Leading-Edge Cutlery

Any way that you slice it, you’ll have to be sharp when you shop for new kitchen cutlery. A manufacturer of German-style knives now uses lasers to create a sharper blade that rivals that of Japanese-style knives. And changes to cutlery sets include the addition of santoku knives or, in some cases, the subtraction of all but two or three knives.

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Masterfile/Chicago Cutlery

Even the least experienced cook should know that unless you have good, sharp knives, your guests will be picking through mangled and frayed slices of turkey and ham at your next holiday feast. But before you rush out to buy a new set of knives in preparation for the culinary challenges that await in the months (and years) ahead, you should get a grip on a few new factors that you might encounter when you shop for cutlery.

As sales of Japanese-style knives continue to increase, manufacturers of German-style knives are making adjustments to their products. (Japanese-style represents knives that are made of thinner steel and typically have sharper cutting edges; German-style represents knives that are made of heavier steel and have more-durable cutting edges.) Manufacturers have focused on making sharper and more-refined blades and are expanding their traditional cutlery sets by adding snub-nose santoku knives. Conversely, more manufacturers of premium knives sell cutlery sets that have just three or four basic pieces, which is half of the size of a standard cutlery set.

But no matter what kind of cutlery that you buy, don’t be surprised if it carves a bigger hole in your wallet, because the prices for some pieces have increased by as much as 25 percent since 2007. Manufacturers and independent experts whom we interviewed attribute the price increases to, among other factors, an increase in global steel prices over the past several years.

SHARP TALK. In September 2010, Wüsthof introduced knives in its Classic collection that rely on what it calls precision-edge technology, or PEtec. It plans to use the technique on other collections in the future. The edge-finishing approach is unique in that it’s the first time that a manufacturer of German-style knives that have forged blades has used computerized lasers to finish, or sharpen, the cutting edge. Wüsthof previously finished the edges on all of its forged knives by hand, which is the same method that’s used by all of the other manufacturers of premium German-style knives.

Wüsthof says its precision-edge technology makes the cutting edge 20 percent sharper and helps the blade to maintain its sharpness for twice as long when compared with the previous way that it finished knife edges. Wüsthof tells Consumers Digest that the improvements in sharpness and edge retention have been verified independently in other tests, but it wouldn’t show us the results of those studies.

Ordinarily, that lack of transparency when it’s related to a manufacturer’s claims would make us suspicious. But independent experts whom we interviewed say Wüsthof’s claims appear to be legitimate, because the cutting-edge angles on knives that use the new edge-finishing technology have been reduced dramatically when compared with that of knives that are hand-finished. Consequently, such knives would be sharper and stay sharper longer, experts say. Knives that are finished by using the new technology have a cutting-edge angle of 28 degrees (14 degrees on each side), compared with 38 degrees (19 degrees on each side) on the previous generation, Wüsthof says.

That improvement is significant for multiple reasons, says kitchen-cutlery expert Chad Ward, who is author of “An Edge in the Kitchen.” From a practical sense, it means that it will make it easier for the knife to slice through tough vegetables, such as butternut squash or carrots. Ward says that means that you won’t need to use as much force as you would with other premium German-style knives to make cuts on such items.

In addition, he says it’s reasonable to assume that the Wüsthof edge-finishing approach will make the knife stay sharper longer. For instance, most premium knives should be sharpened once or twice a year (as well as cleaned on the sharpening steel once a week), Ward says. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should sharpen knives that have the new edge-finishing technology less often, but those knives should maintain maximum sharpness longer than other knives that are sharpened on the same schedule, Ward says.

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