Before I begin this post, I do want to say that Victorinox was kind enough to sponsor a giveaway after I made this review so the opinions and remarks found on this blog was in no way influenced by any partners or sponsors of The Piquey Eater.
Now that you are armed with the basics of knives let’s look at a few chef’s knives in three different cost categories and some well-known brands. The first brand of knives we will look at is Chicago Cutlery, this is a brand that started in Chicago in the 1930s and catered originally to the professional meat cutting market.
With more than 80 years of history in making and selling knives, this company is now part of the World Kitchen family of companies. The knives made by Chicago Cutlery retails in the low to medium price range which mean knife sets can usually be found for just under $100 or a single Chef’s knife around the $20 range. For this review we will be using the Fusion 7 ¾” Chef Knife. I actually got this as a swag item at the Food Bloggers of Canada Conference last year, if you want to read about how that conference was, you can read my recap of the Food Bloggers of Canada Conference in Vancouver 2014.
The second brand we will look at is from Victorinox, a family run Swiss company that has been in business since 1884. The current CEO of the company, Carl Elsenor is a direct decedent of the founder Karl Elsenor so that is a long tradition of continuity running this company. Victorinox is the maker of a famous Swiss Army Knife, so you have probably encountered their brand at some point in your life.
Well perhaps less well known to consumers but very well known in the professional culinary world is that they also make kitchen knives. The Victorinox series of knives in the Forschner/Fibrox series is probably the most widely used knives in the professional industrial kitchen.
We’ll see how this popular knife in the industrial kitchen fares with typical home cooking tasks. We’ll be using the Chef’s knife to test out how well it works.
Every category of product has its high end and in this segment you expect that the products will not only achieve the pinnacle of performance but also have that bling factor. Knives are no different in this regard. The Japanese have a history going back more than a thousand years of making some of the most storied cutting steel in the form of a samurai sword. So some of you may be thinking what does sword making have to do with kitchen cutlery? Well it turns out that the Japanese swords are very different than European swords.
The European swords were less about their sharpness and more about their capability to cause damage by hacking, chopping or spearing – rather crude but still effective on the battlefield. The Japanese swords on the other hand were fine cutting tools with an extraordinary sharp edge and very hard steel meant to slice through flesh and bone easily and effectively.
From this description it’s easy to see why this skill of making samurai swords can easily be transferred over to making amazing knives as well.
Shun Knives are made by Kai Corporation which started making pocket knives in 1908 in Seki, Japan; a city renowned for their knife forging and blacksmithing skills.
The company quickly grew into making all sorts of cutting tools from razors, scalpels to kitchen knives. The Shun brand has developed a solid reputation as a premium knife brand much sought after by Chefs of all calibres for their performance and beauty.
Given that these are higher end, the prices can be many hundreds of dollars for a single knife depending on the series. The one that we will review in this article will be from their Classic line. A beauty to behold with its Damascus Steel blade with patterning like water ripples.
To test out the different knives, I have used each one consecutively for 10 days for daily kitchen tasks which would range from slicing, dicing, and cutting both vegetables and meat. At the end of the article I will summarize my findings based on the triad of qualities we looked over in Part II of the Knife Series:
- Handling and Balance – how I felt the knives handled in daily usage.
- Sharpness & Edge Durability – how well the knife cut and stayed sharp during this time.
- Blade Shape – How well is the blade shaped for its purpose.
Chicago Cutlery 7 ¾” Chef Knife
This knife is a solid forged knife that is a little bit handle heavy. That means when the knife is held where the handle meets the blade, the tip of the knife will have a tendency to tip up. This makes the knife feel a little awkward to handle from a balance perspective. The handle material is a rubber over cover that is soft and really grippy so there was never any fear that your hand would slip while holding the knife.
The butt end of the grip has an unusual feature in that it comes to a very sharp and pointy end that I found to be rather dangerous feeling. You definitely don’t want to drop this knife accidentally as both ends can cause some serious damage. The bolster at the handle and blade area forms a very secure gripping area, however, this feature will cause sharpening issues as the edge closest to the bolster can be extremely difficult to sharpen properly. Although I did not experience any problem with the handle material I would be concerned over time that the rubber handle cover will stretch and become loose later on.
The sharpness of the knife I would rate as a 3 and the edge bevel is at 20° or an included angle of 40°. So let me explain the scale that I will be using to rate the sharpness.
Out of the box, this knife is quite sharp and handles decently. This probably doesn’t mean much as it sounds a little too subjective so I will try and establish a scale for sharpness that is a little easier to compare and understand. I will use a 5 point scale where:
- Represents a knife that is more or less like a butter knife – hardly sharp at all.
- At this level the knife will be sharp enough to cut but not particularly well and may involve excessive sawing motion to cut some items and it will cause some tearing in very soft items.
- This is the first level of functional sharpness for a knife. At this level, a knife will slice through paper easily and cut most soft items cleanly without crushing or tearing.
- At this level of sharpness the edge will be very sharp and will cut through paper near effortlessly and slice through soft vegetables with great ease. When cutting through meats with gristle the edge will go through easily without slipping.
- This is the ultra-sharp ranking where the knife will cut like a razor blade and will shave hair with little to no effort.
Using this scale this knife would rank a solid 3. After extended use, the durability of the edge was still quite good and would still rank as slightly less than 3/5.
The blade shape of this knife is a very classic Chef’s knife shape that starts with a very gentle curve until it gets near the tip which curves up more aggressively. The shape makes it very familiar and functional. The blade thickness at the spine is on the thicker side meaning that this knife has no flex in usage which is really good. The knife itself weighs in at 255g so it would hit around the mid-range weight.
Victorinox 8″ Fibrox/Forschner Chef’s Knife
This knife is made of stamped stainless steel that has been extensively heat treated and tempered for purpose by Victorinox. Now some of you are probably thinking so how is that any different than the first knife which is forged and more importantly does it make a difference?
Forging is taking a block metal and heating it to the point that the metal becomes very malleable and then hammering it into a die until it forms its final shape as a knife. This is obviously a very intensive ad time consuming process which can lead to additional expense. Stamped metal basically takes metal that is already formed into sheets and then stamping a knife shape out of that. A much simpler process that can achieve some significant cost savings and is the way that a lot of low cost knives are made.
Anyone who has bought the $10 8-piece steak knife set will know what I mean. At first glance, the Victorinox knife is not going to impress you with its looks – to be honest it looks very plain. It has a very high polished blade attached to a textured contoured plastic handle. But don’t let this initial look fool you, once you get your hand around this knife it instantly feels at home. The balance on the knife is perfect and there are no hard or sharp edges on the handle or blade area where you are gripping. Although the grip looks plain, the shape is perfect for all the different grip positions and the texturing is great in that this handle never felt slippery even when your hands are wet or oily.
This knife’s ability to cut will determine if Victorinox used this steel effectively to create a quality knife. The edge on this blade is sharpened at a 15° bevel or 30° included angle which is similar to an Asian style knife. The sharpness of this knife out of the box is a 4/5 which is already quite impressive. Using it to cut and slice over the 10 day period was an absolute pleasure as it accomplished all cutting tasks without any difficulty or complaint. During this whole period, the knife maintained its sharpness without any noticeable change so from a durability standpoint it is very good.
The blade shape of this knife is the typical Chef’s knife edge profile, however there is a little bit of a difference on the blade width. The width of this blade at its thickest point is 2” which is a full 0.25” wider than other chef’s knives which comes in handy when transferring chopped items from the chopping board. From a personal standpoint I really appreciated this extra width and find that this feature is a plus for this knife. The weight of the entire knife is only 184g which is very light considering its blade width.
Shun 8″ Chef’s Knife
The Shun knife is different than the other two knives that we just reviewed as this knife is like a piece of artwork as well as being a Chef’s knife. The first thing that draws your eyes is the water ripple-like patterning on the steel blade. This patterning is caused by the steel and the manufacturing process that is used to forge this knife. This type of steel is called a Damascus style steel and it bonds multiple steels of different properties and folds them into many layers forming the blade. The core steel which forms the center of this structure (which will form the cutting edge) is made out of a very hard fine grained steel. The outer sides will typically be made out of a softer and more flexible steel and may have other properties to increase the durability of the sides of the knife, like stain resistance. A special chemical process at the end will then reveal the water ripple pattern of the steel layers that are exposed when grinding the taper into the knife. With all of this hand working it is not hard to see why this knife costs almost $300.
This knife straight out of the box is very sharp and like most Asian knives as a 15° edge bevel or a 30° included angle.
This knife cuts through everything like a dream.
Throughout the 10 day period with this knife, the edge maintained its sharpness without any noticeable dulling. So the bottom line on the steel is its reputation is well deserved; the keenness and durability of the edge is exceptional. The handle of this knife has a particular oddity in that it is not designed for both right and left handed use. The handle cross-section is D shaped and the intent is the rounded part of the D is supposed to be towards the palm of the cutting hand.
So for all the lefties out there please be aware of this when picking this brand of knife and buy the right (or left) one. The handle itself was pretty comfortable to hold in all of the grip positions. As a test, I wanted to see how my right-handed knife would feel in my left hand and the D-shape handle definitely doesn’t feel comfortable.
The blade shape is the typical Chef’s knife with a blade width at the thickest point 1.75” which is similar to the Chicago cutlery Chef’s knife. The edge shape has a typical Chef’s knife profile and works very well for either slicing or chopping with a rocking motion.
Now that I have looked at all three knives, it is only fitting that I choose one to recommend to you. Well everyone who knows me knows I go for value for performance as my overriding priority. The Chicago Cutlery definitely was low cost and performed admirably. The Shun knife was really sharp and there was not much to fault on that knife, but at almost $300 it was not 6X better than the Victorinox. The Victorinox as the Chef’s knife would be my go-to knife in the kitchen and the broader blade has become my favorite feature. The Victorinox with its affordable price point and the great performance out of the box, this is a knife I would recommend to the starter home Chef.
Now as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I did reach out to Victorinox after I have tried the three different knives and decided that a giveaway would be the best thing for The Piquey Eater readers. Needless to say, there are many other brands of knives out there that I did not have the chance to review, but hopefully with the way I’ve reviewed the three Chef’s knives here, you can use that knowledge and make your own educated decision of which knife to buy.
Without further ado, I’d like to announce the first giveaway on The Piquey Eater:
For one lucky reader of these articles, I will be holding a draw of a brand new Victorinox Fibrox 8” Chef’s knife just like the one I reviewed. All you have to do is complete the Rafflecopter prompts and leave a comment on this post of things you learned from the Knife series.
Good Luck and Safe Handling!
Until we dine again,
-The Piquey Eater
This giveaway is open all legal residents of Canada who have reached the age of majority at the time of the contest in the province or territory. The winner will need to answer a skill-testing question.
No purchase necessary to enter.
Winner will be contacted via email and displayed on Rafflecopter widget.