more specialized stuff like fillet knives, if you don't do your own sharpening.
You'd probably be better off buying something cheap like a Victorinox or a Mora with a pullthrough sharpener if you really don't want to bother sharpening.
 
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I don't really see the point in investing in knives, particularly more specialized stuff like fillet knives, if you don't do your own sharpening.
You'd probably be better off buying something cheap like a Victorinox or a Mora with a pullthrough sharpener if you really don't want to bother sharpening.
That’s what I’ve been doing for years, between professional sharpenings. I was hoping to find a knife that could hold a sharper, tougher edge long enough to allow another just like to be professionally sharpened, then just keep them in rotation.

However, based on what I’ve learned here, I guess I’ll have to put on my big boy pants and learn to sharpen knives.
 
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It's all abrasives. Sure they will work but I don't think you'll like the oil aspect for proper sharpening technique on Japanese knives. Your fingers can slick and that's less than ideal.

Now, guys like @cotedupy, @Desert Rat, @stringer and others can help with de-oiling if you wish. You can always post up a pic in the Sharpening Station sub-forum so the fellas can know the exact stones you have. Many of us are fans of India stones and you might well have one on that set.

That said, and please understand I have no deba experience, but my instinct is to recommend a Shapton Pro or Kuromaku (same thing) 1000 grit and one of the cheap 140 grit diamond plates from Chef Knives To Go for flattening. These are splash and go stones and the case acts as a stone holder so a nice way to get started and might be portable for you.

You'll want some other grits eventually but this might get ya started.

On YouTube, avoid Burrfection. Just trust me on this one. Look to Japanese Knife Imports, Peter Nowlan, and Korin as examples for good tutorial videos.
It looks like one of the stones is an India stone, just as you had figured. I’m going to look into de-oiling.
 

Famima

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I'd steer you in a different direction. Forget about a deba - I own a few and love using them, but they take practice and sharpening is really not straightforward. Look eg at a classic 6" flexible fillet knife (eg sabatier) and get a good steel to keep sharp. You'll go a long time in between needing to sharpen properly and these are much easier to get decent results with.
 

Jovidah

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That’s what I’ve been doing for years, between professional sharpenings. I was hoping to find a knife that could hold a sharper, tougher edge long enough to allow another just like to be professionally sharpened, then just keep them in rotation.

However, based on what I’ve learned here, I guess I’ll have to put on my big boy pants and learn to sharpen knives.
I'm not saying you have to change your habbit; if the pull-through sharpener thing works for you that's fine. It's just that with such a maintenance regime I don't really see the point in investing a whole lot in knives.
As long as it works for you there isn't necessarily a lot wrong with the whole cheap knife & pull-through option. And it's not like the job can't be done with the cheaper more utilitarian options like Mora and Victorinox; the majority of food in the world is processed with knives like that.
 

HumbleHomeCook

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I also wonder about the application of those Taiwanese style fish knives? Just in the "try something different" category. I mean, the big ones make quick work out of tuna in a bunch of YT videos.


🤷‍♂️
 
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…Forget about a deba - I own a few and love using them, but they take practice ands sharpening is really not straightforward. ….classic 6" flexible fillet knife (eg sabatier)…and these are much easier to get decent results with.
Disagree entirely. The steerage you get from a single bevel helps increase yields, and the way you can feel/hear the bones hitting the blade helps tremendously. Sharpening is actually simpler, though you do actually need an 8k stone.
 

M1k3

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Take my experience with a grain of salt. I've never used a Deba, so can't comment on whether they are better or easier to use.

That said, I've broken down quite a bit of fish. I use 1 of 2 knives. 260mm HSC Gyuto and 7 1/2 Victorinox Chef knife.
PXL_20220925_174210792.jpg
 

William Hunt

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I’m not saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but using a single edge knife for cleaning fish is a totally different technique than using a western style fillet knife. Hopefully, you can make the adjustments better than I have. I’ve tried several Japanese knives for fish and I still reach for an old Dexter when I’m in a hurry. A sujihiki seems to be a good compromise for me but that sharp heel scares me with slippery fish.
For $500 , I would find a custom knife maker to build a fillet knife with quality steel and a good heat treatment. Just my opinion.
 

Famima

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Disagree entirely. The steerage you get from a single bevel helps increase yields, and the way you can feel/hear the bones hitting the blade helps tremendously. Sharpening is actually simpler, though you do actually need an 8k stone.
I don't disagree that a deba (properly used) achieves better results, but it does take commitment to learn.

Re sharpening, its a minimum 2 stone affair and you'll need a flattening strategy. In reality to keep a deba in decent shape with regular use, you will need 3/4 stones because you will end up chipping it and having to remove metal up to the shinogi line, same if you mess up sharpening. (A yanagiba in this regard is a different proposition because you can readily maintain it with a single finishing stone for quite a while). Again, I love my debas and find sharpening single bevel knives really rewarding but I'd question whether owning a deba is right for someone who is indifferent to learning to sharpen.

Final point to note, a cheap single bevel knife can cause additional sharpening headaches due to poor geometry or grinding crimes.

In principle a single bevel is straightforward to sharpen, in practice it's clearly more complex, as evidenced by the number of people saying you will likely mess up your first knife at one point! (I did with mine!)
 
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It's all abrasives. Sure they will work but I don't think you'll like the oil aspect for proper sharpening technique on Japanese knives. Your fingers can slick and that's less than ideal.

Now, guys like @cotedupy, @Desert Rat, @stringer and others can help with de-oiling if you wish. You can always post up a pic in the Sharpening Station sub-forum so the fellas can know the exact stones you have. Many of us are fans of India stones and you might well have one on that set.

That said, and please understand I have no deba experience, but my instinct is to recommend a Shapton Pro or Kuromaku (same thing) 1000 grit and one of the cheap 140 grit diamond plates from Chef Knives To Go for flattening. These are splash and go stones and the case acts as a stone holder so a nice way to get started and might be portable for you.

You'll want some other grits eventually but this might get ya started.

On YouTube, avoid Burrfection. Just trust me on this one. Look to Japanese Knife Imports, Peter Nowlan, and Korin as examples for good tutorial videos.
😂Avoid Burrfection.
 
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Disagree entirely. The steerage you get from a single bevel helps increase yields, and the way you can feel/hear the bones hitting the blade helps tremendously. Sharpening is actually simpler, though you do actually need an 8k stone.
You definitely do not need an 8k stone for a deba.

To @M1k3’s point: like most butchering, you can basically break down anything with anything. I break down iwashi with my bare hands. I usually use a regular petty for saba and aji. For salmon I use a deba or a gyuto, whichever is closest to me.

But a deba can be a fun, interesting, and different. This guy does not need to spend gobs of money on 4 stones, a holder, and all the rest of the accessories. I promise you that most fish butchers at Japanese supermarkets usually have 1 stone - usually in the 1-2k range.

Sushi is a different story, but just breaking down fish for most fish butchers in Asia is not a huge investment.
 

mpier

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It really may just depend on what fish you are preparing the most. For example most of the fish I clean and prepare I have caught, and I am lucky enough to go out 20 to 25 times a season to catch fish for the year. The vast majority of the fish I catch are cod, salmon, halibut and striped bass. Since I only eat hole fish occasionally I don’t gut them often, instead I work around the rib cage of the fish unless it is salmon which has a lot to offer in that area. Cod for instance has very little meat over the rib cage and is easer and faster with a flexible fillet knife to go around the rib cage and down the spine to the tail. Most salmon I steak out and then fillet out the tail, this work is best with a deba but a butcher and fillet knife can also be used. Halibut the first cut is straight down the spine to generally split the fillet in half, a deba or fillet knife can finish the job.

I guess what I’m getting at if you are buying most of your fish pre cleaned from the market them a deba is a great Japanese style knife to use, but anyone who has hours behind a fillet knife knows there is more diversity in a fillet knife then there is a deba and for a-lot less money IMO. I have used both extensively and I could say the same for sushi type knives, I love using them but they are not necessary.
 
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I guess what I’m getting at if you are buying most of your fish pre cleaned from the market them a deba is a great Japanese style knife to use
I was with you up until here. I also think a regular filet knife does the job just fine for way less money. But this is where I just went “whaaaaaaat???”

If you’re buying cleaned fish from the market I’d argue you don’t need a deba at all.

I do agree that a deba benefits certain styles of cooking and prepping more than others. For example: when I break down salmon I can gut and clean the fish, portion all the meat in to kirimi style cuts or saku, skin the filet (in the case of saku), and quarter the head & section the spine (for stock) all with my deba. I’d argue that a deba will perform way better (even in the hand of a novice) than a filet knife for getting beautiful kirimi style cuts and saku. From whole fish to kitchen- ready product I can use deba from start to finish. The only part where I might switch tools is for sukibiki and honenuki, but I don’t think a filet knife can do those either. :p
 

mpier

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I was with you up until here. I also think a regular filet knife does the job just fine for way less money. But this is where I just went “whaaaaaaat???”

If you’re buying cleaned fish from the market I’d argue you don’t need a deba at all.

I do agree that a deba benefits certain styles of cooking and prepping more than others. For example: when I break down salmon I can gut and clean the fish, portion all the meat in to kirimi style cuts or saku, skin the filet (in the case of saku), and quarter the head & section the spine (for stock) all with my deba. I’d argue that a deba will perform way better (even in the hand of a novice) than a filet knife for getting beautiful kirimi style cuts and saku. From whole fish to kitchen- ready product I can use deba from start to finish. The only part where I might switch tools is for sukibiki and honenuki, but I don’t think a filet knife can do those either. :p
I guess what I was getting at is that most fish bought in the market are gutted and hole, especially warm water types of fish with thicker bones a deba can cut through the rib cage much easier than a fillet knife making the work much faster and cleaner, but both knives can be used depending on how you fillet your fish. I like using the deba but I still don’t think of it as a necessity more as a luxury in the kitchen.
 
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Sorry for the delayed response. I was on the road yesterday.

Thanks to all of you for your generosity with your time and expertise, and especially to those of you who even offered me a training knife to get started. I joined this forum to learn, and it has not disappointed. I'm having a pleasantly difficult time keeping up.

The attached photo shows my current fish handling collection. Absent are the Fallkniven F4 & MAC SF-85 that I leave on the boat. I really have no problems with the functionality of these knives. Each is effective in it's particular use. However, what these and the ones listed lack, IMHO, is any sort of "decent" edge retention.

The MAC seemed sharp as a straight razor fresh out of the box, but two tunas and two golden tilefish (the most likely edge destroying culprits) later, and I was hunting for that little sharpening wheel. The Moras and the Fallkniven seem to have the best balance of sharpness and durability. They will last quite a while, until they encounter a cooler full of triggerfish! The others, well they just need constant attention, but have served me well for years. Heck, any half decent knife will glide through pelagics (except sharks) all day long with little loss of edge. But none of these knives seem to stand up to the scales and/or ribs/lateral bones of deep water bottom fish or inshore species for long at all.

I started this journey looking for edge retention. I harbored the fantasy that some sort of super duper Japanese steel with some sort of special edge geometry would give me durable razor sharpness. During this search, I came to admire the art of wielding the Deba. So I figured I'd roll both things into one: buy a great knife and learn how to handle a completely different style of knife that the masters use to make fish breaking (of all types of fish) look so effortless.

Based on what I've learned in my very short membership on this forum, there appears to be no magic knife, at any price. If I want to guarantee myself access to a sharp knife, deba or otherwise, I must learn to sharpen it myself.

So for those of you who are still with me after this long winded explanation, I plan to purchase a relatively inexpensive Deba (please give me your suggestions) and perhaps a semi-good one, and a couple stones (and/or de-oil the ones I have), and start learning to sharpen. I'll probably start on the dexter russells or moras and work my way up.
 

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