An Honest Look at the Modern Benchmark for German Kitchen Knives
Pick out a random line cook, ask him what a good knife is and the odds are pretty good he’ll tell you to get a Wusthof Ikon. Most of the times I asked a cook or chef what knife they used or what they wanted (if they were ready to move on from the Dexter Russel sets their restaurant had lying around), they told me some variation of “Wusthof Ikon, obviously”, while giving me a sidelong glance that was half suspicious and half accusing me of being an idiot.
So this thing has clout. It’s the easy answer to the problem “I have money and I want a better knife… what next?”
But maybe you’re the kind of person who’s suspicious of hype, or maybe you’re just trying to find something about the knife that isn’t being spouted either by devoted fanboys who sniff at anything without a trident stamped on the blade, or a Japanese knife acolyte who crosses himself at the sight of any knife that isn’t a half millimeter thick blade at 65+ HRc.
If you’re just some regular person looking for a good knife, is the Wusthof Classic Ikon really any good?
|Handle Type:||Round (full tang)|
|Unique handle (that’s comfortable for some people, apparently)|
|Tough blade that’s easy to maintain|
|Looks pretty nice overall|
|Average edge retention|
|Corners of spine are a little sharp|
|A little unwieldy in smaller hands|
|Not so great for dicing in small sizes|
The Blade and Wusthof Quality Expectations
The answer is yes. This is a nice knife to own, assuming you like knives like this:
It cuts well, but it cuts thick. It doesn’t have very good food release, but not many kitchen knives do anyway. The spine is a little sharp, but the blade is tall enough to avoid that in a pinch grip most of the time. It’s weighted toward the handle… a lot.
It feels pretty nice in a draw cut, it’s really nice for rock chopping, and it’s okay for push cutting, but definitely slower for that particular motion.
The main thing you get with a Wusthof knife is precise manufacturing and longevity. This knife is nearly seamless. The transitions between the handle scales and the tang are smooth, the blade is perfectly straight, and the cutting edge has a good consistent grind.
It’s a really well made design that’s probably tougher than your average kitchen knife. But…
The Slight Imperfections
This is nitpicking territory, but the knife we got does have some weirdness to it. The most obvious and concerning to me is the uneven bolster. You don’t have to look too close to see that it’s a little taller on one side than the other. The primary grind is a little uneven as well, but you do have to look close to see that.
I didn’t really notice either of these making life too difficult at first. I can feel the uneven bolster, but it really doesn’t affect my grip. I did have to adjust to the uneven grind a little when I cut up softer foods, but even that didn’t slow me down much.
It’s more concerning that these little imperfections are showing up on a knife from a company with such an established reputation for consistent quality, and selling at this high of a price. Wusthof has been making professional knives and sets for more years than I have been alive, so it is possible the knife I tested is a rare exception from a company known for its excellent fit and finish.
I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this. I know even big factories do a lot of finishing work by hand, and sometimes things slip through the cracks. This will make me keep a really close eye on any new Wusthof’s a pick up from now on, though.
The Classic Ikon Cuts like a Western Chef’s Knife
It cuts fine, but even when it’s sharp it has sort of a slow feeling to it, and it doesn’t have great edge retention.
There were several times I found myself thinking “didn’t I just strop you like a week ago?” as it slipped on an onion. But the truth is that the edge should really be maintained daily: honed at minimum, and probably stropped a little after a long day.
I’ve noticed that this is the kind of thing that turns a lot of people away from kitchen knives that dance the $200 line. And as someone who’s grown fond of Japanese knives over the years, I understand. But I can do a lot of things with this thick Wusthof that needs to be honed and stropped every day that I wouldn’t touch with the Global G-2.
The Classic Ikon, like most German knives, is a bone cracker and soup maker. Wusthof grinds the edge to 14° each side, which is pretty thin, but it’s a short grind that widens out toward the spine fast. That combined with the 58 HRc (which is also normal for a German knife) gives the Classic Ikon a soft edge that always needs attention, but it also makes it tough, and the overall quality manufacturing makes the knife something of a legacy item.
That’s part of what you’re paying for. I still think most Wusthof’s are a little overpriced, but not because of the way they cut.
The Deal with the Classic Ikon Handle
The most distinctive part of this knife is the handle. It’s meant to be a mix of the Wusthof Classic and the Wusthof Ikon. It has the Ikon shape, but the polymer scales of the Wusthof Classic, which makes it a lot cheaper than the African Blackwood handled Ikon.
Heavy Handles vs. My Light Knife Bias
They’ve weighted this knife heavily toward the butt. Between the full tang construction and the thick end cap, this is probably the heaviest handle I’ve ever held. Or if it’s not, the balance is extreme enough to make me think that.
Personally I prefer neutral or blade heavy balances, so this is far outside my comfort zone. I also don’t really like the way this handle curves back. Something about the inward curves makes it feel odd in my lower fingers. That and the weight made this a bit of a strain for me to use for longer than an hour.
Even though I’m used to adapting to knives I don’t like, I’m pretty sure some of the cutting performance during my testing period was affected by the fact that I just don’t mesh well with this handle. I’ll even be so bold as to say that this handle really isn’t ideal for smaller hands because the grip and leverage just aren’t there where you need them.
It’s Technically Good, Though
The problem is I’m a short, thin-armed idiot. A lot of people love the handle-heavy balance, the rounded handle shape, and inward curvature. It’s a really well thought out design when I step back and just look. That shaping is sized pretty well to fit the lower half of a hand in a pinch grip, and the way it swells out toward the butt makes it feel pretty good in a hammer grip (if you’re so inclined), but it also doesn’t interfere with the pinch.
I also like the material. I know Polyoxymethylene doesn’t sound impressive, but they managed to make it look and feel nice, and I prefer synthetic scales that can handle a lot of moisture, because I am, above all things, a messy cook.
At the end of the day, I’ll just say the Classic Ikon handle is good and well made. But when it comes to Western knives I prefer traditional lines like the Wusthof Classic and the Zwilling Pro.
The Wusthof Classic Ikon is great for doing rough chopping for stir fries, soups, and sandwiches. The blade is pretty tough, and it doesn’t have a very tall grind, so generally even when it rolls, it doesn’t seem to roll much.
It has a nice crisp action. I get a satisfying snap feeling especially when I’m cutting root vegetables or anything with a hard skin.
It’s not as good for fine dicing, though, which isn’t that abnormal for a Western chef’s knife. If you’re cutting large cubes (say around half an inch minimum) it feels pretty good, but if I go much smaller it gets harder to cut smoothly at what feels like an exponential rate.
This cracks into a carrot pretty easily. It feels good for squaring the carrot off because the Ikon bites into the skin easily, and splits the slice almost as much by virtue of the width of the blade as the sharpness of the edge.
I don’t like it so much for julienne, though. Which is fine for me, because I never have any practical reason to julienne a carrot outside of reviewing knives.
The blade feels very smooth with foods like this. Both biting into the skin and slicing through the meat of it, the Classic Ikon cuts and parts at the same time, so I don’t feel as much friction along the sides of the blade. Potatoes and other thick, starchy foods are probably one of my favorite things to cut with this knife.
Cuts tend to feel soft with fruits like this, especially when the tomato is on the riper side. There were a few times getting into the later part of an hour of cutting that trying to get through tomato skin felt kind of like pushing into a dense pillow, but it’s easy enough to work around by just pulling the cut a little more. There was never a point that it didn’t that it wouldn’t bite into the skin with just a little extra effort, but I would suggest honing the knife up before dicing tomatoes if you’ve been cutting things up for a while.
I always seem to feel an odd kind of resistance when I’m just cutting into an onion with the Classic Ikon. Overall it cuts fine, but it feels like it has just a little trouble biting into the thick, smooth skin of larger onions.
If I’m not going for precision, it’s not a problem. I can push out a pile of medium sized onion trimming pretty quick with this thing. But I kept coming against the fact the smaller I cut, the worse this knife performs, and that felt the most pronounced with onions.
Rock chopping helps a lot here. I can cut up a bunch of cilantro pretty fine, although I sometimes have to go pack over the same area two or three times. A honing rod goes a long way here too, but the edge cuts just fine most of the time, and the belly of the blade is just the right size and curvature to do some pretty quick rock chopping for stuff this small.
Comparison and Alternatives
Right off I can tell you that the Zwilling Pro is a good, slightly lower cost, alternative. The balance is more neutral, and the handle is more traditional. I prefer the way that knife fits into my weirdly shaped hands, and the edge retention actually felt a bit better as well (we reviewed the Zwilling Pro S a while back, but I’d rather go with the half bolster version).
If you like the balance but not the handle, the Cangshan TC is a pretty interesting alternative. I know it looks like a thinner Asian knife from afar (because it is), but it was designed to perform and take abuse like a western knife, and they did a great job fine tuning the balance and edge geometry to get it there. It’s also significantly cheaper.
But if you don’t want to go cheaper, if you want something that’s even fancier than a Wusthof without dipping into the fragile territory of Japanese knives, there’s always the Zwilling Kramer Euroline chef’s knife. With so much more blade and belly, that knife feels very different on the cut, but it’s a lot handier for rock chopping, has better edge retention, and is a bit better suited for bigger hands.
Conclusion: The Classic Ikon is Good, but Maybe not for Everyone
For a knife this popular and established, the easy question is always “is it worth the hype”. I don’t think I could really answer that question except to say that the Wusthof Classic Ikon really is good. Whether or not it’s worth the premium price tag is another matter.
If you want fancy but tough, I can’t think of a better option without going way up in price category. If you just want something good and tough, there are plenty of other knives I prefer, and many of them cost quite a bit less. I think the best argument for this knife is that there just isn’t anything else out there that looks like this in the kitchen (except for the plain Ikon knives, obviously). Wusthof made something unique here in a way that keeps it functional. I think that’s a big part of why it’s stayed so popular, and in this case, even though I don’t personally enjoy the knife, I think that popularity is justified.