How To Choose A Chef’s Knife

Finding the best chef’s knife would need a lot of searching as there are lots of choices.

Often, you will see a lot high-quality knife, with different prices, material, size, design – but you will get stuck in making decision.

So, how do you choose the right knife?

We prepared this guide for you so you can decide in choosing and buying the best chef’s knife for your cutting and slicing needs.

What Is A Chef’s Knife?

First, it is important to understand what a chef knife is used for. A chef knife is a multipurpose tool among the kitchen knives: it can be used to cut meat, vegetables, slice herbs, and chop nuts. Probably one of the most important kitchen knife.

However, they are not the best choice for cutting bread, cleave meat bones, carve dense meat, and smaller, more precise kitchen tasks. For smaller foods, a utility knife is the best choice, which looks similar to a chef’s knife but has shorter blade and more lightweight.

Before purchasing a chef’s knife, think about the kind of dish you usually make and your personal preferences: it can help decide the size, design, and knife blade material.

First and foremost, the knife must feel comfortable. Most people are used to a specific size and shape, so choosing a similar one will feel familiar and easier to use.

If you have never used a chef knife before, take your time and try how it feels to find the best for you. As this knife can be used for a broad range of kitchen tasks, choosing a quality one is inevitable.

The best piece of advice: don’t buy the most expensive chef knife you find. Higher price usually means higher quality, but other featuresand personal preferences are more superior to the price. Additionally, those how are only cooking at home and not in a professional setting don’t necessarily need the absolute best knife. Chefs, on the other hand, need to find the one that fits most their cooking style.

What Size To Choose?

A chef knife can be six inches all the way up to a foot long. Depending on the food you usually prepare, choose the one that makes the job easy.

Usually, an eight-inch-long chef knife is a great start to cook for the family. It is long enough to cut all types of meats and vegetables while still relatively easy to work with.

A large knife might be intimidating at the beginning – once you are familiar with a smaller chef’s knife if needed, upgrade to a larger one.

Regarding its width, the type of work you do is important. A wider blade is ideal for smashing garlic, ginger, and spices and scooping up the chopped food. A thinner blade is better to maneuver when chopping smaller vegetables or meat.


European vs. Japanese knives

European knives can be used for a wide range of kitchen tasks, which is ideal for home cooking. These knives are more robust and heavier and made of softer but tougher steel. Because of its softness, it requires more frequent sharpening and careful knife maintenance.

The softer steel, however, makes it less sensitive to extensive ‘abuse’ as it’s less brittle. The blades are usually thicker and have a wider cutting edge, usually between 20-25° on both sides of the blade. It makes it a bit harder to slice through foods.

German Style

German-style refers to a more curved section at the front of the blade, which is good for chopping with an up-and-down motion. These knives are oftentimes heavier, around 9.6 ounces.

A good example of German knives is the Wüsthof kitchen knives, ideal for home cooks and professionals as well. Wüsthof is a family owned company for seven generations, and are experts in knives. Along with Wüsthof, Zwilling J.A. is another exceptional company offering the highest quality knives.

French Style

On the other hand, the French-style chef knife has a more triangular, straight front of the blade, making it god for slicing by pulling and pushing the knife back and forth.

Japanese Style

Japanese chef knives are generally more task-specific; hence, many designs are available. They are usually lighter in weight, around 5.5 ounces, due to thinner blades. The steel contains a higher amount of carbon, which is harder and stays sharp longer.

Although it is a superior material regarding sharpness and toughness, it also means that these knives are more brittle. High-carbon steel needs more maintenance as well – after usage, it is recommended to wash and dry immediately and oil the blade with mineral oil to avoid rusting.

The cutting edges are usually around 16°, making it less tiring to use because they cut foods easier. Due to their thinner blades, they are more suitable for precise work than

European Chef Knives

Santoku knives are also Japanese and are, similarly to chef’s knives, general-purpose due to their shape. Their name, Santoku, means  “three virtues” or “three uses”, referring to their uses.

They don’t have a tip at the front of the blade; they are more efficient for the rocking method of cutting. Santoku knives are strong and can cut meat, cheese, vegetables, fruits, herbs, and many other foods. If the user prefers to have just a Santoku knife, they will be able to cut almost anything effectively.


The Anatomy of the Chef Knife

Chef knives has major parts: the blade, handle, heel, rivet, tang, and bolster. When choosing a knife, all of these parts are important for the specific type of job the user does.


The Blade – The Different Kinds of Knife Blade Materials

Stainless steel

Stainless steel is generally the best choice due to its corrosion resistance and optimum hardness. Maintenance is pretty simple, and the knife can be put in the dishwasher and won’t get dull fast. Unfortunately, besides its name, stainless steel can stain over time. To keep it sharp longer, wash it with your hand and dry immediately to prevent corrosion and rusting.

Stainless steel, however, has a unique feature – the rust is dense and adheres to the cutting edge of the knife. This layer protects the rest of it from oxygen and water. These features overall make this knife type the best choice for most people.

Carbon steel

Professional chefs often choose carbon steel knives because it is harder and easier to sharpen. Carbon steel, if properly taken care of, stays sharper longer than stainless steel.

On the other hand, it is more brittle – for those who need flexibility when working with a knife, not an ideal choice. For professionals, sharpness and hardness are necessary – but not for home cooks. Stainless steel is more forgiving, requires less care, and does its job perfectly.

High-carbon stainless steel

High-carbon stainless steel offers a nice balance of toughness, sharpness, edge retention, and easy resharpening. The amount of carbon determines these traits of the knife, and manufacturers often made their own ‘cocktail ‘of high-carbon steel. Most professional blades are made of a specific type of high-carbon steel and are often considered the golden mean of kitchen knives

Ceramics

Ceramic blades are very sharp (more then 10 times sharper than steel knives), lightweight, and hold their edge for the longest of all other knife types. Due to its hardness, it requires professional sharpening and cannot be done at home. Ceramic blades are the most brittle and can chip or break if not used properly.

Because of their nonreactivity, these knives do not require specific maintenance and won’t change the taste of the food or discolor them, which can be a problem using dull high-carbon or carbon steel knives. These knives are not suitable for chopping hard ingredients, like bone or frozen meat. Cutting fruits, vegetables, and other softer foods, using ceramic knives is very convenient.


Composition of the Different Types of Blades

Composition of Stainless Steel

Stainless steel consists of a high concentration, around 11-13% of chromium, which is the main component to reduce brittleness, improve corrosion resistance, and improve tensile strength. On the other hand, chromium also adversely affects edge retention, and too high concentrations will lead to reduced toughness. Stainless steel has a low concentration of carbon, around 0.5%.

A good quality stainless steel also contains molybdenum and vanadium. Molybdenum contributes to toughness, reduces chipping, and improves high-temperature resistance. It is only present in small quantities, from 0.1 to 4%.

Vanadium is another element that contributes to toughness and wears resistance. During the heat treatment process, vanadium produces a fine gain that improves the overall toughness of the blade. Higher levels of vanadium result in a very sharp knife edge and can be found in ultra-premium knives.

Composition of Carbon Steel

Carbon steel consists of a high 0.8% of carbon which improves edge retention. However, because of the lack of chromium, the blade develops patina due to the oxidation of magnetite. This layer is not necessarily bad because it prevents further corrosion.

Composition of High Carbon Stainless Steel

High carbon stainless steel also contains around 0.8% carbon, which helps to remain sharp for longer. It also has about 10% chromium to prevent corrosion and makes it a little bit more difficult to resharpen.

Very high carbon steel combined with manganese improves strength, hardenability, tensile strength, and wear resistance of the knife. Too much manganese will make the steel too brittle.

Composition of Ceramics

Ceramic knives are made of zirconium oxide, ensuring high temperature and oxidation resistance. The blade is made of a hot, 3600 F mold of zirconia and alumina powder under the pressure of 300 tons. The mold is then polished and sharpened with diamond to get an extraordinarily sharp knife.

Additional Elements in the Blade

Some other elements are found in very small quantities in the blade but can greatly affect its quality. Blades contain cobalt show increase hardness and allow for quenching and boost the performance of other elements.

Niobium is only present in the best knives at a very low concentration. In a small amount, sulfur improves the machinability of the steel, but at a high concentration, it is considered an impurity.

Phosphorus and copper can be present at a low concentration to contribute to corrosion resistance and hardness. Only very low concentration improves the knife, higher might make it too brittle.

Additionally, nitrogen is used to improve corrosion resistance, as it can replace carbon in the steel matrix and have similar features but higher corrosion resistance.

Laminated Steel Blades

Blades can be made of a homogenous alloy, only one type of steel. However, laminated steel might be a better choice for specific applications. Laminated chef knives are made of two or more different kinds of steel to improve their quality.

Generally, the core consists of a harder type of steel and is covered with an external layer of stainless, softer steel. Because of the hardcore, the edge retention improves, while the softer external layer makes sharpening easier and protects the more brittle inside.

These knife types often have a ring-like pattern on them, called the Damascus pattern. It is not only hard and very sharp for a long time but gives a unique appearance for each knife, decorating the kitchen. Examples of Damascus chef’s knives include Sakai Takayuki’s Japanese knives and Zwiling’s knives.


Maintenance of the Blade

Knife Blocks – Good Idea?

Using knife blocks might seem a good idea to protect your kitchen knives, store them securely and keep them organized. They can also look very nice and neat in your kitchen and show all your knives to your guests. However, knife block can dull your knives after sliding them in just 70 times.

Why Not to Use Knife Block

Additionally, a knife block has a lot of room, and people feel the urge to buy more and more knives, even if they don’t need them. A smaller set of knives is just enough for home cooks: a chef’s knife, a utility knife, a bread knife, a boning knife, a steak knife, and a paring knife will do the job for most households.

And let’s think about the most disturbing fact – they are very challenging to clean. Germs, such as bacteria, mold, and yeast, can move into the holes. When you think that you have a clean knife in your hand, right from the knife block, it might be covered in germs, leading to food-related illnesses. Knife blocks need to be cleaned at least once a month to prevent the accumulation of germs.

Instead of knife blocks, consider using magnetic strips. There are many designs available, including wooden ones, in which the magnet is hidden, and the kitchen knives are hanging

Indentations

Some kitchen knives have hollow indentations ground into the blade, usually close to the cutting edge. When cutting, these indentations function as air pockets between the knife and the product. These pockets reduce sticking to the minimum and decrease friction, which leads to cleaner, sharper cuts, and faster work.

Cutting Board

As already stated, washing the knife with hand and drying it right after use helps protect the cutting edge and maintain sharpness longer. There are other factors necessary to maintaining the chef’s knife. When cutting the food, make sure that you use a wooden or food-safe plastic cutting board. Cutting boards made of ceramic, glass, or stone can wear off and damage the knife’s cutting edge. Knives should not touch each other by their blades or other metal objects either.


The Handle – Shape, and Material

The first and most important thing to consider when choosing a chef’s knife is its handle. It won’t be enjoyable to use if it doesn’t feel good and not comfortable, regardless of the high-quality blade, and perfect shape.

Especially if you work a lot with your knife, it has to be suitable for your palm; otherwise, you will likely stop using it and end up buying another – and a good knife is not cheap.

The Composition of the Handle

Wood Handle

Another essential factor to consider is the material of the handle. Traditionally, a chef’s knife’s handle is made of wood, but unfortunately, there are several problems with it. Since wood is porous, bacteria can quickly get into and proliferate in these pores.

Additionally, at the bolster, there might be tiny cracks in the wood, where they can grow. These bacteria can sometimes cause severe food-related illnesses. Wood handles are problematic in the dishwasher because they can wrap and eventually break.


Synthetic Handle

Because of these reasons, rubber or plastic handles are better and getting more popular. They can be washed in the dishwasher, more sanitary, and bacteria cannot get into the handle.

Wooden handles are sometimes treated with plastic resin, so it maintains the traditional appearance while safe against bacteria.


The Heel

The heel is located where the blade meets the handle, the rear end of the blade, and also the widest part of the knife. This part is the best for coarse cuts, copping hard food, like nuts and carrot.

The longer the blade is, the bigger its cutting force at the heel – some knife can cut even chicken bone.


The Rivet

The rivets are metal pins, secure and keep the tang immobile in the handle. Rivets are typically found in wooden handles.

When buying a knife, make sure that the rivets don’t protrude from the handle – the to be smooth, and in the same level with the handle itself.


The Tang

Some knives have a section of steel running in the inside of the handle, all the way to the end. This is the tang. The best knives have this part – it indicated that the knife was forged from one piece of steel.

This region makes the knife more balanced and more comfortable to use. The tang is usually visible in wooden handles, while in synthetic handles, like plastic, this region might be embedded in it, hence not visible.


The Bolster

The bolster is the region of the knife where the handle and the metal meets. It is a thick shoulder that prevents the users’ fingers from slipping (and blisters), making the job more effortless.

Bolsters are also the sign of a good knife – it indicates that the blade was forged from a single piece of steel. This part also shows the original steel thickness. Stamped knife – cut from a piece of steel – is usually inferior to forged knives.


How to Hold a Chef’s Knife

The Handle Grip

There are two basic types of grips: the all-purpose grip (or handle grip) and the blade grip (or pinch grip). When your hand is entirely on the handle, behind the bolster, it’s called handle grip.

This is a comfortable position and easy to use for those with small hands and for beginners. For precise knife usage, this is not a good way to hold the knife because it allows limited control over it.


The Pinch Grip

The pinch grip can be considered a more advanced way to hold the chef’s knife. The name, pinch grip, describes very well how it actually looks like – the thumb and index finger pinch the blade, in front of the bolster, which helps stabilize it. The three other fingers are wrapped around the handle.

More experienced cooks often prefer this method because it offers more control and balance over the knife for precise cuts and faster chopping. It might be a bit uncomfortable for beginners, and they need a little time to get used to it.


Claw and Micing

Depending on the food, there are special ways to hold your other hand. When the fingertips are curling inward is called the claw. When cutting the food this way the fingers are protected, while hold the food at a stable position at the same time.

Micing is a good way to cut vegetables or herbs into tiny, fine pieces. While one hand is on the handle of the knife, the other is on the tip of the knife, holding it in place.

Rockwell Scale

Rockwell scale (HRC) is a number that describes the hardness of a knife. Knives usually fall between two numbers because variation occurs during the hardening process. This range generally isn’t greater than two. Knives blade are being tested, which provides information about the steel’s durability and hardness.

Higher the number, the harder the steel is, which ensures better edge retention, meaning less frequent sharpening. However, this also indicates that the knife is more brittle.

So, what is the best number? It depends on how one uses the knife. The best quality chef knives have a Rockwell scale 60 and above, up to 64, while for everyday use about 57-59 HRC is perfect.

As mentioned above, Japanese chef knives are generally harder, 60-61 on a Rockwell scale. On the other hand, softer German knives generally fall between 56-58 on the Rockwell scale.


How Much a Chef Knife Cost?

Chef Knives can be relatively affordable and really expensive as well – from $10 to $1,000. This variability comes down to the material of the blade and the handle, how it is crafted (hand or a machine), whether it is forged or stamped, and the details of the knife.

The sweet spot, especially for everyday home use, is between $50 and $100. Investing in a knife is actually a good idea, considering the fact that you will likely use it for a year or even decades. Thinking about it, paying $100 or even $200 for a quality knife is not a bold idea.

A less expensive knife will do the job and might function pretty well during the first couple of months. Eventually, however, the user will need to buy a new one and/or sharpen it so often that it becomes an inconvenience. A good investment into a good chef’s knife can mean that you don’t have to buy another one in your lifetime.


What Makes a Knife More or Less Expensive

The Price of The Blade

Generally, stainless steel knives are more expensive than carbon steels, mostly because of the addition of alloying elements, such as manganese, chromium, and nickel.

Carbon steels are made of cheaper materials, including carbon and iron, making these more affordable. Overall, the best quality knives are made of high-carbon steel, combining the advantages of both stainless and carbon steel knives.

The Price of The Handle

Most often than not, knives with a wooden handle are more expensive than rubber or plastic ones. However, regarding durability, sanitary, synthetic materials are superior. Some chefs prefer wooden handles because of its more natural and feel a stronger connection to them.

This connection will probably not be as important for home cooking, so a cheaper, more durable plastic handle is a good choice in the kitchen.

The Prices of Branding and Retail 

Not surprisingly, buying from a known brand will require you to dig deeper into your pocket. You are paying for knowing that the quality is exceptional, and the knife will perform as it is supposed to.

Buying a knife in a store from not a well-known brand will most likely be cheaper. This doesn’t mean that the quality is not high, but you can’t necessarily be certain.

The Price of Craftsmanship

Machine-stamped knives are less expensive – it requires less labor and time, at often less material as these knives usually don’t have the tang in the center of the handle.

On the other hand, forged knives involve more labor and time, which results in better balance and durability and command a higher price. Handmade knives are more personal and completely unique – and sold for a higher price, of course.


Conclusion

To warp up, choosing the right chef’s knife requires some research and persistence. More likely than not, if you want to buy a high-quality knife, it will be relatively pricey.

However, this investment worth the money – a good chef knife can be with you for a lifetime, can be used for multiple purposes, and make the cooking easier and faster.

You can order these knives online, but if you have the chance, try them before the purchase—experience how it feels in your hand, how balanced it is. A too heavy knife will be tiring to work with, while an uncomfortable handle might give you blisters.