chop chop chop! -shwing!-
February 14, 2011 3:49 PM   Subscribe

We'd like to buy my mom some really good kitchen knives for her birthday. However, we don't really feel like paying $55 for a 4.5 inch knife.

When we lived in the Middle East a couple of years ago, we found some pretty good knives from a brand called "Samurai." We had a couple of small and medium sized ones, which were good for handling most of our everyday kitchen tasks -- chopping and slicing fruits, vegetables, cheeses, etc.

Over the years however, we've lost a bunch through moving, misplacing, etc. We want to get our mom replacements, but can't seem find that same brand. So it looks like we'll need to get some other brand.

My sister is DEAD SET of getting a couple of Wusthof knives, and I know its because she wants to get our mom something really "nice", but I just feel like paying $55 for a paring knife is unreasonable. I promise I'm not being cheap here. She's read a bunch of reviews raving about how great the knives are, and I don't doubt them; I'm just wondering if, given the fact that we aren't gourmet cooks or anything, we really need such fancy knives.

Furthermore, I'm worried that we're probably paying a lot for the brandname aspect.

So, any recommendations? Something that is good for everyday cooking, doesn't cost an arm and a leg, and is still a nice, solid gift. We're planning on getting a paring knife, vegetable/multipurpose (?) knife, and a knife that can cut and trim meat/poultry.

posted by joyeuxamelie to Home & Garden (40 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
The Victorinox & Victorinox Fibrox knives consistently have gotten good reviews, and they're what I use. Highly recommended (I love the santoku).
posted by brainmouse at 3:52 PM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Forschner knives are fine for everyday use. No one really needs to spend $125 on a knife (I've cooked professionally and can tell you that I'm much happier with a knife that I can fabricate a case of chickens with and not have to worry about it).

If you don't like the stamp pressed blades, they have forged blades as well that come in way under the wustoff/henckel price range. Plus I think that expensive knives are more of a status thing than an actual cooking thing (personally).
posted by TheBones at 3:53 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I got this knife a couple years ago based on this recommendation. As you can see, it's quite reasonably priced. I love it.
posted by phunniemee at 3:55 PM on February 14, 2011

I swear by the forged knives from Fante's, a 100-year old cooking supply shop in Philadelphia. Very reasonably priced, made in Germany, handle just like Wustoff/Henckel knives.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:58 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

This knife by Victorinox was rated as being an overall fantastic knife by Cook's Illustrated. I bought one and I've been really happy with it.
posted by forkisbetter at 4:00 PM on February 14, 2011

We have a set of Henckel knives and love them. I have a two stage ceramic sharpener I use regularly to keep them at their best. I think a nice set of about 10 knices+shears runs you about $150-$200.
posted by NotSoSimple at 4:07 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I own and love this paring knife. However, it's even more expensive than the one you're considering. That said, I think knives are one of the things where it's worth spending money for quality. I expect to use that knife for years to come, and my parents have been using the same set of knives for 30+ years. So $55 amortized over 25 years is $2/year. Of course, this assumes you take good care of them and keep them sharpened.
posted by pombe at 4:08 PM on February 14, 2011

I have the Victorinox chef's knife mentioned above as well as a boning knife and I agree that they are very good. But pombe makes a good point about the long life of a good knife.
posted by cabingirl at 4:15 PM on February 14, 2011

Nthing Forscher/Victorinox. I've yet to see issues with the lifespan of them, but I don't know how long they've been making them.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:18 PM on February 14, 2011

Whatever brand you choose, be sure to get forged, not stamped, blades: even Wusthof sells a cheap, lightweight stamped line of knives these days. My current fave is from Chicago Cutlery. If the shop can't tell you whether the blades are forged or stamped, go somewhere else.
posted by philokalia at 4:19 PM on February 14, 2011

I second (third, fourth, etc) Victorinox/Forschner. Your question is exactly why this company exists.

I like their 8-inch chef's knife best. It's the ideal all-around kitchen knife (it'll cover your cut-and-trim-meat-and-poultry task, as well as general slicing and chopping). This paring knife set is wonderful, too, perfect for trimming veggies.

You can also get Forschner knives with forged blades and riveted handles, but I honestly prefer the Fibrox handles to the fancier-looking riveted kind -- there's a reason why the Fibrox knives have the National Safety Foundation seal and the riveted knives don't. I worked in a kitchen for a few years, and really grew to appreciate the grippiness and indestructible nature of those Fibrox handles.
posted by vorfeed at 4:19 PM on February 14, 2011

Wusthof also offers a price range on their products.
posted by Max Power at 4:21 PM on February 14, 2011

MAC and Shun knives are my favorites. They are tough as nails and their weighting feels right, which makes them easy to use.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:24 PM on February 14, 2011

I bought my J.A. Henckels 28 years ago, and they have been used them all but about 200 days, ever since. I sharpen them when needed with a Chef's Choice 110. No implement in my kitchen, save my Calphalon commercial hard anodized cookware, and Melitta coffee maker, is used as frequently, or has given anywhere near as much satisfaction as my J.A. Henckels knives...
posted by paulsc at 4:35 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

For my own purposes, at least, I find that just having a couple of reaaaaally good knives, bolstered by some plain-old-ordinary good knives, is ideal. My dad was kind enough to gift me a Wusthof set with a chef's knife, boning knife, and paring knife earlier this year, and they're phenomenal. The rest - bread knife, a second paring knife, a santoku knife, another utility knife, etc. - are relatively unexciting Farberware-type stuff.

Anecdotally, I liked the feel of the Wusthof much better than the feel of Victorinox' offerings of the same. I think a lot of that just goes to show that knife preference is a very personal thing. I went to Williams Sonoma and got to try out some Wusthof, Henckel, Shun, and others there to figure out my favorite. Perhaps consider taking your mom to try some out?
posted by Rallon at 4:36 PM on February 14, 2011

Let me go against the flow and recommend this. They come in a wide variety of colours too.

Kyocera makes great knives. They're cheap, and stay very sharp for a long time. We've got a bunch of expensive Thiers-Issard knives, but the ceramic one is the one that gets used all the time:it doesn't ever get dull; it goes in the dishwasher; and it's cheap enough to replace without too much worry. For $20 or $30 bucks how can you go wrong?

Big thumbs up for these things.
posted by bonehead at 4:38 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The brand name in this case seems to me to guarantee, contrary to your idea, that you get a decent quality knife with a good life expectancy for a reasonable price. $55 strikes me as totally middle of the spectrum, and Wusthof is a good all-round brand; no nasty surprises, good stability.
A decent Japanese knife of that size will soon be more expensive, and often more care-intensive and delicate.

If your budget is restricted, you could aim at buying a good single medium sized Chef's knife (or one Japanese all-purpose knife), plus one somewhat cheaper small knife for all the rough and scrapy work. Unless you're a dedicated specialty cook with a lot of gravlax carving and funky fish filleting going on, that normally should cover your task list more than well.

Cheap knives cannot usually be sharpened beyond meh-level, and they don't hold their edge. An ability to make secure and clean cuts is less a matter of "gourmet" in any case, it's a matter of safety. Nothing cuts less controllable than a half-blunt kitchen knife, and the resulting marks in your fingers will be ragged and messy.
posted by Namlit at 4:41 PM on February 14, 2011

Victorinox makes something called a tomato knife. I have several. They're serrated, so recommending them annoys the purists (which is a plus, from my point of view). They're sharp as hell. The blade is thin and flexible. I have not bothered using my far more expensive chef's knife since finding out by accident just how much easier it was to prep a big hard pumpkin with one of these (the thin blade makes all the difference). They're good, and they're cheap. Buy her half a dozen.
posted by flabdablet at 5:04 PM on February 14, 2011

CoolTools recommends this one., which I think is the same one recommended above. I find their recommendations pretty reliable.

I have a couple of really good knives that I enjoy using, and the difference in quality is real. I like carbon steel; it holds an edge better than stainless.
posted by theora55 at 5:10 PM on February 14, 2011

I have a Seki Magoroku that I really like. They're cheaper than my Shun knives. They have a cool logo styling and work really well. I'm thinking of picking up another.
posted by monkeymadness at 5:18 PM on February 14, 2011

My father is a chef, and I grew up using knives that are similar to Forschner and Victorinox knives. They're good for the price. I bought one for my mother's house so I'll have one basic knife to use when I visit.

That said, those knives are ugly as sin. If you care about looks, then W├╝sthof or J.A. Henckels knives or their ilk might be more satisfying. I bought the Henckels Twin-Pro "S" knives for my home and love them. The set has two great knives and the rest are adequate, but match. I sharpen with a $10 AccuSharp which works as well as more expensive gadgets and fits in a drawer, but requires elbow-grease to use.

If you buy Henckels, stick with their upper-end models. They are busily destroying the value and reputation of their brand by licensing to people who produce crappy knives at the low end.
posted by Hylas at 5:21 PM on February 14, 2011

Joining in on the cavalcade of Victorinox Fibrox Chef knife enthusiasts. Best bang for your buck out there. I use mine all the time and have found it even more versatile than my santoku.
posted by KingEdRa at 5:31 PM on February 14, 2011

I often see Wusthof knives marked way down at Marshall's. Just last week I saw a Wusthof paring knife for $10. Which is a damn good deal.

If you want something that is high quality and reasonably priced all the time, not just when you luck into a deal - I love Victorinox knives. I have their 10" chef's which cost under $30. The only thing I'm not absolutely in lurve with is that it has the newer style cast plastic handle rather than the more traditional shape with bolts so that you can see the full tang.
posted by Sara C. at 5:33 PM on February 14, 2011

Seconding the Kyocera ceramic utility knives, too. I don't have any, but a friend whose kitchen I visit often does, and I really enjoy them. I don't think they're necessarily cheap, though.
posted by Sara C. at 5:36 PM on February 14, 2011

I got a set of Henckels (a hocho and a paring knife) from my dad for a birthday present some 12 years ago, and I still use them. Never had any sort of problem, and I intend to use them for a great deal longer. The only thing I would want to change is the length, but that's because I'm starting to do things (curing/brining/smoking) that involve very large cuts of meat, and the blade isn't quite long enough to tackle the width of a pork belly. That just means I'll have to go and get myself a new knife, which doesn't make me sad.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:36 PM on February 14, 2011

Regardless of what brand you choose, consider that if you cook regularly, these are tools that you (or your mom) will use constantly - every day, several times a day - for years to come. If the fit and finish and heft of a nice knife cost thirty or fifty dollars more, that comes down to pennies over the years. Nice tools - not just tools that suffice - but that look good, feel good, and make you feel good when you are using them, are a great investment. Kitchen knives are tools that you may use every day for a long time - why not spend a little more to get exactly what you want?
posted by gyusan at 6:05 PM on February 14, 2011

Sabatier makes great carbon steel knives.
posted by enzymatic at 6:54 PM on February 14, 2011

OK, I wrestled with a similar dilemma several years back, and did a lot of research. What was suggested to me was to get a very nice chefs knife in the 8-10 inch range, and a really nice pairing knife. Those two are the workhorses of most kitchens. In addition to that, a nice long serrated bread knife would round out the trifecta of commonly used knives in the kitchen. After that, it comes down to more special purpose knives (how often do you bone a chicken?).

Spending more on these knives allows you to skimp on the rest and still have an amazing experience in the kitchen. I initially had a cheapo chefs knife from a cheap set, and replaced it with a $40 Wustof chefs knife. I was amazed at the difference. A couple of years later, I replaced it with a $120 Shun knife, and I can tell the difference. It holds it's edge longer, is more comfortable in the hand, and I love using it.

So, if you are looking for a lovely gift that will last a lifetime, go with the best knives you can, keeping in mind how often they will be used. If they are going to be used twice a month, you don't want to spend $100 on a knife. If they are going to be used every day, than you want the best you can afford.

On the other side of the coin, my best friend has been a butcher for the last 10 years (a real butcher who knows how to disassemble a full animal, not just cut up steaks). He is currently working as a meat manager at a large chain grocery store. He buys knives that are significantly cheaper and is happy with them. I don't know what brand he has, but it seems like all of the meat cutters in his department have the same ones. So, if price is a real concern, I would suggest you go to visit a few different grocery stores, and ask the meat cutters what knives they use. You will probably get a couple of very good suggestions which aren't too expensive.

No matter what, make sure you get a honing steel (sometimes referred to as a sharpening steel, but that is not correct). As you cut, the fine edge of the blade is being bent around some, and using the honing steel helps to straighten out this edge, which makes the blade cut well longer before it needs sharpening again. When it comes time to sharpen (if you use them regularly and take care of them, good knives won't need to be sharpened more than once every 6-12 months, or possibly longer), take them to a knife store or kitchen store and have them do it right. A cheap tabletop sharpener will do more harm than good to your nice knives.
posted by markblasco at 6:57 PM on February 14, 2011

Keep in mind that bread knives and other serrated knives cannot be honed or professionally sharpened and thus do not have the lifespan of smooth-bladed knives. It's perfectly fine to get a cheapo bread knife.
posted by Sara C. at 7:01 PM on February 14, 2011

Response by poster: Wow~ This is exactly why I love Askmefi! So much excellent help in so little time!
Thanks guys!

I think we'll probably go for the Victorinox knives. They seem to fit our needs and our puny college student budget and I can get them to ship with Amazon Prime (we are kind of shopping late for the present...) Yay for free 2-day shipping!

Thanks a lot everyone, I appreciate the help!!
posted by joyeuxamelie at 7:11 PM on February 14, 2011

Agreed with markblasco, definitely don't buy a set. Just get a good chef's knife and a good paring knife, that's all one really needs.
posted by soma lkzx at 7:12 PM on February 14, 2011

Also came to recommend the Kyocera knives. They are fuck-you awesome.

There are things you shouldn't do with them because the ceramic is very, very hard but also brittle, like really rough chopping and twisting-prying motions, but for regular knife duties... wow.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:16 PM on February 14, 2011

Several of the other Victorinox fibrox knives are also favorites of Cooks' Illustrated. Besides the 8" chef's knife, they also like the 10.25" serrated knife, and the 3.5" paring knife, which is, if memory serves, a sub-$10 knife. CI liked their Santoku less, as I recall, and generally things "utility" knives (long paring knives, basically) are useless, but those three (the chef's, the paring knife, and the serrated knife) would accomplish 90% of kitchen tasks, and even with a stand-alone block, could be had for well under $100. A much better deal than a set.
posted by andrewpendleton at 8:37 PM on February 14, 2011

I have a Kyocera ceramic chef's knife, but I rarely use it because I'm too worried that I'll snap or chip the blade when cutting something the wrong way.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:09 AM on February 15, 2011

I hate Ikea. It's a hassle, and the stuff there is usually cheap, rather than inexpensive - but when you come across the exception to the rule, boy howdy, is it an exception.

I've got their 365+ chef's knife, paring knife, and bread knife - and I spent less than $30 on the lot. Comfortable and secure to grip, easy to maintain and clean, and sharp, right out of the box.

It's an open secret that their knives are designed and manufactured by Fallkniven and Fiskars. Made in china or not, they are the Real Deal, and much nicer than more expensive department store stuff like Chicago Cutlery or Kitchenaid.

If $30 is too much to spend, get the Fatbar set - small chef's knife, utility knife and paring knife for 10 bux.

Avoid the serrated knives - they're not bargains at all, no matter how little they cost, and rip rather than cut.

Another place to look are the overstock discounters, like Marshalls or TJ Max - I found a professional Taylor's Eye Witness kitchen utility knife there for $5.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:49 AM on February 15, 2011

I rarely use it because I'm too worried that I'll snap or chip the blade

Don't be. We have the 5.5 inch santoku and the paring knife linked above. They have been used daily and washed in the dishwasher, two years for the paring knife, about five for the santuko. No damage to either and they remain at least as sharp as the Thiers French knives just back from the sharpener. Honestly, these ceramic knives are like having razors to cut veggies with.

We did have a veggie peeler too, but it was too sharp really. It did break in about a year, not the blade, but the plastic blade holder. I won't buy the peeler again until Kyocera figures out a better design. It was sharp but awkward to use.

We still use the metal knives, anything where them momentum of the blade is an advantage. The longest Kyocera is still quite a bit shorter than a chef's knife too. But for everyday prep, particularly fruits and veg, it's hard to beat those glass knives.
posted by bonehead at 5:29 AM on February 15, 2011

Of course, if you are giving knives as a gift and are superstitious, tape a penny to the blade so that the receiver can hand it back to you and "pay" for them, lest you "sever the relationship."

Or maybe that's just an English thing.
posted by nicktf at 1:50 PM on February 15, 2011

I didn't know about the English thing, but it's definitely a no-no in Japan and China to give knives, largely for the same reason. Personally, I'm not all that superstitious, but a lot of folks are.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:17 PM on February 15, 2011

Surprised no one mentioned Kiwi Knives. I have Victorinox, Wusthof, F. Dick, and Globals on my rack, and the Kiwi vegetable cleaver (second one down, in the picture) is the one I grab 90% of the time. Laughably cheap, scary-sharp. If you have a fairly large Asian market near you, they'll carry them.

If your mother doesn't have one, by all means, get her a sharpening steel. Whatever knives you buy, and they don't come with sheaths, take the time to make some out card stock and packing/duct tape.
posted by JABof72 at 8:58 PM on February 15, 2011

Response by poster: Though the penny on the handle thing sounds really fun (and something I'd like to stick in one of my novels someday), we aren't superstitious. And quite frankly, we really do need some new kitchen knives, so in this case necessity vastly outweighs fun mystical-ness.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 7:04 PM on February 16, 2011

« Older Where can I find a kickass keyboard tray I can...   |   Recommendations for hosted business email... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.