In the kitchen, I’m like Harpo Marks The knife worked which meant I never had any formal training, and I messed around until I found something that worked for me. But along the way, I learned a lot about blade engineering, steel, and the general properties and components of chef knives. So, when I had the opportunity to accumulate some of this knowledge for TakeawayMy eyes twinkled, and a smile fell on my face.
Like I said, pure Harpo. And speaking of clowns: Yes, I am the same person who wrote an article telling you that Put your blades in the dishwasher. But even I’m not lazy enough to do it with a nice chef’s knife. These are craftsman’s tools, and there is a correct way to take care of them.
What is more subjective, however, is preference. And if you’re looking to get away from the dollar store code you’ve been using since college, the variety of options and styles can be overwhelming. But over the course of a few years of cooking and writing about knives, I’ve learned what to look for and even have some recommendations to share, from overall great models to a few unique outliers.
Consider the blade style and length
Retailers offer a huge selection of blade styles, but we really focus on two: the traditional Western chef’s knife and its elegant Japanese counterpart. The Wüsthof Pro Chef’s Knife The photo above is a fairly typical example of the Western style. There is a pronounced curve in the abdomen, which allows you to swing back and forth through the piles of food. The Japanese type is generally more angular, with a slight difference in tip geometry. They’re great cuts, but offer less versatility in all aspects. If you use the blade of a flat knife to crush garlic, for example, just know that your palm will have a smaller target.
If you buy a Western-style blade, you can generally rest assured that it will come with a V-shaped bevel. This is exactly what it looks like: two sides of the blade edge join in a V-shape. Japanese knives can be more sophisticated. Some ship with a chisel edge, which means only one side of the finished edge comes off an angle.
Entire books have been written on this topic, and I will not try to delve into it here. What it boils down to is this: a western knife will generally be easier for a home chef to sharpen and sharpen. And if you’re buying an oriental-type blade from a Western maker, you’ll likely get a V. But if you, like many professional chefs, want the full Japanese experience, pay attention to the product description. You don’t want to buy a right-hand bevel if you have a left-hand grip. Again, this is not a hard and fast rule, because some Japanese manufacturers produce V-rims (or even hybrids). Just be sure to do your research.
Regardless of your preferred style, most people should look for a blade that is about eight inches long. This is a good range to do just about anything, allowing you to chop up large amounts of produce while still being smart enough to perform a good chop.
The materials that the knife is made of are important
After choosing a style, you’ll want to consider steel. This is a more complex topic, so here are the highlights: Most Western knives are made with a slightly softer metal, while Japanese blades are much stiffer. Hardness is measured on something called the Rockwell scale, with a unit called the HRC. Quality Western-style offerings generally weigh between 55-58 HRC, while many Japanese knives are hardened to 60 HRC and above.
The name of the steel can also help you. The VG-10 and Molybdenum alloys are popular in eastern models, while the West prefers different members of the High Carbon families. Just keep in mind that these later options will wear out or fade very quickly if they don’t dry right away after use. Spyderco LC200N It’s on the other end of the spectrum, with metallurgy that, for all intents and purposes, is rust-resistant.
For beginners and home cooks, I’ll generally point you toward something on the softer end. They are more tolerant of learning, both in mowing and honing. Let’s say you accidentally bumped your rim onto a spout – more flexible steel will deform with impact, as hard metal is likely to crack, and correcting a roll in the rim is much easier than in foil.
Steel usually receives the highest bill, but don’t overlook the handle material. Rubbers, polymers, and stable woods usually fit the bill, like Pakkawood or Mercer’s Santoprene. But in general, raw wood or hard plastic will become slippery or uncomfortable with prolonged use.
Best beginner chef’s knives
Wüsthof 8-Inch Classic Chef’s Knife ($170)
This is one of the most popular designs in the industry. With its long, high-carbon blade and carefully sculpted handle, this chef’s knife is a paragon of comfort and performance. If there’s a downside here, it’s that the heel of the blade meets a thicker piece of steel. This will make it difficult for household sharpeners to touch that back edge. However, the Wüsthof name carries weight, and the Classic 8 is a legitimate beast.
Mercer Genesis 8-Inch Chef’s Knife ($37)
Economic waters are hotly contested these days, but this Mercer is near the top of the pack. The curve of its high-carbon blade is elegant, and the gooseneck tip of the Santoprene handle should keep your hand firmly in place. And with over 10,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, it sure has an enthusiastic customer base. Is it enough to overthrow the former budget king? Victorinox Fibrox Pro? Depending on the size of your hand and your preferred grip, I’d bet the answer is “yes.”
McMighty 8-Inch Chef’s Knife ($150)
Whatever you look at, the Mac series is legendary. Mighty has topped lists of “Best Chef’s Knives” from across the industry. Its design and construction are great, and it has that sectional feel of the best Japanese blades. There are also some less expensive (but no less capable) offerings in their line, such as This is a hollow edge model for $90.
Handmade knives are always an option
Depending on how much you believe in the idea of tools having “soul,” there’s something to be said for handmade knives. And while there are plenty of high-end options, I also encourage you to check out smaller makers like LT Right. This company produces beautifully crafted, handcrafted blades with beautiful materials. I used one of the . files GNS Supermodels have been an all-around camping companion for years, and it’s been awesome.
Taking the concept of Second Life a step further, there is also a named company Manual Origin. The new Culinary Series produces Japanese-style knives, made from old sawn blades, whiskey casks, and oak local to Manitoba. They recently sent me a utility knife for testing, and it was nothing short of excellent. They only have about a week left on Kickstarter, so I recommend taking a look at them.