Sabatier knives: what is the difference?

Anyone who has searched online, or in a hardware store for that matter, kitchen knives is sure to find that magic word ‘Sabatier’, but what exactly does it mean? This article seeks to dismantle the minefield that is the world of Sabatier knives.

First things first: that name. ‘Sabatier’ doesn’t really mean anything in particular, it’s just a brand name. The problem is that this particular brand is used, quite legally, by about eight different cutlery companies. This certainly doesn’t make it easy for a potential customer to make an informed decision, as Sabatier knives, while bearing the same name, are not all the same in any way.

So what is a Sabatier knife? It is usually a French design kitchen knife, widely used by professional chefs for many years. Before WWII, a type known as ‘Nogent’, with a rat tail tang embedded in the handle, was widely used, but now modern knives are fully forged with a tang (the part to which it is attached handle material) running the entire length of the handle with the handle ‘liner’ riveted in place.

Typically, two materials are used to make Sabatier knife blades: stainless steel and high carbon steel, although only Thiers-Issard now produces a range of carbon steel blades. Both have their pros: stainless steel retains its shine almost indefinitely and has a lasting edge. Carbon steel soon ‘skids’ but has a possibly finer edge that is easily re-sharpened, unlike stainless steel, which is difficult to re-sharpen to the level of carbon steel due to its extreme hardness.

The handle material is almost always black nylon; Due to its toughness and durability, it does take a bit of shock, but it is not the most attractive option. More attractive handles can be found on only a few of the Sabatier knives being made now, particularly those from Thiers-Issard that include such eye-catching materials as rosewood, natural horn, and micarta.

So how are these knives distinguished? A prospective buyer can see that Sabatier knives are offered in many shapes and sizes and a bewildering price range, so how can anyone choose? Just remember the old adage: you get what you pay for. Very cheap knives are unlikely to be as durable as high-end (price) ones, it’s just not financially possible to do good things cheap! So again, another old truism, always buy the best you can afford. A premium knife will last a lifetime, as will an expensive pair of shoes, a car, or just about anything built to a standard of quality, not a price tag.

The real way to differentiate these knives is, and this may seem strange, to leave the name ‘Sabatier’ and focus on the other part of the name. They all have them – no knife is made or marketed with just the word ‘Sabatier’ on the tang or blade (if it’s a cheap counterfeit and best left alone).

To stop all disputes over the word ‘Sabatier’, it was decided that all the companies mentioned could use it, on the condition that they also had to put their own very defined trademark on the blade / tenon. So we have (among others) K-Sabatier, Judge Sabatier and Thiers-Issard Four-Star Elephant Sabatier (quite a mouthful but very valuable!). This means that anyone who buys these knives can instantly identify the manufacturer and not be mistaken for their purchase as another ‘Sabatier’ knife.

The knives themselves come in all shapes and sizes, from (typically) 3-inch blade tomato knives to huge 14-inch blade kitchen knives – truly fearsome objects worthy of a Hollywood horror movie! However, they are all just kitchen or tabletop tools and like all tools they have evolved over the years to a point where they can improve little, if at all. However, it is very easy to succumb to the temptation and turn one of these fine instruments into a price-based “utility” item.

So, in conclusion, remember a few points.

1. You get what you pay for, so don’t, just for the price!

2. Several companies have the right to use the Sabatier name, but some outshine others!

3. Stainless steel is durable and strong, but carbon steel has the best edge and is easy to care for.

4. A good knife should last a lifetime, it should not be thrown aside when the edge becomes dull (hence the choice of carbon steel!)

Keep these points in mind the next time you’re looking to buy a kitchen or chef’s knife and you won’t go far wrong.

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