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Jul 18, 2012 11:12 AM

Starter knife or two...HELP?!?

We got the classic knife block starter set when married about 7 years ago and are finally getting around to graduating to using a real knife or knives.

I've read a bunch of posts about if you need 2 good knives, start with a good Chef's kife (8-inch) plus a good pairing knife. I'ev also heard mostly positive things about the Wusthof brand so am planning on sticking with that brand.

One thing I've been contemplating lately is the Classic Ikon vs Classic because of no bolster on heel for sharpening. I hear that is the way to go but then hear again it is not such a big deal. A little confused here and looking for recommendations.

Then I started reading and looking more about Santoku knives. Some say to get that (7-inch) instead of a Chef's Knife. We would use the knife mainly for slicing of veggies and meats, but nothing like breaking down with bones in them. Mainly boneless chicken, steaks, some fish, etc... So maybe Santoku is the way to go? I can save a few bucks and stay in the Classic line and get no bolster to worry about either.

For example, I can grab a Wusthof Classic 7-inch Santoku for $79.95 on Amazon.

I need some guidance on what to do here and would prefer to just stay with Wusthof as to not get my mind more confused than I already am.

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  1. I have quite a few Wustof knives from the Classic line and really like them. I have the 6 and 8 inch Chef's knives, as well as the 7 inch Santuko. I just got the Santuko for Christmas, and it is now the knife I believe I use the most. Like you, I'm not breaking down anything heavy-duty with it... veggies, boneless chicken, fish. I use the big-ongowa cleaver for the heavy stuff. :-D

    As far as which line to purchase, I'd recommend going to your local kitchen store and trying them out for feel in your hand prior to ordering.

    1. I have a Blackwood Ikon paring knife. It is pretty cool without the bolster. The handle is heavier which makes the center of balance shifts more toward the handle. Between having a bolster and not, I will definitely go without one. However, I also understand that there is a big price increase between Classic Ikon and Classic. This get to be tricky.

      The bolster, in my view, introduces several problems. It definitely makes it more difficult for sharpening, but it also makes it more difficult to use the entire heel for cutting or chopping. The bolster, for example, will hinder you from doing this:

      The bolster also makes some people feel strange about using the pinch grip.

      I really cannot say how "big" the deal will be since we are different.

      <So maybe Santoku is the way to go? I can save a few bucks and stay in the Classic line and get no bolster to worry about either.>

      Like you said, the good thing about the Santoku is that you don't have to worry about bolster without paying a higher price. However, you have to use a Santoku to find out if you like it. Some people love a Santoku. Others dislike it. I strongly recommend you to borrow a Santoku (does not have to be Wusthof) and play with it for a day or two.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        For what it's worth, I hate Santoku knives. I bought two of them because they look cool, but then found that I didn't like the feel of cutting with them. One I gave away, the other sits in a drawer.
        If you think that you will be using the knife for chopping (parsley, onions, the odd piece of meat) then the chef's knife is the way to go. My favorite is the Forschner Victorinox, because it is made of a relatively soft steel and is easy to sharpen. But do consider models with "dimples" such as the Japanese Glestain. They make it much easier when you slice things like potatoes that tend to adhere to the knife.

      2. If you're only going to buy one, I think the chef's knife is a bit more versatile. But both will handle most of your chopping needs quite well. the main differences are the lack of a point in a santoku and a more shallow belly of the knife.

        1. As a former seller of knives, up until the end of Feb. the two must things to consider are #1 how does it feel in YOUR hand. #2 Can you afford the knife?

          I have some Wusthof Classic Ikons. My 2 most reached for knives are my Shun Ken Onion Santoku knives one is 7.5" and the other about 6". I really dislike the regular Shun line because there is no bolster and i must protect my fingers from nicks and cuts for a medical reason.

          The only person who can decide which knife is best for you is you. Another suggestion is that you take a knife skills class. That can make a huge difference in what you finally decide and you will learn quite a lot...promise.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Candy

            No offense Candy, but I tend to disagree with a few of the standard elements of knife advice you've given.

            I see no value in a full length bolster like the Wusthof Classic has. There is no question about it - it does hinder sharpening. It does add a little weight to the knife (which is more or less neutral in itself), but there are other ways to do that. I don't think it prevents you from cutting yourself while using it - your fingers shouldn't be anywhere near the actual heel of a chefs knife while cutting. And if you're worried about nicking yourself on the heel when washing the knife or when reaching for it, you can always dull the tip of the heel yourself - rubbing it on a file or just on concrete for a minute. It's not the only factor in buying a knife, and a lot of people use knives with full length bolsters and like em, but I just don't see any reasonable way to consider a full length bolster something to look for, a positive.

            Likewise, with a few exceptions, I disagree with the advice that you should always hold a knife in your hand before you buy it - that the best knife for you is the one that feels best in your hand at the store. Most people will adapt to a well designed knife. It takes a little bit of breaking in, but what makes a knife feel 'right' in your hand is usually just familiarity and habit. When you pick knives based on how they feel in your hand in the store, you'll tend to simply pick knives that are most like your previous knives; you'll also tend to pick whichever knives happen to be sharpest as demos at the store, which can be misleading and not really representative of which knife will be better for you when you get home.

            The quality of your knives DOESN"T MATTER if you don't keep em sharp and don't develop your skills, and people who reject well made knives because they don't feel 'right' usually aren't owning up to the skills aspect of that simple truth. If a knife is well made, you can learn to use it well, to make it feel 'right.'

            The exceptions I mentioned above: That advice probably does apply for longtime kitchen pros who have decades of practice and just want to keep using knives that allow them to easily transition their well developed skills. If you have great knife skills, yeah, stick with what works for you, but don't fool yourself either - very few home cooks have great knife skills. Another exception is for knives that are vastly outside the norm - extremely long, short, heavy, light, huge handles, tiny handles, or very contoured handles (see the Shun Ken Onion knives). These might be a good idea to try out before buying, for obvious reasons. Same goes if you have exceptionally large or small hands. Or bad arthritis. You get the idea.

            The point is that the difference between a 10 inch Wusthof Classic chefs knife and a 6 inch Japanese santoku isn't so great that a little focused practice and understanding of how the knives should be used can't easily make either feel like an extension of your hand. Some individuals might have particularly compelling reasons to need to feel out a knife before buying it, but I think insisting everyone do so just limits people's options, pushes the typically limited options in brick and mortar kitchen stores, and perpetuates the myth that the 'right' knife will make you better and faster and safer in the kitchen when it really has far more to do with the skills you develop.

          2. I have a Wusthof Santoku and while a good knife, I find it to be too thick. A traditional Santoku cuts much better.

            In terms of a chef's knife, I like the lower tip of a French chef's knife or a Japanese Gyuto much more.

            It really depends on what you cut and how you cut it. A santoku works really well on vegetables with a vertical cut (cleave, not a tradition long stroke slice). With meat, it works fine but I slice meat more. A German pattern chef's knife slices meat really well but, I don't like them as well for vegetables. For vegetables, I like a 300mm Gyuto with its lower tip which I use as a fulcrum, lifting the heel of the blade and shoving veg underneath. It also works good for a fine dice. The long length takes away stress on my wrists since the long length reduces the angles, making it easier on my wrists with repetitive cuts.

            I hope this makes sense. In summary, what do you cut and how do you cut it? Then find the knife with the handle that fits your hand that matches you usage.