Story and Photos by Reuben Bolieu
Anyone who is even a little bit familiar with TOPS Knives would most likely not associate them with the kitchen.
Known for their overbuilt, “Made in the USA” tactical/outdoors knives, TOPS has been venturing into the axe, skinning and now kitchen side of cutlery. Their current Dicer Kitchen Series offers a steak knife, chef’s knife, long slicer, small paring knife, bread knife and XXX Dicer cleaver. However, before the Dicer series, TOPS Knives’ first venture into the realm of kitchen cutlery was with the Frog Market Special.
“A ‘Frog Market,’ in Hanoi, is an unlicensed wet market that stays “one jump” ahead of the tax collector. It was in one of those markets that I first found this pattern of knife at use,” said designer Steven Dick, when I asked him to explain the Frog Market Special (FMS) knife.
I too have roamed similar markets, in many of the same countries as Steven, and can see where the influence for this design comes from. In fact, visiting a marketplace is a good way to get a sense of the food and blade cultures of a new country.
The FMS comes from a different skill set—the kitchen.
Steven explained to me, “The fine point is used for boning, the deep body for plunging cuts through large chunks of meat, and the sweeping edge for long slicing cuts.”
According to Steven, the TOPS version is a “smaller utility model” of the originals found in Hanoi.
The TOPS rendition of this Vietnamese butcher knife is 9.5 inches overall, with a 5.125-inch-long blade, made of 1095 carbon steel (RC 56-58). I like the idea of carbon steel for a kitchen knife; it reminded me of the Old Hickory butcher knives I still use.
At just 0.0625-inch-thick (1/16-inch), this is the thinnest, sharpest TOPS knife I have ever seen. Thin knives are the way to go for slicing and are easy to resharpen—as was the case with the FMS.
It has a unique, aged finish called Black River Wash, with tan micarta scales. The handle was thin, but comfortable. The ergonomics seemed to have been downplayed in the description but were really the hidden gem of the knife. The knife itself weighs 3.5 ounces and is housed in a black kydex sheath that is ready for the belt, but is more of a carrying case, since it is a kitchen knife.
The provided kydex sheath was a good choice, as the knife was often dunked in a creek, shaken dry and then put back in the sheath. The FMS resides on my olive wood cutting board as my go to knife for cheese, cutting open food packages or quick slicing for garnishes.
While I’m no Steven Dick, give me a knife and I’m going to the backwoods school of cooking, making something that requires slicing mushrooms, potatoes, onions, peppers, and pork – stuffed peppers cooked in the coals. For meals like this I usually buy the type of bacon that comes in a large piece and needs to be sliced (typically Polish bacon).
The knife was super sharp and sliced & diced whatever was put in front of it.
The FMS XL, like its smaller predecessor, was inspired by a Vietnamese design.
Keeping with the original FMS’ big-bellied blade, the new FMS XL kicks up the blade length by nearly two inches to 7.5 inches, with a 12.75-inch overall length. It is 0.0937-inch-thick (3/32-inch), also of 1095 steel, with their attractive Black River Wash finish. Comfortable, thick green canvas Micarta handle scales keep their grip even when wet.
A longer handle and thicker blade stock, along with the extra cutting length, set it apart from the original. The elongated belly and thin grind make slicing food effortless, and the XL will definitely expand upon the culinary capabilities of the first FMS—just as chef knives come in different sizes suited to different tasks.
A Kydex sheath, with a rotating spring steel clip, makes it easy to attach to a belt or pack and the original FMS can piggyback on this sheath for a complete wilderness food prep solution—especially for those venturing outside of the kitchen with it.
The FMS XL can function as part of a camp kit, for preparing meals in the wilderness, away from the cutting board.
Lomo saltado is a popular, Peruvian stir fry dish that is typically served with rice and combines marinated strips of sirloin (or other beef steak) with onions, tomatoes and French fries. The dish originated as part of the Chifa tradition, the Chinese cuisine of Peru. I’ve had it in Peru and decided to make it, with the help of the FMS XL and sidekick.
Making this dish called for the three most used culinary knife skills for a chef’s knife: rock chopping, cross chopping and slicing.
Firstly, the pinch grip, or chef’s grip, with the index finger curled on the side of the blade. The thumb and index finger should be opposite each other, on either side of the blade, while the remaining three fingers are sort of loosely curled around the handle. Grip the knife mainly with the thumb and index/forefinger. With practice it begins to feel natural when in the kitchen—be it woods kitchen or home.
Cross chopping green onions and cilantro, for garnishing, was a little odd at first with the XL—as the deep belly called for a higher arch of the right hand, bringing the handle up naturally in order to get the tip flush with the cutting board. It was easier with the smaller FMS.
Slicing wedges for the potatoes, onions and tomatoes was easy, due to the thin grind slicing through while rock chopping, and not wedge splitting the food apart, like a thick-beveled knife would.
Tap chopping wasn’t used as much for this dish, but I did use it for mushrooms and green onions, for separate dishes. The large cutting mass at the heel of the knife was like a cleaver and could pull double duty as a heavier chopper, as well as a slicer. I have been very accustomed to Chinese cleavers over the last couple of years and this wider bladed FMS XL felt more at home to me.
Slicing the beef (lomo) for this dish was as if the FMS XL was made for it. I felt like I was back in the 1800s using a large Roach Belly butcher knife. The continuous curve allows for comfort when standing at variable heights to the cutting board, as the belly will adapt to the cutting position. Like a Chinese cleaver, the wide blade acts as a good way to quickly scoop-up food prep, after chopping it all up, and transfer it to a container or the hot pan.
Quartering chickens with the FMS XL is my favorite task for this knife. I got it down to five minutes and very little chopping. If anything, just some medium pressure on the joints, with a firm palm hit to help get through the rough parts. Boning chicken thighs is easier with the point than other kitchen knives; however, the original FMS is better for this task. Can’t win them all.
The plus-sized follow-up to the original FMS is all about chopping, slicing and dicing. It may be hard to imagine a TOPS knife living in the kitchen but both FMS models are designed for efficient food prep.
This XL version adds some heft and length to an already proven, excellent design. It has all of the aesthetics and function of the original, in a larger package. TOPS Knives now offers a new take on standard kitchen knife designs and both FMS knives are great in the kitchen or at the campsite. K&G
Join the Conversation, comment on this story below. >>
Frog Market Special (FMS)Blade Material: 1095Blade Length: 4.875 inchesOverall Length: 9.50 inchesBlade Thickness: 0.06 inchesBlade Finish: Black River WashHandle Material: MicartaWeight: 3.5 ouncesSheath Material: KydexDesigner: Steven DickMSRP: $150.00
Frog Market Special (FMS) XLBlade Material: 1095Blade Length: 7.50 inchesOverall Length: 12.75 inchesBlade Thickness: 0.09 inchesBlade Finish: Black River WashWeight: 9.60 ouncesSheath Material: KydexDesigner: Steven DickMSRP: $200.00
TOPS Kniveswww.TOPSKnives.com(208) 542-0113
Frog Market Special (FMS)TOPS Knives (Make sure to use discount code KGS30 for 30% off)BladeHQKnifeCenterSmokey Mountain Knife Works
Frog Market Special (FMS) XLTOPS Knives (Make sure to use discount code KGS30 for 30% off)BladeHQKnifeCenter
Adventurer, writer, photographer, gear designer and survival instructor for Randall’s Adventure & Training, Reuben has spent most of his life hiking and backpacking through the wildernesses of the world. He has traveled abroad in extreme environments, from Alaska to the desert heat of Egypt – as well as the humid conditions of Southeast Asia and South America. He continues studying primitive survival techniques, construction and uses of knives and edged tools from places such as: South America, Australia, Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, and numerous countries in the South Pacific and Scandinavia. Reuben has published many articles on survival, knife and tool use, woodcraft, shelters, and remains a lifetime student of survival.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.