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Present for a Kitchen Pro
September 4, 2004 8:58 PM   Subscribe

I need some help looking for a present for a kitchen pro [more inside]

My wife is passionate about cooking, and although I hate to give her kitchen-related gifts (seems too cliched), I thought something special would make up for that. She's always impressed with the knives seen by Malto Mario, Alton Brown, and the Iron Chef guys, and though she's got pretty much every kitchen gadget in the world, she's never had high quality knives.

So I was thinking of spending a few hundred bucks on some really kickass knives, but looking around there are all sorts of different materials, countries of origin, and brands. I see that even a single knife can run hundreds of dollars, but say I was spending $300-500. What's a good brand to look into that would be a good start for say 2-3 different sized knives?
posted by mathowie to Shopping (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
JA Henkles and Wüsthof are top-of-the-line knives. JA Henkles are generally a little cheaper, but hardly any less in quality.
posted by MrAnonymous at 9:11 PM on September 4, 2004


Err, that's "JA Henckels."
posted by MrAnonymous at 9:13 PM on September 4, 2004


Global brand knives are very good as well.

But go with Wusthof instead of Henckels if you can. I dunno but I find Henckels to be worse that Wusthof (the handle of Wusthof is better in my opinon).

But if you were only getting a couple of knives, get at least a paring knife and a chef's knife. those are the two standards everyone (cooks and non cooks) should have.
posted by Stynxno at 9:19 PM on September 4, 2004


There was a good AskMe thread in March on chef's knives, in which I went into the difference between French-style knives such as Henckels and German-style knives such as Wüsthof.
posted by nicwolff at 9:30 PM on September 4, 2004


Haven't read nicwolff's thread yet, but Wusthof knives are very good and to my mind completely serviceable for any but (perhaps) the most exacting professional chef. And you could get three good ones for less than $300.
posted by soyjoy at 10:00 PM on September 4, 2004


Awesome advice y'all. Thanks nicwolff for the blade shape info. She's more of a chopper than a rocker, so I'm thinking the Henckels will probably work better than the Wusthofs. I see Amazon has a fairly complete set for about $350, which is just about perfect.
posted by mathowie at 10:02 PM on September 4, 2004


Sorry, here's a better link...
posted by soyjoy at 10:02 PM on September 4, 2004


I love my Henckles knives... I have small hands, and I love their feel... they also keep nice and sharp edge. I can't recommend them enough... you should have a large chef's knife and a couple small ones (I use mine almost exclusively, and find that having a few on hand would keep trips to the sink during prep to a minimum). You should also get a bread knife. Beyond that, a nice, heavy cleaver (from Chinatown — get what the locals use) will be a back-saver if she does any solid chopping... and if you eat meat at all, a boning knife should be in the mix.

I would also suggest looking at santuko style knives... they're even sharper — and stay that way, than the best European blades. But they do look like they'd need a little more TLC.

Finally, I would be very careful about how you store any good knife: never store it in a drawer where it can bounce around and get chipped, or loose its tip... a magnetic strip is ideal, but if you have children around, those shiny knives can be pretty tempting. The other option is to put the knives in a block... but blocks have two draw-backs: they are damn-near impossible to clean (should you ever carelessly return a knife to the block without washing), and the ones that accept the knife blade vertically dull the blade. There is, however, a recent development on this front: somewhere in my surfing in the last few days, I came across a design for a horizontal-loading wood knife block that pulls apart for easy cleaning — and it's beautiful!

I'll have to look through my bookmarks.
posted by silusGROK at 10:09 PM on September 4, 2004


Do one better than the common, brandname high-end knives. Get a set from Lee Valley Tools.

The Thiers-Issard should be admirable. Their Lee-brand knives should be very good.

Also, browse the main kitchen pages for other ideas. The zester is an amazing tool, and no kitchen should be without it; every bit as essential as a paring knife.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:35 PM on September 4, 2004


the ones that accept the knife blade vertically dull the blade

Not if you store them with the knife edge facing up. Makes sense, no?
posted by five fresh fish at 10:36 PM on September 4, 2004


From a brands perspective, you've received some excellent advice already, but the key thing with finding a knife you'll love versus a knife that's merely good is comfort and fit. You may mean for this to be a surprise to her, but that's not the best way to buy knives. Take her to the store and let her hold them. High end kitchen stores may even have things for her to cut.

How well a knife fits in your hand makes a big difference. I have a great chef's knife. It's well crafted, well designed, but the clearance between it and the cutting board is low, which means I knock my knuckles on the board with every chop. An average woman, without my pudgy fingers, wouldn't have this problem, and would probably love the knife - but it's the sort of thing you only figure out with the handle in hand.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:57 PM on September 4, 2004


Alton Brown recommends Shun by Kershaw knives. I've handled these and will be buying a set eventually, once I get some scratch.

You really only needs three or four knives.. A chef's knife, a paring knife, a serrated bread knife, and maybe a santouku...

His book, Gear For Your Kitchen, has been indispensible for me. He doesn't just tell you what brands and such he uses, he tells you WHY he uses them, what features he finds useful, and what to look for in other brands. His philosophy when it comes to kitchen tools is GREAT.
posted by keswick at 11:01 PM on September 4, 2004


That Alton Brown Shun set looks pretty great at $219. Also, the always-amazing Dick Tools catalog has some cool high-end knives (under "Messer", and priced in Euros).

(I have no joke here, I just like saying "Dick Tools".)
posted by nicwolff at 11:06 PM on September 4, 2004


I do all my chopping (and that's a lot of chopping) with a wonderful Chinese cleaver that has served me for over 15 years - something not totally unlike this one. But if you prefer something a little more conventional, perhaps this Global knife may be of use.
posted by madman at 11:19 PM on September 4, 2004


Take her to the store and let her hold them. High end kitchen stores may even have things for her to cut.

This was going to be my advice too. Someone who's really into cooking would likely rather test drive a few different ones to see what works best for her, it's a very personal sort of thing, and if you're going to actually bother getting good knives (great present, BTW), they should be ones that are the best knives for her personally.
posted by biscotti at 11:33 PM on September 4, 2004


I second the idea of her picking out the knife. I also second the recommendation for Shun knives. Most knives are sized for men's hands, but the Shun are different. They have an ergonomic offset handle. They feel lighter to me and better balanced in my hand. Not having to expend effort just holding onto a knife (or any tool for that matter) makes it a lot easier to actually use/control the knife.
posted by lobakgo at 11:34 PM on September 4, 2004


It might be wise to make sure she actually wants expensive knives though. I know people who are very much into cooking yet not extremely into the cutting part who are perfectly happy with a $50 knife set. YWMV. (your wife may vary)
posted by fvw at 1:09 AM on September 5, 2004


fvw: I think most people who say $50 knives are fine are either not really into cooking, or haven't used good knives. They make a world of difference, and make a lot of cutting tasks easier to accomplish quickly and safely.
posted by mosch at 1:26 AM on September 5, 2004


Don't forget a steel to go with the knives, and a knifeblock to keep them in.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:36 AM on September 5, 2004


Not just a steel but also a sharpening stone. You can't really sharpen a knife with just a steel.
posted by kenko at 7:16 AM on September 5, 2004


It's a bit of a pain in the ass, but Cutco, IMHO, makes the best knives. I sold them briefly during a college summer, and yeah, it's annoying telemarketing (basically, you have to have one of their sales reps come "demo" the product for you), but everyone I know who has them loves them, and they last forever. I've had my set for 13 years, and they're still in amazing shape. Their scissors, surprisingly enough, are also the best I've ever used.
posted by mkultra at 7:56 AM on September 5, 2004


Actually, this reminds me of a question. I know a few people who swear by their Cutco knives (you know, the ones the college students sell door-to-door). I notice that the people who love them are also the people who used to sell them. Are the knives good, or are they just brainwashed?
posted by willpie at 7:58 AM on September 5, 2004


Wow. That was weird.
posted by willpie at 8:03 AM on September 5, 2004


Will, perhaps we're brainwashed, but as a former Cutco salesman as well, I swear by those knives. I still have half a dozen I kept from my sales kit. My friends love 'em, I love 'em, I can throw them in the dishwasher, and they cut just about anything.

Regrettably, I sold the scissors to my parents, which is too bad, because they are burly scissors (cutting pennies is the least of their accomplishments.)

So yes, we're brainwashed. But I would never work for that rotten telemarketing company again, where as I would recommend the knives themselves to anyone. Fwiw, my parents love them and so do all my relatives - and they never had to sell them.

Matt, the advantage of Cutco over some of the others is largely in their ergonomic handles. The design means you'll never slam your knuckles into the counter. Their serrated knives are also far better than other products because of the way they're made. (I could start spouting about the patent behind it, but I won't, I'm not in the pay of The Man anymore.) You can also return the knives every few years for free sharpening and/or replacement. (That's probably because the knives cost $1 to make and sell for $60.) Anyway, if you're interested, look in the phonebook for Vector Marketing or Cutco in your area. I'm sure they'd be more than happy to send a rabid sales rep to your doorstep.
posted by Happydaz at 11:39 AM on September 5, 2004


My parents bought me a set of Cutco knives a few years ago. They are pretty good; they stay sharp and have a nice balance. If you want some good knives for cheap, Cutco is the way to go. While Cutco knives are good, they are not great, and once you use a global, or my favorite, Henckles, the difference is apparent.

I have never sold Cutco knives.
but the scissors are the best I've ever had
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:06 PM on September 5, 2004


I'm currently reading Kitchen Confidential, and he mentions that there's no reason to spend hundreds on a set when pros mainly use a single large chef's knife for almost everything. His recommendation is Global, for what its worth.
posted by shinynewnick at 12:23 PM on September 5, 2004


If you (or, more importantly your wife) is remotely superstition minded, get her to "buy" them from you for a penny after you give them. Many people include the penny with the knife, and some suggest one penny per blade.

The superstition suggests that a gift of knives (and possibly scissors and other sharp objects) will sever the relationship.
posted by cCranium at 5:12 PM on September 5, 2004


I think I said this in the other knife thread but this knife changed my life. I scoffed at the idea of a ceramic knife: no more. It's completely amazing and I don't use anything else anymore.


Also, I did the penny thing when I bought my friend this knife for her wedding present. It didn't work.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:28 AM on September 6, 2004


+1 on ceramic knives. it makes me feel like our food tastes better when i cut with it.
posted by anildash at 1:05 AM on September 8, 2004


Sorry to say it, but you're all wrong.

The finest knives I've ever used (and some of the best value as well)...

Mac.

There's no comparison.
posted by Caviar at 1:30 PM on September 9, 2004


Oh, and it seems you can buy them at Amazon now. Good for them!

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-url/store-name%3Dkitchen%26index%3Duniversal%26search-type%3Dss%26field-manubrand%3DMac%252520Knives

posted by Caviar at 2:00 PM on September 9, 2004


Also, I'd second the advice to avoid the set. All you really need is an 8" chef's knife, and maybe a paring knife. Particularly avoid "utility" knives. They'll just sit around doing nothing.
posted by Caviar at 2:43 PM on September 9, 2004


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