Hardcore cooking – Knives. Part 2: The Research

In Part 1 of this story, I described how my conscience is Anthony Bourdain and that I needed to spend far too much effort finding a knife. In Part 2, I will detail that effort.

First, I had to consider what I already knew about knives. I've been trained, briefly, on holding a knife with a pinch grip, where the back of the blade is between the thumb and forefinger of the knife hand, and the other three fingers hold the handle. I knew that comfort is one of the most important things to consider. And I knew that some knives are harder to sharpen than others, while some knives hold their edge better that others. I also knew how and why to steel a knife. So, all told, not that much.

Thus I turned to Google to answer my questions. I started by looking for phrases like "only chef's knife I'll ever need" or "best chef's knife in the world", but those were predictably useless search phrases. Still, have to start somewhere.

Eventually, I made my way to some forums related to cooking, specifically the ChefTalk Cooking Forums. This was a handy place to go, because there's a section on cooking equipment reviews.

From ChefTalk, I saw a recommendation to visit (and this is where it gets dangerous) knife enthusiast forums. Places such as Knife Forums. The great thing about Knife Forums dot com is that there's a well-developed community of generally nice people who are enthusiastic about their hobby and willing to help anyone who might be interested in sharing it. If that doesn't sound dangerous, then I may have to explain.

One of the great and terrible things about the internet is that, although you can still be a freak, you will never be a lonely freak. Across the world, or even just the countries where people speak the same language you do, there will be a hefty number of people who share your interest. If those people are polite and have a nice community to form around, then good feelings abound whenever they are there.

Life cannot be spent entirely on the internet, though, so when one ventures into the real world, the percentage of people who share or at least tolerant of your interest dwindles rapidly. Often, your spouse is one of those people on the other side of that percentage, especially if your hobby is expensive. The major side effect of this is that, consciously or no, you will feel better about yourself if you bring more people into your realm of interest.

Understand: there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this process, as long as nobody's getting hurt. It's not dangerous because it's wrong. No, it's dangerous because I can obsess about things, and I can latch on to these interests with ease, delving into it until I am, if not an expert, at least able to sound like one to someone with passing familiarity on the subject. That's why I have my own food web site.

The especially dangerous thing is that knife collecting and maintenance, as with any hobby, can be extremely expensive. Once you know how to speak the language and where to find the right places to buy and how to differentiate between a great knife and a near-perfect knife, you are in serious danger of a spousal talking-to.

Here's a tip for knowing when you're in dangerous territory: look for the acronym SWMBO. The faster you find it, the more alluring and expensive the hobby. Why? SWMBO means "She Who Must Be Obeyed," and if a man speaks of the SWMBO, that means he either treads the line of overspending on the joint credit cards or that he has crossed it. The more it appears, the more you know this hobby has its murky waters.

It took me less than 10 minutes of casual browsing before I found a "SWMBO," and that told me I was in the right place.

Here are the highlights of what I discovered:

  • Global's used to be very trendy, but many people found that the ergonomic handles caused some repetitive stress injuries over time;

  • Shun's are currently topping the trendy list, which means that they are expensive, but still they are good knives;

  • For a really good price/performance ratio on a chef-quality knife, MAC is the way to go;

  • The Wustoff Le Cordon Bleu is awfully good for a European knife;
  • In general, Japanese knives can hold a better edge than European knives, because Japanese knives use better steel;

  • When you get into it, the Japanese don't corner the market on good steel, but you're going to have to learn some specialized terminology, which I was not quite willing to do;

  • Really good knives can cost well over $1000, and I should just ignore all of those posts because that way lie dragons;

  • Sharpening a knife is really not very hard, and besides, and a Real Man should sharpen his own knives.*

Dammit. I mean, what should I expect from a knife forum, right? Of course they are going to recommend sharpening your own knives, and they will think less of you if you don't. I mean, they won't say they'll think less of you, but you'll feel it over the WiFi connection.

So that kicked off a number of avenues of research on sharpening, much of which is fraught with conflicting advice from people who seem to know a lot more than I do, which means that, for the beginner, you can probably follow any of it and be fine for several years. The basics of the advice are:

You know what? This is foolish. I am not a knife sharpening expert. However, here is a lovely and detailed post that will give you all of the information you need on sharpening knives. There are other posts on various forums, and plenty of videos from experts and expert-adjacents, but that should get you through.

On the next and what should be the final part of this series on Knives, I will tell all about what I decided to purchase, as well as any final thoughts I may have on the process.

*- Or Real Man analogue, if you're feeling like the language was sexist and that I wasn't accounting for the fact that women can also be bullied into taking the hard route because they lack Fortitude. If that is your preference, feel free to post in the comments an analogous phrase to Real Man that fits you better.