Which filleting knife should I buy?
June 12, 2012 8:30 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to buy a filleting knife as a gift. Which make should I buy?

I've been looking through previous AskMes regarding knives, but I thought I'd ask directly since my question is very slightly snowflakey. So:

I'm planning to get my Dad a filleting knife for his birthday. However, I'm not sure which one I should get, and there's a lot of conflicting advice online that I don't really understand (stamped vs. forged, Europe v. Japan, etc). He currently has a set of MAC knives, and he also has a filleting knife already — not sure if it's a MAC knife or not — but either way, he's mentioned in passing that for whatever reason he's not getting along with it. Most of the other knife questions are understandably focussed on buying sets of knives. Since this is a gift and isn't going to be one of a dozen, I'm happy to spend a fair amount of money if it's going to get something really good.

So, if you have either a manufacturer or a specific knife to recommend, that'd be great. Feel free to mention anything I haven't thought of too, like custom knives (is that even a thing? is it expensive? etc), using lasers, or so on. :D
posted by jaffacakerhubarb to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I like the Fibrox-handled Victorinox stuff (so does Cooks Illustrated), and think it's a great value, but it sounds like you want something a little fancier.

Custom knives are definitely a thing, but there's a point of diminishing returns where you're paying more for exclusivity and artisan-ness than for utility or build quality. Think of high-end custom bicycles, or watches, or audiophile stuff, or bespoke clothing.

It might be worth talking more to your dad about what he doesn't like about his current fillet knife--if it's something like the size or the handle material, that will provide good guidelines about what to buy.
posted by box at 8:45 AM on June 12, 2012

Go to a high end culinary supply shop where you can handle the knives beforehand.

I'm a fan of Henckels knives, but in my experience this stuff all depends on the individual and how the knife feels in your hand. Assuming you and your dad are of a similar build, you might be able to figure out the best knife to get if you go to a shop and try out a bunch of them. The salesperson should be able to show you the proper way to hold a fillet knift (then again, is your dad holding his fillet knife correctly?)

Can you give your dad a card that says, "let's go knife shopping!" or the like, and then take him to such a shop to try out all the fillet knives? And then buy him whichever one he prefers.

US chain shops that offer this sort of service are Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table. Not sure if the UK has those, or if there is a better version where you are. Obviously, finding a culinary shop that is locally owned would be preferable, especially if run by someone who really knows their stuff. You're looking for a shop that has a knife section with a space for testing/handling the knives, and ideally a staff member working back there who specializes in selling knives (as opposed to the kid who just got thrown into "knife section" duty but knows fuck all about kitchen equipment).
posted by Sara C. at 8:46 AM on June 12, 2012

You want forged knives rather than stamped. You want knives with a "full" tang (which is to say, knives in which the single piece of steel extends all the way through the handle).

Here in the U.S. the decently upmarket-good-but-not-amazing-or-bank-breaking brands are Henckels and Wusthof, both German brands. I've had my Wusthof Classics for seven years now and you will have to pry them from my cold, dead hands.

What box says is about diminishing returns is spot on. You can spend almost any amount of money on things like this if you want to.
posted by gauche at 8:56 AM on June 12, 2012

Also, the Japanese vs. German thing, in this particular case, is probably not really an issue for your case. Since a fillet knife is a specific thing. The main difference between Japanese and German, in my understanding, is that the knife shapes and styles are different. For example the Santoku knife vs. the classic European Chef's knife.

If your dad is already using a classic European-style fillet knife, you probably don't want to go crazy and get a Japanese knife, without careful examination that it is EXACTLY what he means when he says "fillet knife". If Japanese knife-makers even do fillet knives, of course.

So that question is probably already somewhat answered for you.

That said, Shun knives are pretty...
posted by Sara C. at 9:01 AM on June 12, 2012

The info that you've gotten so far is spot on. Henckel and Wusthof are my go-to knife manufacturers, and always full tang. I would like to reiterate how important it is to choose the knife that feels good in your hand. Everyone's hands are different, and a knife that doesn't fit can increase fatigue or even, in worst case, lead to slippage and injury. Take him out to shop with you. Make a day of it. Shopping for knives is fun!
posted by blurker at 9:03 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is he filleting fish or beef?

My parents have had a lake cabin since I was 9. My dad catches a lot of fish, especially now, since he's retired. If your dad is filleting fish, consider:

1. In Minnesota (Land of 10,000 Lakes, mind you) the Leech Lake Knife is sort of the gold standard of full-tang fillet knives.

2. However, if you're mowing through a lot of fish, an electric fillet knife may be what he wants. I know, not as sexy, and it makes noise, and it's not as cool as all of the artisan-craftsman-etc. knives, but if you want to cut a lot of fillets without being showy about it, it's worth considering.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:27 AM on June 12, 2012

My father is a butcher and echos box's, and america's test kitchen's sentiments. For quality vs cost the fibrox handled Victorinox really can't be beat. Back when I worked at the butcher shop I used the 6" boning knife for most everything and had no issues. The fillet knife has worked just as well for me, although it doesn't get near as much use.
posted by Quack at 10:41 AM on June 12, 2012

Marttinii knives from Finland are quite decent and would not be a common choice.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:11 PM on June 12, 2012

Seconding Marttinii. All if mine are folded blades from Finland. If its for fish you want a really nice slim sproingy blade. The really expensive ones can be bent practically in half. Makes a big difference.
posted by fshgrl at 1:42 PM on June 12, 2012

I really like knives and had a paring knife made by this fellow. It was indeed quite expensive. For ready-mades, I like Shun (see here for a good deal on their fillet knife and also just a cool website in general - the difference between most MAC and Shun handles is evident here). These Bob Kramer ready-mades are also nice.

I know that I like heavy, small knives with a belly. Others like long, light ones or some variation thereof. How does your dad slice? Does he mostly use the end of the knife, or does he use the whole thing? As an aside, a book like this is a fun addition to a gift of a knife.
posted by analog at 5:02 PM on June 12, 2012

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