After getting fed up with the fact that no knife in our kitchen was sharp enough to cut through a piece of fresh fish, my husband recently came home from Costco with J. A. Henckels International's Couteau Series for $139.99. Normally, my husband carefully researches everything that he purchases-in this case his level of frustration (closer to desperation) was such that he recognized the Henckel name and just bought them! He made a great choice!
Recommend this product?
So what makes a good knife, and why is this set a good choice?
A good knife has 3 important features:
-it's comfortable to hold
-if performs the task at hand safely and with authority
-it's sharp and stays sharp
These knives are extremely comfortable to hold, well balanced in use and just a general pleasure to work with. I grew up in a household that never had a sharp knife in the house, and I always shied away from spending a lot of money on knives because I feared that they would dull and I would not be able to keep them sharp. I was foolish and ignorant!
So, how and when do you sharpen a knife?
I am no longer put off by this question, no longer intimidated by the answer "when cutting becomes more difficult!" I now know why and when to use the "sharpening steel" and when to use a knife sharpener. The Henckels Couteau Series contains a sharpening steel. However, a sharpening steel is a maintenance tool. It does NOT sharpen a knife. As you use a knife, the blade looses its "straightness". The edge of the blade develops little wiggles or teeth (this doesn't take long either!) which makes cutting more difficult or causes shredding when cutting. A sharpening steel realigns (straightens the edge, restoring the sharpness. Sharpening steels should be used regularly. It seems awkward to do at first, but keep at it. I'm already getting more confident in the use of mine!
Sharpening a knife should be done on a yearly basis for a stamped knife and every 3 to 5 years for a forged knife (more about stamped vs. forged in a bit). You can sharpen your knives with a sharpening stoned, a diamond steel, or an automatic sharpener. You can also take your knives to a cutlery shop where they will sharpen them for a minimal charge. Finally, like me, you can take them to your father-in-law and consider yourself very lucky!
What are the knives made of (and who cares?)?
The Henckels Couteau Series is a mixture of forged and stamped knives. The larger kitchen knives are forged and the steak knives are stamped. This is as it should be. Henckels saved the money by putting in lesser quality steak knives and maintaining a higher quality in the kitchen knives.
Quality knives are made of high carbon steel. The cheap knives that I had been buying at the grocery store are made only of stainless steel, which does not hold a good edge. I was sabotaging my own efforts to keep a drawer full of sharp knives! The highest quality knives are forged: made of high-carbon steel alloys with chromium, vanadium and molybdenum (that's a mouthful!). They hold the sharpest edge, won't rust and can last a life time if properly cared for. A forged knife is hot dropped from singe blank of steel. It has a "full tang", meaning that the blade and the piece of it that fits into the knife handle is made of a single piece of steel (not welded). The bolster (the piece of the blade that your finger touches at the base of the handle) is important because it adds strength to the knive as well as providing a comfortable "stop" for your index or third finger. A forged knife is distinguished by the bolster.
A stamped knife is made by stamping the shape of the knife from a sheet of steel, grinding and polishing the blade, welding the tang (a separate piece of steel) to the blade and attaching a handle around the tang. The steel is of lower quality as it is extruded (instead of forged). The result is a good qulity knife at a moderate to low price.
The Henckels Couteau Series contains the following pieces:
4" paring knife (forged)
5" boning knife (forged)
6" utility knife (forged)
8" bread knife (forged)
8" chef's knife (forged)
pair of kitchen sheers (made in Japan)-great for cutting up chicken and other fowl!
4 steak knives (stamped)-have the appearance of 3 rivets on each handle but no tang and no full bolster
hardwood block for storage
All of the forged knives have hand honed blades. I love these knives already! I can't believe that I put up the "revolving door" of cheap, crummy knives that we have had for all of these years. The Costco price is a good one and I'm sure happy my husband made this "impulse purchase!" You can see a picture of these knives at www.costco.com.
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