TOPS Knives – Frog Market Special Combo
One of the driving forces in our lives is our constant need to eat. Food is essential to everyone’s well-being and preparation of that food takes the preverbal cake. There are a wide range of ways to prepare food depending on what herbs are necessary, what cuts would be preferred, and how each ingredient needs to be cooked.
Steven Dick is well known in the knife industry. He also knows a thing or two about quality blades, materials, and patterns. In fact, he far surpasses me on knowledge of knives and designs. That’s why I am proud to talk about one of his designs with TOPS Knives, the Frog Market Special.
About the Frog Market Special:
The Frog Market Special (FMS for short) is a steep curved blade set much like a chef’s knife. Coming in two sizes: 9.5 inch and 12.75 inch XL both in 1095 steel. They are both full tang blades with a ‘Black River Wash’ finish.
The story goes, that on a trip to Vietnam Steven came across a similar design and decided to work out some kinks in current patterns available State-side. And so, the FMS was born. What is of appeal is how the designs are perfect for a variety of meats, fish, and poultry and able to slice through at varying depths with precision.
Other than the overall shape and material that is where the similarities of the FMS versions end.
- 9.5 inches overall length
- 5.25 inch blade and cutting length
- .060 inch blade thickness
- 1095 steel
- Micarta Handle (Tan)
- 12.75 inches overall length
- 7.5 inch blade and cutting length
- .090 inch blade thickness
- 1095 steel
- Micarta Handle (Green)
Before writing this article, I invested much time with these knives. Cooking is not something I am confident in and most of the food I prepare is a little ‘off-the-wall.’ My personal diet consists of many Asian dishes and part of the reason for being drawn to this knife in the first place. While I may not be butchering a deer, I can surely appreciate having something close by that can assist with the fine cuts necessary.
Compared to a standard kitchen knife, the blade is substantially more curved. At first, this was challenging when preparing common foods, herbs, and modest cuts of meat. It became convenient to use only one small section of the blade because the common motion to chop is not possible with a knife with this curve. Taking a few weeks, it became apparent that wielding the blade to slide back and forth was a conventional form for cutting anything from celery to steak.
Many would argue that a blade of this design demands a forward and backward rocking to properly cut into food. While I agree with these sentiments these knives also demand a push and pull while rocking the blade. This serves a few purposes; it keeps a sharp and varying section of the blade in contact with the food item at all times, it preserves the life of the blade so that you don’t dull down one small section and need frequent sharpening, and it cuts all the foods cleaner leaving very little crushing, downward force.
A few months of trial and error I decided it would be most prudent to attempt to cut a wide range of foods in a short amount of time. The best option with multiple food consistencies I could think of was sushi rolls and Kimbap. Kimbap is a Korean dish shaped similar to sushi yet filled with a mix of vegetables and meat. Ingredients can range from soft spinach, pickled radishes, soft cucumbers, mushy eggs, and thinned but well-done beef strips.
To start, we picked up some sashimi style sushi to cut and roll. Salmon and Tuna (Ahi) were the go-to options. One of the difficulties with salmon, in particular, is the way it likes to flake away from itself even when fresh. On the other hand, Tuna likes to stay taut and firm similar to red meats. With each slice into the fish we made a few novice errors (after all, we aren’t professional chef writers.) but we found that the FMS (specifically the standard size) sliced through each fish with ease. There was no binding, sticking, or crushing.
Moving on we tested both the standard and XL on eggs, cut into strips to fit in our Kimbap recipe. Eggs themselves are easy to cut but will break easily if they are pulled. Both of the knives moved seamlessly through the eggs like they were just water. Setting them aside, we decided to move onto something that was almost all water, cucumbers.
My personal preference is to have very thin cucumber slices in the Kimbap and sushi rolls. The FMS standard was great for making transparent, precise cuts that were perfect each and every time. Others prefer thicker slices and the XL found its way to the cutting board with performance that equaled its counterpart. While not as soft as eggs, the cucumber still is a relatively soft food.
Pickled radish is one crispy, crunchy food. IT’s not soft of pliable like a cucumber and will snap apart. The consistency is similar to that of a mostly green twig and provides a nice, fresh snap when bent. This is where the FMS seemed to shine. With the FMS and FMS-XL, it was possible to make relatively shallow or heavy slices into the radish without hesitation. Generally, preparing this ingredient is one of the more difficult preparations, but the FMS and FMS-XL make the process seamless.
The final ingredient we wanted to test the knives on was the meat itself. We had prepared a Bulgogi style beef to fit into out Kimbap. While it’s generally tender it’s cooked until well-done and heavily marinated. Depending on the quality of beef, someone can end up with stringy, sinewy cuts or soft, tender cuts. With our luck, we ended up with both.
This was what impressed me the most about the FMS and FMS-XL. It didn’t matter is the meat was fatty, sinewy, tender, or tough the knives cut through each obstacle with ease. In addition, each item was cut into long, thin pieces to fit into the roll, and the FMS family didn’t deviate from that result.
Having cut each ingredient and prepped the rolls it was just a matter of cutting through the roll itself. A brittle seaweed exterior wrapping a juxtaposition of soft rice, crisp radish, soft eggs, and tough to tender beef is always a mixture for a poor cut. Many individuals will even eat the Kimbap roll without cutting it to avoid the time and effort it takes. The FMS and FMS-XL did a superb job as long as the proper motion was followed. Otherwise the seaweed would fall apart or the beef would bind up on the edge and crush the remaining ingredients thereby ruining the whole meal.
To put it simply, with only a little practice the FMS and FMS-XL could be applied to every cooking experience, ingredient, and meal.
As much as I say I love the knife, there were a few things I could change if I had the opportunity. The handles on each knife seemed awkwardly thin. This may have been an attempt to make it easy to carry. Or in case of the FMS combo it would mean each knife could be housed in a combined sheath. The FMS-XL handle seems a better size, but the blade would be a bit too big to be considered comfortable. If I had my way, I would change it over to a rounder or thicker handle like a conventional kitchen knife.
Playing into the handle, I didn’t like the grooves in the handle. Micarta isn’t the issue, the issue was how the grooves seemed to be places for your fingers. Generally, kitchen knife handles are designed so you can hold the knife with your fingers curled around and pointing back towards the user. This didn’t allow for that possibility. For this reason, it was as if I was choking the knife the entire time I was wielding it. It’s also why it took some time for me to get accustomed to the proper motion.
There seems to be a lot of wasted material is the XL. The knife is tall, to match with the length of the blade. This will add additional support for those times when you need to cut deep into some ribs. The length on the XL is similar to a standard kitchen knife, but the height feels unwieldy. Don’t get me wrong, a user can compensate for this when they use the knife. I just felt like I was looking over a wall to see each side of the blade.
This knife works and works well. It would make a great addition to a butcher’s set, meat prep kitchen or wild kitchen. IT you’re looking for something that feels like a standard kitchen utensil this is not it. Instead, this is a nice mixture of ‘kitchen meets bushcraft’, just don’t baton with these knives. The hand placement is better suited for a gross motor movement and doesn’t allow itself to be manipulated easily by the wrist.
There are three possibilities when looking at these knives. Tops sells the standard Frog Market Special at $150 USD. The Frog Market Special XL comes in at $200 USD. Alternatively, there is the best of both worlds in the TOPS combo set at $330 USD. What I actually preferred about the combo set is the 2-in-1 sheath. It permits you to secure each knife in a single sheath on your belt in a modified version of their original sheaths.
For the price, the steel used, and the potential uses the FMS, FMS-XL, or FMS set is a great addition for a serious outdoors man/woman. Each knife will suit a wide range of purposes and can be used by any user’s skill level with care. After having gotten used to them I’m finding it difficult to switch back to a precision-crafted, triple, folded Japanese knife set.