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That’s not a knife—THIS is a knife!

Something of a follow-up to Falquan’s wholly entertaining, informative and useful (but otherwise totally crap) advice on blade usage in the kitchen here. Since many of you may be sitting at home or work, your fingers trembling with the urge to slice, chop and pare but your stomachs turning at the thought of those aforementioned fingers being severed at the knuckle by an unfriendly piece of cutlery, I figure this may be a good time to talk about good knives. I will start by telling you a story:

 

Once upon a time there was a young boy who set out on his own to make his fame and fortune in the wide world. Before he left, his parents’ home, he went shopping with his mother and she recommended that he buy a set of knives from a well-known maker because every person on their own needs some knives for the kitchen and a well-known maker must be good, right? A few years later, the boy bought a new knife an upon using it for the first time, noticed that it was much sharper and much nicer than his old knives, which—as it turned out—were actually pretty much junk.

 

So perhaps you are like I… I mean the boy, used to be, uninitiated into the world of good knives, but sensing that something better is out there. Or perhaps you are already enlightened, but still surrounded by friends and family members who insist on bludgeoning their food with crudely sharpened pieces of metal that they refer to as “knives.” Experienced knife enthusiasts will already have learned to navigate all the potential pitfalls, but then you set out to acquire a good knife for the first time, the flood of products and information can be pretty intimidating.

 

I won’t get into the details of European versus Japanese knife styles here—I believe that both have their pros and cons and as long as you’re buying good quality stuff it should come down to personal preference in the end. (Although if you’re bored and want to snicker at people overreacting to things on the internet, go find a blade forum populated by Japanese-knife-fanbois and tell them that Western-style blades are superior. The ensuing rageplosion should rival the effects of walking into an Apple store and shouting that Bill Gates is not only smarter but also better looking than Steve Jobs.) Since Falquan already recommended the very nice Shun knives, I’ll throw in a suggestion from the opposite side of the globe, namely the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Vier Sterne (4-Star) line.

Look ma, no endcaps!

Henckels is an enormous knife manufacturer and you’ve almost certainly run into one of their many lower-end lines of knives, which are sold all over the place. I’ve picked precisely these to talk about because of the variant combinations of accessibility, price point and quality. So how the heck are you supposed to go about picking a knife when what looks like the same dang thing is being presented to you at three different price points and as far as you can tell the only noticeable difference is the color of the box? As a general rule, if it says “made in China,” don’t bother. If you’re on a budget, look to the International line, which is made is Spain and offers perfectly serviceable blades. If you want a really good knife though, skip all that and seek out the Zwilling (often labeled “Twin” in the US) lines; they’re easily identified by their red and white gemini-logo (as opposed to the single red guy on the cheaper knives) and the fact that they’re made in Solingen, Germany. 2 is better than 1.

Under the Zwilling heading, you’ll discover a wide range of lines that offer different blade and handle configurations, which you may explore at your leisure. I’ll skip ahead, however, and recommend the 4-Stars for the simple reason that this line has been discontinued (replaced by the boringly-named 4-Star II line which features endcaps of questionable value) and as a result plenty of online retailers are offering these knives at a significant discount compared to many similar blades. You should have no problem finding an 8-inch chef’s knife for under $100, which is good value for the money. (If you’ve got a bit more spending cash, the 4-Star knife sets still available are even better deals than the single knives.)

 

Egad—what’s that noise? Oh, it’s my mother crying “$100 for a single knife? I can get a 20-piece set at Target for less than that!” Yes, mother, that’s true. But let me remind you that:

A. You don’t use half the knives in that set because they have completely pointless shapes and sizes.

B. You don’t use another third of the knives because after a few uses they became too dull to cut anything offering more resistance than a moist pancake.

C. With the knives that you do use (because, well, you have to use something), you can’t stop complaining about how much of a chore slicing and chopping tasks are.

and

D. Considering the amount of money you’ve dropped on buying pre-chopped garlic and vegetables because of B and C, you’ve probably spent more cash by now than you would have if you had just purchased a good knife to begin with!

 

Of course in today’s marketing-driven world, pretty much any product is going to come wrapped in a bunch of tripe… I mean hype, that tries to make the garbage look like great stuff and the actually great stuff look like something that is greater than its competitors. So buyer beware! Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it.


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2 comments to That’s not a knife—THIS is a knife!

  • princesszyrtec

    A long, long, loooooooong time ago, a young girl used to work for Hudson’s Department store. It was one of three jobs she had whilst attending college, and her fervent hope was to work in women’s shoes, accessories, or cosmetics, where she could be surrounded by pretty shiny things with which to adorn herself.

    Alas.

    She was placed in the “Marketplace” — unfamiliar territory to an avowed NON-domestic goddess — and forced to memorize product descriptions. She soon became enamoured with the power she wielded over young couples registering for their impending nuptials, advising them on the best china, best flatware, and yes, best knives.

    Hudson’s carried Henckels knives and they were the best brand that the store carried. I — I mean the young girl — quickly amassed a lexicon filled with terms like tang, ductility, and boning. Ha! That last one has two meanings, but I digress. I sold those knives like nobody’s business. If a wedding guest were desirous of a set of knives,(qty. 48) set in the ubiquitous butcher block stand, and pooh-poohed the purchase of a single quality knife, I then directed them to the picnic baskets, because really, what’s more romantic than a fully outfitted picnic basket to a young couple embarking on that magical journey known as marriage?

    ….

    ….

    That’s all I got.

  • gastrognome

    While you might be (are) right on all counts here, I’m a bit miffed that you snubbed my old battle axe:

    Gastrognome + her old-ass (but still sharp!) Hofritz = OTP. That’s TRU LUV, BB!

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