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Jan 1, 2012 05:54 AM

Which is the Better Heavy-duty Knife?

Okay, so I was thinking to myself trying to plot out my future knife purchases and I noticed that I don't have a beater knife in my queue. So I was wondering, and hopefully others will benefit from the answers, What makes a better general purpose heavy duty knife, a deba or a cleaver? Based off of what I currently know about knifes, I know I need the knife to be stainless and have a wide or blunt edge.

That's said, Is a deba better at cutting lobster, pitting seeds, cutting bone and the like or should I stick with a cleaver? For those of you who are interested, I'm looking to get a 240mm Gyuto (not a laser), a ~150mm petty, a 270-300mm sujihiki, and a 10 inch bread knife, with all the knives being carbon steel.

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  1. I've used the same #3 classic chinese steel cleaver for about 40 years. Because it's actually steel in stead of S.S. it holds an edge. When I need to I can crack crap/lobster legs etc. with the back of the cleaver. It is the most useful knife I have in every way. Don't bother getting a S.S. knife. Over time I have replaced all my S.S. knives with steel ones. They just need more care ie you can't leave them wet or they will immediately begin to rust. Small price to pay for using seriously sharp knives.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Puffin3

      The care issue isn't a concern in my case, being that I know how to force a patina and I take good care of the knives I have now, despite them being SS. But, aren't SS knives tougher (not to be confused with harder) than Carbon steel? I don't see myself ever needing to cut through bone, just expose the marrow, but still.

    2. First off, a western deba (double beveled) is a general purpose heavy duty knife, but a traditional deba (single beveled) is more of a specialized fish cutting knife that I certainly wouldn't use like a meat cleaver.

      I guess it sort of depends on exactly how you plan on using the knife. A meat cleaver is pretty decent for hacking apart flesh with small to mid-sized bones intact. A western deba has a different feel and just a little bit more finesse, but can definitely still handle small bones. There is probably still some risk of chipping a western deba if you really go after, say, beef bones with one, just due to the harder steel they typically use, but in my experience, the risk of chipping falls sharply as the edge gets more obtuse (as it does in a western deba). I'd say the heavier your kitchen tasks are, the more I'd lean toward a meat cleaver, while if you just want to mow through bone-in chicken and cut lobsters while still having a knife that will make the occasional more precise cut, I'd prefer a western deba. Western debas are also generally more expensive, if that's a consideration.

      Another option to consider:
      Lots of mass, not a bad price. Big intimidation factor. I've heard stories of people hacking right through pork skulls with em. No first hand experience though. Looks like a hell of a lot of fun.

      If you have to cut through moderate to large size beef bones or really huge fish, a saw is probably a better option than any sort of knife.

      "For those of you who are interested, I'm looking to get a 240mm Gyuto (not a laser), a ~150mm petty, a 270-300mm sujihiki, and a 10 inch bread knife, with all the knives being carbon steel."
      One issue - you're going to have a hard time finding a carbon steel bread knife, and frankly I'm not convinced that looking too hard is worth it. IMO, the biggest upsides of a carbon steel knife are sharpenability and lower cost than comparably good stainless steel. A bread knife complicates or negates both of these advantages - sharpening (properly) is a pain in the butt either way, and you'll probably pay a premium for a carbon bread knife if you can find one.

      Let me know if you want any suggestions for your other picks. Or if you don't, let me know what you decide on.

      13 Replies
      1. re: cowboyardee

        I've heard good things about this Tojiro Western Deba and their bread knife

          1. re: Dave5440

            Yeah it is. The video on that page is a nice demonstration of how a Western deba is good for jobs that require heavy duty work but also a little finesse at the same time.

        1. re: cowboyardee

          Pardon me for interjecting - I'm also looking at knvfes right now. Do you have a bread knife you'd recommend? My collection is pretty mainstream right now - mostly Shun Classic and a Wusthof or two. I'm wondering if it's worthwhile to get expensive serrated knives; I don't know too much about the upkeep. Sorry to ask a noobie question!

          1. re: olympia

            IMHO spending $70.00 + on a bread knife is not necessary.The higher end brands,Tojiro,MAC etc are beautiful well made knives,but if I were looking for a bread knife today,I'd give this one some serious consideration..

            I have a similar knife(no name Nella $10.00 or so and it does a great job.

            1. re: petek

              Thanks :) I must be too snooty now. Somehow the Victorinox knives just seem aesthetically unpleasing to me. I tried one of their chefs knives and the handle got moldy! I will say that we're in a damp area and anything that's not used regularly seems to get moldy. Fun. That's a problem for another day though. Suffice it to say, we didn't use it much.

                1. re: olympia

                  "I tried one of their chefs knives and the handle got moldy!"
                  A plastic or stabilized wood handle should solve that problem.
                  $30. vs $90. for a bread knife,I'd rather use the money I saved for something else(like a new stone)but that's just me :-)

                  1. re: petek

                    "$30. vs $90. for a bread knife,I'd rather use the money I saved for something else(like a new stone)but that's just me :-)"

                    Not if you are a bread lover. :)

                    So what stone is on your list? To be honest, I was going to get a higher grit stone, but now I feel I don't really need a higher one.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      "So what stone is on your list?"

                      Funny you should ask..I just bought a Chosera 1k and another Arashiyama 6k(on sale for $50.00),Just did some light sharpening on the Chosera,but it seems like a real winner.

                      And btw I am a bread lover and my $10. cheapo no name bread knife has served me well all these years.. :-D

                      1. re: petek

                        I just bought a Chosera 1k and another Arashiyama 6k(on sale for $50.00)"

                        That Arashiyama is cheap! You are just upgrading stones, right? Yeah, Chosera has the reputation of being the best of the best synthetic stones. I have never tried one. Very expensive stuffs. :)

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          The Chosera was an upgrade,I already had the Arashiyama but I couldn't pass on such a great bargain.

            2. re: cowboyardee

              D'oh, that's what I get for posting when I've been up for 26 hours. I meant to say that the knives are going to be carbon *BUT* the bread knife. With the bread knife, I'm definitely going to buy a Victorinox every batch of years and leave it at that. The two or so hours of work it took to earn the money is so worth not having to sharpen one of those things. As for the other knives I want to buy, I'll make a new thread when I have a better idea of what I want (not lasers :p).

              As for the topic itself , the hardest thing I see myself ever doing is nicking beef bones to expose marrow. Other than that, the knife would be used for whatever prep makes the japanese knives shed a tear, like pitting seeds. Cost is a concern in that I don't want to spend more money than I have to, but other than that, I can buy whatever knife does what I need it to do best. And thank you.

            3. I am on the internet, right? My god, you guys are awesome.

              1. Shezmu,

                The problem is that we don't know what level of a beater knife you like. I am guessing that you don't really need a knife for cutting tough bones, right? Just chicken bones at most?

                You said stainless steel, right?


                A large deba is very good for cutting lobster, cutting chicken bones, but it is usually carbon steel.

                8 Replies
                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  If it helps, I guess it's most descriptive to say that if I can make stock without exposing the bone marrow, I wouldn't need the knife to go through bone. So, I guess I'm looking for a knife for jobs like say pitting a avocado or working with harder vegetables up to but *excluding* cutting through bone. Perhaps SS isn't needed for that, but I would be more comfortable working with it for what I want the knife to do.

                  1. re: shezmu

                    "So, I guess I'm looking for a knife for jobs like say pitting a avocado or working with harder vegetables up to but *excluding* cutting through bone."

                    Got it. There is a tradeoff by going to thicker and heavier knife. They can handle tougher jobs, but also become worse for refine works. In your case, you want it to able to be tough enough to put hard vegetables and cut into an avocado pit, but not necessary for cutting through bones. In that case, I think a lot of medium thick blade Chef's knives will go that job.

                    1. re: shezmu

                      Shez, you do not need to expose marrow for stock.. the marrow is mostly fatty and clouds the stock and you will want to skim/remove the fat/skum off while your stock is simmering.

                      But if you wanted to anyway, most if not all knives or even an ax will eventially dull or chip trying to split beef bones. You can ask your butcher to cut the bones for you. They use electric saws. In a home setting a hack saw works.

                      1. re: bbqJohn

                        Chemicalkinetics - Would you say that a 8inch Victorinox chef's knife would do the trick?

                        bbqJohn- That's not something I've heard before but I'll definitely look it up. Thanks for the tip.

                        1. re: shezmu

                          It sounds like you just want a Chef's knife which can take some punishment. Yes, a 8" Victorinox Chef's knife will work as your beater knife. I also think a Dexter-Russell Chef's knife will work as well, so do many other brands. By the way, just to be sure, when you said you want the knife to cut tough vegetables. What kind of vegetables are we talking about?

                          Butternut squash?


                          Lilly root?


                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            The Winter squashes are definitely what I had in mind, though squash is more of a wedger than hard to my knowledge, but yes.

                            1. re: shezmu

                              Winter Squashes are hard, but as you accurately point out their main challenge comes from significant resistance due to wedging.

                              If we are only talking about just winter squashes, then a thin and tall (wide) blade knife works really well, like the famous CCK Chinese thin blade slicer:


                              The thin blade allows you to cut into winter squashes without less resistance. The tall (wide) blade allows you to tap on the knife spine if it gets stuck.

                              This very different for the lobster shell, which I won't recommend the thin blade CCK Chinese slicer.

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                My game plan for Squashes at the moment is to use a sujihiki. Would that work?

                  2. Personally, I'd skip the bread knife. Any really sharp thin edge will do a very good job of cutting bread. After I honed up the edge, even my father's Henckles International santoku did a great job on some fresh bread the other week.

                    I wouldn't go nuts on the petty, but that's me. I do use a petty here and there but I don't see a point in getting a really high end one. If I worked in a professional kitchen like some of these guys my opinion might be different though.

                    The gyuto ... I'd blow real money there, and get something like a very thin super blue blade. Lots of great choices abound. You'll use it all the time, on just about everything.

                    That CCK cleaver would be a nice compliment. If I didn't already have a "beater" chinese cleaver, I'd get one. I'll probably get one someday anyway - they are very cool and well-regarded.

                    The sujhiki ... well I don't have much need for a truly high end slicer for regular use. In theory, your gyuto will handle most of, if not all, of that need - but ... I can't really be sure how often you need to slice roasts and such.

                    I prep a LOT of veggies, all the time, so for me a nakiri was a recent purchase that has truly made a world of difference in my kitchen. Your gyuto will be able to do all that but perhaps not quite as well. Again, it comes down to your needs and what you prep all the time.

                    My one true beater knife is my cheap chinese cleaver. I never worry about what I might do to the edge, and it sharpens up easily enough. This was my go-to knife for winter squash until I got my nakri. But if I were to ever want to smash through chicken bones, I'd use the chinese cleaver. I've never worked with beef bones for getting at the marrow and such so part of what you need is simply outside my experience but some of these other folks will certainly have good info for you.

                    Just my 2 cents.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: jkling17

                      My main concern with the bread knife is the really crusty breads. Being a low-carber though, I don't need much to dissuade me from getting a bread knife, for home use at least. Cooking for work is a goal for me so that is also a concern. A chef knife/gyuto works fine for me with veg so I'm good there. The sujhiki is going to be what I use for fish, streak cutting and the like, as well as a general service knife.

                      Thank you for the comment.

                      1. re: shezmu

                        Along with a MIU chef's knife I recently ordered the $20 offset bread knife. Works fine for crusty breads but there are many other options. I liked it because of the full tang, forged, and more high end look versus the plastic handle knifes in similar price range.


                        Btw, preped, cooked, and ran the carving station today for about 2.5 boxes of ball tip roasts (about 35-40 or so). Anyways just used a plain plastic handle slicer described in one of the posts above. No need for an expensive slicer unless you just want one.

                        1. re: shezmu

                          Well ... I kinda look at it this way - you are going to get a really good gyuto anyway. So, you can always get a bread knife whenever you like, if somehow crusty bread is more than a match for "big bad gyuto".

                          1. re: jkling17

                            bbqjohn - So a cheapo (for lack of a better word) slicer works? I will definitely keep that in mind. Thank you.

                            jkling17 - LOL. True, true.