“What Knife Should I Buy?” And Other Knife Advice

As I start to publish some knife-related content, I’d like to address the questions I’ve been asked more than any when it comes to knives: “What’s your favorite knife?”  “What’s the best brand?” “What knife should I buy?”

The answer to all of those is that it depends on circumstance… and your budget. Any cook or chef will tell you that all you really need is a chef’s knife (sometimes referred to as a French knife) and a paring knife, which strictly speaking is true. But let’s get into it a bit deeper.

What’s your favorite knife?

 The one that’s best for the job.  While these aren’t all of the knives I have, I do have favorites for certain tasks: to peel garlic or a kiwi, I’ll stick with my 3” Wusthof paring knife.  If I’m breaking down poultry (duck or smaller), I prefer my 7” Shun fillet knife.  For cleaning large fish or pieces of meat, I use an 11” scimitar made by Dalstrong, or a 10” Dexter slicer.  For dicing/slicing those large proteins, I have an 8” Miyabi utility or a 10” Fujimoto slicer.  For starchy vegetables, I like my 8” vented santoku by Wusthof, and when it comes to all of those, and just about anything else, I can always retreat to my very first knife: a 10” Wusthof wide-blade chef’s knife.  The cheapest knife I just mentioned cost me $40.  The most expensive: $320.  A price tag isn’t going to get a job done, but sometimes it can help.

What’s the best brand?

Well, I don’t think you can say there’s a best brand.  It really does depend on what you’re using a given knife for, and what’s most comfortable for you.  Personally, I used to really lean towards Wusthof, because I liked the weight and durability of the German steel (and I’ve never cared for Mac, Global or Henkel, though others swear by each of those brands.  Again: personal preference), so that’s why that brand is so well-represented in my collection.

When I moved to San Francisco, I started learning about Japanese knives, which in general are much lighter, much sharper and more elegant than the German or French knives I’ve come across.  The brand choices are extensive and generally, significantly more expensive.  In the US, it’s hard to find brick and mortar stores that sell brands like Fujimoto, Masashi, or Masakage, but if you can find/afford one of those brand’s knives, it won’t disappoint you.  In San Francisco, Bernal Cutlery is a somewhat legendary knife shop that I believe has to be in the running for the best one in the country. Even if you don’t live in the Bay Area, they sell and ship their products all over the world, and their proprietor wrote a fantastic book that is a great reference tool for everything relating to knives, particularly sharpening.

The highest quality mass-produced and easily accessible “Japanese” brands found in the US are Shun and Miyabi (you’ve seen them at Sur le Table among other retail chains).  I think of them more as “hybrid” brands, because they are Japanese style blades, but their composition feels much more Western. I find that my Miyabi knives don’t hold an edge very well (and I’ve heard similar reviews from professional peers), and while Shun makes great knives, for their prices, you can find better ones in Japanese brands, including the ones I listed above. Here is a great website that features and sells some of the best knives in the world — be warned: the prices can get astronomical.

What knife should I buy?

I will repeat myself that it depends on your circumstance (and budget). For starters, regardless of if you’re a home cook or a pro, I strongly urge people to avoid buying knife sets. Every knife has a particular use, and there’s no way that one knife line from one company is going to give you each type of knife, all of which are perfect for you. For the professional cook, it depends on what type of work you do, and what type of kitchen you work in. If you’re working somewhere high-volume, I’d strongly suggest the durability of German steel and nudge you toward Wusthof. But if it’s the kind of place where someone might use your knives without your permission (or outright steal them), maybe go with a cheaper alternative like Messermeister or Dexter. If you’re working somewhere a bit more high-end and/or trustworthy, where you know you need a finer tool for the job, and know your knives won’t get abused, then I suggest dipping your toe into Japanese cutlery, and seek further guidance from someone who knows far more about it than I do.

As for home cooks, if you’re not a particularly avid cook and you just make food for yourself (and maybe a friend every now and then) to have something to eat, then there’s nothing wrong with a cheap brand like Victorinox, Dexter or Mercer. For a more avid home cook, I’d suggest brands like Wusthof or Global, and maybe even paying a couple hundred for a nice Shun, but (as I alluded to above) if you’re planning on dropping Shun-level money anyway, consider buying one of those Japanese brands I mentioned and impress the shit out of your foodie friends!

I’m sure I’m not alone in that I’ve been inundated with a lot of Facebook and Youtube ads for knives with ringing endorsements like “sharpest knife in the world” or some other superlative bullshit. The ads do make the knives look very appealing, and the price seems reasonable for such a knife. But I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to buying products advertised on such platforms that I’ve otherwise never heard of, and have abstained. The way of the world is: you get what you pay for. Based on the reviews I’ve gotten from friends within my profession, they are great out of the box (and every knife is great out of the box), but after a few uses their quality and sharpness diminishes drastically. What I’m trying to say, is that there’s a reason neither you nor I have ever heard of these brands. My subjective advice is don’t get sucked in by the production value of their ads, and avoid those products.

I’ll always say (as will many of my peers) you should be able to do everything in the kitchen with a chef’s knife.  If you have that and a paring knife, you don’t actually need anything else.  I obviously can’t say owning any other knife is stupid or unnecessary, given how many I listed in my collection above (and the many others that I didn’t mention).  But every other knife is a specialty knife, and unless you’re doing that specialty a lot, buying extra knives is just for fun!

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