Recently a New York Times article about the Biggest Loser TV show made a big splash on some of my friends’ Facebook pages. The article is essentially a human interest story about contestants of the TV show. In case you’ve never seen the show, it’s a “reality” TV show in which extraordinarily overweight people go to extraordinary lengths to lose weight on national TV. The show was a massive success for a while, and an inspiration for many people.
Some of the contestants lost upwards of 200 pounds, but there is a problem. Of the 16 contestants from Season 6 (the sibkect of the New York Times article), only one has been able to successfully keep the weight off. Everyone else’s weight has drifted upwards, some as high as they started out. Peppered throughout the article are quotes and tidbits from researchers who used the contestants to conduct studies in weightloss and metabolism as well as other researchers of metabolism and weightloss.
Your body wants to be fat, okay?
Unfortunately, the former contestants’ metabolisms had slowed significantly, with one of them burning 800 fewer calories per day than would be expected for someone of his weight. On top of that, a certain hormone associated with satiety and weightloss was much lower than normal. This has led some people to the erroneous conclusion that losing weight shouldn’t even be attempted because their body will sabotage their efforts because it wants to be fat.
Thankfully, this conclusion is completely unfounded, and I’ll show you why. Now for this particular post, I will NOT be reading any of the research articles referenced. I will only be critiquing the actual text of the New York Times article.
Disclaimer: I do not mean to deny or denigrate the experience of the former Biggest Loser contestants (BLC)—but I do mean to show how their fate does not have to be your fate.
Some basic research
The most important aspect of healthcare research when it comes to applying the findings to other people is called generalizability–how well a study’s findings can be applied to other people. The most influential component of a research study”s generalizability is how “representative” or similar the sample is to us, the general public…or you specifically. So for example, if researchers find that statin medications can reduce the rate of heart attacks in very high risk patients (for example, men who have already had a heart attack), they cannot generalize those findings to say that statins will reduce the rate of heart attacks in young healthy people with high cholesterol. They must first do the study again with the new younger population before they can scientifically (let alone ethically) say that statins will reduce heart attacks in that population.
So, although the BLC (Biggest Loser Contestants) study is fascinating and provides an interesting window into extreme weight loss, how meaningful is it to you? I am happy to report, “not very”. First, they took people who were extremely overweight, with many of them weighing 300-400 pounds. Then they put them through an extreme (I hate to keep using that word but it really does fit) weightloss regmien. For example, Danny Cahill, the Season 8 winner lost 239 pounds. To do this, he tried to lose a pound a day. He had an extremely restricted diet, and was exercising upwards of 7 hours a day. He had to quit his job in order to comply with the program. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Mr. Cahill exercised seven hours a day, burning 8,000 to 9,000 calories according to a calorie tracker the show gave him. Mr. Cahill set a goal of a 3,500-caloric deficit per day. The idea was to lose a pound a day.
If he had not burned enough calories to hit his goal, he went back to the gym after dinner to work out some more. At times, he found himself running around his neighborhood in the dark until his calorie-burn indicator reset to zero at midnight.
Mr. Cahill knew he could not maintain his finale weight of 191 pounds. He was so mentally and physically exhausted he barely moved for two weeks after his publicity tour ended.
How representative is this experience for the average person? Does it represent you? I can tell you it’s not representative for me. My maintenance calories for my current weight is 2800. I need to eat 2800 (more or less) calories to stay at my weight. Danny Cahill’s calorie deficit was bigger than my entire diet. I would have to eat negative calories to have a deficit that big. My current exercise regimen is a 30-45 minute weightlifting workout 3 times a week plus an hour walk the other four days a week. So in an average week, I’m spending less than 7 hours consciously exercising—less than Danny Cahill did in a single day.
I’ve lost 26 pounds recently on the exercise regimen I described above and eating a thousand calorie deficit (1800 calories per day). Once a week, I would do a “refeed” day where I ate closer to 2800 calories. I eat chocolate every day. I drink milk most days (raw, grass fed, full fat milk). I have bread, pasta, steak, birthday cake. I have ice cream on occasion. I even had half of a Miller’s Alehouse “Captain Jack’s buried treasure” (an ice cream/Oreo/Heath bar pie served over hot fudge). I just had to plan my calorie intake for the day accordingly. Compare that to the draconian diets of the BLC described in the article.
I, in no way, feel deprived. Nor have do I have binge cravings (which I have had in the past under different weight loss plans). I could live like this the rest of my life if I had to. When I reach my goal weight of 175 pounds, if I wanted to maintain that weight, I’d need to eat more or less 2600 calories per day.
The point is that my weightloss plan is 1) enjoyable, 2) sustainable, 3) when I reach my goal, I get to keep doing what I’m doing but have more ICE CREAM!!!!
But Danny Cahill’s metabolism is 800 calories less than normal!!!
Okay, fair enough. If my metabolism were that much slower, I’m sure it would be vastly harder to maintain my weight loss. However, I don’t think that will be the case for a number of reasons. The first is that generalizable word again. My 1-2 pounds a week weight loss with minimal effort is not comparable in any way to Danny Cahill’s except in the direction of weight. He lost more than half his bodyweight. I’m planning on losing less than 18% of my max bodyweight. Moreover, once I’m done losing the weight, I’m planning on bulking (purposefully eating more calories than maintenance to build muscle). I’m fairly certain that my increased muscle mass will help boost my metabolism preventing me from sharing Danny’s fate.
The second reason I don’t think that I will share the same fate that I am eating a fairly high amount of carbohydrates, 35-45% of my diet is carbohydrates, which helps to boost leptin levels. Leptin is a hormone (secreted by your fat cells of all things) that helps promote satiety and weight loss. The contestants of BLC all had much lower levels of leptin even years after the contest was over.
But even if my leptin is low, and my metabolism is permanently damaged, I still don’t think it will be to the same magnitude as the BLC contestants. The contestants with the highest weightloss had the lowest metabolisms and leptin levels, so the effect is proportional. As a ratio of fat lost, Danny lost 239 pounds, with 3500 calories to a pound. So his ratio is 800:836500 calories or around 1:1000. My total fat lost will be 37×3500 = 129,500. So proportionately, I might expect to burn 140 calories less per day. I’m pretty sure I can handle that. Maybe the ratio is based on initial weight, and not weight loss. In that case, he weighted 430 pounds, so 430:800 or 1:1.86. So for me, starting out at 212 pounds, I could expect 394 calories fewer in a day. That’s significantly higher, but still doable. After all, I’m eating 1800 calories a day and losing weight, so if I had to do maintenance minus 400 calories, that would still be 2200 calories a day (400 more than I’m currently eating).
Now, there’s a very good chance that I’m not representative of you, but chances are much higher that your more similar to me than you are to Danny Cahill or any of the other BLC participants.
But he’s got a PhD from Harvard!!!!! You just have a PhD from University of Florida.
He’s a Doctor! And you’re just a Nurse!!! Actually, some of the researchers cited in the article are medical doctors while others have PhDs in related fields like physiology. The most important thing to remember is that science is not exact, and scientists are not perfect. There are huge gaps in what we know. In fact, one of the researchers actually says this in the article:
He cautioned that the study was limited by its small size and the lack of a control group of obese people who did not lose weight. But, he added, the findings made sense.
“This is a subset of the most successful” dieters, he said. “If they don’t show a return to normal in metabolism, what hope is there for the rest of us?”
Still, he added, “that shouldn’t be interpreted to mean we are doomed to battle our biology or remain fat. It means we need to explore other approaches.”
The unscientificness (is that a word?) of that middle line is simply astounding. The only sense in which this group of “dieters” were successful is in the sheer number of pounds that they lost. But they were quite literally paid to lose weight. They had professional coaching, and medical staff on hand to deal with overexertion. They were competitors, not dieters. There is simply no relative comparison to an average individual looking to lose 10 – 40 pounds of fat who has to fit whatever he’s doing into his every day life. Or as Greg O’Gallagher (who designed my current workout/diet plan) says, “Fitness should enhance your life, not rule it.”
And another researcher:
“There is a lot of basic research we still need to do.”
Every scientist thinks what they are working on is extremely important, and more than anything else, they want to keep getting paid to do it. I’m not impugning any of the scientists and physicians in the article, but scientists and physicians have been known to be a little, well, unduly enthusiastic about the implications of their research—statins in the water anyone? The article also glosses over some flaws in the research such as only measuring leptin and not “other hormones”. It doesn’t mention what these other hormones are. That’s probably the fault of the author, not the scientists.
Well if you’re so smart, why don’t you explain it?
It seems that most people (in the U.S. anyway) have a tendency to gain weight. For most of us, it’s a pound or two a year. As the article points out, a pound of fat is 3500 calories. There are conveniently 365 days in a year, so 10 extra calories a day will give you about a pound of fat in a year. 20 calories a day will give you 2 pounds of fat in a year. Let that go unchecked for 10 years and you’re 10-20 pounds overweight. Pretty cool huh? The key then is not to let your weight get out of control. If you can stop it after 5-6 pounds, you can lose that weight quite easily and quickly, and then regain it again over the next three years. We really don’t know what the long term metabolic rate effects of this strategy would be. But we can assume based even on the findings of the BLC study that the less weight you have to lose the less impact it will have on your metabolism.
We also know that certain hormones are associated with weight loss while others are associated with weight gain. For example, leptin is associated with weight loss or weight maintenance, while insulin is associated with weight gain. Interestingly, insulin helps build muscle as well as fat, but it’s much easier to build fat than muscle. This is why body builders typically do bulk/cut cycles. During the bulk, they gain both fat and muscle. Then during the cut, they try to lose the fat while trying to preserve the muscle.
As the article pointed out, there is a lot that we don’t know. For example, the field of epigenetics which is the mechanisms of how genes are turned on or off is showing that we may all have fat genes, but some of us have them turned on while others have them turned off. And it’s not necessarily only on/off, but there are degrees of on. And most importantly epigenetics shows that our fat genes can be regulated by environmental events such as overeating or near starvation.
A very interesting finding is that Adenovirus 36 (AD-36) can cause mice that were previously normal to become obese. If we can determine which genes were turned on or off we may be able to reverse engineer the process and cure obesity in humans. Of course there is a chance that we could unleash a Thinner-style curse on the world.
As the Terminator would say…
The future has not been written; there is no fate but what we make.
Don’t let a study that says your body doesn’t want to lose weight stop you from taking control of your health and life. Since I’ve lost weight, I feel tremendously better, snore less, have more energy, am tremendously stronger, and everyone says how much better I look.
And the best part is that it is almost effortless and definitely enjoyable. Okay. It’s not exactly effortless, but compared to doing P90x, it’s effortless. The workouts are strength building (not size building) workouts. That means sets of 4-6 reps with 2-3 minutes of rest in between sets. So most of my time at the gym is spent waiting around. The only “cardio” I do is an hour long walk while I listen to podcasts. The diet does take discipline, but it’s mostly about planning not will power. Because I get to eat foods I like every day, I never feel deprived. I just had to get used to measuring my portions before I eat.
12 years ago, I decided that I should try and look like Brad Pitt in Troy before I turned 40. (He was 40 at the time of filiming.) I’m about to turn 42 and for the first time think I actually have a shot at reaching that goal thanks to Kinobody. I highly recommend that you start today. Go to the Kinobody website and read some articles or the youtube channel and watch some videos. There’s enough free content to get you started on a good path. Heck. Keep reading this article to get you started.
So where exactly did you get those calorie numbers earlier?
There’s lots of complicated ways to figure out your maintenance calories, but an easy rule of thumb is multiply your bodyweight by 15. So at 186 pounds, my maintenance bodyweight is 186×15 = 2790 calories or 2800 rounded up. If you want to aggressively lose weight, you want a 25% deficit which turns out to be about bodyweight times 11. You can read a lot more about the specifics of the diet I’m on in my last post.
If I’ve convinced you and you’re ready to really go after weightloss, I’d recommend the Aggressive Fat Loss program by Kinobody. It’s what I’m doing. If you’re a woman, I’d recommend the Goddess Toning Program. It includes the same nutrition plan as Aggressive Fat Loss but with workouts that are more suited to the feminine physique.
Tip: If you take the survey on the Kinobody website and enter your e-mail address, you’ll get a discount code that you can use on any of the programs.
Still not convinced?
If you need more reasons to buy a Kinobody program after my lovely testimonial, how about: it’s a one time fee (currently $47 without a discount) and you’ll get access to Q&A forums and a Facebook group. The course is yours for life, and if it gets updated, you get the updates. And there’s a 60 day money back guarantee. So if it doesn’t work for you, you’re not out anything.
And on that note, I’m signing off. What are you still doing here? Okay, fine. Watch this video you couch potato!
You look pretty good. What do you eat? — Jerry Seinfeld
Just skip to the end please
I lost 14 pounds on the Atkins diet and by intermittent fasting. Then I found Kinobody and am now doing his Aggressive Fat Loss system. It’s a combination of intermittent fasting and weight training. No cardio beyond walking or recreational activities is required.
The journey to fatness.
It’s embarrassing to admit it, but the past few years have been a journey toward obesity. I was a scrawny kid who could eat anything. I graduated high school at a whopping 145 pounds. Then I went to the Air Force Academy and went down to a downright skeletal 134 pounds in Basic Training.
A skeletal 134 pounds
By the time I graduated college I was 170 pounds. But then I got a job as a lifeguard and beach attendant at the Breaker’s Hotel and Resort in Palm Beach, FL. That took me down to 165 pounds of tanned, bleach-blonde muscle despite eating probably 5,000 calories a day. Unfortunately, my high school weight and beach experience reinforced the notion that I could eat whatever I want and still be thin.
Bleach blonde, tan, and buff. 165 pounds despite eating probably 5,000 calories per day.
…and then I got old. Everyone always said, “wait till you’re 40,” but it happened to me at 24. I was able to stave off the weight gain by sheer physical activity—capoeira, karate, tai chi. ballroom dancing, Latin dancing. And then I got married and got a real job. It’s a lot harder to maintain that kind of lifestyle when you’re working full time and have a wife who wants to spend time with you. I tipped the scales at a 185 pounds when I got married at 26. A few years later I was 200.
To Insanity and.. Beyond!
Obviously, I need to start exercising again, but we had moved, and I didn’t know where to find a good dojo and dance studio, so I turned to Beach Body. I started with Slim in 6 but all the lunges were too hard on my knees, so I switched to Power 90 (the much easier precursor to P90x). From the, the Power Half Hour, and eventually P90X itself. All of them work to some degree, but they take progressively more and more time. P90X requires a whopping hour and half a day. Six days a week. It’s just not fun. Then I tried the aptly named Insanity. I lasted three sessions. It really is insane, and not in a good way. The human body is not meant to work in that particular way. Anyway, my first son, Logan was born, and after 3 sleepless, exerciseless months. I figured I needed to workout again. That’s when I found Rushfit, designed for and marketed by MMA fighter George “Rush” St Pierre. I really liked the full body nature of the workouts and the relatively short time (30 minutes plus a 10 minute warm up). It was nice to have kick boxing moves performed by actual martial artists…but my knees didn’t like strain, so I had to take it easy on certain days. Still I was in overall good shape, although still over 200 pounds. (Nothing scarier than an overweight, in shape, martial artist right?)
And then. And then my second son, Corban was born, and the next thing you know I had only worked out twice in the last two years. One workout a year isn’t too bad, I think. Eventually, I tipped the pounds at a whopping 212 pounds!!!
Thar she blows!!!!
What’s love got to do with it?
Unfortunately, none of it really works, because exercising raises your appetite, and it’s too hard on a middle aging body to work out 6 days a week, and who has the time when you have two kids? The key, of course, is changing your diet. For years I had bought into the silliness that reducing carbohydrates and especially sugars will reduce insulin, which in turn makes it easier to lose weight. I had believed this for years, but didn’t want to do it, because…because I love carbs, and I especially love sugar. I love Coca Cola, and Cherry Pepsi, and cookies, and bread, and donuts, and cake (which is really just an icing delivery device). In fact, I told my nursing students that I was living proof that the health belief model was false. I believed in low carb diets, but I didn’t want to follow one…until I wanted family photos with the kids without me looking like a blimp.
My brother had lost 15 pounds or so in a month following the Atkins diet (a kind of low carb diet), and what he was doing seemed pretty reasonable, so I figured I’d try it…in a couple weeks.
How to lose 14 pounds in three weeks
Well, I started off by cheating. I got the flu. A bad flu. With stomach symptoms. To stop the symptoms I stopped eating. Between the starvation and the fever, I lost 6 pounds in 5 days. It would be a shame to waste that head start, so I went Atkins too. The basic Atkins diet is eat high protein, high fat meals, with low carbohydrates. The Atkins diet has “phases” where you vary the amount of carbohydrate. Basically, in the “induction phase” you try to eat less than 20 grams of carbohydrate per day. That turns out to be a lot harder than you might think. The key is that during induction you eat as much as you want as long as it’s low carb. This turns out to be a great diet for carnivores. You typically stay in induction for 2-4 weeks. After induction, you ease up on the carb restrictions but still stay low carb. Once you make your weight goal, then you raise the carbs up to the point you start to gain weight again, and then reduce back to a stable weight. That final stage very much resembles a Paleo diet.
I also started using “intermittent fasting,” which is a essentially, trying to do all your eating in an 8 hour window, and then not eating (fasting) for 16 hours. For me, that means I try to be done eating around 8pm and then I don’t eat until around 11 or 12 the next day. Since beginning using the low carb, intermittent fasting diet, I have lost 14 pounds in 3 weeks (including the 6 pounds from the flu). I’m rarely “starving” although I do get quite hungry around 5pm. Most of the days I only eat two meals (just because of convenience), although I do eat some snacks. An important point with intermittent fasting is that you can choose your fasting window. If you work out first thing in the morning, you probably don’t want to wait until noon to eat. If you sleep in, you could delay until 4pm. And feel free to break the routine for social life. The key is to choose something that works for your schedule and your life.
What the heck do you eat? That must be boring!
Low carb dieting does take some imagination, but really, you can have quite a lot. Over the next few days, I’ll post some recipes, but here are some sample meals:
Cheeseburger (no bun)
Pulled pork with low carb barbeque sauce
Arugula steak salad
Chicken Alfredo over a bed of arugula
Eggs and bacon
Egg pucks (crustless mini quiches)
Baked chicken and spinach salad
Almond crusted tilapia (or any fish for that matter)
Uncured Turkey and a slice of cheese (with mustard and pickle if you like)
Parmesan Cheese Whisps (1 carb per serving; currently available at Costco)
Small handful of almonds (preferably flavored with something other than sugar)
Avocado chocolate pudding
Dark chocolate (do yourself a favor and buy some good stuff; life’s too short to eat crappy chocolate)
Generally speaking you can have as much meat, eggs, butter, bacon, and leafy green vegetables as you like. You can eat some fruits and vegetables that are high carbohydrate in moderation. For example a six inch section of cucumber has 6 carbs. That’s more than a quarter of your allotment during induction phase, but if you only eat a two inch section, that’s only 2 carbs.
Isn’t Atkins really hard to follow?
Quite honestly, Atkins is a very easy diet once you get the right mindset. You eat as much as you want, as long as it’s not carbohydrate. It does take some effort, because we are surrounded by delicious smelling carbohydrates. The last thing I eat every day are four large bittersweet chocolate chips; about 5 carbs. The most important thing is not to hang around food you shouldn’t be eating when you’re hungry.
Unfortunately, the weightloss can be temporary. It’s the total caloric intake that determines weight loss/gain. Sometimes your appetite adjusts to the diet and you simply start eating more, or maybe you discover how to cheat with “paleo desserts.” Other issues with the diet include that it can be constipating and can cause leg cramps. Both of these issues can be dealt with by taking magnesium and potassium supplements. You’ll also find that you need to drink a lot more water while on the Atkins diet.
But isn’t fat bad for you?
There isn’t enough space in this post to go over all the ways this myth is wrong. Let’s just say, “no.” Fat is not bad for you. Now, there is a caveat, because today’s mass produced meat is not necessarily the healthiest, and sick animals often store toxins in their fat. So, whenever possible, you should try to eat pastured meat from local farms. For further reading, I’d suggest Dr Ravnskov’s Fat and Cholesterol are Good For You.
Insulin is the key, but what’s the question?
I had bought the lie that the real enemy is insulin. In theory, high carbohydrate meals cause an increased insulin response to prevent high blood sugar. Insulin tells your liver and muscle cells to pull in sugar and make glycogen out of it. When your liver runs out of room to store glycogen, it starts making triglycerides from fatty acid (fat transport molecules). Then it sends the triglycerides out through your blood where the insulin to tells fat cells to pull in them in and store them as body fat. Meanwhile, the surge of insulin spurs a fall in blood sugar levels triggering a hunger reaction within a few hours, causing the cycle to repeat itself over and over.
Reducing carbs may help reduce the magnitude of insulin spikes and have an impact on appetite, but the key to weightloss is eating fewer calories, and that’s the beauty of a low carb diet. When you cut out all those glorious carbs…baked potatoes, cookies, French Fries, donuts…you also cut out an enormous amount of fats too, resulting in a gigantic calorie reduction.
How long are planning on keeping this madness up?
Actually, I’ve already stopped. My goal is 175 pounds, but Atkins, although doable, isn’t always that fun. And carbs aren’t the real issue anyway. The Kinobody approach is much more in line with my long term goals and overall eating philosophy. I’ve decided to go Kinobody Aggressive Fat Loss program, which is designed to help you lose between a pound and a half to two pounds of fat per week while maintaining or even building muscle.
Kinobody Aggressive Fat Loss is a bit more complicated than Atkins, because you have to calculate your calorie deficit to achieve your desired weight, and then try to “hit your macros” which means eat the appropriate ratio of protein, fat, and carbohydrates each day (although in reality it’s fairly lenient as long as you eat enough protein to maintain your muscle).
Aggressive Fat Loss still uses intermittent fasting, which I like, and you can eat fun things like dessert every now and then as long as you adjust the rest of your diet. The basic plan is to push your first meal of the day as far back as possible and then eat two meals, one large and one small. The nice thing about the eating this way, is your large meal can be a feast! Even Chipotle! (Although you’re supposed to order triple chicken to get enough protein.) Once you’ve tracked everything for a week or two, you get the hang of things, and you don’t have to track as much.
But you’re not fat
I don’t know why people say this. They’re obviously 1) blind, 2) lying, 3) trying to minimize/rationalize their own fat inertia. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. I’m fat…not because of lack of exercise…but because of my love of sugar. I really think that in my case I was actually addicted to large amounts of carbohydrate (particularly sugar). So I think going Atkins for a little while was a necessary step for me, because it allowed me to truly break the habit. But eating low carb all the time can lead to low leptin levels (a hormone ) that in turn makes it harder to lose weight.
Are you allowed to work out while fasting?
Yup. I had originally planned on mostly following the workout plan espoused by Martin Berkhan of LeanGains.com. It’s essentially using heavy weights in compound movements. The core movements are dead lifts, chin ups, squats, and bench press. You try to work out three times a week. You do three sets of each exercise. You try to do 2 – 3 sets with very heavy weight on the first set (~5 Reps Max). Then drop the drop the weight 10% and try to do 5-7 reps for the next two sets. Martin calls this a reverse pyramid. That’s it. No “cardio” other than recreational (e.g., riding a bike for fun, walking the dog, playing ultimate frisbee, etc.). For those of you addicted to cardio, do yourself a favor and read Mark Sisson’s The Case Against Chronic Cardio.
Martin’s website is worth reading, although he hasn’t written their lately, his philosophy makes a lot of sense, and you certainly can’t argue with the results. (See video below. Warning: You might want to turn down your volume unless you really like Swedish heavy metal.)
What the Heck’s a Kinobody?
That’s a Kinobody
Another person worth looking at is Greg from Kinobody. He has a similar although somewhat different take from Martin. The diet is very similar, but the workouts are geared toward generating a classic V shape (large shoulders/lats, thin waist). I’ve got to say, that Greg is a content marketing Juggernaut.
He’s doing everything right in that department. His YouTube channel has almost 400 videos on it ranging from him demonstrating exercises to talking philosophy. He goes over various aspects of his diet, including video food diaries where he records everything he eats in a 24 hour period. So he’s practically giving away his entire program for free to anyone who has enough time to watch all the videos. He also has a website/blog and podcast. He tons of before and after photos, including some of himself. He has interviews with people who have used his program to achieve good results. He’ll give you a free PDF guide in exchange for giving him your e-mail address (this strategy is called a lead magnet). You then get an e-mail a couple times a week where he discusses aspects of his program and makes special offers. All of his products come with a 60 day satisfaction guarantee. And he even as an affiliate program, and yes I signed up for it, and the links on this page are affiliate links. (The affiliate program was cancelled about a week after I signed up for it, so my support for kinobody programs is untainted by monetary considerations.) He’s a case study in how to market a digital product…and it works. I bought his program.
If you’re looking to start an online business, you would do well to emulate what he’s doing. But if you’re looking to get fit, you’d do well to emulate him there too. Greg is an absolute beast. As they would say at the Air Force Academy, “a physical animal.” So with all the free content, why would you buy his product? Maybe to thank him? Maybe because you don’t have time to watch 400 videos to piece together the various systems? Maybe because of the private Facebook group of people who encourage each other and share recipes? Probably because when you listen to someone and like what they say, you begin to trust and like them, and people buy from people they like. I like Greg’s approach. I like his philosophy. I like that he shares his own struggles.
That’s it for it now
I’ll keep you posted over the next few weeks as to my progress.
DNS (Domain Name Server) is how the internet maps human style domain names (like google.com) to ip addresses. In the world of internet there are two types of IP address, static and dynamic. Static IP addresses don’t change, so it’s relatively easy to map domain names to the correct IP addresses. Dynamic IP addresses, on the other hand change from time to time. Most cable modem and DSL services provide dynamic IPs. That means that if you want host a file server on your home computer, or be able to access your files from work (or while on vacation), you’ll need some way to keep your IP address up to date in case your provider changes it.
This is the purpose (or one purpose) of Dynamic DNS providers such as dyndns.org or no-ip.com. You sign up for an account, choose a host/domain that you think you’ll remember, and then run a program on your computer or router that tells the service your current IP address. That way, no matter where you are me.ddns.net (or whatever you chose) will always point to your computer.
The problem is that DynDNS discontinued their free service and I could never seem to remember my No-IP hostname. Moreover, for a free account, in No-IP, you have to log in every month and tell them not to discontinue your service. Not too cumbersome, but still, can’t they just check user logs and only require that of dormant accounts?
So where do I get Dynamic DNS for free?
I thought there had to be a better way, enter Namecheap.com. In my Upgrade from Shared Hosting series, I suggested some benefits of separating your domain name registrar from your webhosting. I also suggested that you could even separate your DNS hosting from your Domain Name registrar. Namecheap.com happens to offer fairly competitive domain registration. They also offer free DNS hosting, so no matter, who you use as your domain registrar (even if it’s your webhost), you can still use Namecheap.com as your DNS host.
I did not know it until recently, but one of the features that Namecheap.com offers as part of their free DNS hosting is free Dynamic DNS. It is insanely easy to set up, and the best part is that the routers that I use have Namecheap.com already configured as a Dynamic DNS provider (meaning that you don’t have to run a program on your computer).
Describe this “easy” process
This only works if you’re using Namecheap as your DNS server. For this article, I’m assuming you already have it or have followed my directions here.
Log in to Namecheap and choose “Your Domains/Products”. Then scroll down to “Free DNS” and choose Hosted Domains.
Click on the domain name you want to use for Dynamic DNS.
Choose a “host” for your dynamic DNS. So, if you want me.mydomain.com to go to your home computer, create an A record for “me” with a short TTL (time to live) and give it the ip address 127.0.0.1. (it doesn’t really matter, because it will be overwritten by your update client). Choose save changes.
On the left hand side, under Advanced Options, choose Dynamic DNS.
Choose enable, and then look at the directions. If you’re following me, you can ignore everything except the password. Copy down the password, and open a new browser window.
Enter the Following URL into the Browser: https://dynamicdns.park-your-domain.com/update?host=[host_name]&domain=[domain.com]&password=[domain_password]/li>
The [host_name] is the host you created the A record for above. The [domain.com] is your domain name. The [domain_password] is the ppassword you copied a second ago. So using my example above, the address would read https://dynamicdns.park-your-domain.com/update?host=me&domain=mydomain.com]&password=efg3234ksdfj234jfsdlk3/
Hit enter and you’re done. Visiting that web address copies your current IP address into the A record you created in the first step. Now me.mydomain.com will point to the computer you used to enter the address above.
You need to have some way of updating your IP address. You could just bookmark the web address above and visit it once a day or once a week, but that’s not very automated or cool. You could set up a cron job to wget the address once a day (if you’re using Linux or Mac). Or you could install a DNS updater. But the easiest way is to configure your browser to do it for you.
The official Namecheap.com Dynamic DNS help files have directions for setting up a DD-WRT router. On my Asus router, after logging in, I went to WAN under Advanced settings (left hand side) and then chose DDNS from the options across the top of the page. Choose Namecheap from the server dropdown, and enter your information (host, domain name, password), hit save, and you’re done.
Free, simple, no brains Dynamic DNS. And the best part is you get to your own domain name instead of whatever leftovers DynDNS or No-IP happen to have available. Even if you don’t have a domain name, buying a domain from Namecheap (or other registrar) will cost you less than DynDNS’ least expensive option.
There are a bajillion possibilities, but I will concentrate on two classes of knives: gateway knives and step up knives in the gyuto style. The gateway knife is under $100 and will whet your appetite for Japanese knives. You could live quite happily with it forever, or you may want to get a better quality knife—the step up knife. Step up knives generally range from $200-$300, (you can go as high as $1000, but you’re no longer paying for cutting performance; you’re paying for art.). Note that many knife makers have several lines of knives at different price points with different steels and quality.
This list is by no means exhaustive. It just lists a few of the more common recommendations.
Tojiro DP gyuto. Tojiro’s have a reputation for being a phenomenal value, having great steel, and being very sharp right out of the box. This makes the Tojiro an awesome gateway knife. (Apparently many Japanese knife makers do not pre-sharpen their knives so the buyer or retailer can customize the edge.) On Amazon with Prime shipping, you can get the 210mm (8.2 inch) for $62, the 240mm (9.4 inch) for $73, and the 270mm (10.6 inch) for $95. You could get the 210 and the 240 for the same price as a Wusthof Classic 8 inch chef knife at $135.The steel scores about a 60 on the Rockwell scale and has a VG-10 clad with a softer steel. The Tojiro DPs have large boxy handles, and in the past the fit and finish of the knives have supposedly been underwhelming. Update: The prices are now even more compelling: $50 for the 210mm, $58 for the 240mm, and $72 for the 270mm.
Fujiwara FKM gyuto. The Fujiwara’s are a monosteel that is just a little softer than the Tojiro, and has a repuatation for inconsistent fit and finish (sometimes better than the Tojiro, sometimes worse). The handles are supposed to be better. The softer steel is easier to sharpen, but the edge won’t last as long. Cost is $83 on Chef Knives to Go for the 240mm.
Richmond Artifex gyuto. Marc Richmond is the proprietor of Chef Knives to Go, and the Richmond is his house brand, meaning that he designed the knife, but it’s made by another company. The Artifex is the low-end of the Richmond line and the GT wa-gyuto can be had for ~$90 in 240mm. There is some controversy regarding the knives and the owner. Depending on who you listen to, the Artifex is either a great value, or so cheap because it’s—well, so cheap.
Gesshin Gyuto in 210mm. Slightly out of our target-under-$100 range, but undeniable quality. If Mark Richmond is controversial, Jonathan Broida is the exact opposite. Gesshin is Jon’s house brand, and this is as inexpensive as his line gets at $105.
When it comes to destination knives, you have to decide whether you want to stick with a “do anything” knife or go for a more specialized knife. If you frequent the kitchen knife forums much, you’ll find talk of lasers which is a very thin, very light knife that cuts so easily, it might as well be a laser. The major downside of lasers is a propensity to bend in harder substances and their fragility.
There are a lot of excellent “pro” knives in the next couple of price groups above the entry-levels — say, between $120 and $200. But, there’s also a lot more I’d like to know before making recommendations. Exactly how flexible is your budget for a chef’s knife and stones? Would you consider carbon (as opposed to stainless)? How about a semi-stainless tool steel (feel free to ask if you don’t know what that is)? Do you like very large or very small handles? Do you pinch grip? Claw? Cut and retreat? What’s your chopping style (German, French, push cut, don’t know)? Anything else you can tell me would help, too. “I don’t know” is a perfectly good answer.
In better than entry level stainless, I most often recommend Hiromoto G3, Kagayaki VG, MAC Pro, Masamoto VG, and Sakai Takayuki Grand Cheff… depending. In addition there are a lot of other great knives and several are bound to suit you…
The two knives I most often recommend for people more or less looking for the same things you are and with the same set of concerns [read the thread] are the MAC Pro and the Masamoto VG. The Kagayaki VG is more bang for the buck and uses a prestige alloy; but I don’t like its handle as much, nor the feel of its profile on the board, and there can be some issues with deburring.
The Masamoto has a profile as good as — and very much like — a Sabatier. In short, as good as it gets. There are some quality control issues, mostly centered around the handle, but these can be taken care of by the seller at time of purchase. You just have to make sure to tell them you want good F&F and a well-fitted handle before you give them your credit card number, and they’ll select a good one for you.
MACs are stiffer than any comparably thin gyuto and consequently feel more sturdier and more comfortable. The MAC Pro handle is the best I’ve ever used. F&F is typically very good — and if it’s not their warranty and U.S. support is almost in Henckels’ class. It’s the knife I recommend most often.
If you’re interested in a carbon steel gyuto, BDL raved about the Richmond Ultimatum Carbon wa-gyuto in 245mm for $199. Apparently it’s out of stock more than it’s in stock, so you may have to wait for it. Richmond also has a $99 Artifex 210mm Carbon Gyuto made from the same steel. As for the differences between the two knives other than the handle, 30mm of blade, and $100, you’ll have to ask Marc Richmond.
I’ve had a 52100 Ultimatum for not quite a year, and the more I use it the more I like it. In it’s own (and very different, robust) way, it’s as good as my Konosuke HDs [see below]. Last night I wanted to slice one (count them, one) tomato and was practically in tears because all I could find were my three Konos and a drawer full of Sabs [Sabatier]. Well maybe not tears, but my lower lip was trembling. It’s completely pushed the Sabs out of the rotation. It’s actually a lot like a Sab. Strong, agile, sweet-profile, comfortable, gets sharp, stays sharp, etc. But wa and a much better alloy. If you want to discuss it in more depth, of course we can.
Richmond’s expecting to get a lot in very soon; they don’t stay in stock long, but stay out of stock heap much plenty long. So if you’re thinking about jumping… Geronimo already…
If you’ve ever spent time with a carbon Sabatier chef’s knife, you have a very good idea of what to expect. The differences are that the Richmond has a wa-handle, weighs 3 ounces less, is balanced much further forward than a Sab, and is made of hugely better alloy.
Same sweet profile. Same lively feel on the board. Same indestructibility. Same versatility. Even more comfortable (although it took me awhile to get there). And there’s that alloy.
Takes a great edge, holds it a long time, can be steeled — but it won’t need it much. Fantastic feel on the stones. I’ve always been a carbon guy, 52100 is the best carbon I’ve ever used, and because of this knife it has become my favorite alloy. Which would matter a lot more if the differences between one really good alloy and another were significant, but they aren’t — not really.
I use my Ultimatum for everything; and that means things I wouldn’t dream of doing with the Kono, like trimming and portioning spareribs; and stupidly includes things I shouldn’t do, like splitting the occasional chicken. Bottom line: I’ve been abusing the knife for a year and haven’t hurt it yet.
The right face of the knife is convexed quite a bit. It should help keep food from sticking, but as a lefty it means nothing to me. On the other hand, my chopping action is a glide (which tends to knock stuff off) and I’m pretty conscientious about keeping the knife straight and moving it quickly, so I don’t have much of a problem with sticking anyway.
On the down side, the knife is a bit thick (but that’s the price you pay for anything that strong), and the blade came with some tool marks which were supposed to have been polished out by Richmond (the knife is made for them OEM by Lamson) but weren’t — although not much of a downside because fit and finish were otherwise very good to excellent. The cosmetics are mediocre.
The OOTB edge was adequate, 15*, minor convexing (probably incidental), 50/50 asymmetry, not much polish. I like my geometry much better, 12* flat bevel, 2:1 lefty, 8K finish. 8K is really too much, but I own the stone, so wotthehell. The ideal finish is probably somewhere in the 3K to 6K range. The asymmetry made a much larger positive difference than I’m used to mild asymmetry making — which may have something to do with the right-handed asymmetry of the blade’s grind, and/or may have been just enough to stop the knife from wedging. Whatever. I don’t know why it worked but it did. My advice to a left handed user is “you absolutely must,” and to a right handed user, “you should.”
It weighs 2 oz more than the Kono gyuto, 3 oz more than my 300mm Kono suji (which I use as a gyuto fairly frequently), and the Ultimatum not only feels quite a bit heavier than either Konosuke, but less neutrally balanced as well.
At the time I got the Ultimatum, I thought that I was beyond balance issues — but apparently having nothing but Konos and Sabs spoiled me. When I first started using it the knife felt awkward and heavy… with its balance point making it feel as heavy as one of my 10oz Sabs. Between that and the tool marks, I seriously considered sending it bacl. But after using it for a few hours, my grip adjusted a bit forward and I started to like the knife. After establishing my first edge, like turned to love; and although I never made a conscious effort, my grip kept evolving until the knife became an extension of my will; and it just keeps getting better and better.
Would I trade it for the Kono [see below] or vice versa? It’s not a decision I have to make, and am ecstatic not making it. If you’re asking me which would I recommend to someone buying one gyuto, the recommendation would be made on the basis of which class of knife — laser, robust, or something in between — would best suit. One size does not fit all. And in many cases, one size doesn’t even fit one.
Sharpening note: A well sharpened edge with lot of asymmetry — say 90/10 — will make the knife so sharp that it becomes difficult to handle. That is, unless you consciously hold it back it will fall through just about anything it touches. I prefer a more moderate asymmetry for its greater durability, and — it pains me to admit it — because I’m not as adaptable as I used to be, my skills are eroding and I don’t want a knife I have to think about.
The Kono HD is a laser. The first thing to understand about a laser is that it’s a laser. You either want a laser or you don’t. They all have the same weaknesses, and most of them have the same strengths. While there are differences between the top stainless lasers as compared to one another, they are extremely subtle — if ever there were a “U Pickem,” this is it. And, the same is true about the the same thing about the top carbon lasers. There are minor differences in F&F and appearance, but the different identities of the various stainless alloys doesn’t mean anything in the way of performance; and I think all of the carbon lasers are made of the same alloy, White #2. If there’s one made of VS2, then same same.
The Kono HD2 (the “2” represents a minor upgrade to the alloy) is slightly apart from other lasers in that its semi-stainless alloys has the same pleasant feeling on the stones as a carbon laser while being nearly as stain resistant as any of the true stainless knives.
It’s extremely light because it’s a laser. Because it’s so light, it seems fairly well balanced. It gets ridiculously sharp, because it’s a laser. The edge seems to stay sharp even as it dulls, because it’s a laser. The knife should not be steeled because it’s a laser. It doesn’t wedge because it’s a laser. Food doesn’t stick to it because it’s a laser.
You need to be careful around bones, partly because it’s a laser and partly because that’s just how it is with alloys which are stronger than they are tough. It doesn’t stain easily because it’s HD. It has an extremely sweet feel on the stones, because it’s HD.
The profile is excellent, if not quite Sabatier.
Mine is a 270mm HD from the first production run and has a handle most people don’t like, but I like very much. I’ve never heard a complaint about the current handle, which is a well-done ho-wood octagon. You can get all sorts of semi-custom wa handles as extra cost upgrades if you want.
So there you have it. Generally speaking your first Japanese knife should be a gyuto. Future posts will include:
“So I opted for the awesomeness of this Japanese steel you were talking about. I mean that Tojiro DP gyuto is cheap! … What? I can’t just sharpen it with a pull through sharpener? I can damage the blade with the steel that came with my Henckels set? I need “special” sharpening stones? How much are we talking here? MORE THAN THE KNIFE COSTS? WHY DID I LISTEN TO YOU?!?!?!?!”
Okay, so the Achilles heel of Japanese knives is how do you sharpen them? Well, you can ask me to do it for you, or you can get some waterstones and learn to do it yourself. Unfortunately, there are as many waterstones as there are knives, and the prices vary from $23 to $200. So what kind and how many does a young sharpener need?
This section is not going to talk about how to sharpen, but will just be a synthesis of what I have read (and maybe one experienced) about various common waterstones followed by some very general recommendations and some references.
First some vocabulary:
Dish: when a stone becomes rounded in the middle (like a dish) from use. A dished stone will not sharpen as well.
Flatten: Lowering high parts of a dished stone so that it is flat again. Can be accomplished by a specialized plate or by using drywall screen attached to a flat surface.
Soaking: Many waterstones must be soaked in water to either work at all or work better.
Splash and Go: Waterstones that don’t need to soaked (although sometimes soaking may enhance their performance).
JIS: The Japanese Industrial Standard. Measure the grit size. The higher the number, the finer the grit. It is NOT equivalent to either sand paper or ANSI (American National Standards Institute) grits. Cut: the ability to wear away metal. Lower grits tend to cut faster than higher grits, but two stones at the same grit level may not cut at the same rate.
Mud: as the stone wears, the particles build up on the surface. Some stones’ mud acts as a polisher that may function at a higher grit than it is nominally rated for.
Nagura: A small stone used to smooth a waterstone and sometimes kickstart mud production.
Combination stone: two stones of different grit joined together. Usually combination stones are thinner than two separate stones. Sometimes reflects a great value. Sometimes not.
Speed: Not really a feature, but a performance description. Reflects how long or how many strokes it takes to sharpen a knife. A stone that is too aggressive or fast will wear a knife too quickly in the hands of an amateur. On the other hand, a stone that is too slow takes too many strokes and induces boredom, fatigue, and more opportunity to screw up. We want the Goldilocks principle. Just right…whatever that means.
Feel: This one is very subjective, but the way a stone feels through the knife helps the sharpener know if the angels are right, how much steel has been removed, and affects how enjoyable the experience is.
Size: A wider, longer stone will generally be easier to sharpen on than a narrower, shorter one. Thicker stones will generally last longer than thinner ones.
Base/Baseless: Some stones come mounted on a wooden or plastic base. The base raises the stone slightly, and some people think they’re cool. But the base prevents you from being able to use both sides.
The first decision is synthetic vs. natural.
Natural stones tend to be softer and dish faster, and being a natural product, they vary wildly in character. The good ones tend to polish in a manner that synthetic stones can’t. They take more finesse to use properly. If you can’t pick your exact stone in the store, you want to make sure you buy from an informed and reputable source. A good return/exchange policy doesn’t hurt either.
Synthetic stones are more uniform, having a abrasive particles held together by a binding medium. The size and density of the medium combined with the type of binder will affect how the stone performs. Their consistency and predictability make them generally preferred for beginners. All of the stone below are synthetic stones. All of the prices reflect the 1000 grit unless otherwise specified.
King stones are some of the cheapest waterstones you can find. They tend to be relatively soft and dish fairly easily. Many people don’t like the way they feel, and some think they are rather slow. On the other hand, Murray Carter of CarterCutlery fame uses them in his DVDs and sells them on his site (although his prices are not the best). They can be a good starter stones due to their price, but others feel a faster stone would. King Medium Grain Sharpening Stone – #1000 – $23 on Amazon.
Naniwa Super Stones (SS)
These stones are a step up from the King. They are harder and faster (but still relatively soft and slow compared to other stones), but still have a tendency to dish. They have a reputation for feeling great. They are considered splash and go, but many report that they work better with a short soak. They will crumble if left in water too long.
$45 at Chef’s Knives to Go
Naniwa Chosera (Sometimes spelled Chocera)
These stones were once described as the Sara Lee of waterstones. You might prefer a different stone, and you might get a better price or better performance from a different stone, but nobody doesn’t like Chosera. Generally regarded as an excellent stone, the main downside is their price. They are harder and faster than the Super Stones. They are splash and go and will crumble if kept in water.
$86 Chef’s Knives to Go
If you want an unqualified recommendation, I’ll give you this: IMHO the 1k Chocera is the best 1k stone in the world. That’s a whopper of a claim but I think it’s warranted. You could do it and the Suehiro Rika 5k for about $130 and have an absolutely fantastic combo that would do a superior job on carbon and stainless, hard and soft knives. There are other combos but I can pretty much guarantee that’s one you wouldn’t regret. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t respect the 1k Chocera.
The grits lower than 1000 are called Beston, and the grits 1000 and above are called Bester. Don’t ask me why. Many people think these stones are the best value. Fast cutting, decent feel, but still relatively inexpensive. They need to soaked for at least 30 minutes, although longer might be better. They can safely be stored in water so they are always ready to go.
$48 at Chef Knives to Go
Comes in two grits, 1000 and 6000. The 1000 is very similar to a Bester. The 6000 is a very common medium fine stone used for either finishing or as an intermediate for very fine polishing. It’s very highly regarded. It’s effective grit varies base on how the stone and mud is used. It’s also marketed as a Taekono 8,000. (Sold on the Bester page at Chefknives to go.)
1000 – $44 at Chef Knives to Go
6000 – $63 at Chef Knives to Go
This stones functional grit also varies based on how it’s used, ranging from 3,000 to 5,000. Can be used in place of the 6000 Arashiyama. Not quite as highly regarded as the Arashiyama but $15 cheaper. (Sold on the Bester page at Chefknives to go.)
5000 $49 at Chef Knives to Go
This is an 8,000 stone that also seems higher depending on how the mud is worked. More of a polisher than a sharpener.
$78 at Chef Knives to Go
Shapton Glass and Shapton Professional
Used to be considered the bomb but seem to have a reputation for being somewhat unforgiving. Got the impression that some people still love them, but there are better stones out there. Some people think they polish better than sharpen. What do I know?
$57 at Chef Knives to Go
Gesshin is the name for Japanese Knife Imports house brand. The stones are made specifically for JKI. They have a reputation for being excellent (fast, smooth, and good feel), but they are more expensive.
1200 $75 at Japanese Knife Imports
So…what stones should I get?
Well, just like knives, it’s very personal. The absolute cheapest in a King Combination Stone. The “best” is probably Chosera or Gesshin. I prefer the “bang for the buck” approach going for the Bester/Arashiyama or Bester/Suehiro Rika combination.
As for grits, it’s generally recommended to get a 1000 or 1200 to start and a 4,000-6000 to finish. Once you’re good and consistent at that combination, then you can get a more aggressive 400-600 for faster reshaping and repairs. Once your consistent with your start combo, then you could get a finer stone for polishing, but for general kitchen use, you really shouldn’t need anything higher than the 4,000-6,000 range. Although like everything else, it’s highly personal.
You know, this is getting awfully expensive.
Okay, get the King 1000 for $23, or the Bester or Arashiyama 1000 $for $45-$50 and nothing else. After a year or two of practice, then if you feel the need, buy a 4000-6000 stone. At $73 for the Tojiro DP plus $45 for the stone, you’re still under the price of a Wusthof Classic 8 inch; you still have a far superior knife, and in a year, you’ll have far superior sharpening skills.
“My advice is not to get too creative at first and just put together a decent kit based around regular bench stones or an Edge Pro. Stones are making you crazy because you’re overthinking and overcomplicating. But anything will do that, as it’s intrinsic to your nature and not to the stones’.
Get a Bester 1.2K and either a Suehiro Rika or Takenoko [aka Arashiyama 6k]. The Rika is very pleasant and easy; the Takenoko is both faster and finer. When you can hold an angle well enough to get a good edge with either of those two, add a Beston 500. The need will arrive at around the same time as the ability. Flatten on drywall screen until you feel you can afford a DMT XXC. Later, if you have a hankering for a really fine polish we can talk 8Ks and finer; but for now, not a worry. Yes. It’s that simple.”
“If you’re going to put up with all of the water stone BS to go with a Takenoko, you might as well buy a medium/coarse water stone such as a Bester 1200 for basic sharpening. There are other very good 1K choices, but the Bester is the cream of the crop at or near a semi-reasonable price. Bester 1200/Takenoko is an awesome combination for the heart of a water stone kit. Add a Beston 500 and a Kitayama, and you’ve got something good enough to compete with any kit, no matter how expensive.
If I were choosing an ultimate water stone kit for me, it would be just three stones: Gesshin 400, 2K and 8K. That’s a very easy set to use and very fast; but too expensive for anyone who doesn’t see sharpening as a sort of hobby and end in itself. Just because I obsess, doesn’t mean you should.”
Flattening is no big deal just tedious — It’s especially easy (not to mention more tedious) if you flatten on screen rather than using a diamond plate. I flatten on dry-wall screen mounted in a sheet pan, cleaning the screen with the sink’s pressure hose when it loads up. The pan contains the mess. Since a lifetime supply of screen is about $10, it’s not a bad thing to start out with it and no big deal if you change your mind and decide you want to invest $80 in a DMT XXC.
In addition to flattening them right OOTB, you’ll also need to bevel the sides of the Besters (as with all normal waterstones). This means holding the well soaked stone at a 45* angle to the flattening surface (or the flattener at a 45* angle to the stone) and rubbing back and forth. Oh dear.
The Besters require about 30 minutes of soaking before they’re usable, and more than an hour before they’re at their juicy best. Is that an issue?
Understand that people buy stones without knowing how to prep them before using or even that they need prep at all. And when that lack of knowledge creates problems (right away!) they call Mark and kvetch. Mark, no doubt, is basing his recommendation on the stones which give the fewest problems to the masses. But you’re not the masses. You have the wisdom of Chef Talk.
I’m not much of a fan of the GS series in any case. My verdict is more shine than sharp. They are fast, convenient, and the bevels they make truly gleam, but at the end of the day I think you get better edges on less expensive stones. Consequently, I disagree with Mark and think you’d be better off starting with the Bester than with the GS.
If you don’t want to deal with the inconvenience of soaking and flattening, and if you’ve got any anxiety about other aspects of the bench stone learning curve, you might just buy an Edge Pro and be done with it. They do a really good job, and other than set up and take down are practically painless.
You’re better off learning to sharpen before buying new knives, but only slightly so. Learning to sharpen takes time and commitment, yes. But it’s not particularly difficult, it doesn’t take much talent or brains (look at me), it just sort of happens if you do it enough. The big thing might be demonstrating to yourself that you can and will so that when you do buy an expensive knife you’re beyond the point of allowing it to get dull, feeling overwhelmed, and losing interest.
Also, it helps to ease the blow to the budget to invest in one thing at a time. And if you want to prioritize, good sharpening trumps a good knife. People so often want to buy a $200 knife plus sharpening gear and a steel for $225 (and if I get that a lot, you can imagine how often Mark does). Unfortunately…
Consider though that unless you’re using coarse stones, you really can’t do much damage. So as long as you have the commitment to learn to sharpen, there isn’t that much downside to learning on a good knife. Also, some knives do better than others with certain sharpening kits. For instance, you’ll get a lot more from a Bester sharpening a MAC Pro than you will sharpening a Mercer. And fwiw, the Mercer will actually sharpen better on oilstones.
Since he features so prominently in this thread, I might as well mention that Mark really cares about matching you with stuff you’re going to be able to use right off the bat and will like for a long time. He’s not going to hose you in order to make an extra buck.
Lots to confuse, no?
PS. If you’re going the bench stone route… Yes, I’d start with the Bester 1.2K and the Arashiyama. Learn to draw a burr on the Bester before even attempting the Arashiyama. That will probably take four or five tries. After you’ve become sufficiently adept at angle holding to consistently actually sharpen with the Arashiyama, you can move on to using a coarse stone like the Beston 500 — which you’ll eventually need — for profiling. You should be doing minor profiling to the extent of flattening the high spots, which are an inevitable part of ordinary sharpening, once for every four or five times you use the 1.2K. For home cooks, that means every year or so.
I use the coarsest screen for flattening — which IIRC is 80, then lap with a 220. After flattening my 3K, I lap it with screen then the 1.2K. After flattening my 8K lap it with the 1.2K, then the 3K. Lapping stone doesn’t take much pressure or many strokes. Of course everything must be properly wet — in the case of my stone that means at least an hour of soaking for the Beston and Bester, and about 10 minutes for the Chosera and SS.
When you lap stone on stone, do it under water and keep the stones moving to make sure they don’t stick together. This is a big problem. It’s a lot like a tongue sticking to a frozen fence not only in the sticking but in that you should take it on faith and not check it out for yourself.
If your following and finer stone is 4K or coarser, the 1K is great; but I’d hold out for the 1.2K if the next stone is 6K or coarser. It won’t be more than a few weeks of waiting at most; and you’ll have the stone for years.
It’s not going to make a great deal of difference either way.
FWIW: 1) I do not flatten in a pan filled with water. I flatten — or used to do so until a couple of weeks ago — on dry wall screen set in a baking sheet. I rinsed the screen frequently with the sink’s pressure hose to keep it from loading up. But I was given a DMT XXC for Channukah. 2) It’s important — but not critical to lap your finer stones before using them. And 3) Yes, I left the sheet and and screen flat on the counter parallel to the horizon while holding the stone at an angle relative to it. Beveling the stone’s edges is critical. It keeps the edges from forming “rails” and keeps the edges and corners from crumbling. Not only are those things bad for the stone, but they cause a variety of problems with the knife edge as well.
When Jen and I first got married, I registered for Wusthof knives because, of course, they were so much superior to Henckels. I knew there were better knives in the world, especially from Japan, but they seemed to cost my firstborn, and I didn’t really know how to buy them in the first place, so I was happy with my selection. Soon after (but not soon enough to return the Wusthofs) the Japanese invaded a Bed Bath and Beyond near you with a little help from Alton Brown. I had a strong case of Shun-lust, but being the practical, thrifty person that I am, I made do.
Fast forward *cough* years, and the Boss says something to the effect of, “maybe we should get another chef’s knife so that when we’re both needing it, we don’t have to keep waiting.” Naturally I knew that this was my chance to acquire a Japanese knife. So a week of underslept nights later, I purchased my first Japanese knife. (Review to come.)
I will be documenting what I found in a series of posts, so that I don’t have to do it again, and perhaps it will help you, dear reader, acquire a Japanese instrument of cutting joy more quickly than I did.
Most of the advice below will focus on a “single go-to” knife for the largest variety of kitchen tasks. Generally, this will be a replacement for a chef’s knife (or santoku for those of you who have bought into the hype).
I am synthesizing a huge amount of reading, much of it gleaned from forums. As forums are volatile things with a tendency to go belly up—Fred’s Cutlery Forum, one of the highest rated knife forums, died about a year ago, taking most of its knowledge with it—I will quote directly from some of the posts I deem most helpful.” I will link back to the forum (if still in existence).
What’s wrong with my Wusthofs or Henckels?
The main problem with them is their country of origin. German knives are known for two things in general.
The German profile has a large curve in the blade that prevents most of the cutting surface from touching the board at the same time. It also makes it so that you have to lift the handle very high to get the tip to touch the board. (That said, plenty of very good cutters prefer the German profile, and the German profile is considered more forgiving of bad technique.)
The second problem is that they tend to be made from a very tough, relatively soft steel that can stand up to a lot of punishment but doesn’t get exceptionally sharp or stay sharp.
Most of the retail sets come with 8 inch chef knives that are just too short for some tasks. A 10 inch would probably be a better choice.
So what are the alternatives?
The French profile chef knife is much flatter, allowing for more efficient cutting motions. The classic brand is Sabatier who’s older knives are legendary but seem to have lost some quality in more recent years.
The other alternative is a gyuto, the Japanese take on a chef knife with a more French profile. They come as either Wa (traditional handle) or Yo (Western handle). The wa-gyutos have a reputation for being lighter.
The general recommendation is a gyuto in 240mm (9.4 inches) or 270mm (10.6 inches).
What to look for?
The main thing to look for is a quality steel. You want something around 60 or a little higher on the Rockwell scale. Much below 60, and the knife won’t take or hold the edge you want. Too high, and the knife becomes too brittle for the general kitchen use we’re after (although not inappropriate for special use knives). So look for 60 plus, and then the look at the reputation of the knife for being brittle. Not all steels at the same hardness are equal in terms of strength and brittleness.
When it comes to raw performance, carbon steel is generally regarded as the best, but it is prone to rust and pit without proper maintenance and can impart a metallic taste to some acidic foods. Not all carbon steels are created equal, so you still have to do your homework. As for “proper maintenance”, mainly, wipe it off as soon as you use it, especially if you’re cutting acidic food such as limes. Carbon steel will also form a patina that can protect the steel from corrosion but some people think it’s icky.
Stainless steels are easier to maintain, but can’t quite match the edge that carbon steels have. Stainless blades can be clad (san mei) or monosteel. Clad blades have a core of a harder steel sandwiched between two plates of softer steel. The harder steel provides the edge, while the softer steel provides additional strength. Some people think that sandwiched knives feel flat or dead on the cutting board, as though you’re wearing thick gloves; others don’t notice at all or notice but aren’t bothered by it.
There used to be a big quality difference between forged and stamped knives. However, modern heat treatment and hardening has rendered the difference largely moot. In fact, stamped can be better because it is lighter, causing less fatigue when used for longer periods of time. (Please note this is only for higher end knives. At the low end, forged is still probably better than stamped.)
Anything else I should know?
The harder steels of Japanese knives require a more refined sharpening system–using waterstones. Be aware that stones take practice, and if you only cook in your home and care for your knives, you might not be sharpening very often, so it may be difficult to get enough practice in to become good. One suggestion is to get a “beater knife” made from carbon steel and practice sharpening it. There are also guided sharpening systems out there that take some of the art out of sharpening but don’t require much skill. Whatever you do, do not send your Japanese knives to any commercial sharpener who uses a grinding wheel on them. Sharpening and waterstones are such a big topic that I’m going to do two separate posts on them.
Any steel above 60 HRC may be damaged by steeling (even with a super fine steel), so 1) consider not steeling, or 2) make sure you have a very fine steel; 3) be VERY gentle when/if steeling and don’t bang the knife against the steel.
Can’t you be bevel-headed about this?
Japanese knives come in two major forms: single and double bevel.
A double beveled knife is sharpened on both sides of the blade. This is also how most Western knives are sharpened. Double bevel knives may sharpened symmetrically, with even amounts of sharpening on both sides, or they may be beveled unevenly, so that one side has received more sharpening than the other. In addition to changing perceived sharpness, it may also affect how long the knife will stay sharp, and may favor left vs right hand cutters. Changing the asymmetry is as easy as sharpening one side longer than the other.
Single bevel knives are only sharpened on side, and the other is straight or even slightly concave. Single bevel is also called a chisel edge, because—well—it looks like a chisel. Single bevel knives can cut extremely flat because one side is completely flat, and are usually sharper than double bevel knives. Most single bevel knives are cut for right handers, so if you’re a lefty, you may have to pay a premium for a single bevel knife that will work for you.
Primary, secondary, and microbevels: These are actually sharpening topics and will be covered in another article.
Just to refresh your memory, we’re looking at Gyutos (all purpose chef knives). One small caveat. Because of the hardness of Japanese steel and thinness of most of these knives, cutting through bone is generally not recommended with most of these knives. So they’re really “most purpose” not truly all-purpose.