The Mighty Chef’s Knife – Your True Partner in the Kitchen
In addition to a heat source, there is almost no other kitchen tool as vital to cooking as a chef’s knife. Definite workhorses, a chef’s knife is designed for a wide range of food cutting tasks from breaking down large items to slicing, dicing, chopping, and mincing.
Step into any kitchen goods store and you may be awed, or possibly overwhelmed, by the number of chef’s knife options available ranging from utilitarian style to beautiful artisan designs. Thank goodness for variety because buying a chef’s knife is a little like forming a partnership – it requires the right fit and feel, structure, and price in order to work well with you in the kitchen.
So, how do you go about selecting this true kitchen partner?
Start with Fit and Feel…
Chef’s knives are not one-size-fits-all, therefore, actually holding a few is key to finding the right individual fit. To do so, select a reputable kitchen retailer to either visit in person or from which to order online. Check on return policies, especially for online orders.
If a knife does not feel good in your hand or feels awkward when gripped, it will not be enjoyable or efficient to use. The right chef’s knife should feel like a natural extension of your hand, not forced or difficult to control. Simulate cutting with various knives, and ask yourself:
- Does the handle fit the size of my hand and feel comfortable? Is my grip relaxed?
- Does the knife feel heavy, too light, or just right?
- Does the knife feel balanced in my hand? Does it rock back and forth easily? An unbalanced or unstable knife will be difficult to work with as well as unsafe.
Understand Blade Construction…
There are two basic blade manufacturing methods used for knives – forged and stamped. Professional chefs and many home cooks tend to be drawn to forged knives, however, there are many excellent stamped knives on the market, so consider both.
- Forged knives are known to be very durable, well-balanced, and maintain their edge. These knives are made by a more elaborate manufacturing process, which can increase their price.
- Stamped knives are produced by a less intensive manufacturing process. They generally are lighter and have a thinner blade. Look for those made of good quality steel, with sturdy blades and handles, and “full tangs” in which the blade runs the full length of the handle.
Choose a Type…
Two main types of knives are commonly available – European and Japanese. The main difference between the two is the angle of the edge and the type of steel used in the knife. Either type is a good choice, so focus first on fit.
- European knives are designed for a wide range of tasks. They are generally heavier, made to be quite sturdy, and have a thicker blade with a wider, beveled edge.
- Japanese knives have thinner, very sharp blades with a narrow edge designed specifically for chopping, slicing, or carving vegetables, thinly slicing delicate fish or cutting noodles. Japanese knives are usually made of a harder type of steel than European knives.
…and a Size
The most popular size for home cooks is the 8-inch chef’s knife. It is a great all-around choice capable of tackling a variety of tasks. Some experienced home cooks and restaurant chefs enjoy using a 10-inch knife, but again, choose based on fit and how the knife feels in your hand.
Finally, Consider the Cost
Given the variety in designs, materials and construction, prices can vary greatly for chef’s knives. The good news is that there are very high-quality chef’s knives available at reasonable price points, so no need to break the bank unless you wish to do so.
There are two ways to purchase a chef’s knife – purchasing the knife individually (open stock), or as part of a complete knife set. Knife sets can be a cost-effective option if purchasing additional knives, yet you may wish to purchase knives individually in order to choose only the knives you need.
The frequency that you cook may also weigh into your purchasing decision. Because of the central role a chef’s knife plays in cooking, I recommend choosing the best knife you can within your budget.
TIP: If a knife that provides you with the right fit and feel is out of your budget, talk with a retailer about a less expensive comparable model.
Take Care of Your Knives
Once you have made your purchase, it is important to properly care for your chef’s knife so that it provides the optimum, long-term kitchen support you need. Here are a few important tips:
- Wash your knives immediately after use, and always wash them by hand. Placing them in the dishwasher can cause damage to the blade and handles.
- Store knives where they do not touch each other, such as in a knife block, slotted knife drawer, or with sleeves or covers over the blades.
- Use a wood or food-safe plastic cutting board, not stone or glass so as not to damage the blades. Do not cut directly on stone or synthetic countertops.
- Keep your blade sharp with either your own knife sharpener – Vulkanus or Chef’s Choice – or by attending a knife sharpening clinic oftentimes held at local kitchen retailers.
To help narrow the scope, you may wish to begin by investigating brands that are highly recommended. Here are my favorites for quality and performance, all at different price points.
- Victorinox Fibrox Pro or Classic 8” Chef’s Knife
- Zwilling 8” Gourmet or Four Star Chef’s Knife
- Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife
For additional help, check out the following chef’s knife reviews:
- The Best Chef’s Knife – Food & Wine
- I’ve Tested Nearly Every Chef’s Knife on the Market. These Are the 5 Best for Most Home Cooks – The Kitchn
- The 9 Best Chef’s Knives of 2020 – Spruce Eats
- Chef’s Knives – Cooks Illustrated (possible paywall)
There are no affiliate links in this post.
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