THE ALCHEMY OF STEEL - PART THREE


ODDBALLS IN STEEL
AVOID AT ALL COSTS


CUTCO KNIVES
DIRECT MARKETING SCAM

Vector is the company behind marketing Cutco’s products. Vector sells door to door by hiring sales associates and paying them commissions (High Percentage) on successful sales since motivated starving salespeople make excellent pitchmen. But any commission-based sales program is suspect since it’s the pitch and not the product. 

It's obvious the sales person makes a commission, his or her sales manager makes a commission and guess who pays all these fine folks the additional profit.  You.  About 100%. In English you just paid 50 dollars extra for a 20-25 dollar knife.  How smart are you?

Selling high-end knives requires some understanding of products, in knives some metallurgy, honesty and making sales quotas.  In the case of CUTCO it's more sales technique and product presentation than product.

It is also based heavy on referrals almost to the point of obnoxiousness. I do not do this to my friends without calling them first, and if they do it to me, they will hear about it, loudly and possibly for the last time. 

THE PITCH
Cutco advertising is obscene, their SANTOKU the description of the knife shown left is designed for the beginner, novice, and the gullible. 

“The Santoku Knife has found fame on the culinary circuit and will surely be a star in your kitchen. A versatile and beautifully balanced knife, the full hollow ground blade on the Santoku means clean slices every time”.   Celebrity chefs love this knife and so will you.  (WHO? Name them)  Our well-balanced, all-purpose Santoku Knives have a subtly curved straight edge for smooth slicing and dicing. Blade also drops gracefully to a sharp, functional tip.  Wow!


HOLY CORPORATE GUANO
HERE IS STRAIGHT TALK 
It is nice sounding, but totally PR bullshit and less fact.  The word Santoku has Japanese historical significance meaning “Three virtues” and a good Santoku knife wears its name quite proudly, emphasizing slicing, chopping and scooping with its marvelous shape.  It was created in the Orient thousand years ago and is typical of many Oriental theories of design. Typically, they range in sizes from 5” to 7” in blade lengths, but smaller ones are available.  Over 300 companies make them.  The three virtues by the way are “Meat, Fish, and Vegetables”.

BETTER - SMARTER BUYS - OUT THERE - You can get two Tramontina Santoku’s at Costco for 15.00 dollars which will perform better than what you see here.  I use them all day long for shows and charity work and they are a great bargain. Used in many commercial kitchens they are a nice mix of cost and quality and at Costco they have the whole knife PRO lineup from Tramontina made for the industry.  At Costco the whole PRO line, Chefs 8”-10”, Santoku’s, Parers, and Boners, Filet were on sale, so for the price of a “Celebrity Chef Knife” I can outfit a kitchen with two chefs for the price of this one over-rated Cutco. 

A GINSU BY ANOTHER NAME - Think of the Cutco as a TV Ginsu or the junk Ron Popiel Special 50 knives for $39.95 on steroids with fancy handles and real slick advertising and sales training because they are not sold in stores. This is a door to door con-job operation.

BAD EDGE DESIGN - Cutco knives employ a patented “Double D” recessed edge. Double D most closely resembles a serrated edge and therefore shares some of the pros and cons of serrations. Like you can’t sharpen it...you send it in to Cutco.  Like chain saws and files, they cut by abrasion not sharpness.  

440A STAINLESS - Cutco blades are made from 440A stainless steel.   It is not the high end of the metal scale.  Actually most cheap knives use it.   It is used in “price-point” knife sets.  Preferred knife steel is 440C, X50CrMo15, SG-2 or VG-10. Any of these are better choices than 440A for hardness, sharpness and edge retention. Several techniques may be used to harden it. From heat treating to cryogenics.  Improperly sharpen them and knife is useless.

MORE BULLSHIT - The steel is probably all from China, then stamped not forged,  but the gimmick is they profess “ German steel”.  German steel refers to steel mixed with another material like plain old carbon earth for hardness or rust resistance.  Nothing more.  So they can claim German steel.  If I had to guess I would think their steel is from used Chinese WOKS than Panzer fenders.  Think of German steel as the tires on your car.  They came with it, few cars get sold without tires.

OVERPRICED - You are paying three times what they are worth. Commissions, sales managers paychecks, incentives  and profit add up to a bad buy for the consumer.  Salesperson comes to your house, they get 30-50%, as they are on commission only, their sales manager gets his or her percentage, 14% or so, plus bonuses.

If you’re considering a set of Cutco knives, think twice.  Stick with Premium Wusthof, Shun, Henkel’s, Forschner by Victorinox,  For commercial use Tramontina or Dexter. Pass on the Chinese knockoffs from Calpathlon, Kitchenaide and Farberware etc. or the decorator knives with celebrity names.



THE CLEVER CLEAVER
OF MARTIN YAN

I can gaze over the myriad of knives I have in my collection. A favorite is my Chinese Cleaver.  I  learned its usage forty years ago.  Many times I reach for a cleaver, more correctly a  Chinese chefs knife. In this section I will be opening your mind to the use of the cleaver in the culinary arts.  The word cleaver itself means "to split".   

CHARITY WORK - I have a suite of Tramontina (COSTCO has the best deals) knives having lost, had them stolen at gigs, or exhausted all my older knives. Still, I still bring my 50 year old Chicago Cutlery 8x3 cleaver, if we are doing chicken. For big Tom Turkeys I use a branch trimmer, a trick I learned from a chef who worked at a big turkey restaurant and for Pterodactyls I bring a chainsaw.

BRANCH TRIMMER ? - I just cooked a twenty-four pound Tom and had to break the legs with the two handed branch trimmer, rated for 1.5 inch branches, this was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of Tom turkey’s.  I almost went through the cutting board with a meat cleaver, not my beloved Chicago Chinese cleaver.  Finally, Home depot and only 19 dollars, made by Fiskar’s a very reputable brand and it was easy, Grandma could do it.  

Later a big thanksgiving dinner for charity, this was a life saver.  An assembly line, twenty-five turkeys, spatch cocked, dispatched and the branch trimmer does a safe easy break without turkey parts flying all over my nice clean floors and kitchen.  I could do it with the cleaver but the flying parts and the mess get you when a health guy is snooping around.

And I store my cleavers near my work table and chopping block, on a magnet. Cleavers don't get along with storage blocks well since most don't fit into blocks. Thats what magnets are for as long as children aren't allowed in prep areas of your kitchen and mounted eye high, your eye.

I have a fascination for these things probably after watching Chinese Chef Martin Yan years ago dismembering a chicken in well, 18 seconds flat. It is still not the record.  Another world class Chef named Hung Huynh on Top Chef was also fast, not as neat, but fast. 

Find him on the web on YouTube.  All I can see is flying chicken.  If I tried it, the only fast part would be the trip to the ER to sew my fingers back on.  In contrast to the celebrated French Chefs who do chicken at the speed of cranial surgery, I would starve to death by the time we cooked them.  

MARTIN YAN PERSONAL -  I met him a couple times, he is always on.  On his show or off stage, thats him,  he is a man of many quotes one which made so much sense to me…  A quote should be truth, this is…and you gotta love this.   

“Oriental style food is better for young people because normally with Western cuisine, you’ll serve vegetables separate from the meat,  so kids will eat the meat and never touch the vegetables”.   So true.

“Wisdom does not have territorial, spiritual, physiological nor racial boundaries,  the only border for wisdom is truth”.  I said that and approved my own statement.


BUTCHER CLEAVER
DISMEMBERING
Man has always been interested in dismembering. The typical butcher cleaver used in the West is a beast designed to break bones, and to partition larger cuts of meat especially those with grizzle.  That’s great in a commercial kitchen with tile floors and a garden hose to wash down the NSF appliances.

Usually the grind does not exceed 22-1/2 degrees. Its weight and momentum do the job.  And usually no time is spent for sharpening.  A bench sander or grinder is usually a food plant or butcher shops friend.  It plowed on, and with proper sharpening, to retain angle values and last forever.  It is a workhorse. 

Do not try show off with this tool, it can be lethal.  While writing an article on Chinese Buffets one particular day and while snooping around the back, the back doors left open from the intense heat of the woks sometimes gives you a glimpse into Chinese fast food.  

The Chef or his helper had a four inch bench sander going full bore sharpening their cleavers.  Other than the more delicate Sushi or the Sashimi slicers, done on a stone, all they had was a stack of cleavers.   He was good, one pass each side, you could tell they were carbon by the sparks and the sparks were about equal.  No wasted footage here.  About twenty seconds a knife and one shot with the steel file, not a steel to de-burr and he was done.

The butcher's cleaver is not for fine cutting or chopping. Never sharpen them to a razor's edge, they can chip because they are brittle when sharpened. Cleavers have a hole because they were usually hung from a meat hook, or a hook on the butcher's belt.  Osha probably choked on that idea and suggested something other than wearing it like your cellphone or you might get a wrong number on yourself.

THE MACHETE
WORKHORSE
The machete used in all parts of the world from Cuba south is also a viable food tool being used on coconuts to veggies. When not breaking trails it does a great job on Puerto Rican Pork right off the whole pig in Caicay, PR. as witnessed on the Anthony Bourdain show on the food network.  Beautiful slices of roast pork fell to the blade and served local style right at the beach.  Again a belt sander and file... not quite what I use on my good stuff.

Yes, shorter machetes throughout the world are used in the culinary arts but you might not see things the way these country chefs see things. 

The Western hemisphere developed the machete, which served the jungle, the Eastern world compressed it in size and shape to serve the palate.  Machetes are cheap, this Tramontina was only $14.00 and readily available on Amazon.  The Tramontina is a mild carbon stainless mix.  Stain resistant but I keep it oiled.  It has been modified for my use.  

The handle is wrapped in Tennis Racquet tape for grip.  A loop wrist strap added and the sheath is reinforced and provisions for shoulder or belt carry added.  Best fourteen dollars I spent. I also have a shorter custom machete, more a Kukri shape when trailing.

It is 22 inches long. It has flex if not machetes would snap if brittle and that would make for shrapnel if it hit something hard. It sharpens easily.  I have a small file, combined with the Accusharp and a small steel, it is invincible.  The blade is kept clean, it’s not THAT stainless resistant and cutting vegetation has exposure to acids.  Thus in the bag is a small sanding pad from Home depot that looks like a sponge and oiled when not being used.  Machetes differ from your good knives in the sense, you don’t hone it. It’s strictly a tool and gets sharpened.

Last year a friend had a situation where the side of a house was overgrown with everything from Brazilian Pepper trees to other undesirable species here in Florida.  About thirty feet on one side of the house, two feet deep, and taller than me and Im six-one.  About thirty-five minutes later, the side was cleared, dug out the roots, used a power chain saw on the Oak Tree, pressure washed it and got it ready for paint.  The machete did the job as it was designed to do.


THE CHINESE CLEAVER
LIGHTER, THINNER, FASTER AND SCOOP-ABLE

The Chinese cleaver is made in a myriad of sizes, blade widths, metallurgy, handle design and purpose. In other words what they may find in their backyard, on the battlefield or junkyard that they can recycle into cleavers.  In China and most Eurasian countries there are also style points such as seen on Thai Knives which have a pointed front. 

They look like a butcher’s cleaver but lighter, usually with no hole for hanging, since it never stops working, but it doesn’t mean you can use it to chop bones. The larger heavier cleavers are made for this act with thick blades that are not very sharp; they are meant to be used for splitting bone.  

Chinese Cleavers are the Asian version of the French chef knife. Again, they are slicers and treat them as you would a chef knife, Slicing, cutting, dismembering, chopping and scooping.  

  • The sharp edge of the blade is used for cutting.
  • The blunter top edge is used to pound and tenderize meat. 
  • Turned on its side, the cleaver is an excellent tool for smashing garlic and ginger.
  • You can even use it to transfer food from cutting board to wok. 
  • An added bonus is that the flat end of the handle nicely substitutes for a pestle.

The Chinese used the cleaver since the beginning of time and the Japanese combined it with their metallurgy and created some really nice cleavers of their own.  I know some members of the Knife Sharpening Guild probably could shave with theirs. The basic Japanese Nakiri style is thought of an ultra light cleaver design. Another favorite tool of mine. I’ll start with a traditional Chinese made cleaver with a non-traditional history, the knives of Maestro Wu. 



THE MAESTRO WU
THE KINMEM STORY

The Kinmen Knife (金門菜刀) is a knife exclusively made in Kinmen County in Fuchien Province of the Republic of China. The knives are made from the remains of artillery shells fired by the U.S. and Allied forces in World War II, and by mainland China between 1958 and 1978. As many as 500,000 bombs were dropped on Kinmen during the war.  I told you battlefields.

The second shipment arrived during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, the People's Liberation Army of the People's Republic of China fired around 450,000 shells at the Quemoy Islands in its conflict against the Republic of China which controls the islands. The shells have become a natural resource of steel for the local economy.  

This amounted to a very expensive way to deliver raw steel of good quality including stainless compounds and for those who “Bablically” wish to explain this, we promote and researched the theory of “ Beating Swords Into Plowshares".  

Swords to plowshares is a concept in which military weapons or technologies are converted for peaceful civilian applications. The phrase originates from the Book of Isaiah, who prophesies of a future Messianic Age where there will be peace amongst all humankind:  It reads: They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. 

Each shell usually took out a building or bunker adding to the cost of each shell in damage and casualties.  Thats the usual bottom line in war.  Kinmen, found itself a storage center for high-quality steel. The industrious Chinese being basically steel and iron users and needing all they could find turned this windfall into the hands of knife-maker Wu Tseng-Dong. Kinmen had a new business.

They are quite well made, for the price, after all most countries put some of our best steel into artillery shells, as we do with all weapons of war.  A knife is only as good as what it is made of, not who swears by it, as we have many cheap knives out there with endorsements by celebrity chefs. 


Quemoy has become famous for its production of "boom-boom cleavers" as they are nicknamed. A single shell, these are heavy 155 mm casings, I know I loaded a similar few, generally produces 60 cleavers from one bomb shell. They do a good tourist trade for the kitchen and for the souvenir market. With all the bombs on hand they will run out in 2096.

Wu Tseng-dong, as the third-generation owner of the Chin Ho Li Steel Knife Factory, currently markets its knives under the label of "Maestro Wu," goes back much further than 1958. Knifemaking , the art relates to his ancestor, Wu Tsong-shan, late 19th century.

These knives are hand forged steel. Smelted down to a red yellow mass and using his knowledge of hand working steel, he literally rough shapes a billet of the steel.  He flattens it on a mechanical hammer through several stages, flattens it and shapes it more, rolls and works it into shape for the hand grinding and shaping process.

He was quoted as saying , this is a learned skill. "We must judge the heat of the steel very accurately, and the color of the red hot steel tells us what we need to know".  I thought to myself, heres one thing the computer doesn't know or does it? 

These knives are still hand forged, ground, shaped and sharpened.  Walk into any kitchen in the world where real Chinese food is prepared, and you’ll most likely find only three knives - 1) Vegetable Cleaver,  2) Meat Cleaver  3) Fruit knife. 

All variants are offered, differing in size, width and shape. And I’ll tell you a secret, many were using these products made by the master.  Its like a cult following but his knives are great and do the job.  

In 1998 the Maestro WU cleavers and others designs went to Western style knives for export.  One or two companies seems to have the stock in whats called the "Maestro Wu" lineup.  

Today Mr. Wu continues his craft and sells his knives internationally. He is respected worldwide for his ingenuity. Visitors to his shop can actually assign a shell and observe a knife being forged from it. 

 In all, his knives are collected by knife enthusiasts for their quality and their interesting and meaningful history. The collection includes both the "Bombshell" and "Damascus" lines. 

Another source is Jende Industries LLC.  I strongly suggest you call these two vendors first and see if what you wish is in stock and or available. Both sites have videos and other photos of what available in these unique blades.

These brands all make fine Chinese Chefs Knives. We liked for the way they worked and in some cases the value for the frugal buyer. Cleavers are fairly priced, not unreasonable unless you get into the high end named brands. 

FORSHNER
Probably has one of the largest selections of cleavers, I have two of theirs. One with a wood handle and one with a slightly heavier composite handle. 

These are very reasonable and you can get a decent one starting at 24.00 up to 80.00 on Amazon. This one has a standard poly handle, the one higher up on the page has the round handle, and I have them in wood and nonslip. They are excellent buys for the money.

CHICAGO CUTLERY
I still have my Chicago cutlery cleaver I purchased fifty (or more) years ago. It is laying on my block on left side of the page for small kitchens. I think it is now is the oldest knife I own and still does a great job every day. 

On a big Sushi day this is the layout plus cups of rice wine or vinegar and water for rinsing the long pointed Sashimi knife after each cut so as not to stick, cutting the Sushi or Sashimi. 

The white Tramontina Santoku is for helpers and those I don’t want using my Japanese knives.  And the magnet is for storage out of reach from little hands.


CCK Chan Chi Kee
CHINESE CLEAVERS 
With a cult following,  some of the cleavers like the CCK lines in Carbon and CRES steel are very popular. “ The Chevrolet of the Chinese Buffet".  

NOTE:  The authentic pure or plain carbon steel ones can and do rust, develop a patina and require a simple but special amount of attention.  No dishwashers, rinse and wipe dry immediately after usage. . If storing a little mineral oil works great and will not rot like veggie or peanut oils and reward you with the sharpest blades of all. 

CCK is a famous brand of Chinese professional kitchen knives used in Chiuchow and Cantonese Cuisine.  This is like a cult and some Chinese Nationals, like the Chinese Chef at the Luxor using one chopping ribs faster then I could comprehend, and   I saw another at the M hotel, Vegas finest smorgasbord using them.  Since the food is out front, they were using the Accusharp sharpener, which is fast and accurate, but surprised me but as busy as they were this was not a Sashimi exercise,  but getting a ton of ribs out front. 

CCK knives come in a variety of styles, for brevity we offer the following: 

  • A Kitchen Slicer
  • Kitchen Chopper
  • Kau Kong Chopper
  • Dim Sum Knife
  • BBQ Chopper
  • Bone Chopper
  • Vegetable Knife
  • Duck Slicer
  • Butcher’s Knife
  • Butcher’s Bone Chopper
  • Butcher’s Knife
  • Scraping Knife

Due to demand and monetary exchange numbers the price of these Carbon choppers and slicers went from the thirties to the fifties and sixties.   Most of the CCK knives come with wooden , steel, or plastic handles. If you buy them for yourself we strongly recommend using knives with wooden handles.  

Chinese foods and Western Foods are prepared totally different, if you’d like to use knives with steel handles or plastic handles fine, but wood is preferred by Chinese chefs and they are fussy about what wood is used. Plastics, especially cheap hard plastics and steel polished handles slip when wet or greasy.

Please make sure you know that CCK’s knives with steel handles and plastic handles don't offer immediate shipping, sometimes knives with wooden handles get sold out, they need about 7 days to prepare the knives for you.  

I can tell you now, with some patience and a knowledge of making a good edge…  You can shave with these guys so be careful.  Many American chefs I know have converted some of their food handling and prep work to the Chinese knife using it as a knife lesser as a cleaver.  They discovered a thousands years tool that works well.  You will get used to it quite easily.

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