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Please help me choose a bread knife!

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I am in the market to buy a serrated knife for cutting bread (and other things- tomatoes, etc.) It will not get a huge about of use- maybe a small slicing job or 2 a day.

Just a few questions:

1. Does it make any sense to buy more expensive serrated knives? My understanding is that they can be difficult to sharpen (I don't do it myself, so I wouldn't know!) and some simply buy new serrated knives instead of sharpening. If it is a long-term investment that can be re-sharpened, the less expensive without sacrificing quality, the better.

2. In terms of size- what is the minimum length to consider? I bake boules, as well as standard size loaves. Have thus far made do with a hand-me down serrated knife that is a good 10" long, but wondering if I can go shorter without sacrificing much.

3. How useful is it to have an offset blade?

Two serious considerations thus far have been the 7.5" offset Dexter (about $13), and my local TJ Maxx has an 8" (non-offset) 4 Star Henckels (about $30, picture here: http://www.metrokitchen.com/product/H... )....but other suggestions welcome as well.

Thanks!

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  1. I bought a Forschner-Victorinox. If I recall correctly, I chose it because it was the one Cooks Illustrated recommended. I like a longer knife - the shorter it is, the more sawing you need to do, and your stroke won't have as much speed with a shorter blade, so you'll be working harder for a slower result.

    4 Replies
    1. re: greygarious

      I believe the style that CI liked (several years ago) is often called a pastry knife. It had a long blade (10"), slightly offset (molded plastic) handle, a slightly curved blade, and rounded tip.

      I ended up getting a Henckels from Spain in that style, and have been quite happy with it.

      Here's a FV pastry knife link
      http://www.allianceonline.co.uk/chefs...
      FV 'bread knives' are straighter, with a more pointed tip. That tip might be better for starting a cut in a hard crust, but I like the rounded tip.

      1. re: paulj

        Yes, Paulj, the CI-recommended knife is as you described. I don't recall what I paid but it came from A Cook's Wares, whose catalog and website conveniently note CI-recommended equipment. Except for its length, it is actually not better than the unmarked knife I inherited from my German mother. That one has to be at least 50 yrs old and likely 70+. It is stainless, and has two apparently brass "pegs" (don't know the correct term) holding the blade in the wooden handle. She used it nearly daily for 40 years; I use it less often. It has never been sharpened and still does a good job. It may or may not have been a top-line product when new.

        1. re: paulj

          I have had the Forschner-Victorinox knife for years and highly recommend it. It works like a charm. I seriously doubt that spending three times as much for a bread knife will get you noticeably better performance. For the record, the F-V knife is 10.25" long, with a slightly curved blade and a Fibrox (plastic) handle that is very durable. It is currently available at Amazon.com for $27.20.

          1. re: cheesemaestro

            I also like the above mentioned Forschner-Victorinox bread knife. The handle, length and shape is perfect for cutting bread. When I ran a restaurant kitchen, that was the knife that all wait staff like for bread slicing. Also, the price is reasonable compare to Hinckle, etc. Since you are only cutting few slices of bread a day, it will not need sharpening for year. It is too big for slicing tomatoes for which I have a small thin 6 inch serrated knife (cost less than $10).

      2. 4Snisl,

        Hi. Grey is correct. I think both Vicorinox and Dexter-Russell makes affordable good knives. I do sharp my own knives using diamond and water stones, but serrated knives are hard to fully sharp because of the hidden.scalloped parts. Special tools are needed for that and I cannot justify to buy a serrated knife sharpener for just one knife.

        http://www.discountcutlery.net/en-us/...

        There is two routes. You can buy cheap and functional knives and get a new one when the time come. It cost >$15 (including shipping) to have your bread knife sharpen, so it really makes no sense if your knife cost less than $30. I went for the expensive route and got the Shun Steel bread knife.

        http://www.amazon.com/Shun-Steel-9-In...

        I got it for two reasons. First, Japanese knives (Shun included) are made of harder steel so they remain sharp for a much longer period of time. Second, Shun has a lifetime free sharpening service. For cutlery enthusiasts, $70 is nothing and the Shun bread knife I got is actually cheaper than a Henckel Four Star bread knife or a Wusthof Classic bread knife.

        A Four Star Henckel on sale, however, at $30 is not a bad choice. I do not think it is a bad idea to go after it. Yes, technically it is difficult to fully sharpen a serrated knife on your own because of the hidden/scolloped edge. However, the counter argument is that the serrated knife really get dull on the exposed/teeth parts and consequently sharpening the exposed edge alone is sufficient.

        An offset blade is useful for preventing your knuckles hitting the cutting baord, but it not the only way. A slightly curve blade will do the same. If you look at the Shun bread knife I bought, it is slightly curved, so as you cut the bread, you shift the cutting to the front and there will be plenty space between your knuckles and the cutting board.

        You can also see plenty of other Dexter bread knives curved the same way. Here are two examples:
        http://www.dexter1818.com/Item_detail...
        http://www.dexter1818.com/Item_detail...

        Unfortunately, the Henckels Four Star blade is completely flat.
        Let us know if you need more information.

        1. What I said a couple of years ago: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3982...

          Answers to your questions:

          1) No, don't buy an expensive serrated knife. Go cheap, recycle it when it's dull, buy another cheap knife (you won't be doing this every year -- more like every ten years). Do not succumb to marketing, and do not listen to anyone's b.s. argument about adding to the landfills. What about adding money to the coffers of expensive cutlery companies?!

          2) I find my Dexter 9" offset serrated knife to be a good working length. Anything longer can become unwieldy.

          3) Offset feels good for my hands and my working height. You should try it out in person if you can...

          http://www.dexter1818.com/Item_detail...
          .
          .

          1 Reply
          1. re: Joe Blowe

            Argh! I did a search for "serrated knife" and "bread knife", and this thread didn't pop up for me....thanks for linking this thread.

          2. i'd get the offset blade-- really helps w control when slicing whole loaves evenly. wouldn't go shorter than 9 inches. if looks are not important i'd just buy the standard issue white handled restaurant supply model-- there is a reason that's the knife used in the sub shops.

            4 Replies
            1. re: soupkitten

              I like my offset Shun:- http://www.amazon.com/Frontgate-Class...
              There is a good deal going at Amazon with this:

              http://www.amazon.com/Shun-Steel-8-In...

              This is an 8 inch - my preference would be for the 9 inch one I have. (That sounds like an idle boast, but it's true.

              )

              Provided you do not use it to cut frozen food, hack bones etc it will be many, many years before it needs sharpening - and Shun do that for free. It does an excellent job of thing slicing meat - especially if you chill / par-freeze it first.

              1. re: Paulustrious

                i have a 12 inch serrated shun (not offset) that i use for large loaves and tomatoes at work. i love it but i cut a *lot* of bread and it's an expensive knife. i keep it in a knife roll and think it would be hard to store in a home kitchen. i really do think that a cheaper offset blade (blunt tip) would be fine for the op and i prefer this type of knife for smaller tasks. it's always possible to upgrade later. i do like shuns very much though.

                1. re: soupkitten

                  Soup,

                  Have you gotten the chance to take advantage of the free Shun knife sharpening service? Have you sent in your serrated bread knife? I bought the Shun knife partially for this service. I know how to free hand sharpen typical knives, but I do not know how to do that to a serrated knives. Cowboy and I are interested regarding the free knife sharpening service by Shun. Thanks.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    unfortunately i can't give you feedback on the free sharpening service. i bring my knives to a local service for sharpening, and they can do the serrated knives there. the guy gives us an industry discount on knife sharpening-- straight blades for $1 ea and serrated for $2 (even the 12")-- so for me, it's cheaper to get them sharpened locally than the postage to have shun do it for me, and in practical terms i don't have to wait a few days or a week or whatever to get my knives back. sorry i can't be of more help. maybe Paul or another shun user can weigh in on the sharpening service, which sounds great, i must say.

            2. Imagine a 5 inch wide loaf of bread.
              Now take an 8 inch bread knife. 8 minus 5 = 3, so you have a 3 inch cutting stroke. Except that most people aren't that good with a knife, so leave a half-inch on either end. That results in a 2-inch stroke, or about the length of your thumb.

              A 10-inch blade gives you a 4-inch stroke, meaning you need to reverse the motion of your 15 pound arm half as often, therefore a 10-inch bread knife will require half the effort of an 8-inch bread knife.

              A 9-inch bread knife is the minimum I'd recommend.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ThreeGigs

                Love the math- thanks. :)

              2. I have a 10" Wusthof super slicer that retails for about $60-$70 bucks. It was a gift but I love it. Wusthof has other less expensive models. my knife has a scalloped edge (they call it wavy), but Wusthof also makes a classic bread knife with the pointed serrated edge. The wavy version creates less crumbing and is easier to have sharpened (I just had mine done and its as good as new), but sometimes it takes a few strokes before it "grabs" the bread. Its perfect for tomatoes, though, because it doesn't rip/tear the skin. I also like the rounded end and slightly curved blade.

                Cooks Illustrated tested 12 bread knives and rated the Wusthof 10" classic bread knife as the top winner($90). The best buy was the Victorinox 10 1/4 " bread knife($24). They preferred a traditional serrated knife over the scalloped edge. They also said that the off-set blade feature was of no benefit.

                1. 1. I'll go out on a limb and say I'm about as much of a sharpening nut as you'll find on this site. And I won't sharpen serrated knives. I've done it before, just to know how. Yeah- not worth it. If you find someone willing to sharpen your serrated knife for $10 or something, he's about to rip you off.
                  However, the factory supplied free resharpening (like shun) may be worth looking into. Chem, have you tried this? If so, did they return the edge to 'like-new' condition?

                  2. Like others, 9 or 10 inches is the bare minimum length I'd go for a bread knife. Or I should say the bare minimum I'd recommend. 11 or 12 inches is the bare minimum I'd buy for myself. If you have the space, a longer bread knife is clearly superior.

                  3. An offset blade is more useful when you use the knife for things that are not bread. It's greatly preferred by those who use a serrated knife for anything they can remotely justify. If this is your intention, go offset. If not, it shouldn't matter much either way.

                  15 Replies
                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    Cowboy,

                    I have not tried out the Shun free sharpening yet, though I am looking forward to. I will keep you inform. So, did you get special tools to sharp your serrated bread knife?

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Varying grits of wet to dry sand paper wrapped around a metal tine. It works. And so do you as the sharpener.

                      1. re: cowboyardee

                        Cowboy,

                        I see. I understand the part about using sandpaper and metal tine/rod. I don't get the part "So do you as the sharpener". Are you saying that I will become a better knife sharpener after I do this?

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          No. I'm trying to imply that it's a lot of work and concentration. It's somewhat easier if you have a rod that fits perfectly into your knife's serrations (I didn't).

                          Either way, I didn't find the experience to be a soothing and relatively pleasant job like I find sharpening straight edges.

                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            Cowboy,

                            Ah, I see.

                            I agree. I also find knife sharpening very smoothing. Of course, I am doing this as a hobbit. I don't presume I will find it to be smoothing if it is my job.

                    2. re: cowboyardee

                      I just had all of my knives professionally sharpened. The pointed serrated blades need to have each crescent sharpened, whereas the scalloped edge serrated blades can be traditionally sharpened. Atleast that is what the man told me. He charged me $3-$4/knife depending on the length and came to my home. Money well spent for me.

                      1. re: lynnlato

                        If you think about how straight edges are traditionally sharpened, and you then think about what makes a scalloped edge, you will know that scalloped edges cannot possibly be "traditionally sharpened." Any recessed parts of the edge will not be touched using traditional means.

                        So yeah - the Chef's Choice electric or roller models that claim they sharpen serrated knives; the pull-through jobbies of one sort or another that make the same claim; the dudes charging $4/knife who use power tools or a chef's choice for the job - none of them actually sharpen a serrated knife in the way that a new knife is sharpened.

                        You can sharpen the points or the leading parts of a scalloped edge using traditional or semi traditional means. This will improve the performance of a dull knife. But...
                        A) you are changing the geometry of the knife. And more importantly...
                        B) you cannot do this indefinitely. After a while the serrations will be mostly useless (although eventually you'll have an arguably useful straight-edge).

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          Hmmm, interesting. So, do you not own a serrated knife then? I think its probably difficult to restore a knife to its brand new state - particularly for the average Joe or Jane at home. So, the best I can do is hire "dude" and I feel like I got more than my money's worth. In case you're curious, here's a link to his website: http://www.afineredge.com/index.html

                          Most professional kitchens that I am familiar w/ trade out their knives weekly with a similiar service. The service picks them up every week and exchanges out the knives with freshly sharpened ones.

                          As I was typing this I noticed that there was blood on my finger. Turns out I unknowingly cut my finger on my newly sharpened serrated knife. :-)

                          1. re: lynnlato

                            I do in fact own a serrated bread knife, though I rarely use it, as well as multiple serrated steak knives.

                            I did not mean to insult your 'dude.' He made your knife cut better - I don't doubt that. And at $3 or $4, that's probably worth it to you. I meant only to point out that he didn't "sharpen" your knife... if we take "sharpen" to mean restore a knife's edge. In fact he made pointy the leading 10% of the edge and probably restored nothing, as he did not likely follow the knife's preexisting geometry.

                            This is fine if it's what you're looking for. What I meant for you or, for example, the OP to take away from this is that "sharpening" in this way is not something you can do over and over for decades like you can with a well-made chef's knife. So one should keep that in consideration when buying a serrated knife - a $400 serrated knife is maybe not a good idea.

                            Unless you're truly loaded.

                            1. re: cowboyardee

                              Oh, I wasn't insulted. Clearly you understand the sharpening process far better than I. I was simpy saying "dude" worked for me. I don't have $400 knives so what he did was adequate for the price.

                              I wonder if there are many folks that invest $300 - $1,000 for knives. I'd be curious if many CHers do - seriously. I won't ever, so I need not be so concerned with maintaining the original geometry of my blades. I've got a few Henekels, Wusthof & Chicago Cutlery blades - nothing fancy. :)

                              1. re: lynnlato

                                Some Henckels are very fancy, just not my type of fancy. Like the Henckels 1731:

                                http://www.surlatable.com/nav/p/categ...

                                Joke aside, Wusthof and Henckels are pretty fancy knives to me.

                          2. re: cowboyardee

                            Cowboy,

                            I think we are talking about different things here between lynnlato and us. I had something similar with a sale at Williams Sonoma. Anyway, back to us. Maybe lynnlato is referring to scalloped knife likes these:

                            http://www.webstaurantstore.com/bergh...

                            which, of course, can be sharpened in traditional ways as the scalloped has nothing to do the real cutting edge.

                            You and I were thinking about the scalloped edge as in a serrated bread knife:
                            http://www.metrokitchen.com/product/H...

                            Of course, there is no way to sharp the "scalloped" or "receded" parts of a serrated knife on a flat stone. I think I got confused because we were talking about bread knives.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              I don't think that's what she's talking about but I could be wrong. If I am wrong, that is not a serrated knife at all and of course can be sharpened via traditional means.

                              A lot of people talk about "scalloped" bread knives meaning serrated knives with a different shape in their serrations. I've heard people say before that these still-serrated knives can be traditionally sharpened... which is not strictly true. Their points can be made pointier. This is not the same thing.

                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                Cowboy,

                                I know. Basic geometry. You cannot sharp and maintain an uneven surface (serrated surface) using a flat surface (flat waterstone for example).

                              2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                I was referring to a scalloped serrated bread knife, not the santoku. The Wusthof super slicer that I have has a scalloped serrated blade, as opposed to a pointed serrated blade.

                                I do have a santoku also - but I hate it. :)

                        2. Here are two nice bread knives. The handles are very comfortable. These prices from the manufacturer seem a little high. I paid around $17 for the 9” at a restaurant supply store. Don't worry about sharpening them.

                          http://www.dexter1818.com/Item_Detail...
                          http://www.dexter1818.com/Item_Detail...

                          1. My Forschner/Victorinox is superb. It's the 8 inch/20cm pointed one with a Fibrox handle. Some may prefer the longer rounded tip models for bread, but mine makes a better back-up carver for bone-in meat. In fact the curved part of the blade near the tip makes the final slice through the bottom crust easier than the straight bladed ones as you can hold the knife at an angle, rather than flat:

                            http://images.google.co.uk/imgres?img...

                            1. Thank you all so much- I apologize that I didn't follow up earlier. I was really tempted by the $30 Henckels knife, but decided instead to seek out an offset blade. Went to my local restaurant supply store, and the longest offest serrated blade they had was 6 inches.....so I'm hoping to explore a few other stores on my winter vacation. If they don't yield what I'm looking for, I'm going online! :)

                              Much appreciation for your advice....

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: 4Snisl

                                Check this price. They say their shipping charge is only what FedEx charges.

                                http://www.webstaurantstore.com/dexte...

                                1. re: yayadave

                                  Oh- I like it! Looks like we have a winner- thanks for the link!

                                  1. re: 4Snisl

                                    Hated to think of you using up your winter vacation in seedy parts of town. Well, unless you were in Paris.

                                    1. re: yayadave

                                      I can't believe that nobody has mentioned the MAC bread knife, easily the best and a favourite of pro chefs and knife enthusiasts. It is over 10" long, has a nice curved blade with pointed tip and it's serrations can be sharpened on a honing rod or stone. It's about $70 anywhere.

                                      1. re: bogie

                                        I came in here to do just that, steer them to the Mac sb105 bread knife.

                                        What you want to look for is the reverse scalloped edge. This actually cuts, instead of the tearing you get with the normal serrated (pointy) edges.

                                        But I also hear good things about the victorinox/forschner bread knife