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Would a Dexter-Russell S5198 Chinese chef's knife be right for me?

HankG Mar 15, 2012 07:55 PM

I've been using a full Messermeister French knife set for about seven years now and I've been very happy with it, but a little while ago I read a Chinese cook book and I was really intrigued by the author's description of the Chinese cleaver. She made it sound like an all purpose knife that could tackle just about every job in the kitchen if the user had the skill to do it. Sharp enough to cut vegetables, but tough enough to go through chicken bones.

I want to buy one of these knives, but I'm having a lot of trouble finding a definite answer to a couple concerns. I picked up an inexpensive Kiwi brand chef knife at a local Asian grocery to get a feel for the knife shape, but I obviously misused it as I managed to ruin the blade on the first chicken I went at.

I've been doing research, and from other posts on this board, the Dexter-Russell S5198 seems to be very highly rated, is in my price range, and seems like what I want, but I couldn't find a definitive answer as to what it can be used for. I do want it to be able to cut vegetables reasonably well, but I also want it to be able to go through any chicken bone without ruining the edge.

So can the Dexter-Russell S5198 handle that kind of use, or should I look elsewhere? When I was reading the posts about this knife, people seemed to indicate in both directions, so I'm fairly lost. If it isn't appropriate, could anyone suggest a Chinese chef's knife that is?

Thanks for any help,

  1. cowboyardee Mar 15, 2012 08:26 PM

    Generally, Chinese cleavers are either very thin and not well-suited for chopping even light chicken bones, or else very heavy and sturdy and not well-suited for general purpose use. There isn't much middle ground. Normally, if someone says they want a knife that can go through light bones and still be useful as an all purpose blade, I'd suggest a German or French chefs knife.

    On the upside, the DR Chinese cleaver is probably about as close to that middle ground as you'll find in a Chinese cleaver. It's still fairly thin, but not anorexic, and since the steel is softer it shouldn't chip too easily.

    That said, it still isn't really ideal for chicken bones, since they will dull the edge quickly, maybe even leave a visible ding in the edge if you take a swing at a bone. If you do your own sharpening, you can adjust it so that it is tough enough for chicken bones - you can make the edge more obtuse (at the expense of cutting ease in most other tasks), or even just sharpen at a more obtuse angle for the first two inches or so from the heel (a fairly nice solution, but requires some experience).

    There are probably other chinese cleavers out there that might fit your bill just as well (and at a lower price), but they're difficult to recommend since it can be hard to consistently find any given CC for sale. The CCK thin cleavers are great knives and a little cheaper, but far from ideal for chicken bones.

    8 Replies
    1. re: cowboyardee
      HankG Mar 15, 2012 08:57 PM

      Hmm, a somewhat less optimistic reply. ;) From what you're saying, I might just have to steer clear of Chinese chef knives altogether. I'm more of a blunt instrument type of guy, and wouldn't have much use for a knife that is really only meant for fine cuts.

      Ah well, I appreciate the response. I wouldn't want to spend the money and end up ruining the knife.

      1. re: HankG
        cowboyardee Mar 15, 2012 09:11 PM

        How do you sharpen Hank? That might help determine whether the DR cleaver is a good fit for you.

        For example, if you sharpen by hand, you can modify the edge to your needs and use it just fine. OTOH, if you take it to a pro once a year, the DR will probably be pretty dull for most of the year. Even something like a chefs choice electric sharpener or an accusharp would let you resharpen easily enough and often enough that you could use a DR cleaver without too much trouble, at the expense of shortening the knife's lifespan (which isn't the end of the world for a sub-$50 knife).

        1. re: cowboyardee
          HankG Mar 15, 2012 09:50 PM

          I actually do use a Chef's Choice electric sharpener, although I've been toying with the idea of picking up a whetstone and trying to learn how to sharpen by hand.

          1. re: HankG
            cowboyardee Mar 15, 2012 10:39 PM

            I'm thinking you'll probably like the DR cleaver. Also - in the interest of disclosure - I've only sharpened this particular knife a couple times, while IIRC Chem owns one, so if he says it doesn't have a problem with chicken bones, I'd take his word for it.

            1. re: cowboyardee
              Chemicalkinetics Mar 15, 2012 11:54 PM

              As you have clearly said above, the S5198 is a pretty thick blade knife, and it is made of a not-so-had steel (HRC 54-56). As such, an obtuse angle on the knife edge should made it fine to cut chicken bone. Probably put an angle closer to 25 degree near the heel. Basically, 2/3 of the blade for regular use, and 1/3 of the blade near the heel for crushing. I think you have also mention this.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                JavaBean Mar 16, 2012 09:26 AM

                I have one and use a hybrid edge like you describe…~20 degrees on the 1st 2/3rd and ~25 degrees near the heel. The 1st 2/3rd of the edge does an ok job with veggies, and can survive cutting through most chicken bones without issues. The edge near the heel is for the harder leg and thigh bones. It works, but I eventually moved on to using it just for medium bone hacking and using a thinner one for veggies, boneless meats. I felt that it or any knife that’s thick enough and heavy enough to chop through bones, is too ponderous and prone to wedging for everyday stuff.

                1. re: JavaBean
                  Chemicalkinetics Mar 16, 2012 11:36 AM

                  "The edge near the heel is for the harder leg and thigh bones"

                  No kidding. Those are some tough bones.

                  "I eventually moved on to using it just for medium bone hacking and using a thinner one for veggies"

                  Yeah, me too. I just use a meat cleaver.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                    JavaBean Mar 16, 2012 02:09 PM

                    Can you cut a leg and thigh bone cleanly? If so, how and with what?

                    I usually end up with a lot bone splinters w/ either the dexter or my stouter western meat cleaver - more of a bone crusher than cutter.

    2. Chemicalkinetics Mar 15, 2012 08:13 PM

      " Sharp enough to cut vegetables, but tough enough to go through chicken bones. "

      So is a French knife

      " but I obviously misused it as I managed to ruin the blade on the first chicken I went at. "

      Did you cut the chicken bones with the Kiwi knife? The Kiwi knife has a relatively thin blade, so it is not suitable for bone cutting.

      "So can the Dexter-Russell S5198 handle that kind of use, or should I look elsewhere?"

      So it can, provided that you know how to sharpen a kitchen knife. You are going to dull the knife just a bit when you cut chicken bones.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics
        HankG Mar 15, 2012 08:28 PM

        Thanks for the reply. I'm not looking for a Chinese chef's knife because I have any complains about my French knife, rather just because I want to give the different style a try. And ya, I went through the backbone with the Kiwi. It was one of those things where I had a pretty good idea what would happen, but I just had to see.

        I am glad to hear that the Dexter-Russell S5198 can stand up to going through any chicken bones. I don't mind having to sharpen it, I just don't want it to end up looking like my poor Kiwi. :)

        1. re: HankG
          Chemicalkinetics Mar 15, 2012 09:07 PM

          Like cowboy said, the Dexter S5198 is a medium blade Chinese chef's knife. In fact, it is probably on the thicker side of the medium blade, so it can handle chicken bones. It is also heavy enough that it has this semi-meat cleaver weight to it -- a Kiwi knife does not have this.

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