Knife Life

The time has come for my knife life to improve. I’ve been doing a bit of perusing but was curious to know what people are liking/recommend for knives.

Is it better to get a set or buy individually?

And if you were getting a set, any of these strike your fancy? Have some Sur la Table money to burn.

Sets are good if you actually want the components, but typically they’re maybe 25% serious forged knives and 75% serrated / stamped.

I see a lot of brand dilution so would have to read up to be sure what the Wusthof and Henckels knives I like are called now.

The 10" version on this page looks like one I use all the time, but I paid more like $100 at Ross Cutlery:


Whether a knife is good or bad, really depends on you. More specifically, on how it feels in your hand. Need to pick it up, feel how it handles in your hand, feel how it rests on your palm, do some “air” knife cuts. Does it feel heavy? Too light?

Should feel like a natural extension of your arm.

Then if all is good, buy it. Don’t be a name-brand slave. Names do not cut your food. You do.


I have had a 8" Wusthof grand prix 2 for years now . 3" paring is the same . I do enjoy them and always hand wash and put away . Just had them sharpened. About once a year .I just use a steel on them otherwise. A great work horse . A serrated bread knife is also useful . I also have a 10" Henckels chef knife that I purchased in Germany . I was thinking bigger is better . Never use it .

A few questions to help narrow down some options:

  1. Type(s) of cuisine you most frequently cook?
  2. Are you gentle or rough with your cookware?
  3. What price range are you planning to spend?
  4. Do you sharpen your own knives?
  5. Do you slice bread?
  6. What is the length/size of your current knife?
  7. Do you have a large, mid-size or cosy kitchen?
  8. Do you have relatives or family members who may abuse your knife?
  9. Do you cut frozen foods with your current knife?

@robert - Thank you. Appreciate the thoughts. Interesting point regarding the brand dilution. I’ll definitely take a look at that Wüsthof and see if I can’t shop around for a better price.

@ipsedixit - The convenience of a set is so tempting, but your response pretty much confirmed what I already suspected. Sound advice about going to try 'em out. I’ll go do that.

@Emglow101 - Thanks! I think I’d be the same way regarding length. Definitely want to avoid spending a bunch on something that I won’t end up using that much.

  1. Mostly veggies, it seems. Don’t do a lot of butchering but some meat. Currently trying to branch out with the types of cuisines we make at home.
  2. Try to be gentle.
  3. I hesitate to say “price is no issue” because it is, but I have some gift cards + we’ll be registering for our wedding soon, so I could go for gold. I’m also willing to spend a bit more on something that will last me the long haul.
  4. Nope.
  5. Quasi often.
  6. Believe we have mostly 6"ers. We have a pretty nice 10" as well, so probably looking to upgrade on the smaller ones - pairing, 6", 8" and serrated.
  7. More on the cosy side.
  8. Nope.
  9. Rarely.

Definitely spend some time playing with all the knives in the store so you get a sense of which feels the best.

I’m 6’1" so probably favor a larger knife. I’ve had a 10" chef’s knife for decades. In recent years I bought a second one so I could have one to use while the other one was at the shop being sharpened, and a 12" to see if I liked it better. I use both all the time, but if I had only one, I’d go with the 10". I can get by with the 8", but it doesn’t really give me the leverage I like. The 6" isn’t really usable for me for any purpose.

I use 3" and 4.5" knives all the time, each is useful for different purposes. I have a second 4.5". When I travel to a place with a kitchen, I take the 10" and 4.5".

They’re all Wüsthof Classic (not to be confused with Ikon Classic) or the extremely similar Zwilling Professional “S” or predecessors of those series. Full tang, forged from a single piece of stainless steel, three rivets.

This is a nice starter set if you want an 8" and paring:

With the proliferation of crappy sub-brands, brand names per se aren’t important, but I’ve never come across a top-quality stainless steel knife of the type I like that wasn’t Wüsthof or Zwilling.

Carbon steel, that’s another story. There are some good links here:

Dang. This is great. Much appreciated.

And interesting article on carbon steel. Sounds like something I could get into.

Owning carbon steel knives is almost a hobby in itself. I like my knives fine and don’t need them to be as insanely sharp as they are the day they come back from the shop. I use a Benriner when I need fine slices.

I’m pleased to see that J. Kenji López-Alt doesn’t recommend any alternative stainless Western-style chef’s knives I missed:

If you’re in LA, I strongly recommend going by Ross Cutlery and trying a variety of knives.

The Ergo Chef is worth trying. It’s an eccentric design but is balanced like nothing else I’ve held. Little short for me.

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Seems like it. The prospect of constant oiling, sharpening, etc. may ultimately tilt the scale back to stainless steel since I’m still quite a novice home cook, but I do like the idea of having a piece that you have to be intentional with and care for in order to maintain its performance.

And luckily I am in LA, so I’ll definitely make a point of stopping by Ross Cutlery.

How do you store your knives? Since my current ones aren’t very nice, they sit in a drawer at the moment, but once I have some new/better ones, I think I’ll definitely need to be more intentional with storage.

The ones we use regularly are on a magnetic strip attached to the wall.

The oddball handle is supposedly dishwasher-safe and will last three times as long as the riveted ones if you use them all day long and treat them badly. Otherwise basically the same kind of knife.

The one knife I’d like to add to my collection is one of the Bob Kramer-designed bread knives recommended by Chad Robertson, but at $200-400, I’ll wait for the patent to expire.

Sweet. Those magnetic strip ones are the ones I was looking at. Trying not to take up counter space with one of those wood blocks.

And great article. Interesting point that “you only need three knives at most.” I’ll keep that in mind when I’m getting my Paula Deen 12" knife.

I wonder which three he’s thinking of? I can get along with an 8- or 10-inch chef’s knife and a 4-inch paring knife. The rest seem like self-indulgence except to the extent they’re used by others.

  • I bought the slicer because it’s significantly better than the chef’s knife carving at carving a big, expensive prime rib roast.
  • The boning knife is sometimes useful but I could make do with the paring knife.
  • On the rare occasions I get the cleaver out of the drawer, nothing else will do.
  • I prefer the chef’s knife for crusty bread, it slices cleaner and makes less of a mess, you just need to start the cut with the point rather than trying to saw it.

Does seem a bit bizarre to make that statement but not follow up with what those three would be. A couple of paragraphs later, he mentions that texts around the end of the 19th Century, which is when Hatfield’s 1886 patent “became standard for European manufacturers for the next century,” generally called for:

  • Chef’s knife
  • Paring knife
  • Bread knife
  • Cleaver

And sometimes:

  • Chopping knife

So my guess is his three would be chef’s, paring and cleaver. The third could also be the bread knife, but, like you mentioned, it seems that the function of a bread knife could be covered with the chef’s knife, whereas the clever doesn’t have a replacement. Although, a bread knife would probably be used more regularly. Depends on the cook, I s’pose.

Cleaver and paring.

Master those two, and that’s all you’ll ever need. Ever.

Looking up knife work classes as we speak. This thread got me jazzed to improve my knife life in a major way.

My recommendation for a basic set of knives I think will cover all your basic needs: Chef (or Santoku, Chinese cleaver), Utility, Paring, Bread knife, knife steel and a sharpener.

  1. Chef knife - Most popular workhorse knife. European style curved edge best suited if you cut with a rocking motion
    a) Shapes:
    German: More aggressive curvature. Look for a knife where the bolster does not run all the way to the edge of the knife (see wusthof image). Makes it difficult to sharpen. Look for one with a half or no bolster, see 2nd image. Most of the major German manufacturers now offer a line with this option. Thickest blade, can hold up cutting small chicken bones, lobster shell and frozen items, most forgiving of the lot.

French: Less aggressive curvature

Japanese: Least curved, sometimes almost straight. Comes in a western or traditional Japanese style handle. Thinnest blade, generally still sturdy however I’d avoid cutting any bones or lobster shell. The Japanese excel at forging very hard blades (measured on the Rockwell Hardness Scale-HRC) that have great edge retention capabilities - you don’t have to sharpen as often. Downside, may be brittle and can chip when cutting into harder items. Just requires a bit more TLC compared to the German knives. Very popular these days with professional chef’s as their status knives. Korin in NYC carries a nice selection

Blade Material: Unless you plan to do a lot of sashimi slicing, I’d stick with stainless. Less maintenance and with the improvements in stainless steels used these days there’s really not a noticeable difference in performance for most cooks. German manufacturers tend to forge blades at 57HRC whereas Japanese manufacturers go upwards of 59HRC. The higher the HRC the better the edge retention, tradeoff is a more brittle blade. Some Japanese blades are forged at 65+HRC, its really not practical for anything other than slicing boneless fish fillets for sushi/sashimi.

Length: Recommend 8", 9", 9.4", 10". The benefit of a longer knife is you don’t run out of ‘real estate’. Doesn’t really come into play unless you need to make a lot of long single stroke clean cuts i.e slicing hams, turkey breast, fish for sushi/sashimi. The trade off is less maneuverable. My favorite is the Japanese 240cm/9.4", not too short or too long. 8" is a popular size for most home cooks.

Handle style and material: I like the German handle with the middle belly and especially if has a slight rounded contour. Most comfortable for my hands. Synthetic materials i.e Micarta, Polyoxymethylene etc. are the most durable. Does not warp like wood and you don’t have to oil it periodically.

My daily workhorse is a micarta handle Hattori FH Series VG10 stainless knife. I had a minor part in it’s original design inception :grinning:. It combines a classic French style slightly curved edge chef knife (aka gyutou by Japanese knife manufacturers) with the thinner blade favored by Japanese manufacturers. Check out the Bob Kramer Zwilling line if you want a more showy knife. I have an original Kramer forged 10" but I find it a bit too wide, feels more like a cleaver vs.a chef knife. I should have got his Meiji Japanese style knife instead which has a slimmer profile. The Zwilling reproduction IMO is excellent, made in Seki Japan with the same 52100 carbon steel used in Kramer’s custom line with the added bonus of being backed by Zwilling. The carbon steel line is comparable to my original Kramer forged knife for a fraction of what you’d pay for his custom knife today.

Some of the knives to check out at the local stores - Wusthof Classic Ikon, Zwilling Prof Chef & Kramer, Global, Shun @ William Sonoma, Miyabi, Messermeister (William Sonoma & Surfas).

  1. Santoku or Chinese Cleavers: If you cut with a straight up and down motion (more popular with Asian cooks), these styles may be better suited for your needs vs a chef knife. Typical lengths are 5-7", 6" is the most common.
    a) Santoku: Incorporates the benefits of pointed tip of a chef knife with a straighter edge for maximum single line surface contact. Popular in Asian households.

b) Chinese cleaver: Workhorse of Chinese kitchens. Wide surface area, slightly heavier weight which helps cut all sorts of foods meat, vegetable etc. Takes some getting used to due to it’s large size. Most Chinese restaurant chefs use this one knife for everything… great if you can master. Chan Chi Kee makes excellent chinese cleavers for a very reasonable price ~ $40. You can find them in most chinese restaurant supply stores in Chinatown or SGV.

  1. Utility knife (Length 6") - Typically half the width of a chef knife, lends itself to greater maneuverability. Good for cutting fruits and misc non major meal prep activities. 2nd most frequently used knife in my household

  2. Paring knife (Length 3"-4"): If you plan on turning vegetables… I have one but don’t use it that often. Comes in handy every now and then.

  3. Bread knife (Length, at least 9" - 10"): The serrated edge helps cut through super crusty charred loafs like the one’s from Lodge. A chef knife may chip on the hard crust. The pointed serrated edge works better to penetrate the hard outer crust.
    Classic workhorse from Wusthof.

If you’re feeling spendy, Gude from Germany

  1. Knife steel. Why you need one
    Do not use it on serrated knives! I recommend a smooth steel, something like this

  2. Sharpener, easy to use does a decent job if you don’t want to work a sharpening stone

Besides Sur La Table and William Sonoma. I recommend checking out the following retailers for Japanese knives.

As others have mentioned, best to handle a few knives in person to see what suits you the best. Happy Shopping!


Wow. Thank you. Great write-up.

So cool!

Makes sense. Like the first sentence of the article says, I’ve probably been mistakenly thinking that sharpening and honing are the same thing.

I may look into that sharpener, or we’ve gone to a dude at the farmers market before for pretty cheap.

Again, really appreciate all the time and thoughts. Thanks!

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