Monday Funday

Starting a Knife Collection

By • June 11, 2012 • 17 Comments

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Food52's Editorial Assistant (and college student) Brette Warshaw is curating her very own first kitchen -- and she needs your help.

Last time, you helped her find a cast iron pan. Today: How to start a knife collection

Group of knives

I’m 5’ 3”, I smile a lot, and I look like I’m fifteen years old.

Don’t let that fool you. I’ve got a thing for knives.  

This thing came about when I, a wide-eyed college student with no professional culinary training, got the opportunity to work as a stage at the renowned restaurant Vetri in Philadelphia. “Wear a white shirt, and come at noon,” the chef de cuisine told me. “And bring your knife.”

My knife. Of course.

Until then, I had gotten by in my wall-of-appliances-in-the-living-room “kitchen” with some dull, cheap thing that was part of a $10 set. Like all other kitchenware, a real chef knife -- the kind I could walk into a kitchen like Vetri and feel comfortable using -- felt too advanced for me, too mature. Sawing into onions with a dull blade felt like a rite of passage. I wasn’t ready, just yet, to commit. 

And then, suddenly, I was.

It was time, then, for some serious research. It was time to gaze at photos of shiny blades for hours, to send my colleagues frantic emails for advice, to go from kitchen store to kitchen store and grasp the handles of the crazy-sharp specimens in my hand, power coursing through my veins, creeping out the salespeople with my crazed, lopsided grin. Chef knife or Santoku? 8-inch, or longer? A knife is a very personal preference: size, weight, length, brand, and blade all played into my final decision. After a week of furious searching, I settled on the 8” Mac Santoku ($64.95), a knife with a thinner blade and straighter edge than the classic chef knife. 

Oh baby. I was ready.

Mac Santoku

Feeling like some master Japanese samurai, brand-new houndstooth chef pants dragging on the floor, I greeted my afternoon project at Vetri -- a crate of kumquats -- with a smile. Damn, this thing is sharp, I thought with glee, slicing cleanly through a kumquat, and then my finger. (Note: I went through an entire box of plastic gloves that night.)

Now that I’ve practiced -- tackling gnarly broccoli stalks and raw chickens and piles of onions in the privacy of my own apartment (filed under “Things I Should’ve Done Before Cutting Myself 5 Times in my First 10 Minutes in a Restaurant Kitchen”) -- I’ve realized the beauty of having a knife that’s efficient, sturdy, and unforgivingly sharp. Prepping isn’t a chore now. It’s thrilling. 

I want that feeling with all of my kitchen tasks.

Serrated knife

While a chef knife or Santoku can handle the majority of prep work, certain, specific tasks require special knives. For slicing tomatoes, bread, sandwiches, and cake rounds, I need a serrated knife, preferably one with a blade 10-12 inches long (a shorter one can get lost in a large cake or loaf of bread). If I want a forged knife -- one crafted from a metal blank heated and hammered before the shape of the knife is cut -- then the Wusthof Classic Bread Knife, 10 inches ($109.95) is an option. It feels almost wrong, though, to spend more money on a serrated knife than my Santoku. A less expensive stamped option -- the kind of knife that’s shaped from a hunk of metal with a more advanced version of a cookie-cutter -- is the Victorinox 10¼-Inch Curved Blade Bread Knife for $28.

Paring knife

For more delicate kitchen tasks, such as hulling strawberries, coring fruit, making citrus supremes, and scraping vanilla beans, I’ll need a sharp paring knife. One that’s no longer than 3½ inches is key; any longer, and precision and agility are compromised. The major decision, here, is whether the expensive German brands are worth it; the Wustoff Classic 3½-Inch Paring Knife and Henckels Four Star Paring Knife, 3-inch are both highly recommended, but are $39.95 and $49.99, respectively. The Victorinox 3 1/4-inch Paring Knife, on the other hand, is much less expensive; at only $7.82, it’s a fraction of the fancier knives.

Yes, there are boning knives, fileting knives, cheese knives, bird's beak knives, sheep's foot knives, knives of all shapes and sizes, of metals, of designs. But this is my First Kitchen, and I want knives that I know that I will need. No matter what the knife, no matter the length or type of metal, if it's forged or stamped, whether it's French or Japanese or German or American, a knife begs to be used. It wants to cut, to slice, to chop, to dice; just like us, it wants to feel wanted. As one of the kind, patient line cooks at Vetri told me, watching me tape up my wounds for the 25th time that night, "That's happened to me, too. Don't worry. New knives just need practice."

What knives are in your collections, and which would you recommend for my First Kitchen?

As usual, I'll be pinning all of the tools I'm coveting to my First Kitchen Pinterest board, so check it out!

Email me at [email protected] with your First Kitchen recommendations -- your favorite tools, your favorite cookware, your favorite cookbooks. All wisdom is appreciated.

Tags: first kitchen, cookware, kitchenware, knives, chef knife, santoku, paring knife, serrated knife, products, supplies

Comments (17)

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7 days ago Andrew Thomas

Save up and get a Kramer knife!

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about 1 month ago Ed

Well I'm a little late on this one but I collect knives. My knife drawer has 30 knives BUT I have another drawer that has about 40 more, German, Japanese, ceramic, you name it I have it. Most I have never used, so what, I still have them.

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almost 2 years ago talon8

I get my knives from here (Disclaimer, I don't work there, I'm just a happy customer):

http://www.knifewear.com/

It's a small shop in Calgary, AB (also in Kelowna, BC) and they sell a large selection of hand made (and some very high quality stamped) blades. The website does online sales too. The owner frequently travels to Japan, and has a good relationship with the traditional Japanese knife makers... He occasionally has a couple MAC and other blades in the store, but they're kind of the bottom end of his blades.

I realize these may not be "starter" knives, but I've used a wide selection of knives, and never have I found anything sharper, or higher quality. I've used good knives, great knives; I keep my knives insanely sharp. These however, are mind blowing. They come in every morning with a large bag of tomatoes, and potatoes for customers to take their blades for a spin.

Anyhow, I currently own a:
- 210mm Suisin INOX Honyaki Gyuto
- 135mm Murata Petty

I also have a few pro Henkels and a Cleaver passed down from my Grandmother. :-)

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almost 2 years ago kasia S.

I'm just starting to collect good quality knives, they are expensive and can take some time to find that match :)

Few I use all the time and recommend -

Shun Kaji Fusion 8-Inch Chef's Knife
Kasumi 88024 - 10 inch Chef's Knife
Global G-2 - 8 inch, 20cm Chef's Knife
Global GS-7 - 4 inch, 10cm Paring Spear Knife
F.Dick Premier WACS Bread Knife 8-inch blade

Stringio

almost 2 years ago ChrisVeros

I have a block of Farberware knives that cost me $15 that I leave out for my roommates to ruin, and I have no qualms about grinding the bajeezus out of them to make them sharp; The good stuff stays hidden in my knife roll and no abrasives harder than a scrubby sponge get anywhere near them.
I have a 10" Shun Classic; gorgeous but a tad long.
I have a 8" Henckels Profection which has an unusally fat handle but is quickly becoming my favorite.
I have a Chroma Type 301 boning knife, which is a work of art.


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almost 2 years ago rheg18

I love my Wusthof 8" Chef and 3 1/2" paring knives. I can't believe I waited so long to invest in good quality knives. I barely use the other ones that I have at home.

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almost 2 years ago babytiger

Mac Santoku and Victorinox bread knife - both in my draw, both great for the price.

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almost 2 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Truer words were never spoken! Growing up in a house of obscenely dull knives (maaaaybe because my little brothers would sometimes steal them to play sword fight) I was completely blown away by the difference having sharp knives made when I finally got the sense to buy some. You're so totally right that prepping goes from chore to thrill. It's exhilarating, and who really needs all their fingertips anyway?!

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almost 2 years ago brette warshaw

Brette is the Managing Editor of Food52.

We are SO on the same page.

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almost 2 years ago Panfusine

My Pride & joy is the Viking Chefs knife that I got as a gift from food52 for being a Foodpickler of the week.

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almost 2 years ago brette warshaw

Brette is the Managing Editor of Food52.

Love that!

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almost 2 years ago connoisseur

Quentin Tarantino would love you.

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almost 2 years ago pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.

I love knives. I'm a total knife guy. I can't stop. Sfmiller's inventory is a great place to begin.

I still have carbon steel knives from my mother, made in Germany (not my mother) but now I'm infatuated with Japanese knives. They do have a tradition of sword making, and well, when it comes to steel and shape... I really dig Shun. I do have one big monster Global forged chef's knife though. As Sfmiller noted the bevel edge on Japanese knives is different than on European style knives. This is due to slicing technique; European cooks push, where Japanese cooks would pull.

There is nothing worse than a dull knife. When I cook in other people's homes I always bring my own bag because one thing is for sure: none of your friends owns a sharp knife.

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almost 2 years ago brette warshaw

Brette is the Managing Editor of Food52.

Words to live by. Thanks so much pierino. Glad someone understands! I'm going to start investigating those Shun knives.

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almost 2 years ago Panfusine

I'm so totally with you about the dull knives outside ones own home..

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almost 2 years ago sfmiller

Good series. I wish it had been around when my kids were setting up their first kitchens (although, on reflection, I kinda liked the "Dad, what kind of knife/pan/blender/whatever should I get?" phone calls).

One essential that wasn't mentioned (and more often than not isn't in answers to "What knives should I get?" questions: a steel, to keep a honed edge on the tools you're about to spend good money on. Some sort of sharpening implement is useful too: At the high end, an electric sharpener; at the low, a whetstone (IF you know how to use one) or an inexpensive but surprisingly effective Accusharp sharpener (for knives with Western edges, not Japanese). Otherwise, expect to pay to have your knives professionally sharpened periodically.

The knives I use the most (in rough order of frequency)

8" chef's (Global)
6" santoku (Wusthof)
4" paring (Global)
10" bread (Victorinox Fibrox--all their knives are great value)
6" serrated utility (Victorinox)
6" flexible boning (Victorinox)
3" paring (ancient Sabatier)
12" granton edged slicer (Victorinox)

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almost 2 years ago brette warshaw

Brette is the Managing Editor of Food52.

Thanks so much, sfmiller -- this is so helpful! We actually have a video coming out this week on how to sharpen knives.