If there is any single piece of equipment that an avid home cook needs, it’s a high-quality chef’s knife. From cubing beef to creating a delicate chiffonade of basil, this versatile knife will be the workhorse in the kitchen. So it should come as no surprise that anybody who does a serious amount of cooking should have a sharp, comfortable, and reliable cutting instrument. Not only will it make your prep work in the kitchen faster and more enjoyable, but the investment, if taken care of, should last a lifetime.
There are two ways to go about getting nice knives for your kitchen. You can buy one of the convenient knife sets, usually of eight to twelve pieces, or you can simply buy individual knives that you need for a specific purpose. I’m more of a believer in the latter. While you can certainly go out and spend $500-$1,000 or more getting an amazing set of knives with a matching block, is it really necessary to spend that much on an overall set that’s of decent quality, but contains a handful of knives you might rarely use? I mean, does it matter if your six steak knives are cut from the same cloth as your other knives? Why pay a premium for knives that people will be using to hack through a hunk of meat at the dinner table when you could focus on buying just the essential cutlery?
As for me, I’d rather spend that kind of money on a good chef’s knife, maybe a santoku, a slicer, and a pairing knife. I can get perfectly sharp kitchen sheers, steak knives, and a better honing steel for less than lumping it with whatever brand name set I’m buying. Again, there are plenty of fantastic professional sets out there and they will serve you well. But if you’re looking to maximize your budget by getting the most bang for your buck, buying only the knives you need will stretch your money a bit more. Plus, you aren’t stuck with all of your knives being of the same brand and same model line. You can pick and choose individual knives, regardless of brand, that work best for you.
So, in my quest to build up my knife collection I did quite a bit of research and felt MAC knives had a great reputation and a western style knife from a respected Japanese maker seemed like the best of both worlds for me. I ended up with the MAC SBK-95, which is a 9.25″ chef’s knife in their “Ultimate” line.
The Knife In Its Full Glory
When the knife arrived I was impressed by the packaging. I know, it’s just a silly box, but usually when a company goes out of their way to make the packaging shine for such a utilitarian item, it means they take pride in their work and the product inside will reflect that.
MAC SBK-95 Knife Box
Inside the box you’ll find just the knife and a small piece of paper with care instructions. The instructions are understandably simple. Don’t put it in the dishwasher, use a quality honing rod, and sharpen/hone at a 15 degree angle. Oh, and they also remind you not to throw the knife and that it’s extremely sharp and can cause serious injury.
Here are a few closeups:
Closeup of the Other Side of the Knife
Closeup of The Knife
What I like about this knife is the handle. If you’ve been using European-style knives, the handle on this knife is like an old friend. Similar to Wusthof and Henckels, if the classic western knife is what you’re used to, you’ll feel right at home. And it isn’t just the handle, but the bolster and weight distribution is about perfect as far as I’m concerned. Japanese knives tend to be thinner and lighter, but this knife was designed with weight and balance in mind. This doesn’t mean other knives are bad, but the best knife is one you’re comfortable with and that fits your hand and cutting style, and if you’re upgrading you may find that a knife with a similar weight and feel will be better than something that feels foreign in your hand.
Shopping for knives can always be a little confusing because it seems like every manufacturer has multiple product lines and the differences from one line to the next may be small. MAC knives are no different. You’ve got the original series, superior series, chef series, professional series, ultimate series, Damascus series, and Japanese series. For most home cooks, you’ll be looking at the chef, professional, and ultimate series. The chef series is a solid, but entry level line and a chef’s knife will run you around $100 The chef series does not include the bolster so they are much lighter knives overall. A step up is the professional series, which maintains the same blade thickness, but includes the bolster for added weight and balance. The added heft will cost you as a chef’s knife in this series will be roughly double that of the chef series. Finally, you’ve got the ultimate series. These knives come with thicker blades than the other two series: 2.5-3mm compared to 2-2.5mm, which gives them the traditional European feel. This series also uses MAC’s superior steel, which comes in at 60 degrees Rockwell C. Again, the added material and hardness will cost you, and the SBK-95 retails for around $300. Although as with anything, you can shop around and find this knife for as low as about $240 from time to time.
Working in the Kitchen
You can talk about features all day, but until you put a knife through some actual work in the kitchen it doesn’t mean a whole lot. I’ve given this knife quite a workout over the past month or so. From chopping herbs to carving meat, I’ve used it in virtually any situation you might need. All I can say is this knife is sharp. I mean scary sharp. Just touching the blade with your thumb and you can feel how effortlessly it would slice into anything, including your fingers. When MAC uses the slogan “The World’s Sharpest Knives” I’m inclined to believe them. I’ve worked with many knives over the years and this certainly ranks up there as one of the sharpest I’ve used.
The extreme sharpness is due to its design. MAC knives (and most Japanese style knives in general) utilize a much more acute angle of around 15 degrees for the blade. Most western-style knives have a 20-25 degree blade. While the sharpness of the knife is evident with your every day cutting duties, you really notice it when cutting something like a tomato. You can cut razor thin slices of a tomato with virtually no effort at all. This was a great revelation for me because I had all but given up using my old Henckels chef’s knife on tomatoes. It could certainly slice them, but if the tomato was extra ripe it would be a little difficult, and making really thin slices was out of the question. I ended up finding a cheap, but sharp serrated knife that was basically only used to slice tomatoes. Now, I no longer have to switch knives and I can get my extra thin slices with the same knife I’m chopping all the rest of the vegetables with.
One of the thin tomato slices.
Aside from the benefit of being razor sharp for cutting delicate items, the knife behaves in all other areas just as you’d expect. It makes quick work of onions, garlic, root vegetables, herbs, and cutting meat. It feels wonderful on a board and it’s otherwise just a pleasure to use. It actually adds a little pleasure to the often boring prep work in the kitchen.
At this price point, it is the best knife I’ve ever used. But with the relatively high sticker price of about $250-$300, is it worth paying double that of a Wusthof Classic Ikon? Before using this MAC knife, I would have probably said no and argued there are better things to spend the extra money on. But after actually using the knife, I must say, it’s in a class of its own. In the end, a knife is a very personal decision. What’s right for me may not feel good to you, and it’s what you’re comfortable with and enjoy using that’s the deciding factor. For example, people love Global knives, and for good reason. They are made well, extremely sharp, and look slick. But for the life of me, I can’t use one comfortably. I can’t get past the handles. They aren’t bad knives, but they just don’t work for me.
So, use the information here to become better educated about your options, and if it sounds like a good knife to you, try to get your hands on one to try. Then you’ll be able to decide if it’s the right one for you.