Finding the right knife
March 21, 2012 9:25 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to get a chef's knife for my wife, as she has recently developed an interest in cooking. The thing is, she has pretty bad arthritis and needs a knife that would be easy to hold, something with a largish handle. Any suggestions as to brand would be great. Also I should mention we are looking for a decent quality carbon steel type knife.
posted by WASP-12b to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It's always recommended that when you purchase a knife, you go to a store with a wide variety and test them out. What feels right for one person won't for another. If it's not a surprise, I'd definitely go that route.
posted by sugarbomb at 9:30 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have varyingly bad carpal tunnel/rsi/tennis elbow, and a Santoku-shape knife is immensely more comfortable to hold and use for me than a Chef shape.

I can't speak to brand. I have a low-end Henkels and it got dull really fast.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:36 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Honestly, if she's just starting cooking I don't think she needs an amazing blade as much as she needs a good knife she can comfortably handle. There may be a high-end knife that fits your bill but for under $15, I'd buy a Good Grips Chef Knife and see how she gets on before investing a lot of money way above entry level. YMMV.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:36 AM on March 21, 2012

I highly recommend this
posted by m1dra3 at 9:50 AM on March 21, 2012

nthing try first: feel is a very individual thing.

The Forschner Victorinox that gets recommended a lot by Cook's Illustrated is light and has a textured soft-grip "Fibrox" handle, so include that in your testing; they also do a granton-edged/santoku style. Stainless, but good steel.
posted by holgate at 9:52 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Can't link to Cook's Illustrated, but Lifehacker has a summary of CI's findings about the inexpensive, but great, Victornix knife (amazon link). I've since replaced it with a Henckels (which is a better knife, but way more expensive).
posted by jeffch at 9:52 AM on March 21, 2012

Response by poster: We plan on trying a variety so thanks for that suggestion, I'd just like to narrow the options down before we start looking.
posted by WASP-12b at 9:56 AM on March 21, 2012

Best answer: Tangent: Sign her up for a basic knife skills class at a cooking school or cooking supply store.

I cooked for ten years before I learned how to wield a chef's knife correctly, which is different from it looks like on TV. It made a huge difference in comfort and safety for me. Especially for the arthritis sufferer, since the correct cut is a fluid motion of the entire arm, rather than at the wrist as most people tend to do. It's one of the more useful cooking skills.

As a bonus there will usually be different knives at the class that she can try out.
posted by Mercaptan at 9:56 AM on March 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

Came here to recommend the Forschner Victorinox knives, but I see holgate beat me to it.
posted by Sternmeyer at 10:01 AM on March 21, 2012

For someone with arthritis the Shun Ken Onion might work well. It's a terrible handle shape for the traditional pinch grip, but that's what might make it perfect in this case. She'd definitely want to try it out first, but it's very much a "comfort grip" knife.
posted by mendel at 10:29 AM on March 21, 2012

I'm a big fan of Global knives (and have RSI as well). They are comfortable, lightweight, and sharp. Of course it's vital to keep your knife sharp--it's safer but also means less work--and this is a great home knife sharpener for use with Global knives.
posted by donovan at 10:30 AM on March 21, 2012

The Wusthof classic chef's knife is much wider than the Henckels at the back end of the grip where your third and little fingers hold it, and I find it a lot more comfortable to hold.
posted by nicwolff at 10:36 AM on March 21, 2012

I have all the high-end Henkels, as well as a ceramic Santoku, but my favorite knife for 30 years has been a Tremontina Chef, which is carbon steel and wood and made in Brazil, and unbelievably inexpensive ($12 - $18?) It has an eight inch blade and a five inch handle. It's made it through two professional kitchens and home use in that time, and still looks and works beautifully.

Seconding the knife skills class.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 10:48 AM on March 21, 2012

Best answer: I worked at a high-end knife shop for close to four years, and got a hugely comprehensive education about knives from regular, hands-on (as in, take home and cook with for a few months) training of every brand that's widely available today. So this question has my heart pounding because I'm very opinionated!

That being said, it seems like you already know that it all comes down to personal preference, which is the only thing that matters. Is your wife able to hold a chef's knife in the traditional pinch grip? If so, I would recommend a knife without a bolster. A majority of folks find the less-heavy, less-callus giving nature of them more comfortable, and advances in forging means you can find many high-quality knives without them. Wusthof has a wide variety in the Classic Ikon/Ikon/Le Cordon Bleu lines and it will give your wife a lot of shapes and sizes to try out in different weights. As far as their other lines, I love them as well, particularly the Grand Prix II line, which is identical to the Classic line except for the molded handle. (They are forged with a full tang, you just can't see it.) They're a bit lighter than the Classic.

I really like Shun Classic and Shun Elite (I find the Ken Onion lines, personally, too heavy and overpriced). Shun grinds the very back of the heel and the spine of the knife down to be rounded and very comfortable to hold. The Shun Classic line has asymmetrical handles that are right-handed, but they make left-handed versions for quite a few--just in case your wife is left-handed. The Elite are very pricy (the steel is manufactured in an expensive way) but they have larger handles, which I favor. Both lines use "Pakkawood", which is white birch that's been dyed and impregnated with plastic and they hold up very well over time and give a nice grip.

In general, Japanese knives are much lighter than German knives because they are mind-blowingly advanced in knife-making, and your wife may be able to hold them more easily. Global knives are great, but you either love they way they feel or hate them. They have an all stainless steel handle which can be harder to hold when wet.

Shun makes a line of inexpensive, stamped knives which are sold under the Kai Komachi name. They are not ceramic, as a lot of people think, but are instead high-carbon steel coated to keep things from sticking with the blade and from any rust happening to the carbon blade. They need replacing far more than most knives, but I love them for the price and sent quite a few folks with arthritis home with them. I know a woman with MS that prefers these. Worth a try!

The Victorinox (also known as Forschner) Fibrox knives that get a lot of shout-outs are truly are fantastic, but that molded plastic handle can be a little rough, and in my hands the 8" chef's knife is too large, but they're highly recommendation to seek out anyway!

One last opinion: when it comes down to Henckels vs. Wusthof, I handled so many returns from Henckels and had to send back so many with flaws that I just plain stopped recommending them unless someone was partial to them. They use a thicker cutting angle than Wusthor and are almost universally heavier, which I think is too bad--it's no longer true that a knife has to be heavy to be great...unless you're using a cleaver. They can also be a little tricker to figure out what you're getting; they make knives in China, Spain and Germany, as well as a lot of cheap stamped knives. The logo with two men (the "Twin" lines) are made in Germany and are generally forged, but the ones with a single man is cheaper and unless your wife finds them to be absolutely the most comfortable one she tries, I would recommend avoiding.

In summary, if you got this far, I recommend trying Wusthof forged knives, Shun Classic (and Elite if money is not a concern), Globals only if they blow your wife away with their comfort, Victorinox/Forschner Fibrox, and Kai Komachi.

Also, I recognize that this is a deeply opinionated comment and I don't mean to discount anyone else--knives are personal, and if you love your Henckels, I would never have tried to talk you out of them when I worked at the knife shop!
posted by thesocietyfor at 11:22 AM on March 21, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: You mentioned carbon steel, I'm not sure what you meant there, but in knife-speak that usually means "not stainless". If that is truly what you want, you won't find it easily, particularly at the lower end of the price scale. Knives like the Victorinox or the Good Grips are all stainless.

Japanese knives were already mentioned, and there are a number of non-stainless options here. I'm particularly fond of this santoku style knife - laminated aogami hagane (blue steel) blade, hand forged, around $40. This is a nice size, light, and really holds an edge.

The only European-style knives I know of that are still available in carbon steel carry the Sabatier brand. These are generally lighter (with somewhat thinner blades) than the Henckels and Wusthof forged knives, and I prefer them all around.
posted by mr vino at 11:45 AM on March 21, 2012

Cutco knives have a supposedly ergonomically designed handle that are supposed to be good for arthritis. I don't have arthritis, and am not sure if the rigorousness of their ergonomic process, but I know they're comfortable to use (and good for both righties and lefties, if that matters). Also, they are high-carbon stainless steel.
posted by taltalim at 11:54 AM on March 21, 2012

we are looking for a decent quality carbon steel type knife.

This really isn't necessary. Stainless alloys for knives sucked 20+ years ago, but there are a lot of excellent stainless knives available now.
posted by jon1270 at 11:57 AM on March 21, 2012

i researched knives for weeks, read lots of reviews and opinions and such. i grew daunted with the upper range, but wanted something better than the shitty $15 santoku i got at target. thanks to the copious good reviews of the victorinox knives, i got their 8in chefs knife. i figured, heck, it's $20 bucks, if it sucks i'll just order one of the $80 ones. the day after it showed up from amazon, i bought 2 of their paring knives and the bread knife. in a few weeks i'll probably get the santoku and a couple of the sandwich knives.

they're CHEAP and SHARP. i like how light they are. i have tiny hands/RSI and while the blade on the chefs knife seems a little long, i really enjoy the handles. they're stainless and stamped (and it was my impression that generally better knives are stainless and forged, none of my research suggested carbon steel instead of stainless steel), but i'm really impressed. if you really want a forged knife, victorinox carries those as well.
posted by nadawi at 5:22 PM on March 21, 2012

Best answer: If you're after a large, beefy handle, how about visiting a bike shop and getting a squishy foam, or rubber handlebar grip to slip over the handle? If it's a nice knife, you'll be handwashing it anyway, so dishwasher-proof shouldn't be a concern. I'm a copier/printer repair tech, and I slip used feed tires over some of my screwdriver handles and kitchen knives for a fatter, "grippier" handle.
posted by xedrik at 7:42 PM on March 21, 2012

Seeing xedrik's comment reminded me: you could also comfy-ify a knife with some well-placed sugru.
posted by mendel at 7:44 PM on April 1, 2012

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