High End Kitchen Cutlery - All the Same?

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I thought I'd share the results of some blind testing we did back in August. I get a lot questions such as what are the differences between Henckels, Wusthof, Sabatier and other high end kitchen knives? How do I decide?

So we ran a test as follows:

We started by selecting an 8" chefs knife and a 4" parer from very comparable high end knife series-specifically Henckels Professional S, Wusthof Classic and Sabatier Grand Chef. We reground the bevels on each knife to 15 degrees using a lansky clamp sharpening kit and honed all the edges up to the medium grade (green) hone. That way any differences in the edges could be eliminated from the test.

We had a panel of six testers-4 women and 2 men. One woman brought a bushel basket of tomatoes that ultimately went into a salsa canning project. Another brought some apples that ended up in several apple pies for the Lions Club food operation at the county fair. The testers were asked which brand they preferred. All of them thought they would be able to identify their favorite but, as we shall see, that wasn't the case. We blindfolded the testers and had them slice a tomato with each chef's knife and pare an apple with each paring knife. We then had each tester steel each knife and repeated the cutting tests. Hey, nobody was cut and that was fairly amazing.

The results were that the testers couldn't tell one brand from another. A couple of them said that they felt some difference in the steeling of some of the blades but didn't think it made any difference in terms of slicing and paring. You would expect people to guess the brands they were using at least randomly but the panel did worse than that, actually.

The result was that despite small differences in the shapes of the handles and blades for these knives, testers couldn't tell them apart in a blind test under actual use. Is one brand better than another? No. They are all good solid knives and good performers but they are the same once you get past personal preference. Is the same true of less expensive knives? I don't know but I'd guess it is. The problem is that I don't carry any less expensive knives that are similar enough that someone couldn't tell which is which blindfolded. Maybe I'll figure out how to test that some time in the future. Thought it might make an interesting discussion topic. Take care.

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Fred
Knife Outlet
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About four years ago I bought a set of knives at a department store to replace our existing set,which must have been in excess of 25 years old.I couldn't have paid more than about $30.00 for this set of six knives in a butcher block holder.Having since gotten interested in cutlery,I realize now that I have what most would call,"less than desirable".
However,I have not had to sharpen these in four years.Given what I paid for them,and the cost of some higher end knives,I don't feel I lost out even if they become unusable in the near future.Thanks for your information!

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I have a couple of concerns about your test Fred. I think resharpening all the knives at the same angle was a good idea. However, it would also minimize any difference between the knives in actual use. The edge geometry would be almost the same for each of these knives. Unless your testers used them long enough to wear the edge significantly, you can not draw many meaningful comparisons between these knives except perhaps for handle ergonomics.

I find the shape of the handle in a kitchen knife makes a big difference in how it actually feels in use. I bought a set of Wusthof Grand Prix knives (molded synthetic handles) over 10 years ago. These knives are a joy to use, hold a reasonable edge, and have stood the test of time extremely well. The small paring knife is really a model of efficiency. And I really like the belly on the 8 inch Wusthof chefs knife. The other brands tend to have a more traditional flatter profile. I find the slight belly in the Wusthof makes it a great rocking slicer for veggies.

Anyway, I am not at all sure that the 'Blind' test proved much except that all of these freshly sharpened knives cut very well, and there was no apparent difference felt between these high end kitchen knives.

Fellow forumite Michael Gettier (Chefget) is a Contemporary French chef here in the Baltimore area. He does not prefer the German and French knives, finding the steel too hard for his taste, and uses several different custom knives (carbon steels and talonite) in his kitchen. Maybe if we are lucky he will respond to this thread and give you his expert opinion about kitchen cutlery.

Mastersmith PJ Tomes make a lot of kitchen cutlery in Sandvik steel for very reasonable prices. He wants to be a maker of using knives. If you want the very best high end kitchen knives, there are several custom makers who will make 'the best' kitchen instruments you can find.

Anyway, nice topic Fred. I'm looking forward to hearing folks opinions about Kitchen Cutlery.
 
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Knife Outlet:
You would expect people to guess the brands they were using at least randomly but the panel did worse than that, actually.</font>
Which means that they actually did notice they were different from each other.<img src="http://www.canit.se/%7Egriffon/knives/.1x1knives.gif" alt="" height=2 width=0>

 
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Years ago I was an overseas kitchen cutlery buyer for a housewares importer. I am not sure if this is still the case, but interesting none the less. At the time Sabatier was not a copywrite name. It merely was the name of town in France, famous for cutlery. Therefore there were numerous cutlery companies using the name. Some were better quality than others. I reached an agreement with one of the Sabatier companies and the relationship was a good one. I did learn however that the name Sabatier could be used by many comapnies.

[This message has been edited by jayharley (edited 01-06-2001).]
 
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Thanks for the good work and info. About 25 years ago, we purchased chicago Cutlery as our first knife set. They were miserable knives to sharpen and all the tips borke. They are all long gone. I then read a test of top quality knives in the Chicago Tribune and thier top was Wustoff. I purchased a 10" chef's knife and keep purchasing different Wustoff knives as I need them. They have never failed , sharpen reasonably well and are avialable in many different shapes and sizes. I prefer the classic handle and outside of one Japanese Sashimi knife, I always purchase Wustoff Classic.
 
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Thanks for the tests, Fred! I actually have a different perspective on it. I'm only mildly surprised that there was little perceived difference between the particular high-end knives you mentioned. I have always believed the biggest difference is between those integral-bolstered knives you mention (with their resulting thick edge geometry near the bolster) and non-integral-bolstered knives which get their forward finger protection through other means.

That second group has much thinner edge geometry, especially the important area nearest the fingers, where lots of the rolling-chopping gets done. Put one of those knives up against a Hattori chef's knife, and I guarantee you the testers will see a difference, and quick. Now in a way that's not really fair, since the Hattori is 2 or 3 times the price of the knives you mentioned. But I think if you look around you'll find non-bolstered knives in the class of the Henckels/Sabatier/W-T that are a more fair comparison.

Joe
 

Ken Cox

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We don't have any Wustoff in our house, though I would welcome it.
We have a mixture of moderately priced to cheap knives.
Since I steel them regularly, their edge holding ability has not made an issue of itself.

I have observed that the different members of the household have favorites for ergonomic reasons, independent of cost.
My wife considers a wooden handled $30 Forschner Chef's knife the finest in the world for the simple reason that it feels good in her hand, and the blade offset and handle angle work for her at our counter top heights.

I think that the user's height, the counter top height, the blade offset and handle angle have more importance than the cost of the knife.

I have a Gerber Balance Plus 6" Cook's Knife that works best for me on everything except meat carving.
For cooked meat carving I use a no-name cheap 10" Chef's knife I inherited from my mother.
I can't say why it works as well as it does carving cooked meat but it does.
For cutting raw meat, I "borrow" my wife's Forschner.
Again, I cannot say why, but I definitely prefer that knife for that task.

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Luke 22:36, John 18:6-11, Freedom
If one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself.
 
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You want to get on your wife's good side so she don't bitch about the new tools you just bought.Make her kitchen knives for her like I did for mine.One 8" chef's knife and one 10" chef's knife.My wife designed them and I made them.Good luck,Dave
 

Gollnick

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The best kitchen knives I've ever bought are some charming made-in-China paring knives with plastic handles and "chrome vandium steel" blades. What do I like about 'em aside from the fact that they came out of the box remarkably sharp and have mysteriously stayed that way? I like the price: fifty cents each! Sold in boxes of twenty. For twenty bucks, I've got fourty of these things. I keep 'em in bin by the stove. I love this because there's always a clean paring knife handy.


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Chuck
Balisongs -- because it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!
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Joe,

I'm with you as far as the thick forging near the bolster goes, I don't care for it and feel that it hinders in some types of cutting tasks. For heavier jobs such as going thru bones and things it works fine but impedes for just solid meat and vegetables and shortens the using length of the knife.

As far as knives that are cheaper than the Hattori(for which I am not sure of prices anyway) and closer to Wustof/Henckels there are several if I remember right. The first is Messermiester, also out of Solingen. No forging next to the bolster and about an 1/8" deeper at that point in blade depth. If that doen't seem like a lot, try comparing a 10" Henckels to the same sized Messermiester and feel how much more room your knuckles have. I believe that Global also makes blades without these thick forgings, as do several of the other Japanese makers, but the prices start going up fairly well for most of the other brands.

Both of the following sites carry a nice selection of kitchen cutlery with good prices, service, and information on the products they sell.

http://www.knifemerchant.com
http://www.pcd.com

Take care.

Andy
 
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Andy --

Those knives look good in the pic -- they've got high bolsters but they don't look like they thicken the blade at the edge.
I honestly can't understand why anyone who has tried a high-quality non-bolstered knife would stick with a bolstered knife.

I say that even knowing that many professional chefs prefer the heavy bolstered models that Fred tested. I have two theories on this. One, perhaps the comfort of the bolster when hours of use are required, overrides the extra performance of a non-bolstered knife. Two, almost all of the lowest-quality knives are non-bolstered, and if that's the only non-bolstered knife a chef has tried, I understand why they prefer the high-quality bolstered knives. If they tried a high-quality non-bolstered knife, they might change their minds, who knows.

Anyway, I don't need my chef's knife to be comfortable through 8 hours of straight use. Just through a typical meal, so the extra comfort of a bolster means little to me. Giving credit to Mike Swaim on this, I prefer a knife that's thin from tip to handle, not a knife that's thick at the handle (due to a bolster or whatever) and relies on a distal taper to get some cutting efficiency further towards the tip.

Joe
 
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Parcelus:

The purpose of regrinding them was to ensure that they all started at the same point so that any differences would occur for some other reason than original factory sharpening which is a silly reason to choose a knife since it's so temporary. I don't think the test would have had any meaning at all had we not reground the bevels. Wusthof Grand Prix has an ergonomic handle and, so, isn't comparable to these. I would imagine a test between Wusthoff Grand Prix, Henckels Four Star and Sabatier Commercial would come out about the same as this test, though. Perhaps I'll try it some time.

Griffin:

For 2 out of 6 to guess their brand would have been random. It turns out that only of the six guessed right. They really couldn't tell them apart and said so.

Joe:

The comments about bolsters are interesting. My wife and I are lucky to have nearly every good kitchen knife in the industry in our knife drawer just from testing. I have a tendency to prefer the bolstered knives but not always. I think they just feel better. I realize they don't cut better. I have a 7 1/2 Forschner chef's knife that I use a lot. As you likely know it has a soft thin blade that cuts well and sharpens easily and quickly. The shape of the blade makes it nearly perfect for cutting out the top core of a tomato and then slicing it and I use this relatively inexpensive knife a lot. Also, I feel no advantage to bolsters in paring knives and usually just reach for any paring knife when I need one. My wife, on the other hand, tends not to like heavy knives and usually chooses one that is not bolstered. She even uses one of the Kyocera ceramics from time to time and I don't like them at all. These things may have more to do with preference than performance or, at least, the feel of that performance may be preference based.

JayHarley:

You're right about Sabatier. The US importer (Excel) imports only from three of the Sabatier manufacturers. One makes the high end Provence, Grand Chef and Commercial series, one makes the carbon steel Au Carbone and a third makes the lower end serrated models. That's why it's important to know the series name and not the manufacturer name when discussing them.

Take care.




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Fred
Knife Outlet
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