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August 16, 2007

MORE ON KNIVES: Okay, I was at the mall buying my mom's birthday present and I looked at the Ken Onion chef's knife at Williams-Sonoma. It looked so cool that I almost bought it on the spot, but fortunately I am a man of no small self-control. They had a full set of Ken Onion kitchen knives, too, for (slightly) less than a thousand bucks. Maybe a bit pricey for an impecunious law professor such as myself. . . .

I said I'd get to more mail, so here goes -- though in truth it's like bailing an ocean with a teacup. But here are some highlights. Reader John Morgan offers an economical solution:

For those with less financial resources or for the truly frugal I recommend finding a knife-sharpening store. In the two cities I have recently lived in (Kansas City and Chicago) there are stores (Ambrosi Brothers and Northwest Cutlery, respectively) that supply sharp knives to restaurants. Essentially they go once a week to the restaurants and replace the knives in use at the restaurants with newly sharpened knives. Over time, the knives are sharpened down to a much smaller size and are no longer usable by the restaurants. These stores then put the knives in a bin and sell them for a dollar or two. Aesthetically, they are not the beautiful knives of our dreams, but practically, they are very good and very sharp knives. These stores also will sharpen your knives to an impressive, almost scary, sharpness for a few bucks per knife.

Another reader echoes what a lot of people have written: "Forschner is the best. Go to any reputable butcher shop or meat cutting operation….for example, Butler and Bailey in Knoxville. Ask what knife they use and they’ll show you a Forschner." That's fairly economical, too, especially compared to the Ken Onion.

Reader Christian Gils emails:

I can wholly recommend a Dexter-Russell 8" Chinese chef knife. It's a mix of carbon and stainless steel, not entirely stainless, so you should wipe it dry after cleaning it, but it can hold a great edge. It's cheap, too, and great for just about anything except paring and maybe filleting. A Chinese chef knife takes a bit of getting used to but I find myself leaving my other knives alone and just using this one most often.

If you've got a Chinatown near you you can pick them up quite cheaply, otherwise Amazon carries it via a vendor.

Reader John Richardson emails:

Here is a knife brand that won't be on the radar screen for most of the gourmets - Cold Steel.

When I went back to grad school in the mid-90s, I worked as the bookkeeper part-time for a knife wholesaler. As such, I got to play with a lot of knives of all sorts from custom Bowies to collector pocketknives to switchblades (pardon me, automatics). I picked up one of the 7-inch Cold Steel K-7 kitchen knives. It does the job right and it doesn't slip when your hand is wet. It does a very good job of
thin slicing.

The other thing I might suggest is to get in the car and go down to Sevierville and visit Smoky Mtn Knife Works. They have a lot of kitchen knives. It would give you a chance to try out a lot of different knives and see what fits your needs.

I didn't realize Cold Steel made kitchen knives. I used to own one of their Tanto utility knives and it was good. And the Smoky Mountain Knife Works suggestion is a good one, except for the ungodly Sevierville traffic. Maybe post-Labor Day. . . .

Reader Chad Wayne emails: "Anolon has ventured into knives. They're less expensive than the
designer brands and just as good. I bought the 5" and 7" Santoku knives from Amazon and it is all we use now. No other knives we own can compare."

Reader Jim Evangeliou emails: "Get a magnetic knife bar. Do you know how to clean out a knife block? Neither do I." Several readers noted that knife blocks get dirty with age.

And several readers asked what I know about ceramic knives. Not much. Anybody out there got advice?

UPDATE: Several readers recommend the Kapoosh universal knife block. It's washable, and takes anything.

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