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Slicing brisket -- what kind of knife do you use?

  • CindyJ Jan 26, 2012 09:29 AM
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I usually use an electric knife, but I'm never happy with it. I'm thinking of shopping for a new knife to use for this purpose. What types of knives should I consider?

And a basic question -- what's the difference between a slicing knife and a carving knife? Thanks!

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  1. "what's the difference between a slicing knife and a carving knife?"

    Generally a carving will be thicker and less flexible with a pointed tip, a slicer will be thinner, more flexible and rounded at the end.

    Jim

    1. I use this Victorinox slicer:

      http://www.amazon.com/Victorinox-Cutl...

      Cuts through brisket "like buttah."

      1 Reply
      1. re: ferret

        That's not a slicer, mate. THIS is a slicer:

        http://www.amazon.com/Victorinox-12-I...

        Ok, that might have worked better if I could write with an Australian accent. In any case, it works great on brisket, roasts, cold cuts, whatever. This is one case where size (length) does matter because one push and one pull will go through most everything and that means . And a Victorinox or Dexter-Russel slicer won't set you back $100-$300 like some fancy 9" Japanese knives.

      2. Hi CindyJ,

        If I were looking to get a specific slicing/carving knife, I'd probably get a nice Japanese-style slicer (called a sujihiki) like this one (at the bottom of the page):

        http://www.japanesechefsknife.com/Pro...: 401px; HEIGHT: 233px

        But really, for the past few years I've been using my Japanese-style chef knife:

        http://japan-blades.com/chef-knives/w...

        For me, the key has been to use a sharp knife that has little resistance when cutting through the meat. The shorter blade height (edge to spine) of my gyuto, combined with a nice cutting edge, has made it better slicer than anything else I've used prior, including several (low quality) slicing/carving knives.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Eiron

          A Moritaka 360 Sujihiki knife. Super sharp and long.

        2. Throw out the electric knife, right now. Don't waste time.

          Go to a kitchen store and have someone educate you about knives, then go home and think about what you've learn Keep in mind you don't have to have fancy handles-no restaurants do-just good blades, consider how you would use knives in your kitchen, and then go buy some good knives.And a good cutting board or several.(NOT glass, get wood, bamboo, or a brand called Epicurean)

          3 Replies
          1. re: Scary Bill

            That electric knife long ago evolved into a single-use tool; it became the "brisket knife" and it just stayed that way. I happen to own some fairly decent knives and a good cutting board. And I also own a great yet very inexpensive (~$10) offset bread knife with a plastic handle, so I'm fully aware that I don't need a top-of-the-line knife for every purpose. The one I'd been considering for the brisket, even before I posted my question, was the Victorinox 12-inch Granton edge with a Fibrox handle, quite similar to the one ferret recommended above. I just thought I'd "ask around" before making my purchase.

            1. re: CindyJ

              Cutlery and More has a clearance section with all kind of goodies and has that Forschner for $19.99.

              http://www.cutleryandmore.com/victori...

              1. re: knifesavers

                That looks like a GREAT price, but it's somehow different from the one linked above on Amazon. The item numbers are slightly different, as are the product names. The one you linked seems to be specifically "...for cutting and serving wafer-thin slices of ham and roasts."

          2. I use a razor-sharp Sabatier carbon steel slicing knife, works like a charm.

            1. MAC SB-105.

              1. I use this Victorinox

                http://www.amazon.com/Victorinox-12-I...

                1 Reply
                1. re: rasputina

                  That's EXACTLY the one I was thinking of getting.

                2. When I do brisket to fall off the bone tender in my smoker to 195f for about 15 hours it is so tender that the only way to keep it from totally falling apart is to use my electric knife, same when cutting homemade lox.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: malibumike

                    Where do you get your bone-in brisket?

                    1. re: ferret

                      I didn't know there was such a thing.

                      1. re: CindyJ

                        (There isn't).

                      2. re: ferret

                        Ferret, I just used the common "fall off the bone" to imply the amount of tenderness of the meat.

                        1. re: malibumike

                          I got it, it was just an odd choice for describing brisket.

                      3. re: malibumike

                        In most BBQ competitions, that's considered overcooked. I like when it yields without falling apart. You can slice it 1/4" to 3/8" thick and it'll hold together but yields to a tug. Good stuff- can be a little hard to hit it just right.

                        1. re: ted

                          Yes your right in BBQ competitions, I just prefer fall off the bone tender like in pulled pork, I suspect that many are like me.

                          1. re: malibumike

                            It's just a lot easier to make mush than it is to do something properly cooked. Having been to a few of the really great BBQ joints around Austin, I'll keep trying for the latter even if it is harder to do.

                        2. re: malibumike

                          Do you let your brisket rest before cutting it? I found that a rest by wrapping the brisket in tin foil and placed in a cambro [or a faux cambro] for a few hours aids is proper carving.

                        3. "what's the difference between a slicing knife and a carving knife?"
                          _______
                          In an acedemic sense, there is no real difference. You'll see some of the same knives sold as both a 'carving knife' and a 'slicer.' They're both long narrow knives, and there is no single characteristic that a knife sold as a 'carving knife' always has that distinguishes it from a 'slicer' or vice versa.

                          That said, knives sold as slicers are more likely to be thinner, longer, and have a fully rounded tip than knives sold as 'carving knives.' Knives sold as carvers are more likely to be sort of decorative, due to the popularity of 'carving sets.' These are not hard, fast rules, and do not apply to all slicers and carvers.

                          In case you're interested, a sujihiki is a Japanese slicer. It is distinguished by having a heel. Generally, it will take an excellent edge and have excellent edge retention. It will also usually be pricey. A sujihiki will almost always be sold as a 'sujihiki' rather than as a 'slicing knife,' and almost never as a 'carving knife.'

                          Anyway, when carving brisket you want to look for the 3 following characteristics in a knife:
                          most important:
                          1 Sharp
                          much less important:
                          2 Long
                          less important still:
                          3 Straight (more or less, for most of its length) and narrow (as opposed to 'tall')
                          4 Well ground (an asymmetrical convex grind can be nice in a slicer, as it keeps super thin slices from sticking to the blade and getting mis-shapen)

                          My favorite gyuto is not a slicing knife, but it would cut a brisket better than most slicing knives in most professional kitchens. Why? Because I keep it sharp as heck.
                          So first and foremost, get a knife that can take a good edge and put a good edge on it. If you already have a long-ish knife capable of taking a very sharp edge, consider sharpening it before buying a new knife.

                          Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I do have a sujihiki which is especially nice for slicing meats and fish.

                          1. I think cowboy's description is pretty accuracy. There is certainly a good amount of cross over between a slicing knife and a carving knife. Usually a knife like the following is called a slicing knife:
                            http://www.amazon.com/Zwilling-J-Henc...

                            and a knife like this following is called a craving knife:

                            http://www.amazon.com/Zwilling-J-Henc...

                            1. I am not sure if you are talking about smoked brisket, or braised brisket, but in either case, if cooked properly it tends to fall apart. When cutting across the grain, which is what you are supposed to do, the edges can separate. Hence, one of the complications of using an electric knife, which I have never been a fan of. It's a little like using a small electric saw. You can't change the motion when you need to -- to prevent the meat separating at the edges.

                              I use the sharpest slicer I have - a nine inch Shun classic. I keep it very sharp, and I slice the meat slowly and carefully. It gives the best result, as any kind of thicker chef's knife or serrated knife cannot slice through the meat as easily without tearing. You should consider some kind of "carving" or non-serrated slicing knife, as these have the thin, sharp profile you need to slice rather than tear. I also have a really nice Henkel's Twin Pro slicer that is eight inches long, but for brisket, longer seems better and sharper and thinner seem to minimize the side tearing. Save your electric knife for landscape maintenance -- it's better suited to that task :)

                              10 Replies
                              1. re: RGC1982

                                I braise my brisket -- usually for about 4 hours, low and slow in the oven. I usually get very nice, even slices with the electric knife; I can't remember ever having a problem with the meat falling apart (except, maybe, for the small pieces on the very ends). I just don't like the feel of the knife and the whole mechanics of it; that's why I'm looking for a good, uncomplicated slicing knife.

                                1. re: CindyJ

                                  Go with a long, slim profiled and sharp "slicing" or carving knife. It is a lot easier on your wrists and hands than the vibration of an electric knife. Nothing to take apart and reassemble. Make sure that you have a way to keep it really sharp. You can go with any decent brand. I would stay away from anything that is included in a carving set (would contain a fork) and just spend your money on a decent eight or nine inch slicer. I have used Shun Classic, which is really sharp, but pricey. Henkels and Wusthoff make really nice ones too, and I have used knives from both manufacturers. They are also other brands you might like from what I read on these boards.

                                  I was joking, of course, about using the electric knife for landscape maintenance. For me, controlling one has always been an issue, and it was the one kitchen gadget I refused to use or keep. My Dad used to use one to carve large roasts at holiday dinners, and he loved it. I always felt like I could never get really, really thin slices with it because I couldn't control it that well. Dad was stronger than me, so he could control it well. Still, his slices were even but never as thin as you could get with a regular slicing knife.

                                  1. re: RGC1982

                                    As I recall from my childhood, electric knives also leave "sawdust", which a knife does not.

                                    1. re: RGC1982

                                      Would you call the Victorinox with the fibrox handle "decent" enough?

                                      1. re: CindyJ

                                        As I mentioned above, I've owned one for a few years and I use it only for brisket. It's a fine knife for the purpose.

                                        1. re: CindyJ

                                          Yes, as long as it is long and sharp and you are comfortable using it. I have heard great things about Victorinox on these boards from posters who I trust.

                                          Re: The comment below about a ten or twelve inch slicer being the minimum needed: I happen to be one of the few people I know who actually own and use a twelve inch knife. I'm not talking about the fanatics on the knife boards, of course, but regular people who just happen to like to cook. I use my twelve inch knife, which is a vintage Sabatier carbon steel chef's knife with a French profile, precisely to do things like break down large cuts of meat, such as brisket. Break it down, you may ask? Yes, because there are two ways to make brisket -- BBQ and braise, like you do. Braise is essentially a great pot roast, and I do that by taking a whole brisket, which you can find in every supermarket here in Texas, and cutting it into three pieces, or four, depending upon how the two muscles sit at the end of the brisket. The first two pieces are flatter cuts and are smaller roasts ideally suited to braising, and I do this so that they are a reasonable size for my small family and my pots. I grind the last part into hamburger meat. So, the pot roast brisket is usually smaller -- no more than two thirds of the whole brisket, and usually about one third. Therefore, a nine inch slicer is long enough. In fact, so is my eight inch slicer. Smoking a brisket, however, especially here in Texas, involves putting the whole honking roast in the smoker (I have a smoker) and that is the one and only time that a super large slicer is handy. For most of my work that needs a really big knife (cutting a watermelon?), that big chef's knife of mine is the right knife to choose. But you don't need to go crazy trying to find a slicer that long unless you are working the block at the local BBQ joint, because slicers essentially serve one purpose. They are too thin and flexible to manage a wheel of Parmesan or a watermelon.

                                          I have seen slicers meant for restaurant buffet service up to fourteen inches, but even I haven't considered bringing one of those home. There are slicers out there that are also sometimes referred to as ham slicers, and these are pretty long too. If you are comfortable with one that big, knock yourself out. It's all personal preference.

                                          1. re: RGC1982

                                            Thanks, RGC! I've been trying to decide between the 10" and 12" Vicrtorinox, and you've helped me see that the 10" blade will be just fine for my braised brisket.

                                            Interestingly enough, I have an old (at least 40 years old) 8" serrated knife with an ivory-colored plastic handle that's become an all-purpose tool in my kitchen. The knife used to have a screw-on guide for regulating the thickness of slices; the screw-on piece was lost many years ago. This knife pre-dated my electric knife as a brisket slicer.

                                            This discussion had me take a closer look at this knife, which has "Magna Wonder Knife" stamped on the blade. A little Googling, and I see that this is actually a Swiss Army product. The fact that this relic has held up for so long and still has a decent cutting edge has pretty much convinced me that the Victorinox will fit my needs (and budget) just fine.

                                            1. re: CindyJ

                                              I'll throw in another plug for the MAC SB-105. Works great for this and is also a good bread knife. Has the advantage over traditional bread knives that it can be sharpened by conventional means. Still won't cut a watermelon but it's pretty great for most other long cuts.

                                              1. re: CindyJ

                                                Not surprised at the longevity of a Swiss Army knife! The Victorinox should prove to be very sturdy too, based on what I hear. They even talk about those knives on boards that discuss Swiss watches.

                                                Good luck!

                                              2. re: RGC1982

                                                Of course it is possible to make short work of a smoked brisket with half a dozen hungry folks with pocket knives, saltines, and a little more rub!

                                                I envy you the 12" Sab. I use an old 10" Sab and sometimes think of a twelve. A 10 does SO much more -- and better -- than an 8.

                                      2. n the wider briskets anything less than 10 inches is not useful. 12 inches is more standard.

                                        Anything thin and sharp should work. I used 12 inch Update International
                                        for a few years before giving it away now I'm in the market again and will likely get the full tang version.

                                        http://www.katom.com/370-KP07.html

                                        http://www.katom.com/370-KGE07.html

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: bbqJohn

                                          Haven't made BBQ brisket, but have made plenty of corned beef brisket. Just a long serrated bread knife...nothing special...does the trick. Find it makes a big difference to allow the meat to rest a good long while before carving. Also, really important is a good carving/serving fork to keep the meat from moving around while cutting. (In fact best results have been when I have chilled the brisket with a weight on it, then re-heated in the broth when time to serve.)

                                        2. I like to use a 12" ham carving knife. Does a very nice job