A few days ago, I got a knife in the mail. This, in itself, is nothing unusual. People send me new products to test all the time. Most of them go into the giveaway box that I empty out to friends and neighbors every once in a while. Some of them go into the "I'd rather not inflict this upon my friends even for the reasonable price of completely free" box. This time, the knife is going into my drawer to stay—when it's not in my hand or on my cutting board, that is.
At first glance, there's nothing particularly innovative about this new knife, nothing that particularly sets it apart from any other high-end, well-designed Japanese-Western hybrid chef's knife. But here's the difference: while every other truly fantastic knife I own costs well over $100, this knife from Misen costs only $65.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to call it: This is the holy grail of inexpensive chef's knives. Incredible quality and design, high-end materials, perfect balance, and a razor-sharp edge.
That's right, $65 for a knife that can go head to head with my $180 Misono UX-10 or my $120 Wüsthof and come out the other end barely breaking a sweat.
When most knife manufacturers try to innovate, they go in one of three directions: innovations in design or materials that provide very marginal improvements for a big markup (for instance, Shun's line of knives), or a shift to less expensive materials and production processes to deliver an inferior knife at a lower cost (the internet darling Forschners). What the folks at Misen realized is that when it comes to chef's knives, we don't need innovation in design, nor do we need to compromise on production and materials. What we needed was innovation in distribution.
The folks behind Misen (restaurant chefs who use knives all the time) saw an opening in this market when they started designing the blade about 2 years ago, scouring the internet for resources on knife design, blade geometry, alloys, weights and balance points, eventually bringing on an industrial designer and a metal specialist to help with the process. The final design they arrived at is fantastic, but the way they sell it is what's really important here.
By manufacturing knives themselves and using a direct-to-consumer internet model, they can deliver high quality knives with none of the absurd markups common in the industry. They're the Warby-Parker of knives. More of every dollar you spend with them goes to the knife, rather than overhead.
Of course, all that is moot if the knife itself isn't good. Fortunately, this one delivers. Had this been around when I wrote my guide to the best chef's knife, it would have clearly swept the budget categories and had a solid run at the best-at-any-price ticket, as well.
The Misen knife is a hybrid-style knife, meaning that it has the traditional Western-style curved blade, but the thin profile and light weight of a thinner, Japanese-style one. The curvature of the blade falls somewhere in between that of a heavily curved German knife and a more gently sloped French knife. This is right where I like it. Great for rock-chopping herbs, straight and nimble enough that you can use it for precision tasks like deboning a chicken or slicing an onion, and sturdy enough for bigger tasks like splitting squash or potatoes.
In the three days that I've had this knife, I've used it in my daily recipe testing as well as to do the prep work for two different book parties—that's cooking for more than 100 people total—and it's excelled at everything I've thrown at it.
As you move down the blade towards the handle, you'll notice that the knife has a forged bolster—that's the enlarged section where the knife blade meets the handle. This not only gives the knife superior balance and control, but also makes the blade more comfortable to grip. With its smooth steel lines and a backward slope, the bolster invites you to use the "pinch" grip, where the blade is held between your forefinger and your thumb. This grip is what professional chefs use and offers more precise control than the handle grip encouraged by the designs of many cheaper knives.
Because of its curves, it's also more comfortable. Some metal-bolstered knives, like my Global G-2, are too thin, eventually digging into your hand and, in my case, giving you an uncomfortable callus. The Misen feels like it was made to fit as a natural extension of my arm, as a good knife should be. You can slice well with plenty of clearance for your hands so you don't rap your knuckles against the board.
Speaking of extensions, the blade of the knife extends all the way to the butt of the handle (this section is called the "tang"). A full tang is important not only for balance (this knife will sit evenly on your hand like a see-saw if you place one finger underneath the bolster), but also for longevity. A full tang and dual rivets attaching the handle mean that this knife is going to last far longer than inexpensive knives with their partially embedded tangs. Have you ever seen a knife at an antiques show that didn't have a full tang? There's a reason for that: they just don't last.
The first thing you'll probably notice is the odd appearance of the handle. It's made of a dense plastic composite that comes in a variety of colors (this black version is a stretch goal and will only be available if they hit that goal during the Kickstarter campaign). It's dense, heavy, and nice and grippy. No complaints there.
Knife steel is always a contentious issue. How hard to you want it? What's an appropriate carbon level? How do you best balance longevity and ease of sharpening, not to mention balance both of those things with cost? The Misen knife is made of AUS-8 Stainless steel, which is a Japanese alloy with a .75% carbon content and vanadium to improve its robustness. Like a Japanese knife, this blade is sharpened at 15 degrees, a very steep angle that gives you a wicked sharp edge.
The main advantage of AUS-8, aside from its stainless qualities, is that it's extremely easy to sharpen and hone into a razor edge. Out of the box, this thing was slicing onions so thin they were translucent and splitting tomatoes with ease. With a bit more sharpening, it was sharp enough to split a tomato in half just by dropping it on the blade and letting gravity do the work.
The downside is that, as a softer steel, it's going to wear out slightly faster than a knife made of a harder alloy. In other words, your knife will require care and attention—this is not a knife you want to throw in the dishwasher or into a drawer without a cover—and at the very least you'll want to hone it with each use and have it sharpened professionally as its sharpness wears off a couple times a year.
$65. That's an incredible deal. Yes, there are cheaper knives out there, like the Forschner Victorinox Fibrox knives that Cook's Illustrated flogs so often, but hold these two knives side by side and it makes the Forschner, with its stamped blade, plastic handle, poor balance, and lack of solid riveting, feel like a baby's toy. I've held a lot of knives in my time across all ranges of the price spectrum and I've never held a knife that had the type of value this one is offering.
To the folks that say, "Well I'll get that $35 knife—it's so cheap that we can replace it if it breaks," I'd say, for less than twice that amount, you can get a knife that will not break, will feel better in your hand, will cut better, is easier to sharpen, has superior control, and will teach you better cooking habits (like the pinch grip) in the process.
That's some pretty easy math, no matter how you slice it.
The Misen knife is not yet in full production so bear in mind: this was written with a prototype unit. But so long as they maintain the same quality, it's a no brainer for a first knife or an upgrade knife for anyone's kitchen. You can order a knife now on their website.
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