Tops' Chef!

Culinary Camp Cutters

TOPS Knives

The outdoor and culinary cutlery markets are growing by leaps and bounds with many companies trying to expand their horizons. One, however, has made an effort to combine the two. TOPS Knives. This innovative company jumped into the camp kitchen cutlery market years ago and recently added more to the drawer.

TOPS Knives’ mission has always been about making affordable knives built to get the job done. The company was formed in 1998 to primarily manufacture budget-friendly knives for use by our military and special operators. Once established, TOPS began offering sporting knives for hunters, campers and any other segment of the outdoor market needing an honest, dependable knife. The camp and kitchen cutlery grew from these fertile roots. We recently asked TOPS General Manager Craig Powell to give us the lowdown on the company’s camp knives, both past and present.

Frog Market Special

Primary Sources

“The first Frog Market Special has been out since 2014,” Craig tells Handgunner. “It’s been very popular. So popular in fact last year we added an XL version to our lineup. These knives were designed by Steven Dick based on a trip he took to Vietnam where he noticed a lot of people using blades in the markets looking a lot like what the Frog Market Special ended up being.” Despite their whimsical name, the original Frog Market Special (9.5" with a 5.25" blade) and its larger XL big brother (12.75" with a 7.5" blade) are built for performance. The blades are deep-bellied and have tough, easy to maintain Canvas Micarta handles.

Next came a wicked bit of business named El Chappo, a camp cleaver hell-bent on feeding the horde. At 11" overall — 6" of it in a cleaving blade which would bring a smile to fantasy artist Boris Vallejo’s face — the 15.9 oz. El Chappo was born to chop. “In 2018 we released El Chappo, a cleaver designed with food processing in mind,” Powell said. “The Frog Market Specials and El Chappo are made of 1095 high carbon steel like the majority of our lineup though, so they do have a clear Cerakote coating on them. This makes them knives we could never promote fully as kitchen knives.”

“They also have Canvas Micarta handles with a somewhat rough finish, which most professional kitchens would shy away from. They want uncoated blades that clean easily. They want handles made of food-safe material that cannot collect bacteria — and usually with very smooth finishes. So, in order for us to make a kitchen knife which could potentially find its way into many kitchens professional and otherwise, we had to do something a little different.”

Dicer 8

The Third Course

TOPS Knives’ third phase of their camp cutlery strategy was to go mainstream with knives you might see around your home kitchen, but geared toward the outdoors, too. “Leo Espinoza, our CEO, has wanted to do a line of kitchen knives for a long time now — as have I.” Craig notes. “We decided to give the first chance at a TOPS kitchen knife to one of our employees. For three years now, we’ve done an employee design competition where the winner gets to have a knife they designed made by TOPS with them credited as the designer. They get serial number 1 of their design and a couple of other perks. So, the Dicer 8 Chef’s knife was designed by TOPS photographer/graphics guy Jesus Arellano. His design beat out over 20 other submitted drawings by other employees.

“The first knife in the line is the Dicer 8 Chef’s knife,” Powell continued. “This is the primary knife in any kitchen set. Without a chef’s knife, a set could never be considered complete. The blade is roughly 8" long. It’s a slight departure from normal chef’s knives as it has a little more belly than you’d normally see from a chef’s knife, but the performance from the blade is excellent. It’s made of CPM S35VN stainless steel at 3/32" thick. There is a high grind to the blade and the handle is very comfortable as well. We decided to go with blue/black G10 with a smooth finish to avoid having bacteria collect on the handle.

“The 2nd knife in the line is the Dicer 3 Paring knife. The blade is — as you might have guessed — approximately 3" long. It’s made of the same steel and handle material with a very similar feel to the Dicer 8. The Paring knife along with the rest of the models that will be a part of the Dicer series were designed by Leo Espinoza.”

Dicer 3

On The Menu

We asked Powell about the future of this culinary outshoot of TOPS’ already lengthy repertoire of tactical and sporting knives. “Assuming we are able to get some good success out of the Dicer line,” says Craig, “we will definitely be looking to add at least a couple of extra sets of kitchen cutlery. Aside from the Dicer 8 and Dicer 3, we have a couple of additional models being added to the line. They debuted at SHOT Show 2019 and will be released sometime during the year. By the time we’re through, the Dicer line should be a full kitchen set.”

The Frog Market Special is priced at $150 suggested retail; the larger XL model for $200. The massive El Chappo will run you $180, and the Dicer 8 and 3 models check in at $250 and $200, respectively. The Dicer pair is priced a bit higher due to their premium CPM S35VN blades — a proprietary stainless steel from Crucible Industries often found on top-shelf custom knives. Regardless of your choice, TOPS’ culinary line has something for every user and the line’s future looks even brighter down the road.

For more info: TOPS Knives,, Ph: (208) 542-0113

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