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Shopping for carbon steel chef's knife: Gyutos, bunkas, brands on a budget, and how to choose?

Bratscher | May 7, 201501:46 PM

Hi everyone,

I'm a home cook who is researching and shopping around for a chef's knife to replace my low-end knife I've been using for way too long. I spend at least a handful of hours in the kitchen on a daily basis, so although I am (unfortunately) on a budget, I am overdue to make the investment. As far as my knife knowledge goes, I'd describe myself as fairly ignorant but learning steadily, and also as someone who generally dislikes short-cuts and appreciates tradition and kitchen ritual more than convenience.

My budget is around $150 for knife, stones, etc. Very tight, I know. If there was an accessory that I could reasonably purchase say, a month or two later without jeopardizing the condition of my knife, then I'd be able to stretch that limit a bit.

Based on what I've read I'd like carbon steel, a flatter profile for mostly push-cutting, and a nimble, lighter weight piece. I greatly dislike the bulk of my current german style chef's knife, although I've gotten used to it. I'm leaning towards a 210mm Japanese gyuto style, but I have started looking into the bunka style too and find it quite appealing. I'm not sure exactly why I would lean toward one or the other though, besides the gyuto looking more western in profile. Is rock chopping simply not an option with bunkas? I would love some pointers here comparing the two styles and their functions. I should reiterate that this will be my first good knife, and therefore virtually the only one I will be reaching for in my kitchen for some time to come (that is, until I can afford to expand my tools... fingers crossed...).

Brief digression: I have admired many vintage carbon K-Sabs and Four Star Elephant Sabs online, too, and I like the more slender profile of those as compared to other Western chef's knives. I've read that the steel is slightly softer than that of the Japanese knives, and therefore a bit easier to maintain as long as you aren't looking to keep your knife sharpened beyond a ~1000 grit stone. I've also read that the older Sabs are nicer than the newer ones, and it seems as though I may be able to find one at a more affordable price than a new Japanese. Admittedly the romantic in me is playing a big part in my interest in the vintage Sabs as well, but I am doing my best to stay reasonable and focus on what is practical.

I suppose my primary questions here are:
1. What are the primary differences in function between the gyuto and bunka knives?
2. Many older Sabs look very narrow in profile and more sharply "triangulated" (that is, "pointier") than other western chef's knives; I suppose you'd say less belly. How does that effect the function of the knife? More push-cutting/slicing and less rocking?
3. Finally, which Japanese brands are the best for carbon steels in my ~$100-150 price range? I've been doing most of my looking on chefknivestogo.com, because I don't live near a store with a good selection of knives. I'm pretty overwhelmed by having my chef's knife quest be relegated to online shopping, and then facing so many brand names!

Thanks in advance for any and all advice!

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