Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Competition Knives

Our competition knife set-up
Our friend Diva Q wrote about her competition knife set not too long ago, and it got us thinking about ours.  In any culinary endeavor, sharp knives are a must.  However, when you have literally thousands of dollars riding on being able to make the proper cuts, it becomes imperative to have great knives. 

A few notes about knives:  First, it's all about balance.  What feels like an extension of my hand may not work with you- it is very important to hold knives in order to get a sense of the balance.  If you are uncomfortable, the sharpest knife in the world is not going to do you much good.  In the past we have used a mixed bag of knives- mainly Henckel's with some Dexters (a commercial kitchen type), calphalon, or Tridents thrown in the mix.  A lot comes down to selecting the specific line- for example Henckels has several differently priced lines (always avoid anything that says "ever sharp" or something to that effect), some quite cheap and some on the moderately high priced side.  As with anything, you are going to pay more for quality- but with proper care a good knife will last you a lifetime.

A Mac Knife 10" slicer with indentions.  This thing just looks mean!
Anyway, we weren't real happy with our selections so we began looking around, trying several types.  We absolutely love the look of SHUN knives- a higher end Japanese knife.  They are reknown for their sharpness.  However, we never could get happy with the balance.  Perhaps we have been in the commercial kitchens too long or something, but our grip and their knife did not mesh.  We were given a MAC Knife as a present- also a Japanese knife though it has more of a western-style grip and weight (they use bolsters to add to the heft- something a traditional Japanese knife does not).  We were sold! (Full Disclosure here- After a few flattering emails, we actually worked out a deal to add them as one of BBQ sponsors.  The other side of this is we had several offers from cutlery companies to sponsor us, but we really loved Mac Knives).

Santuko and Utility knife from Mac Knives.  Both VERY sharp!
 A quick note about our competitions.  Our set is made with both Kansas City Barbecue Society and Memphis BBQ Network competitions in mind.  For example, if we were just doing KCBS we would need far less knives.  With MBN, you have more meat to cut as well as on-site judging, which requires clean knives for each judge in some categories and frankly we don't have time to clean BBQ sauce off of each knife during judging.  We just take extra and clean them all after.

Start with a Steel and a good sharpener.  A steel aligns your blade, not really sharpening it.  It may feel sharper because it has been straightened however.  We use a "rollsharp" from Fiskars as our main sharpener at contests.  Whatever you do, please be careful when sharpening knives!  Next, we carry 2 10" slicers, one with a "granton" edge and one without.  The granton is a series of small indentations in the side of the knife that helps it move through the product.  Basically at a contest the only use for these is when we are doing Brisket.  For trimming meat, we carry 6" filet knives (we carry a stiff and a flexible).  These are for trimming pork shoulders, whole hog, etc.  A 4" paring knife for helping with garnish.  We carry five 6" utility knives for MBN contests- slicing ribs for a blind box, and slicing meat for the judges in the whole hog category.  We keep a 8" chef knife in there because you never know when you will need it!

For the house, one knife that we have fallen in love with lately is a 6" Santuko knife.  It it truly an awesome knife and frankly I'm kind of mad I've never used one much before recently. 

Chef's choice model #120
 A couple of other notes- we do have an electric sharpener- it is a Chef's Choice model 120.  We don't use it for our Mac Knives, but it does an excellent job on Henckels and everyday knives. 

For Competion knives, we use a knife satchel.  They can be found for around $40 online (we use a Dexter we bought from our local restaurant supply company).  We use a 14 knife model- always go for the bigger holders because you will eventually fill them up!  For our home knives, we have a cherry wood Henckel Knife block.  Sorry, Mac doesn't make one yet!

The long and short of it- spend a few extra dollars on a really good knife now and you will get a lifetime of return for it. 


  1. Nice post Melissa! Glad you found a brand of knives that work for you. I've got an assortment of western (Forschner and Wusthof) and Japanese (Misono, Shun and Global) knives that I've collected over time.

  2. Thanks! Knives are a very personal choice- We always liked the sharpness of Japanese blades but never really liked the feel or the weight (when you get used to a heavy kitchen knife its hard to switch over to a real light one) until we used these Mac's. Thanks for reading!

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