Not A Kitchen Knife: Cooking With Chef Bowie

Chef Bowie, courtesy Chris DummFor the purpose of seeing if it could be done, I decided to prepare a dinner using only a huge Bowie knife of Pakistani provenance. Crocodile Dundee had to cook for his clients, and I wondered just how badly suited a giant pigsticker like this would be for preparing a meal from scratch. In the end, it did better than I expected.

But that’s not saying much.

The Blade

 Bowie Blade (Chris Dumm)

‘Chef’ Bowie, for this demonstration, was a 12″ knife made of Pakistani mystery metal. The  sheath is fake leather, but the hilt and bolsters are real brass and they’re probably the nicest thing about the whole knife. Instead of grinding off a sample and mailing it to a metallurgy lab for testing, let’s just say that the full-tang blade is fairly shiny and almost stainless. It’s about five years old and the metal has a few spots on it, so I’ve learned to keep it oiled. (I had to wash off the CLP before chopping the edibles, however.)

The thick flat-ground blade doesn’t really like to take an edge. Once you give it one (which takes a while because of its size) it loses that edge pretty quickly. Its Rockwell hardness rating is right up there with underarm deodorant and sofa cushions.

Bowie Point (Chris Dumm)

The clip point ends in a remarkably blunt tip, which wasn’t a disadvantage for a machete/meat cleaver like this until I tried to pare a pepper with it.

The Foods

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The Bowie trimmed and cubed three pounds of lean pork sirloin without drama. To my surprise, the oversized blade cut meat fairly cleanly. I could even trim the gristle and membranes without wasting much of the good stuff.

Bowie Trimming (Chris Dumm)

Okay, it wasn’t exactly a Wusthof, but at least it wasn’t a fire axe.

With the pork cubed and marinating, I turned my attention to the veggies: onions, green peppers and zucchini squash. Peeling the zucchini with the Bowie proved to be simply impossible: the dull, thick blade couldn’t shave the skin off without takin a thick slice of squash with it. It sliced the zucchini acceptably well. And so would a plastic ice-scraper.

Bowie Pepper (Chris Dumm)

It mangled the top end of the green peppers, but I eventually got the rest sliced into small sections for the skewers without excessive waste.

Bowie Onion (Chris Dumm)

Moving to the onions, the Bowie experienced its biggest Kitchen Fail yet. It couldn’t cleanly slice the whole onion into halves or quarters. I had to use a two-handed chopping technique, which just kind of ‘broke’ them into smaller pieces. This was a bit of a surprise, because onions aren’t exactly up there with Vibram soles and hardwood logs on the “Damn That’s Hard To Cut” scale. I could have done just as well with a splitting maul.

Once the meats and veggies were sliced and diced and drowning in marinade, I took the Bowie out back and attacked the final target, a whole raw coconut. This was the only food-prep task where the big Bowie really excelled. It’s basically a heavy-bladed machete with a cosmetic clip point, and it split the coconut with a dozen or so carefully-controlled chops. It would have split the coconut in one blow, but we actually wanted to eat it so I went slowly.

The Results

Pork Swewers (Chris Dumm)

The culinary results weren’t just satisfactory, they were delectable: grilled pork kebabs with onions and green peppers, all marinated in lemon-pepper sauce. I had to restrain myself to three skewers, washed down with an equal number of local microbrews.

After a long and bloated sleep, I ruminated on what my experiment had taught me. First, I learned that it’s really hard to keep marinated pork succulent and tender without leaving the onion slices a bit undercooked. I like crispy, slightly caramelized onions. Second, I learned that Lowry’s lemon-pepper marinade is freakishly delicious for grilled skewers like this.

When it comes to knives (probably why you’re reading, after all) I finally learned that cheap Pakistani Bowie knives are really shitty for general food preparation.Their large handles are still too small for their giant blades, and this robs the blade of control and precision. There’s a reason paring knives are so small.

Cheap Bowies can cut meat pretty well, as long as the meat is exceptionally lean and tender. Good luck sawing through unprocessed game or overcooked meat, however. On top of that, these knives can’t peel anything and they can’t cut onions worth a damn.

Basically, any other kind of general-purpose knife would be a better choice than one of these oversized novelty knives. But you probably guessed that already.

But look on the bright side: if you’re chopping firewood and splitting coconuts on a Polynesian island, a cheap Pakistani Bowie will save your life.

 

comments

  1. Aharon says:

    Chris, I’m impressed. Really, I am. I had no idea you were so skilled in food prep and cooking. The only issue I have is that I question how reliable and safe it is to use a cheap bowie on an ongoing basis especially in such a realistically possible survival role that any of us can find ourselves in. IMO, a dull knife is dangerous and so is a cheap knife.

    1. Aharon says:

      I went back to clarify my comment but the time expired for me to edit. Sorry if it reads choppy.

  2. Jon says:

    That’s why I have my nice set of Wustof knives specifically for cooking 🙂

  3. jwm says:

    Even if it had been a top quality bowie, no one knife does it all. When I’m in the hills and woods I carry at least a folder and a belt knife. My e kit in the car is so equiped. And i really doubt the folks living in the rough country in pioneer days limited themself
    to one knife does it all, unless they were really poor.

  4. Patrick says:

    I have about 6 of the various “Bowie” and 6 of the “Rattler” knives from BUDK and
    Cutlery Corner. Yes, some are from Pakistan, others are from China. the China made knives are a bit better in finish, tighter in construction.
    Agreed, that most are novelty items for wall hanging… and emergency use only.
    Any would do for cooking preparation, at home or in the wild.

    Thanks for more inspiration in food preparation!

  5. Aharon says:

    Ethan Becker the man who designs the Ka-Bar Becker knives and is the editor for “The Joy of Cooking” cookbook also has a line of four kitchen knives made by ESEE.

    ESEE Ethan Becker Signature Cooking Knives
    http://www.knifeworks.com/eseeethanbeckersignaturecookingknives.aspx

  6. Ivan w/ an AR says:

    I have a Winchester Bowie that I got from Wally World a while back, and it can outpreform some of my higher quality kitchen knives. Try one out, you’ll probably like it better than the POS you reviewed.

  7. Out_Fang_Thief says:

    I get the whole, we’re really into knives part, but the question is “Why?”
    Not why about the “we’re really into knives” part, but why a ridiculous Bowie knife? I have a scary-sharp, Japanese carpenters’ hand ax that can slice phone book pages, but I’ve never thought about trying it out in the kitchen, even under the premise that it might be interesting to know that it could, should those unimaginable conditions ever arise, and all I had was that hand ax. Could this be the birth of a new series for TTAK called RATUKU (Ridiculous And Totally Unnecessary Knife Use) or is this just a crazy one-off? A Seafood Nicoise a la machete might be worth a read. Cleaning, gutting, and fileting a Blue Marlin with only a Victorinox cuticle knife? Hey, maybe this new genre has some legs after all?

  8. Paul W says:

    Cook your onions part way before starting with the meat; it helps.

  9. AW1Ed says:

    Grill up the meat on separate skewers from the veg- now everything is properly done. Not as pretty, but it’s all going on a bed of rice anyway.
    For the record, I have my uncle’s Naval Officer’s ceremonial sword, but I take it off the wall to cut cakes, which is about all it’s good for.

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Not A Kitchen Knife: Cooking With Chef Bowie

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