The Best Chef Knife Ultimate Buying Guide 2017
The chef knife is the workhorse of the kitchen, there's no doubting the versatility of this knife, it's the chopper, the dicer, the carver, and the mincer, to be honest, there's not a lot it can't-do around the kitchen, damn, if push comes to shove it can even open a can of baked beans!
With chef knives being so popular it comes as no surprise that there are literally hundreds saturating the marketplace, all competing for a place in your kitchen. With so many to choose from picking the best chef knife can be like finding a needle in a haystack. We feel your pain.
If you're on the fence and not sure which chef knife to buy don't fret because in this ultimate guide we've got you covered. In fact, we have gone one step further and lifted the lid completely off chef knives and given you everything you ever needed to know, and then some. After reading this you should have no problem buying a new chef knife and you'll have so much knowledge on this type of knife that you could probably teach a few professional chefs a thing or two!
What Do You Use A Professional Chef Knife For?
The chef knife was originally developed as a way to remove meat from animal carcasses without cutting through the bone. However, since its birth, the chef knife has since grown into a multifunctional kitchen knife that’s a favorite with professional chefs around the globe.
Due to the size and shape of the blade, this style of knife can tackle almost anything from dicing and mincing vegetables to even carving turkeys or trimming fat off steaks; the list is endless, you name it and the chef knife can cut it!
A Quick Overview of the Best Chef Knives
Full chef knife review at the end of the article.
Victorinox Straight Edge Chef's Knife
Kyocera Ceramic Japanese Chef Knife
Henckels Professional S Chef Knife
Wusthof Classic Professional Chef's Knife
Shun Classic Chef's Knife
Messermeister Meridian Elite Chef Knife
Global Forged Heavyweight Chef's Knife
Mac Pro Hollow Edge Chef's Knife
How To Choose A Chef Knife
Typically you'll find that a good chef knife will have a blade length of roughly 8-inches along with slightly curved edge. The classic chef knife comes in two styles the French or the German style and these are what you will find being sold in retail outlets. However, more recently Asian style chef knives called the Santoku have started to make an appearance and are gaining popularity.
The German style of chef knife has a more continuous curve to the blade, on the other hand, the French style of chef knife has a flatter blade with a much more pronounced curve at the end, near the tip of the knife. The curve actually has a purpose, enabling you to rock the blade back and forth when mincing.
Both styles of knife are equally superior, so choosing the best one to use is just a matter of taste. The quality of a chef knife plays a much bigger role in whether you choose a French or German style.
Eight Is The Magic Number
Even though there are two distinct styles of chef knives they do come in various sizes, for most people an 8-inch knife is going to be the best choice. Bigger isn't necessarily better, a foot-long chef’s knife might look cool but it’s not going to get much food prep done in the kitchen. The 8-inch size offers the best ratio of mass to usable cutting surface.
But this size isn't set in stone, we all have different hands so if the 8-inch feels too heavy or too long go smaller, but we recommend that you don’t scale down any more than an inch.
The tang is the part of the blade that continues into the handle and keep the two connected. When you look at a chef knife you should be able to see the tang sandwiched in between the handle. A full tang means that the blade runs all the way through to the end of the handle, it’s all one-piece.
Many knife makers claim that a full tang knife is somewhat superior, don't get me wrong a full tang knife is often associated with better quality but that doesn't mean it's particularly better than a knife that only has a partial tang. A partial tang is when the blade slightly enters into the handle, not all the way to the end. The problem that can arise from a partial tang is the chef knife can break where the tang joins the handle.
Many good quality Asian kitchen knives have only a partial tang, Japanese knives, for example, are some of the best kitchen knives in the world. Sure, technically speaking a full tang structure is going to be stronger but let’s be honest you’re not prying up floor-boards with your chef knife (if you are stop it!), you're prepping vegetables, meat, and fruit.
Bottom line, don't get hung up on a full tang or partial tang, you're better off focusing on the overall quality of the knife.
Many cooks believe that the heavier the knife the easier it will be to cut through foods, however, on the other side of the fence are those that say a lighter chef knife is the better choice because it's easier to handle, maneuver and it’s going to be less tiresome if your doing a lot of food prep.
When it comes to the weight of the chef knife there is no right or wrong answer, choose the weight that feels right to you.
Another feature of a good chef knife is a bolster; the bolster is the part of a knife between the handle and the blade. The bolster provides two elements to the knife, it helps to correctly balance the knife and it also acts as a barrier to stop your gripping hand from sliding onto the blade.
Even though many of the best chef knives will have a bolster it isn't a guarantee of quality. For example, almost all German made chef knives will have some form of bolster while Japanese style knives will not. This doesn't make the Asian knives inferior, far from it, many of the best knives are manufactured out of Japan.
When it comes to buying a chef knife don't let the bolster or lack of influence your choice, it’s just a matter of personal preference.
There is no perfect balance. The preferred balance of a chef knife is in the palm of the beholder, what's good for one chef may not be good for you. The only way you can determine if a chef knife has the correct balance is to pick it up.
Grip the knife by the handle, if it feels like it has more weight towards the tip or towards the back of the handle the knife probably isn't going to be the best choice. Sure you can use it, but an unbalanced knife is going to require a lot more control and that's only going to make you work harder.
You also need to take into consideration the side-to-side balance of the knife. With the chef knife firmly in your hand bring the knife down onto a chopping board, it should feel stable, if the knife feels like it wants to veer off to one side or the other, it’s not balanced, best to look for another knife.
Anatomy Of A Chef’s Knife
Just how well do you know the parts of your chef knife, it doesn't matter if you're spending a small fortune or just a few bucks, all chef knives will have the same parts. From the butt to the point and all the parts in between, here's the anatomy of your chef knife.
The point is the portion of the knife blade where the spine and the tip meet. The point of the chef knife is commonly used for scoring or piercing.
The blade comprises of the point, tip, edge, spine, and the heel and makes up the main body of the chef knife. The shape and style of the blade will ultimately determine the style of the knife.
The tip of the knife is considered to be part of the edge and is utilized for delicate slicing or precise cutting.
The edge (or belly) is the sharp portion of the blade that runs from the point to the end of the heel.
The heel is found at the rear of the knife and the heel is the widest part of the chef knife's edge. This section of the knife is the strongest and is utilized for breaking small bones or for cutting hard ingredients such as squash or carrots.
The spine runs along the top of the knife and is the thickest part of the blade. The spine thickness will vary from knife to knife, and depending on the size it can affect the weight and balance of the chef knife.
The handle is the section of the knife that extends from the bolster to the butt and is often held in place with rivets. No two handles are ever the same and you'll find an array of different shapes, weight, and handle materials.
As we talked about previously the bolster helps to prevent your hands from slipping onto the blade, it also contributes to the weight and stability of the chef knife.
Many of the best chef knives use rivets to secure the handle firmly to the tang, the rivets should be flush with the handle and not protruding out.
The tang of the knife is the metal part that extends into the handle and it can extend all the way to the end of the knife (a full tang) or just part way through (a partial tang).
Simply put, the butt of the knife is right at the end of the handle.
How Do You Hold Chef Knives?
Many beginners hold their chef knife incorrectly and tend to grip the handle like they're playing out the Psycho shower scene. To be honest, without ever being shown the correct way to hold a chef's knife it's understandable.
Take a look at the image. The correct way to hold a chef's knife is with the thumb gripping the knife around the top of the blade and the remaining hand wrapped around the bolster of the knife. While beginners will find that this grip will take some getting used to, it’s the correct way and it provides extra control over the blade and helps to reduce strain on the hand.
A Word On The Steel
When choosing a chef knife the quality of the steel is going to be the deciding factor whether the knife is worth buying. A hard steel is going to hold its sharp edge a lot longer than a blade crafted from a soft steel. However, hard steel can be more difficult to sharpen when it does eventually start to dull and the harder the steel the less flexible and brittle the blade will be.
Many skilled knife makers have managed to overcome the brittleness and flexibility by adding other elements into the steel manufacturing process. Molybdenum, for example, is a very common chemical element that’s typically used in some of the best chef knives to give hard, brittle steel more flexibility.
Traditional German knives often use a softer steel which is often not a sharp as the knives crafted from harder steels, but when they do become dull it’s a lot easier to sharpen them. Due to the softer steel, you don't have to worry about the blade being brittle, so when you're splitting chicken bones, for instance, the worst that can happen is you'll have to run your knife over a honing steel to straighten and realign the blade.
So to summarize. A chef knife crafted from harder steel is going to be sharper, hold its edge longer but it’s more brittle. On the other hand, a knife made from softer steel is more durable and whilst it doesn't hold its sharp edge as long it is easier to sharpen.
When you're shopping for a new chef knife you can always judge how hard the knife is by referencing the Rockwell Hardness Scale. Ask the sales clerk in the store, if it's a reputable knife shop they will be able to tell you the hardness of the steel. A chef knife in the low to mid-50s is on the softer end, mid-50s to low-60s is going to be hard.
Some of the sharpest Japanese knives are hardened to a Rockwell Hardness Scale (HRC) of more than 60, while German Wusthof and Henckels kitchen knives tend to be closer to 55. It might not sound like much, but just a few points on the Rockwell Scale can make a big difference to the hardness of the knife.
Ceramic Versus Steel Chef Knives
You may have noticed bright colored knives for chefs versus the dull silver steel variety, these colored knives are actually made from ceramic. However, unlike your ceramic flowerpots, the ceramic used for making knives is extremely hard and provides a razor-sharp edge. As crazy as it sounds, the ceramic is harder than steel, in fact, it’s so hard that it’s almost on par with the hardness of diamonds.
Because ceramic chef knives are so hard they can hold a sharp edge for much longer when compared to regular stainless steel knives, plus they require no honing to realign the blade. The downside is that ceramic kitchen knives can’t be sharpened using traditional knife-sharpening tools. Forget about using a whetstone or an electric knife sharpener, ceramic knives need to either be sent to a professional knife sharpener or returned to the manufacturer to be sharpened.
But it’s not all bad news, with the recent surge in popularity of ceramic kitchen knives new ceramic sharpening tools are starting to appear on store shelves. Most of the sharpening tools use the traditional technique but utilize embedded diamond dust to remove small amounts of ceramic from the knife blades.
A big plus for ceramic kitchen knives is they don't rust, they’re stain resistant, and the blades are non-porous. Have you ever noticed that your lettuce leaves turn brown after you've cut the leaves with a steel knife? Try using a ceramic knife, you won't get any browning or discoloration.
Ceramic kitchen knives do have one big flaw, with the super-hardness comes brittleness. If you accidentally dropped a ceramic knife on a hard tiled floor there's a good chance it will shatter, and forget about using this type of knife to cut frozen foods, deboning, or any other task where the knife is likely to flex or bend.
Just like any other kitchen knife choice, the decision between buying a ceramic or steel chef knife comes down to personal preference.
What Is A Forged Knife?
It’s long been known that a forged knife (that’s been pounded into shape) is far superior to a stamped blade (one cut out from a sheet of metal). Whilst this held true in the past with today's modern manufacturing processes, the availability of high-quality steel, and improvements in heat treatment the gap between both types of knife has narrowed.
Sure, you'll find that almost all cheap chef knives will be stamped and almost all of the higher-end knives will be forged but that doesn't mean that a stamped blade isn't as good. You can find some excellent chef knives which have been laser cut from sheets of high-quality steel in the $50 to $150 range which can hold their own against a hand forged knife that costs double the price.
What’s A Japanese-style Chef Knife?
Japanese-style chef knives are becoming popular, so much so that even German knife makers are jumping on the bandwagon and producing Asian style knives. The best Japanese-style chef knife is typically far lighter and thinner than a German chef knife which allows it to be much more maneuverable and better when it comes to fine slicing.
The problem with the lighter Asian style chef's knives is that they aren't hardy enough to tackle more labor-intensive prep tasks such as splitting a chicken or dicing up a squash. Alos Japanese-style chef knives tend to have a straighter blade with less curve than a German style of knife making the knife harder or even impossible to rock back and forth.
Chef Knife Care And Maintenance
Sometimes buying a good chef knife is the easy part but keeping that knife in tip-top condition can be a bit more challenging. Below we have listed some basic knife care tips if you follow these simple steps your chef knife might outlive you!
Avoid the Dishwasher
Never, never, NEVER put your chef's knife in the dishwasher, regardless of what the manufacturer instructions say. The instructions may state that the knife is dishwasher safe, and it might be, but that doesn't mean that your knife blade cannot become damaged by hitting the plastic spines of your dishwasher.
If you want to keep your new chef knife in great shape wash it by hand under the kitchen faucet with a bit of liquid soap detergent then use a clean dishtowel to dry it completely. You'll notice I said by hand, don't throw the knife into the sink where it can also become damaged.
Invest in a Good Honing Steel
The best chef knife should always be paired with a honing steel, they go hand-in-hand. Going against popular belief a honing rod does NOT sharpen your knife, a honing steel is a tool that’s going to keep your knife blade aligned. Think of it as a maintenance tool, run your knife across the honing steel five or six times before you put it back in the drawer.
Using A Cutting Board Is A Must
A sure way to dull your knife is by chopping on the wrong surface. Never use your chef knife on a hard countertop such as granite or marble. Always use a chopping board, we recommend using a wooden cutting board or better still wooden composite board like the Epicurean Gourmet Series.
Don’t Forget About Proper Storage
So you've invested in a great chef knife it’s awesome but don't overlook storing that nice new knife correctly, don't fall into the habit of throwing the knife in the drawer with all of your other knives and kitchen cutlery.
There are many ways to store kitchen knives, however, we recommend using a magnetic knife holder, forget about knife blocks, those often become a trap for germs and bacteria to breed. Magnetic knife holders keep your knives safely stored, dry, and razor sharp.
Best Chef Knife Brands
The list of chef knife brands is almost endless, and to be honest there can be a huge difference in quality between brands. With that said, we have narrowed down the brands to just eight that we feel deserve a place in your kitchen. Victorinox, Kyocera, Wüsthof, Henckels, Messermeister, Shun, Global, and MAC are all excellent kitchen knife brands from Germany and Japan that manufacture some of the best chef knives in the world.
Sure, most of these kitchen knife brands do demand a higher price, but you need to remember that the best chef knives if cared for and maintained correctly can last 25 years or more. As an example, a chef knife that sells for say $180, may seem like an expensive investment, but you need to see the bigger picture, over 25 years it would cost just a smidgen over $7 per year!
Whereas, if you decide to buy a cheap chef knife that costs under $10 bucks you’ll probably end up buying more than two or even three in a year due to the low-quality craftsmanship of the knife, which is obviously going to cost you more in the long run.
Good Chef Knives the Best of the Bunch (2017 Picks)
So now you're probably armed with more information on chef knives than a professional chef! With information comes great responsibility, so use it wisely. Joking aside, I'm sure you're eager to learn which best chef knives we recommend, so let's crack on.
With so many good chef knives readily available in the marketplace we couldn't list them all, so we have handpicked the knives that truly deserve a place in your kitchen. Below you'll find chef knives from Germany, Switzerland, Japan, as well as a Ceramic chef knife. So with without further ado, let's take a closer look at the best knives for chefs (no particular order).
Victorinox Fibrox Straight Edge Chef's Knife
A Swiss chef knife that’s made by the same folks who make Swiss Army Knives and it’s the cheapest knife out of all our recommendations. Just because it’s cheap doesn't mean that it’s not a good chef knife. In fact, Victorinox kitchen knives are the number one choice for many culinary students.
If you're looking for a large multipurpose chef's knife that you can use daily this is the chef knife you're looking for. It features an 8-inch stamped blade that's been ground to a precise cutting angle to give you the best performance at an affordable price. The handle is a non-slip Fibrox material that's comfortable to hold and offers excellent grip even with the wettest of hands.
Sure, we agree, it’s not the prettiest chef knife you'll ever see but it makes up for that by being a well-made, robust knife that can take a beating and it’s cheap too. Looking for the best chef knife for beginner, this is it!
Kyocera Advanced Ceramic Revolution Japanese-Style Chef Knife
Looking for a ceramic chef knife, the Kyocera might just be the knife you're looking for. The 7-inch black ceramic blade looks like it means business, and trust us, it’s razor sharp! Kyocera is the leader in ceramic kitchen knife manufacturing, they've been at it for a long time and they've perfected the art of making a razor-like blade that’s perfect for everyday food prep.
Like all ceramic kitchen knives, the Kyocera chef knife is totally impervious to oils, acids, juices, salts or any other elements and it will never rust. The knife is well balanced, extremely lightweight and the handle had been designed in such a way that helps to reduce fatigue during repetitive cutting.
If you had to own just one ceramic knife we highly recommend that you make the Kyocera that knife. Excellent quality!
Zwilling J.A. Henckels Professional S Chef Knife
German brand J.A. Henckels has been around since the early 1700’s and they’re one of the oldest and largest kitchen knife manufacturers in the world. At the time of writing, they produce 11 different styles of kitchen knives, manufactured out of Solingen, Germany the Professional S line is their finest mass-produced kitchen knife.
Forged (not stamped) from high-quality, carbon stainless-steel it’s made to last. The knife features the preferred full tang, a beefy bolster, and a classic three-rivet handle design. The handle is made from a durable synthetic material which feels and looks a lot like wood. To be honest, wood handles are no longer the preferred material and many of the best kitchen knife manufacturers are now turning to synthetic materials which are longer lasting, more durable, and won't warp or crack.
This professional chef knife is about as classic as it gets, you'll be hard pushed to find a chef knife that's better than this!
Wusthof Classic Professional Chef's Knife
Wusthof is another big German knife maker that's been crafting knives for almost 200 years. Many professional chefs swear by Wusthof and won't use anything else, it is a great chef knife for sure. Funnily enough, both Wusthof and Henckels knives are manufactured in the same German town, Solingen, which has been given the name the 'City of Blades'.
Just like the Henckels Pro S, the Wusthof classic chef knife has been forged (not stamped from a sheet of metal) and features a full tang that runs all the way through the handle. The full bolster gives the knife great balance and just the right amount of weight.
The Wusthof is an excellent chefs knife that won't break the bank, for those of you on tight budget and want a good knife we highly recommend that you take a look at the Wusthof.
Shun Classic Chef's Knife
Shun is among some of the best Japanese kitchen knife manufacturers, and they produce some fantastic knives that are sort after by many professional chefs and avid home cooks. The Shun Classic kitchen knives are their flagship offering and they're forged in Seki City, Japan, which is known as the knife making capital in Asia.
The Shun classic chef knife has been manufactured from VG-10 stainless steel which has then been clad with 32 layers (16 layers per side) of high-carbon stainless steel making this knife one of the hardest (Rockwell 61) on our list of recommendations. The inner core is super hard which gives it the ability to hold a 16-degree edge for a very long time and the outer steel is slightly softer. Let's be honest, the layered patterned Damascus steel finish on the blade looks awesome.
The elegant blade has been partnered with as distinctive Pakkawood handle, which gives the knife a traditional Asian feel not so different than a Samurai sword. The handle has a unique D-shaped contour which actually feels better in the hand than western style chef knives which typically have a more rounded handle.
If you're shopping for the best professional chef knife that's going to last a lifetime look no further, the Shun is the knife you need.
Messermeister Meridian Elite Chef Knife
Another top-rated chef knife manufacturer out of Germany are Messermeister. This Meridian Elite collection is among some of the best kitchen knives produced by Messermeister, it’s their crème de la crème. Funnily enough, the Messermeister factory is in the very same German town as Wusthof and Henckels, so it’s easy to see why they call Solingen the knife capital of Europe.
The Messermeister Meridian Elite Chef Knife shouts classic traditional with its triple-riveted handle and full-exposed full tang handle; it doesn't get any more classic than this. This chef knife has been crafted from one chunk of the finest German stainless steel and drop hammer forged into shape. All of the Messermeister Meridian Elite knives have been handcrafted and hand polished using traditional knife making techniques from days gone by.
If you're shopping for a classic, well-made chef knife it really doesn't get any better than this, the Messermeister is one of the best chef knives on our list of recommendations, highly recommended.
Global Forged Heavyweight Chef's Knife
Global revolutionized the kitchen knife world in the early 1980’s by producing a series of Japanese hybrids kitchen knives that merged fashion and functionality with affordability. It didn't take long for chefs to jump on the bandwagon by replacing their traditional western chef knife with the more fashionable Japanese Global knives.
Most of the Global kitchen knives are not forged, and that’s how they can keep their prices competitive. However, even with the low-end price point, these stamped knives are made from high-quality steel that’s been tempered and heat treated will modern sophisticated technology.
But because we are only choosing the best chef knives we have picked out a knife from their top tier line which is forged. The Global GF-33 has been hand forged in Japan from one piece of durable and hard Cromova stainless steel; again this knife HAS been forged NOT stamped out of a sheet of metal.
One makes Global kitchen knives so unique is their one-piece construction and slip-resistant dimpled handle. Being manufactured from one piece of metal and having no additional handle or rivets is not only great to look at but it plays an important role in food hygiene. There are no holes, or cracks or other areas where food can become trapped where germs and bacteria can then breed and multiply.
A truly awesome chef knife that shouldn't be overlooked due to its quirky appearance. The edge retains its razor sharpness exceptionally well and this knife will last a lifetime if properly cared for and maintained.
Mac Professional Hollow Edge Chef's Knife
We’re going to let you in on a little secret, MAC knives are one of the best-kept secrets of the consumer kitchen knife market, be honest, I bet you've never even heard of them before. Professional chefs know all about MAC knives and they've been keeping this chef knife all to themselves, but not for much longer.
MAC kitchen knives are manufactured in Japan, and just like the Global brand of knives MAC like to do things a little differently than other traditional knife makers. Their knives are what we like to call hybrid kitchen knives that combine the best of Western and Asian design to produce a knife that marries together the Western-shaped blade with the thinner and harder Japanese steel.
The MAC Professional Hollow Edge Chef's Knife is one of MAC’s most popular knives from their various product lines. The super thin razor sharp blade with the unique dimple design slices through anything it’s put up against and foods such as tomatoes just fall away. The welded-on bolster gives the knife just the right amount of weight and keeps it balanced just like a traditional Western style chef knife.