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"Workhorse gyuto" defined. Or is it?

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DitmasPork

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"Workhorse" is a term that seems to be used a lot, without a concise definition of what its definition is. To me, "workhorse gyuto" is commonly used to describe a gyuto that's perceived as heavier, more robust, and an all-around gyuto—though all of those characteristics seem subjective.

Curious on how others here define a "workhorse gyuto"?

• Is a "workhorse gyuto" simply an all-around gyuto that a cook uses to get the bulk of prepping tasks done? Some cooks love lasers, and might consider it their workhorse gyuto.

• Is a "workhorse gyuto" a knife that's particularly robust and tough, capable of enduring the abuse of a busy kitchen? A "beater" might be a good candidate to be a workhorse if just based on toughness.

• Is a "workhorse gyuto" defined by a weight to dimension ratio? Akin to how boxing weight divisions separate super flyweight from bantamweight fighters?

If it's the latter, I'd be interested to know if there's a consensus on weight to length ratio that classifies a gyuto as a workhorse.

Gyutos often referred to as "workhorses" are Watanabe, Gengetsu, Yoshikane SKD, Blazen—as well as some gyutos that have used "workhorse" as a part of the gyuto model name, i.e. Kato workhorse, Kippington workpony, Tsourkan workhorse.

My personal preferences gets me gravitating towards gyutos that fit the "workhorse" label, whatever that definition is.

Below are some of my gyutos, all of which have been called a workhorse by various people. They're quite varied in weight, grind, etc.

Left to right: Mazaki, Mazaki, Kochi, KS, Masamoto HC, Kato workhorse, Kippington workpony, Tsourkan workhorse, Watanabe.

 
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DitmasPork

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I would define it with one word. "Toyama"
I don't have Toyama, but got two Watanabes (same maker as Toyama, is the word on the street)—the steel and grind are pretty awesome. So, beyond your one word—how do you define a "workhorse gyuto"?
 
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Carl Kotte

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I might be wrong, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there is no definition of ’workhorse’ simply because definitions are in general quite rare. So, maybe the best we’ve got are some prototypical example/s of something we consider a workhorse (and then some further examples that resemble the prototypes to a greater or lesser extent), and - finally - some knife types that definitely are not considered workhorses (e.g. boning knives, bread knives, paring knives etc).
 
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ian

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I think most people here seem to consider a workhorse a thicker knife with reasonable food release. So, option 3. One does hear options 1 and 2 in conversation, though.

(Btw, older versions seem to have been different, but the most recent batch of Gengetsus are not workhorses IMO.)
 

Carl Kotte

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I think most people here seem to consider a workhorse a thicker knife with reasonable food release. So, option 3. One does hear options 1 and 2 in conversation, though.

(Btw, older versions seem to have been different, but the most recent batch of Gengetsus are not workhorses IMO.)
Sounds right to me!
 

Lotmom

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I would consider a workhorse any knife that can take you through any task and survive moderate abuse.
 

DitmasPork

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I think most people here seem to consider a workhorse a thicker knife with reasonable food release. So, option 3. One does hear options 1 and 2 in conversation, though.

(Btw, older versions seem to have been different, but the most recent batch of Gengetsus are not workhorses IMO.)
I've not tried the newer Gengetsu, mine was from 2013. Lovely knife, but I never really clicked with it and traded it—same with my Fujiyama, which some people are into, but not my cup of tea.

I generally agree with you. If someone asks me to recommend a quintessential workhorse knife, my snap answer might be a Watanabe. Good food release, long lasting edge, a purely utilitarian classic.

But I guess what I'm seeking is a more specific and concise definition for the terminology of "workhorse," that currently lacks solid consensus. I suspect much depends on primary tasks that make up the bulk of a cook's day.

Earlier in the year I borrowed a Gesshin Heiji, beautiful and distinctive gyuto—checked many of the boxes for "workhorse," thick spined, weighty, great food release with most product. However, because of wedging on dense things, and far from being the nimblest gyutos, I'd be reluctant to use it as my "workhorse."

Personally, of the knives in the photograph, if I had to choose one "workhorse" gyuto to take with me, it would likely be a tossup between the Watanabe or Tsourkan. Though if tackling a large amount of kale, my "workhorse" might be the kochi.
 

labor of love

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Workhorse is either:
1) big and heavy with a thick spine similar to Kato workhorse.
2) a knife that has middle of the road weight, geometry etc etc and can be used as an all arounder.

The second option is open to interpretation the first option not so much.
 

DitmasPork

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I would consider a workhorse any knife that can take you through any task and survive moderate abuse.
The Gonbei gyutos from JKI would fit the bill, built for toughness and abuse. My "beater" is the Masamoto HC, been through the wars and still in good shape, it used to be my unicorn, it felt like a lot of money to spend since I was coming from Sabatiers.
 

DitmasPork

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Workhorse is either:
1) big and heavy with a thick spine similar to Kato workhorse.
2) a knife that has middle of the road weight, geometry etc etc and can be used as an all arounder.

The second option is open to interpretation the first option not so much.
The funny thing regarding the first option, is that my Kippington workpony felt quite light and nimble since I had been using Kato and Watanabe a lot!

Perhaps the second option partially explains the popularity of Mazaki—thick robust spine, yet quite nimble with its aggressive grind and distal. Also, maybe "price point" has a place within the "workhorse" conversation, in that only cook's with exceptionally large cojones would take a $1,900 Kato into a busy pro kitchen. Whereas Mazakis and Watanabes are very accessibly priced—won't make you cry if accidentally tipped in the sink, or dropped if someone spashes scalding water on you.
 

Barmoley

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There are definitely 2 meanings to workhorse. Thicker, heavier with good food release vs tough, can take abuse. I think thicker, heavier more convex, is the more correct "definition" not that there is one. My reason is that it is easier to agree on that than on a tough knife that can take abuse. Even though both are very subjective toughness is just too difficult to define. Grind and thickness you can at least see. Incidentally thicker, heavier knives tend to be tougher all else being equal. A thick knife doesn't mean a tough knife, but there is a tendency in that direction. For example Heiji is a thick, heavy knife with good food release, but most will agree that it is not a workhorse in the toughness sense because it is heat-treated very hard and the edge is more frigile than the thickness of the knife would suggest. On the other hand you can make a very thin knife out of tough steel, heat treat it for toughness, but most would still call it a laser due to grind and how it goes through material.
 

GorillaGrunt

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I’d maybe say either an all purpose knife or one that you don’t put away for a task because it’s too fragile; many of these you might put away for a task requiring extreme precision or lightness. Good food release tends to go along with this. Maybe to be more quantitative - edge stability under impact and/or pressure? So just a few opinions:

Mazaki gyuto - yes, quite thin behind the edge but robust under use
Mazaki petty - no, too thin
FRKZ k-tip in ZDP - yes, not very thick or heavy but a good grab when I’ve got a laser out and have to do a non-laser thing
Tanaka blue nashiji - no, almost all purpose but the edge will bend if used too heavily
Togashi blue clad - yes, very thick and heavy at the spine but wide bevel is tall enough to be all-purpose thin near the edge
Heiji semi-stainless - unknown! Heavy at the spine and thin at the edge, but I haven’t used it enough to see how it holds up
Masakage Kujira - no, ground more like a French cleaver. Now that I’ve thinned it, maybe yes
Martell regular gyuto - yes, definitely, though it isn’t unusually thick or heavy
Martell laser gyuto - also yes, I don’t know how he does it
Masashi gyuto - yes, the height and the reverse S/lens shaped grind probably is a big factor
Gengetsu gyuto - kind of? Not really sure?

ETA:
Mazaki stainless suji - yes
Misono Dragon suji - no
Murata petty - yes
Masashi VS1 petty - no
 
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dmonterisi

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I think an important part of a workhorse is that the knife carries some decent weight or heft behind it. it helps to get through volumes of product with less effort. having a thick spine with a significantly convex grind so that it ends up moderately thin behind the edge which allows it work on a variety of products.
 

Carl Kotte

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So while I agree with many things said about weight, heft and thickness of the spine it seems that these features (taken jointly) may not suffice for being a Gyuto workhorse unless one is also ready to count a heavy old Wüsthof, Sabatier or Dick knife (e.g.) as such. I kind of thought that the latter were meant to be excluded. So in addition to heft/weight/thickness should one add something like ’has a gyuto profile’ (though that criterion may not be very good for other purposes)? I guess that neither kind of steel nor type of handle goes into the defining conditions, but I may be wrong.
 
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GorillaGrunt

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Maybe less measurable but more binary: a knife that feels like you’re guiding it while it does the work by means of its weight and grind, as opposed to ones that feel like an extension of the hand and arm (the latter category comprises most lasers). More of a mech-suit than a longer, sharper finger and I’m really reaching here lol
 

labor of love

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@DitmasPork After looking at your Kippington that’s what occurred to me to. I want basically what you got from him but full workhorse version.
 

DitmasPork

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So while I agree with many things said about weight, heft and thickness of the spine it seems that these features (taken jointly) may not suffice for being a Gyuto workhorse unless one is also ready to count a heavy old Wüsthof, Sabatier or Dick knives (e.g.) as such. I kind of thought that the latter were meant to be excluded. So in addition to heft/weight/thickness should one add something like ’has a gyuto profile’ (though that criterion may not be very good for other purposes)? I guess that neither kind of steel nor type of handle goes into the defining conditions, but I may be wrong.
Wüsthof, Sabatier, Dick, Victorinox knives are definitely workhorse knives, and continue to be for many cooks. J-knives in pro-kitchens in the West remain a minority—most cooks I know are use Wustof and other Western knives. If thrown into the mix—they have a functional profile, robust, tough, etc.

With J-knives, there's much more variation—hence the issue with definition.
 

DitmasPork

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@DitmasPork After looking at your Kippington that’s what occurred to me to. I want basically what you got from him but full workhorse version.
Man, I wish I had a scale to weigh it. I asked for a slightly heavier workpony. Only scale I have is a postage scale, that's often off by a pound or two.

The asymmetric lefty grind is rad.
 

Carl Kotte

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Wüsthof, Sabatier, Dick, Victorinox knives are definitely workhorse knives, and continue to be for many cooks. J-knives in pro-kitchens in the West remain a minority—most cooks I know are use Wustof and other Western knives. If thrown into the mix—they have a functional profile, robust, tough, etc.

With J-knives, there's much more variation—hence the issue with definition.
Ok, fair enough! If heavy European knives should be grouped together with the other knives, I am fine with that. I still doubt that there is a definition. To say that workhorses are robust, thick and hefty chef knives does seem illustrative enough though.
 
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labor of love

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Man, I wish I had a scale to weigh it. I asked for a slightly heavier workpony. Only scale I have is a postage scale, that's often off by a pound or two.

The asymmetric lefty grind is rad.
Kippington is a rockstar now :cool:, I’m sure you could sell it to someone that would rather skip the wait list.
 

DitmasPork

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Ok, fair enough! If heavy european knives should be grouped together with the other knives, I am fine with that. I still doubt that there is a definition. To say that workhorses are robust, thick and hefty chef knives does seem illustrative enough though.
Yeah, I'm not suggesting including European style knives into the mix, since the original question was geared towards Japanese style gyutos (either Japanese or Western made). Seems like the definitions either pertain to weight or all-around usage or toughness.
 

DitmasPork

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Kippington is a rockstar now :cool:, I’m sure you could sell it to someone that would rather skip the wait list.
How long's the wait these days? Surely not as long as Heiji's four-month queue. When my name came up, think it only took a couple of weeks, give or take, for him to complete the knife.
 

labor of love

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I don’t what the wait time is. 20 orders ahead of me when I got in line.
 

Marcelo Amaral

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I talked to him recently and it's around 6 months.

As for the definition of workhorse, we could agree to use the word beater for a knife that can take a lot of abuse, all 'rounder as a blade that can take up a lot of tasks (more versatile), and workhorse for heavy, thick spined blades.

If i had to choose only one gyuto, i'd probably stay with a Takeda as it's not as heavy as a Watanabe or a Kato while its edge can take a bit more abuse, making it more versatile.
 

DitmasPork

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An industry made up term. One man's workhorse in another man's lightweight, and vise versa....
Yup, "workhorse" is as much an industry name as "gyuto" or "chef's knife" in that it serves the purpose of helping the buyer to get an idea of what they're buying be establishing a general definition.

The mass produced blades are usually good all-arounders, have to be since they're aimed at such a wide user base. Masamoto HC, MacPro, Misono, all very good, compared to the Wustof and Sabs that I used.

I generally know what people mean with "workhorse," just wanted to better articulate it for myself. Some useful observations posted.
 

McMan

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Not all “workhorse” knives have a “workhorse” grind… So, the discussion gets murky due to semantics… Really the discussion is going in two directions—or there are two questions: What defines a workhorse knife vs. what characteristics define a workhorse grind.
For me, the term “workhorse” is more instructive when it refers to a grind type as opposed to just a thick/heavy knife.

Workhorse knife
For me, a workhorse knife is, at a minimum, something relatively thick at the spine and heavy (200g +) with good food release. Watanabe and Toyama fit these characteristics, but they are also knives that have high hardness. There’s an argument to be made, too, thatlower hardness benefits a workhorse by adding toughness/durability. I’m thinking Matsubara here.

Workhorse grind
Kato, Kippington, the new Marko, some of the thick newer Maz, all tackle share similar grind characteristics: thick spine, convex (usually higher up the blade face), not overly thin behind the edge—simplest terms a triangle not a rectangle. I have a workhorse from a newer maker, Tribe, that does this style of grind well. Here’re some choil shots (poached from others’ posts—not all my knives, I wish!)
Workhorse lineup.png
 

gman

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Another way to look at it is to ask yourself what you would reach for given different quantities of product, and different time constraints.

If the task at hand is to dice 100 lbs of carrots before service in a busy restaurant, then whatever knife you reach for instinctively is a workhorse, ipso facto. Now if you were to ask people to talk about why they chose the knife they did for that task, I'd guess that comfort would be the most important factor, and the fact that many people associate good food release and more weight with workhorses suggests that both those qualities are important during extended use. A lightweight knife actually takes more effort to control than a heavy one, because it doesn't have the inertia to resist changes in direction on its own, and a lightweight knife with food stuck to it is even more tiring to use.

I still love lasers, but probably only because I never have to use them for more than a few minutes at a time.
 

labor of love

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CAD677C3-620C-44C1-A21B-532C7516A358.jpeg
Shigehiro


Not all “workhorse” knives have a “workhorse” grind… So, the discussion gets murky due to semantics… Really the discussion is going in two directions—or there are two questions: What defines a workhorse knife vs. what characteristics define a workhorse grind.
For me, the term “workhorse” is more instructive when it refers to a grind type as opposed to just a thick/heavy knife.

Workhorse knife
For me, a workhorse knife is, at a minimum, something relatively thick at the spine and heavy (200g +) with good food release. Watanabe and Toyama fit these characteristics, but they are also knives that have high hardness. There’s an argument to be made, too, thatlower hardness benefits a workhorse by adding toughness/durability. I’m thinking Matsubara here.

Workhorse grind
Kato, Kippington, the new Marko, some of the thick newer Maz, all tackle share similar grind characteristics: thick spine, convex (usually higher up the blade face), not overly thin behind the edge—simplest terms a triangle not a rectangle. I have a workhorse from a newer maker, Tribe, that does this style of grind well. Here’re some choil shots (poached from others’ posts—not all my knives, I wish!)
View attachment 57862
 

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