Knife Recommendations

On February 1, 2011, in Kitchen, Tip, Tools, by jafo

Being a Linux geek, I often find myself obsessing about the right tool for the job, and this extends to the kitchen. Knives are one of those critical components, a dull or bad knife makes cooking just annoying.

Executive Summary

My recommendation would be to get quality (say, $35 to $75 in 2011) knives with a regular (non-serrated) edge.  You will also need a sharpener, I recommend a ceramic 12 to 14 inch rod sharpener, which requires some skill, or one of those ones that you draw a knife through (manual, not electric).

The primary benefit of the non-serrated steel knives is that you can spend 10 seconds sharpening them every time you use them (a couple of swipes on the rod, a couple of pulls through the block-type), and you’ll have a great edge every time you use it.

Serrated and ceramic knives are good for longer without sharpening, but eventually they do need sharpening.

Sharpening “Steels”

For a regular steel, non-serrated knife, sharpening is going to be a part of your life with the knives.  Every time you use it, that’s my recommendation.

I tend to prefer the ceramic rod-type, though I’ve also used the ones that have slots you put the knife in and then draw the knife through and they work just fine.  The rods are cooler.  :-)  I was told by a knife shop once that their steel rods would maintain an edge but not put one on, and the ceramic would put an edge on.  I ended up getting the ceramic one, even though I had a very good sharpening kit, and I’ve been very happy with the results.

The primary thing is to use it every time you use the knife.  If you do, the edge will be great when you are using it.

I used to use a really serious sharpening kit put an amazing edge on the knives, but it would take 20 minutes per knife and I’d only do it every 6 to 12 months — usually on the longer side.  So, for a month or so the knife was great, but then for 5 to 10 it was not.  Now, I always have a good edge, not quite so good as right after I sharpened it before, but better than the 5 to 10 months…

Unfortunately, the ceramic “steels” (rod-type sharpeners) are much thicker than the metal ones, so the knife block I have, which has a hole for a steel, is too small.  But seriously, keep the steel right by your knives and use it.

Ceramic Knives

These things are amazing, for around the first year.  But, they really aren’t meant to be sharpened at home.  You need to send them back to the manufacturer to have them sharpened.  Plus, they’re brittle — I broke the tip off our really good one within a month of buying it.  They’re also very expensive.

They’re probably a good choice if you’re going to have the discipline to actually send them in and do without them, every year for sharpening.  And you treat your knives very well (hand washing, and you’re very careful).  However, I’d recommend a serrated knife over a ceramic, for similar length of wear but much cheaper.

Serrated Knives

These are great when they’re new, and tend to be much better for much longer than a non-serrated edge.  But, you just can’t really sharpen them at home.

Unless, they have very “gentle” serrations.  We have a bread knife that I just love which has maybe 4 serrations per inch, and I basically just draw it slowly over my “steel” and it sharpens up nicely.  For most uses though, you probably want much more aggressive serrations, and those are going to be hard to sharpen yourself.  So you’d probably want something that you can send back to the manufacturer to get re-sharpened.

However, I will say that I prefer serrated steak knives.  I usually pull a steak knife when I’m ready to use it and don’t want to go sharpening it then.  So, I prefer the $5 stamped steel serrated steak knives to the $50 forged ones, though admittedly I haven’t tried a set of $50 ones for fairly obvious reasons.  :-)

Super Expensive Knives

I’ve been fairly happy with middle-of-the-road knives.  It’s pretty easy to spend $100 or more per knife, but I’ve been quite happy with knives closer to $50.  I’ll admit that I haven’t spent much time with the high end forged knives, but I really have been quite happy with the more mid-range knives.

A Word on Handles

I prefer the solid plastic molded handles over the riveted wooden ones.  Definitely, get one with the blade running through the handle, if you are going with rivets.  A comfortable shape is good, but also consider the texture.  My favorite knife has a slicker handle than I’d like, and it works well for small cutting jobs but when I’m preparing for a big meal like Thanksgiving with friends, I find that I really wish I was using the pairing knife that has a diamond-textured handle.

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We have a cat that sometimes has problems keeping his lunch down…  Then we heard about this great thing called a Spot Bot, and we were sold!  That was the original version they came out with, at least 5 and possibly coming up on 10 years ago now…

As the name implies, it’s really only good for doing a spot — something smaller than the diameter of it’s hood — say around 6 inches across.  And for that, it works extremely well.  It’s really one of the best purchases we’ve made, but we have quite a bit of carpet in our house.

If your carpet is clean, it works great.

The first thing we noticed was that it left these little “clean” circles in our carpet, which we hadn’t cleaned for probably at least a year or maybe two before getting it.  So, it made it obvious that we really just needed to clean the whole thing.  We now rent a big machine and do a full cleaning about once every 6 to 9 months and use the spot bot for the spots, particularly the pet spots, in between.

It also works very poorly on big dirty spots.  The cleaning area is surrounded by a hood, and dirty water ends up collecting on this hood and so a large dirty area that you try to “divide and conquer” using the Spot Bot tends to just leave a bunch of clean areas with dirty rings around the inner edge of the hood.  You can use it to clean up pet spots that are maybe 12 inches by 4 or 6 inches, but cleaning a foot by foot dirty section I’ve never been happy with the results, even after 8 or more application.

The other thing I found was that the cleaned areas it kind of “perked up” the carpet in, so we had these circles where the carpet was standing up — even if it was clean the circles were noticeable.  Then I started vacuuming the area after the Spot Bot worked them…  That’s the key!  Vacuum after the spot bot, and the area doesn’t stand up so much.

They market the Spot Bot as “put it down and walk away”, which is true but is only part of the truth.  You can’t just leave the house.  Since it’s got a hood covering the area that it’s cleaned, it won’t dry properly if you just leave it there.  So when it’s done, it will keep beeping, reminding you to move it.  I really wish it had a fan in it so you could set it up, run it, and then leave it and it would run the fan on the area after the cleaning was done.  Or it had a little track or arm or something that would move it slightly out of the way.  Then it would truly be a robot!  :-)

The other minor complaint I have about it is that it doesn’t hold that much fluid.  It will do around 4 cleanings, and then it needs to be emptied and refilled.  However, it looks like they have a new model that has twice the capacity, that might be nice.  But, on the other hand, I wonder if that would be too big, the current unit is nice and compact, so it may be one of those “be careful what you wish for” situations.  I will, probably, end up buying one of those new units.

Obviously, it’s built really well.  We’ve had it for quite a long time with absolutely no problems.

Over all, I’d highly recommend the Spot Bot.

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