What’s the most important knife in the kitchen? For many, it’s the chef’s knife, alternately known as the cook’s knife. The best chef knife is one that can take on many tasks; it can be used to chop vegetables, work through heavy joints, and handle a variety of other jobs with ease.
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Chef’s knives come in different lengths, usually between six and fourteen inches. Most are eight inches long, and most have blades that are 1 ½ inches across at the widest point. Both French and German are popular; the French chef’s knife features a nearly straight edge that curves up toward the tip at its end, while the German chef’s knife features a rounder, more continuous curve.
Japanese chef’s knives are gaining popularity as well. The Gyuto, or “beef knife” looks much like a French chef’s knife. Santoku are smaller and lighter, with sheep’s foot tips. They have slightly rounded tops and straight or nearly straight cutting edges. There are also special Japanese knives for filleting fish.
Last but not least, Chinese chef’s knives, called “Caidao” have rectangular blades. Also known as choppers or Chinese cleavers, they look very much like North American cleavers; the main difference is that a Chinese chef’s knife has a light, thin blade that offers the versatility to chop, slice, and mince a wide variety of foods.
Chef’s knives are available at prices to suit every budget, beginning at less than $10 for poor-quality models and ending at well over $1,000 for very high-quality professional chef’s knives. Good chef’s knives for home use typically range between $20 and a few hundred dollars.
Key Considerations when Choosing a Chef Knife:
How to choose a chef’s knife? Certain features make a big difference, imparting durability and contributing to its overall quality.
- Full Tang vs. Partial Tang – A full tang makes for a heavier handle, and it makes it stronger. Luckily, knives with partial tangs work just as well as those with full tangs, unless you’re doing very tough jobs such a disjointing large cuts of meat.
- Handle Material – Wood handles are nice, but they may require special care. Cheap, hollow plastic handles often feel insubstantial, and can be slippery. Textured metal and solid synthetic materials often feel good in the hand and they typically offer easier care than wood.
- Stamped Blade vs. Forged Blade – Today’s technology has drastically narrowed the gap between stamped blades and forged ones, so it’s possible to find good-quality chef’s knives in both categories.
- Ceramic Blade – Ceramic chef’s knives are in a category of their own – you’ll either love them or hate them. Available in different shapes and sizes, they are sharp and versatile, and they hold their edges well. Because ceramic blades are lighter and thinner than most steel ones, they’re best for lightweight tasks such as slicing vegetables and fish. Here is a list of best fish fillet knives. You’ll want something a bit stouter if you tend to cut things like raw potatoes and carrots, hard squashes, and boned chicken.
- Sharpness – While the way you treat and sharpen your knives has much to do with their ability to hold an edge, certain brands are well-known for their ability to stay sharp over time. Cheap ones with thinner blades tend to dull as time passes, and eventually need to be replaced. Good ones from brands like Henckels, Shun, MAC, Messermeister, and Wusthof cost more, but typically stand the test of time.
- Weight – A chef’s knife’s weight determines what it’s best used for. While all chef’s knives offer a good measure of versatility, you’ll probably enjoy a lighter one for tasks like chopping and slicing vegetables, and a heavier one if you tend to prep lots of meats or want to work your way through tough foods such as winter squash.
- Size – An 8-inch chef’s knife is suitable for most kitchen jobs, while a shorter size might not be long enough to handle large tasks. At the same time, a longer size might feel just right to a tall person with large hands, but oversized to the average person who isn’t handling lots of cumbersome food. Many cooks opt to keep a few different-sized chef’s knives on hand, but if you’re only looking for one, you’ll probably agree with the majority: 8 inches is a good, practical length.
With these and a few other considerations in mind, we’ve read thousands of chef knife reviews and tested knives for ourselves to find quality options to suit discriminating cooks. Read on for our top ten choices as we review some of the best chef’s knives available.
Tips for Choosing and Using a Chef’s Knife
When it comes to choosing the best chef knife for your kitchen, be sure to consider the type of tasks you do most often. A great chef’s knife is among your greatest allies for all kinds of cooking jobs, and choosing a cheap or flimsy one almost guarantees that you’ll find yourself replacing it within a disappointingly short amount of time. Get the best chef knife you can afford, and you’ll find that it serves you well for many years to come.
If you have never taken the time to learn proper cutting and sharpening techniques, it’s a great idea to do so. Not only will you find new ways to use a chef’s knife, you’ll find that your speed improves with practice, so tasks take less time and effort.
Last but not least, keep in mind that even the best knives can be damaged when they are used improperly, stored in a drawer while in contact with other hard objects, or even when twisted during removal from a magnetic bar. Storing ones in a block can lead to more frequent sharpening, so consider investing in a protective cover if your knife does not come with one.
With these considerations, you’ll find the process of choosing the best chef knife for your needs a bit easier, and you will find that the one you choose performs well every time you reach for it. Happy cooking!