Last updated 02.14.18 — A chef knife is the soul of the kitchen. It’s the tool you most use without even thinking, but can’t live without. It’s in your hands pre-dinner when you mince shallots and there again when you quarter a watermelon for dessert. So buying a great chef knife is worth some thought. And the best chef knives, become your friend for life. (Photo below: Henckels Professional S Chef, 8-inch.)
For me, it boils down to two big things:
1) How does it feel in your hand?
2) How well will it hold its edge (i.e. stay sharp)?
Do I hear someone whining, “But what about looks? Don’t they count for something?” And I would have to say—sure, as long as the two biggies are taken care of first. Then feel free to go to town. But beauty is no guarantee of usefulness. What matters first are the two big things.
Access to the Merchandise
In an ideal world, we would all live near a major gourmet kitchen store that had walls of knives we could touch in the flesh before we bought. Oh, the salesperson probably wouldn’t let us chop up an onion, but we could get a general feel just by handling them a bit, pretending to slice and dice.
Alas, that’s not the case for most of us. And it presents a challenge when trying to understand how your future kitchen soulmate will feel in your grip. Nonetheless, no matter how limited a selection the stores near you offer, it’s worth making a visit to whichever ones carry quality knives. Don’t let the salesperson intimidate you. Ask to take out as many as you need from behind the glass display case and into your eager palm.
Most reputable online merchants have reasonable return policies because it’s in their best interest to encourage you to buy.
Also—be open to other non-trad avenues of getting a hands-on experience. Ask your foodie friends what knives they own and if you can try them out sometime. Or how about friends of friends who might work in restaurants? Be creative!
And then, of course, there’s the online universe—where your distance from a store doesn’t have to be an obstacle. Where you can get the feel for a knife in the comfort of your own kitchen and, because it’s in their best interest to encourage you to buy, most reputable online merchants have reasonable return policies. Plus, the pure quantity of brands and models you can sample on the web can easily make up for any inconveniences. (If you’re in a hurry to shop, go here—my article on best chef knives.)
Wusthof 22-Slot Knife Block
Are your knives overflowing your places to properly store them? Step up to larger knife block. This one’s especially handy because it has slots for not one, not two, but three chef knives—all of them extra wide and able to house a knife up to 10 inches long. All this with a gorgeous walnut finish! (And if you like everything but the color, try a version in beechwood—the slot design is identical. Or, if your needs aren’t quite so grand, this
17-slot block in Acacia.)
Sur La Table 22-Slot Knife Block
There are certain features that manufacturers (or merchants) might tout about their knives that don’t necessarily matter. They can act as decoys distracting you from the things that are truly important. Let’s look at a few major ones—full-tang, forged only, the bolster.
Full Tang vs. Partial Tang
The tang is that part of the blade that sticks into the handle, that keeps the two connected. The tang is often sandwiched between two pieces of handle that are held together with rivets. A knife is described as “full-tang” when the metal from the blade runs all the way through the handle. (See the photo below.)
There’s nothing wrong with a full-tang. But the problem is, sometimes knifemakers, and especially merchants, brag about a full-tang as the ultimate measure of quality and durability. While, technically speaking, a knife with a full-tang structure might be stronger, it’s basically irrelevant. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You’re not prying off two-by-fours with your chef knife, you’re chopping carrots. Many custom hunting knives and Japanese swords are not full-tang, and they are (and were) built for more heavy-duty uses than your average chef knife. Don’t get hung up on the tang. Go with the overall quality of the knife.
Forged vs. Stamped
There are high-quality stamped blades and low-quality forged blades.
Historically, there has been a huge difference in quality between a blade that was pounded into shape (forged) and one that was cut out of a sheet of metal like a cookie (stamped). But today, thanks to the wonders of modern manufacturing—the accessibility of high-end steel, the sophistication of heat treatment—the gap between them has narrowed to none. It all depends. There are high-quality stamped blades and low-quality forged blades. Yes, the majority of bargain basement knives will still be stamped, and the majority of high-end blades ($200 and up) will still be forged. But in that wide middle ground ($70 to $200), if you match each type of knife at comparable price points, a quality stamped blade will meet a forged head-on and hold its own. It’s more about the feel and what you like.
The bolster is the part of a knife between the handle and the blade that is built out a bit and can 1) help protect your gripping hand from sliding up against the back edge of the blade, and 2) help balance the knife. A bolster, along with a full-tang, used to be the mark of a quality forged knife. But now in our polyglot world, with the mixing of Western and Eastern knife styles and the proliferation of inexpensive manufacturing (i.e. China), this element is not a guarantee of quality. Most forged German-made knives have traditionally had bolsters while Japanese-made have not. A bolster is not essential, it’s a matter of taste. (Photo below: Two quality 6-inch chef knives—on the left, a Henckels, with a traditional full bolster; on the right, a Shun, with a partial bolster.)
The Feel Factor: Weight and Handle
German-style [knives] are thicker and heavier. Japanese are thinner and lighter.Assuming you can audition a physical specimen—how does this baby feel in your hand? Is it too heavy, too light? Does the handle seem comfortable? Too bulky, too small? How’s the balance? Does it want to stay in your hand while your work? Most cooks prefer a knife that weighs evenly between the blade and handle. Some prefer the blade to weigh a touch more and tug down toward the food. In the end, only you can determine what feels right. And you can’t be sure what works for your favorite celeb chef will work for you. You need to trust your own senses. (Photo below: Six different chef/santoku knives with six different handles. From L to R: Henckels, Global, Henckels 4-Star, Caphalon, Henckels Pro S, Shun Classic)
Nowadays most quality chef’s knives (or cook’s knives) can be grouped into three general categories: German-style, Japanese-style, or hybrid. German-style (or Western) are thicker and heavier. Japanese are thinner and lighter. And hybrids are usually in the Japanese mode, but not always. It helps to know this when trying to figure out what you like.
For example, if you’re holding a Japanese-made G-48 by Global (which is a hybrid), you’ll definitely find it lighter and the handle skinnier than a German-made Classic Chef’s by Wusthof. So skinny, in fact, that when you open your grip, the knife will want to flop over sideways in your hand. (The Wusthof will stay put.) Do you mind the fact that it can’t rest in your hand without flopping sideways? Or are you so delighted with the lightness that it’s a non-issue?
In the last decade, heavier German-style knives have been giving way to the lighter Japanese-style model. One of the pluses of the Japanese-style that’s been extolled is that because it’s so much lighter, you feel less fatigue. And it’s true—but it might not be a big factor for someone cooking only four meals a week for a family of three. At any rate, don’t just follow the trend, follow what feels good. (For what it’s worth, even though I own and use both, I still gravitate toward the heavier, Western, style.)
One Size Does Not Fit All
Before we leave the world of ergonomics, there’s one more design factor worth thinking about—the length of blade you’re most comfortable with. A 7-inch santoku? A classic 8-inch chef’s?
A large knife blade definitely is something many find intimidating (like my sister, for instance, and I can empathize). Yet for others, like Norman Weinstein who’s taught professional chefs for over 20 years, nothing will do but a 10-inch chef’s. That’s fine. Choose whatever size you’re most comfortable with. And what will work best for the range of tasks alloted to it—from mincing garlic to splitting open a melon.
Let it be noted though that if you’re cooking for an army or handling a lot of cumbersome foods—like pumpkins and squash and bundles of kale—a 10-incher can come in quite handy. And the width of the blade enables you to scoop up piles of chopped carrots effortlessly. Also, if you have large hands, a wide blade insures your knuckles don’t get pinched between the handle and cutting board when chopping up onions.
If you’re not sure about the length, then I’d recommend going with a standard consumer-sized 8-inch chef’s. Or if you favor Japanese lightness, then maybe a 7-inch santoku. (One great thing about the santoku is you can have the extra width of a 10-inch blade without the length.) Leave it up to experience to eventually teach you what you do, or don’t, favor. Actually, I’m in limbo a little on this issue of size myself. I keep going back and forth between my Henckels 8-inch chef’s and my Global 7-inch santoku. One night I’ll use just the Henckels, and another night just the Global. And some nights I’ll switch between them both.
Whatever works for you. You, you, you!
Sharpness that Lasts (know what you’re buying)
Here’s my main criteria for sharpness: I want a chef knife that can cut through a tomato without any resistance. Time and time again. If it can do this, then it’s probably sharp enough for my uses. Simple and sweet.
Practically any knife you buy today—yes, even at WalMart—will start off this sharp. But it won’t stay that way. Only the good ones, assuming you’re not chopping on glass or metal or something insane, can retain their sharpness, or more accurately, have their original sharpness revived again and again for quite a few years. And the quality of the good ones, their strength and durability, their ability to hold their edge, totally depends on the quality of steel they’re made of.
Steel is an entire subject in and of itself, but suffice it to say, it’s a material that lends itself to a ginormous range of quality and character, and the steel in a cheap knife is light years away from the steel in a more expensive knife and it will not hold up. The edge will fold over and dull too easily and will require much more sharpening. And the sharpening itself will wear away much more metal, so that you’ll find yourself with either a perpetually dull knife, or a knife who’s cutting edge quickly wears away to nothing.
(Photo above: One knife sells for over $100 and the other for $17. Can you tell the difference? Be an informed shopper!)
So how do you know you’re getting a knife with high-performance steel? Go with a name brand. Here’s a short list to start with: Henckels, Wusthof, Shun, Global, MAC, Messermeister. But, unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated. Because most of these brands have quite a few product lines (try 11 or more for Henckels) that vary enough in quality to make them not the least bit comparable. And to wade through all the styles and models of just these six brands would take a whole website in itself. So the main thing I can do for you here, in wrapping things up, is to 1) give you a warning, and 2) point you to a short list of recommended knives to explore. (And encourage you to check out other areas of this site where I delve in deeper.)
First, the Warning: There is NO FREE LUNCH. If you find a brand of knife that’s trumpeting it’s specialness, but is significantly cheaper than name-brand models of similar size and design, let the buyer beware. It’s not humanly possible. (Well, maybe if it’s stolen merchandise. But you don’t want to get into that, do you?) You get what you pay for. And high-quality, high-performance steel never comes cheap.
Secondly, the Short List: Just a short scroll down is a list of six high-quality chef knives that are worth taking a look at. They’re purposely from a variety of makers in various styles. Of course, ideally, you’d be in a store where you could physically interact with them before you buy. But, again—no bricks-and-mortar store on the globe could offer you so many choices. Or such low prices.
Shun Hinoki Cutting Board
This board is does not come cheap, but the wood it’s hewn from has a wonderful quality of being highly resilient yet easy on your knives. It will offer their edges maximum protection. And remember, quality cutting boards, like quality knives, can last a long long time.
Shun Hinoki Cutting Board, 18 x 12 x .8 inches
One final thing: In thinking about how much space I’ve spent in this article on how a chef knife should feel, and how short a space in discussing the importance of its ability retain its sharpness—I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression. In my experience, sharpness has been just as important as ergonomics. Believe it or not, my hand (and arm) have readily adapted to the feel and shape of a variety of knives (and their handles) that I’ve used over the years. Whether they were chunky or thin, heavy or light. But when a sharp knife went dull and refused to be revived, I never ever could get used to it. It continually annoyed the heck out of me.
So, when in doubt—go with quality steel!
The Short List
Six different kinds of top-notch chef knife from six different manufacturers. To learn more about each knife and knifemaker and why they’re on the list, check out my article Best Chef Knives. . . which should really be called How to Buy a Great Chef Knife, Part 2.
Henckels Professional S 8-inch Chef Knife
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Wusthof Classic Ikon 7-inch Santoku
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Messermeister Meridian Elite 9-inch Chef Knife
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Global 7-inch Santoku (G-48)
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MAC MTH-80 – Professional Series 8-inch Chef Knife with Dimples
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I’m always surprised at the number of people who don’t know the cutting board is there to protect their knife’s edge and will actually cut on a metal or stone counter when its convenient.
I’m retired now, but in my last restaurant one of my chefs turned up one day with her own chopping board — made of marble! She was really offended when I told her she could only use her own knives and would have to change boards if she needed to use one of my knives.
Great story! I must admit I always find it a bit shocking to hear about chef’s that don’t understand the basics of knife care :)
Very informative site!
I was wondering if anyone had used any of the Furtif Evercut knives.
Chuck, good question! I’d never heard of them, but here they are on Amazon (see below). Although they sound intriguing and seem to be wickedly engineered and designed, I must admit I’m immediately suspect of a knife maker that claims “the average user should only need to sharpen it once every 25 years.” They’re playing to the fantasy that every home cook wants to hear — a knife that will stay sharp forever without having to be sharpened. It’s not possible — or if it is, then there are always other serious drawbacks (i.e. it will crack if you drop it on a tile floor). I will try to investigate further when I get a moment. . .
Have you discussed any of the hand-made Japanese knives? There seem to be more expensive brands at the SLTable and WSoma type shops and on-line from the makers. I’d like to get one someday when I could afford their price or am I just being pulled into the hype?
Good questions! And the answer to Question #1 is. . .
– No, I have not discussed hand-made Japanese knives. Why not? Mainly because (currently, at least) they’re not my thing. They’re also beyond the scope of the audience KitchenKnifeGuru was created for.
KKG was designed mainly for home cooks, not professionals (although many pros have used, and thanked me for, the site). For your average home cook, I would not recommend hand-forged Japanese knives. Why? Because 1) maintaining their sharpitude takes extra time and trouble, 2) they’re easier to damage. 3) They also tend to be pricey.
– RE Item #1: These hand-forged knives are not my expertise, but my understanding is that, because of the nature of the steel and its tempering, they need to be honed/touched up on a waterstone, not a hone. This requires the owner to learn how to do this to properly maintain their knife. If the owner doesn’t want to do this, they end up having to send the knife out to get sharpened much more often than necessary or risk using a dullish knife.
– RE Item #2: On top of this, because these knives are heat-treated to a hardnesses of 60 and up, they are more brittle and cannot take the wear and tear of your average German knife or German-Japanese hybrid. If not treated with care, their edges can crack or chip. (This can happen with factory-made Japanese knives as well.)
Here’s another article that relates to this topic:
– Knife Edges 101
BTW. . .I did case out both Sur La Table and William-Sonoma and did not find any any hand-forged knives at all on SLT (except for the Mexeur and Cie which is French), and on WS, only one Japanese (Kikuichi) and one German (Nesmuk). The two WS knives seem pretty darn cool :)
Regarding your Question #2, whether these high-end Japanese knives are worth the price or simply hyped up, I would say it depends on 1) what’s important to you, the cook (i.e. ergonomics, aesthetics, performance), 2) what your pocket book can reasonably afford, and 3) how much cooking you do. For a professional, a super-sharp knife can make the difference between their arm lasting through the day or ending up dead tired. But for your average home cook, it’s not such an issue.
All said, these are beautiful knives with super-sharp edges. (I’m not even sure, exactly, what brands you are referring to.) But there are plenty of knives like these in the kitchen knife universe, and they don’t have to be hand-made or even Japanese to fit the bill.
Here are two of my favorites that are not hand-forged, but wickedly sharp and beautiful to boot. (I believe to keep them sharp you could simply hone them regularly with a ceramic steel.)
Miyabi Birchwood Chef Knife
Shun Dual-Core Kiritsuke Knife
Hey KKG, thanks for the detailed article. I have been using a professional sharpening service to keep my culinary knives sharp, but they just moved away and I need to get something to sharpen my knives. I have been looking at bench stones primarily. Is there a specific material or brand you would recommend?
My thoughts on this subject are pretty much summed up in my article: Why Use a Professional Knife Sharpening Service? There are also a few more articles on the subject of sharpening under the “Sharpeners” tab on the KKG website which might be helpful to you. Check them out when you get a moment :)
But, in a nutshell, if it were me, I would either:
1) Mail my knives to a professional sharpening service
2) Or, if I had the time to dedicate to sharpening my own, invest in the Edge Pro Sharpening System or something similar (i.e. using waterstones and some kind of guide to help keep your angles consistent).
Hope this helps!
Was reading up on these knives because I am thinking of getting a decent knife for my GF’s folks for Christmas. The mom cooks better than my mom which is a sad thing to admit. The dad loves his roasts.
Anyway, I’m a lover of knives in all forms. (My brother brought me a Gurkha hunting knife from the mountains of Nepal as a gift to my love of knives…it got stolen from me when they held me up at gunpoint…South Africa, eh?)
I wanted to say that this is the best post I’ve read about this particular subject. The way you wrote it and the way you have empathy for your readers is amazing. As an engineer, I know how it is to relate to people in a way they will understand. You just rocked me.
Thanks man. I get it now.
If I had to buy my girlfriend’s mom and dad a present in the form of a decent chef knife—because she cooks the most amazing food and really knows what she’s doing, and he would also benefit cause he eats it—what knife would I get her? She has fairly small hands, yeah. She needs to slice numerous things (makes most things from scratch). Lot’s of roasts and big meat dishes to feed 6 people. I was thinking the Wusthof Classic 16 or 18cm (6/7inch American)
Keep in mind the other brands are hard to come by…well, maybe i just don’t know where to look. Victorinox is ugly.
First off. . .have you checked out my article, Best Chef Knives—Six Recommendations? If not, please do so immediately—it will give you some more ideas.
For small hands, the Wusthof Classic Ikon 7-inch santoku works like a dream. It’s more nimble than a traditional chef knife and plenty sharp. It’s also a thinner blade which performs better, but is a touch more delicate. But it’s a little small for slicing up larger food items like a heads of cabbage.
Also, Global knives can work well with smaller hands. They are lighter and have more slimmed down handles. The one mentioned in the Best Chef Knives article could almost work as a go-to because it’s wide which is great for chopping. But Global also makes chef knives that are longer, which I mention in the article as well.
My gut feeling tells me that she needs a decent-sized blade, so ideally, you should get an 8 or 9-inch (200 to 230 mm), a 7-inch might not be long enough. If you don’t mind springing for it, the Wusthof Classic Ikon 8-inch chef also might work well for her because the blade length would be adequate, but the handle would be a little more comfortable than the regular Classic.
And, yes, I agree, Victorinox is ugly :)
Hope this helps some.
I’m looking for a small chef knife since I have small hands and some arthritis. I was told at Sur La Table that my 5-inch Wusthof santokou has been sharpened too much and is now useless because the edge is worn down too much. They refused to sharpen it again.
Is this information correct? I hate to discard it because it has always been my favorite. Any suggestions for a 5-inch chef knife?
#1) I’d have to see some photos of your santoku to confirm if I agreed with Sur La Table’s assessment or not. Knives can wear down quite a bit, especially if they’ve been sharpened too aggressively on a regular basis. On the other hand, a knife blade has to have been worn down quite a bit to be unusable.
But, there could be another issue causing the problem. If your santoku has what Wusthof calls a “hollow edge” or a granton edge, and the indentations (or mullions) go down rather close to the cutting edge, this can end the usability of a knife prematurely. Repeated sharpening can remove the steel that separates the beginning of the mullions from the cutting edge. If the mullions now begin at the cutting edge—because of the unevenness of the thickness of the steel and the thinness of the mullions, you can no longer sharpen the edge without risking ruining it.
#2) If you have small hands, I think you’re using a great knife for that. The only other knife that comes to mind would be a 6-inch Shun chef knife. This would still be a compact size, but because of the thinner blade, would be lighter and less tiring to use. And it would have a very sharp blade that you could easily keep sharp by honing regularly with a ceramic hone. Please see Best Chef Knives—Six Recommendations for a few more details about Shun :)
Love your site, thanks so much for all of your hard work.
I want to buy a knife for my daughter. She also has small hands, but was able to hold both a Bob Kramer Essential 8″ and a Henckels Pro at Sur La Table and liked them over some of the others. My question is: I prefer Wusthof to Henckels and was looking at the Cordon Bleu for her. But if I go with the Henckels, is there a big difference (other than the bolster) between the Pro and the Pro S?
Do you have a preference between these three knives?
OK, so we’re actually comparing four knives: two Henckels (Henckels Pro and Henckels Professional S), one Wusthof (the Cordon Bleu), and one Kramer (the Essential). For the record, you can’t really go wrong with any of them (just like any of the knives in my Best Chef Knives. . . article).
The two Henckels and the Wusthof are all very similar. Even though they are different brands, the type and quality of the steel is comparable and the handles should feel very much alike. The Henckels Pro S will probably weigh a bit more than the other two because of the bolster.
The Wusthof Cordon Bleu has slightly harder steel than the two Henckels (HRC 58 versus 57). This means it should have slightly better edge retention and stay sharp a bit longer. But nothing dramatic. The Cordon Bleu also may have a slightly thinner blade which will give it less resistance and allow it to cut a touch better. It also may come from the factory with a sharper and more finely finished edge. (Wusthof prides itself on this.) The initial sharpness of the blade, of course, will be moot after the first sharpening, so, personally, I would not put too much weight in it.
Unless your daughter is a professional chef using the knife six or more hours a day, none of the differences above will be that noticeable. The most noticeable differences to her (if she, indeed, is a home cook) will be the look and feel. And that she can best tell by holding the knife in her hands. If your daughter happens to be a professional chef, then I might lean toward the Cordon Bleu. Otherwise, as far as looks are concerned, I must admit the Henckels Pro is my fave.
The Kramer Essential is a very different animal to the three above and the price indicates this. In my opinion, the higher price is fairly justified. Why?
– It’s made of a higher-quality steel designed to keep it’s edge.
– The hardness of the steel (HRC 61 versus 57/58) will also take a finer edge and keep it longer.
– The finishing of the blade, as well as of the whole knife, is rigorous, and should pretty much guarantee it comes from the factory in perfect shape and super sharp.
Please note that the blade is wider than your typical 8-inch chefs. This is nice for knuckle clearance and scooping up veggies, but will prevent it for fitting into your typical 8-inch chef slot in a knife block. I’m also thinking, from what I can remember, that the handle will be larger than the handles of the others. (I’m wondering why this works with your daughter’s smaller hands, but I guess you’ve already got this covered.) It also might be a touch heavier than the three above. Might. . .
Conclusion: If the Kramer Essential feels good to your daughter, she likes the wide blade, and price is not an issue, then I would probably buy the Kramer. It’s a beauty and it’s powerfully designed. It should, without a doubt, outperform the others, (i.e. take a very sharp edge and keep it for a long while in between sharpenings). My only caveat would be the hardness of the steel. Because the steel is harder, it is also more brittle and will not take as much abuse as the other three knives and must be treated with a bit more care. This is crucial to be aware of. If your daughter likes to power through bone joints or saw through frozen cookie dough with her chef knives (something nobody should do with any fine chef knife), this is NOT the knife for her!
Hope this helps you decide—let me know. And don’t hesitate to ask any more questions.
P.S. Please make sure to tell your daughter about the importance of honing. Learning how to do this, and do it regularly, will prevent having to sharpen the knife too often and keep the edge in tip-top sharpitude for a much longer time.
Nary a mention of Sabatier. . .is it not a good brand? For no discernible reason, I have a good impression of them. All usual caveats about variety of models aside, is a top tier Sabatier comparable to the brand names checked here and in the Top Six article?
The answer is “maybe.” I’ve already answered this question in the comments for Best Chef Knives — Six Recommendations, so I’m going to start off by excerpting myself:
“Sabatier is an odd brand—because no single company owns the brand name. Can you believe it? There are at least a couple of authentic, high-quality French knife makers that sell under that brand, but you must make sure which Sabatier you are buying from or you may not be getting high quality. I own a Sabatier 9-inch slicer I use for turkey, etc. that I bought years ago before at this KKG stuff. I got it sharpened a couple of years ago by my favorite professional sharpener, Seattle Knives, and the edge has held up very well so far. But it gets light usage, nothing like a chef knife. So who knows what kind of Sabatier I have. . .”
If you buy a “top-tier” Sabatier, it will definitely be comparable to the brands/models covered in my Best Chef Knives article. But, to be certain you’re buying a high-quality Sabatier brand, takes more work, and that’s one of the reasons I left Sabatier off the Best Chef Knives list. Another reason is that Best Chef Knives was not supposed to be a definitive list, but simply some major recommendations to aid shoppers in their quest for quality :)
Vive la France!
What are your thoughts on hollow-ground cooks knives? Specifically, I am looking at the Wusthof Classic Ikon 8-inch cooks knife because it feels better in my hand than the Classic. The hollow-ground version goes for about $30-40 more than the traditional version.
I have read about the benefits of the hollow-ground of keeping food from sticking to the blade, and I like the look of it. I am wondering if you think it is worth it or if there is a good reason to get the hollow-ground over the traditional? Or should I just get the regular cooks knife and save up for a santoku to add to my collection later?
Just discovered your site recently and it has been really helpful. Thanks!
Thanks for your question about the value of a hollow-ground, or granton-edged, knife!
In my opinion, especially in the case of a chef knife, you shouldn’t bother. It’s definitely not worth the extra–because the grantons only reduce stickage in certain situations and it’s usually pretty subtle. And an even bigger liability can be the fact that, if they are designed too close to the cutting edge, they can actually limit the lifespan of a knife. So you are missing out on very little, and maybe even avoiding a longer-term problem, by buying a chef knife with a traditional edge.
If the granton edge comes with the knife–like many santokus–that’s fine. But I, generally, wouldn’t go out of my way to pay for it.
BTW, I own a 9-inch version of the Wusthof Classic Ikon and love the feel. And, if you haven’t already, you might want to check out my article, Wusthof Knives–a Buyer’s Guide.
Quick question: I am left-handed—is there such a thing as a left-handed knife? Does it really make a difference? I read a review, and someone stated that because they are left-handed Japanese blades do not hold up well for them. I was under the impression that knives were universal. Any opinion on this?
I’d say your initial impression is correct—the overwhelming majority of kitchen knives are universal. But there are exceptions here and there, and a couple major ones are: 1) single-bevel Japanese blades, and 2) Japanese blades that have a D-shaped handle.
Instance #1: Single-bevel Japanese blades (see my article on Knife Edges 101 for more details) are designed to be used with the beveled edge facing away from your body—so you can lean the knuckles of your free hand (the one not holding the knife) up against the blade, and they will be flush with the cutting edge. Otherwise, I’m not sure it matters—although it might take some getting used to. These kinds of single-bevel knives are mainly manufactured for the Japanese market, food professionals, or knife aficionados. The average gourmet home chef really has no need for them.
Instance #2: D-shaped handles (like Shun and ilk) which, unlike most knives (German or Japanese), are not designed with symmetrical handles. If you view them straight on, from the handle end, they bulge out more on the right side than the left (suggesting the letter “D”). The bulge is designed to give your fingers a bit more to hang on to. In their Classic line, Shun used to manufacture a left-handed version, but it has been discontinued. (You can still find it on specialty websites though.)
In the end, depending on how fussy you are with your left-handed ergonomics, the D-shaped handle doesn’t need to make that much of a difference. Our bodies and hands are quite adaptable:) Here’s a link to a post (Righties, Lefties, and D-Shaped Handles) on the Shun Knives website that sheds some more light. . .
Hope this helps!
Wow. I heard this years back that a chef was using a left-handed knife. I honestly thought he was just “having a go” but maybe not. Ha-ha!
In saying that, if you sharpenen a left-handed knife on a standard knife sharpener, would you likely wreck the edge? Would you need to find a left-hand knife sharpener?
Most knives are designed to be neutral to right- and left-handed cooks. They function perfectly for both. But there are two notable exceptions that I know of (there are probably more).
1) Shun Classic line knives have a D-shaped handle that is designed to fit into a right hand. That said, I’m sure many left-handed cooks use them without a problem.
2) Traditional Japanese single-bevel knives are designed for the right hand, so that the bevel is on the outside. Some manufacturers make customized version for lefties.
When you say, “knife sharpener”, do you mean a powered sharpener like a Chef’s Choice? I would never use this kind of sharpener on any fine knife, but it would correctly sharpen a Shun. It would not sharpen a single-bevel knife, but, instead, create a new bevel on the side that was flat.
Hope this helps!
Others have written about your style—how READABLE it is, and how enjoyable too. Where I live I do not have the luxury of access to the knives you so lovingly describe, but I do have a no-name santoku (probably from China), a paring knife, two (too-short) bread knives, and a couple of others, all western type knives. But I also have two knives made in Northern Nigeria for cutting very thin slices of beef for making ‘suya’, an open-fire grilled beef on skewers. They were bought from the ‘Mai Suya’, those who make Suya and both edges are sharpened (why, I don’t know). I have a honer (made of steel, unfortunately) and a sharpening block. I manage to keep the knives very sharp. (I hate to see folks sawing away repeatedly on food, when a clean cut from a sharp knife would do.) I will continue to read your blog because I enjoy your articles and your responses. Please keep doing so. Regards.
Thanks so much, Olad—I’ll keep doing my best! And thanks for sharing about your suya knives. The world is such a rich and fascinating place. Are you writing from Africa?
I had no idea that the difference between a forged and a stamped knife is now very small. That’s a huge relief to me, especially since I want to get a good knife that’s in my budget. I could definitely spend $100 for a high quality knife, but not twice that amount. Now I just need to look into some stamped options!
It basically depends on the overall quality of the knife. Period. BTW, nowadays, most high-quality “stamped” knives are not literally stamped out of a steel roll like a cookie cutter, but cut out with a laser. Take a look at these two pages for more ideas/options: Best Chef Knives—Six Recommendations and Quality Kitchen Knives on Sale.
Hi, I am a knife enthusiast myself and I thoroughly enjoyed your article. As a personal preference I have gone the Japanese knife route. I tend to use Shun knives for most jobs, and Global forged knives for heavier work. (Where a Wusthof might have been preferred.) I would like to hear your opinion about the Global forged chef 8″ knife.
On another note, I have had the privilege of watching (a lot) of professionals use a Suya knife from northern Nigeria. On average they are about 12″ long and 1.5″ wide when new. They are double edged and made from very soft iron. They are really cheap, almost disposable, and easily replaced. They are sharpened with a smooth steel, so it is more like flattened than abraded. As you might imagine they are honed every other minute, but get razor sharp with a few strokes. They are primarily designed to slice thin sheets of meat.
In the US there are similar flexible long slicing knives, but one-sided and made of steel. I have friends in the US that make suya—a popular Nigerian grilled meat which you must try if you ever go there—and they use a sandwich meat slicer to get the desired result and consistency.
Please feel free to get in touch if you would like more info on the Suya knives (or even the forged Globals).
I’ve never been to Nigeria, but I have friend who is Nigerian. I should ask her more about her country. . .we’ve never had a long talk about it :)
Fun hearing about Suya knives. I’ve never heard about a knife made of iron in this day and age. It’s interesting how even though the material is soft, it’s able to serve well in a very specialized function.
Thanks for sharing your opinion on Global’s forged chef knives. Although I’ve known about their forged line, I’ve never had the chance to use one. I would expect them to work well though because Global seems like a company dedicated to high quality. I’m glad to hear they’re up-to-snuff!
First of all, I enjoyed reading a handful of your articles on kitchen knives.
I see it’s been a couple years since you’ve written this article. However, I felt the need to get your recommendation on choosing a knife to buy. I’m looking for a good chef knife that I can use throughout my college years. It’s going to be my first “professional” knife, so I want to make sure I get a good one :)
I think what would work best would be for me to describe my preferences:
First of all, I have quite large hands, but have a delicate touch, so I prefer a handle of medium thickness. I would like my knife to have a partial bolster, no mullions, and a rubberish grip on the handle (if possible). Currently, I am no serious chef, so I don’t use my knife all so often, but soon I will be using it a lot. It would be preferable if the price were reasonable, for I’m only a student.
I’ve looked through your short list of preferred knives and found the Messermeister Elite 9-inch Chef Knife very appealing to me. Do you have any other recommendations for me?
Congratulations on buying your first chef knife! I’m sure the thought and care you are taking about what knife to buy will pay off in the long run.
Regarding what to buy, I have some other suggestions that fit your specs. All of them, like the Messermeister Meridian Elite, are high-quality, forged, from major German knife makers, and have more rubberish handles than the Elite.
Messermeister San Moritz Elite chef knife, 8-inch, Stealth
This knife is the same as the Meridian, except for the handle which might be more what you’re looking for. It’s 8-inches (versus 9) which will save you money, and it’s the Stealth version which will also save you money because the blade is thinner. The thinner blade should be a plus as far as performance (should cut with less resistance), but it will not stand for as much abuse as the standard, thicker blade (i.e. won’t survive treatment from a careless roommate).
The Meridian Elite also comes in an 8-inch, Stealth version. As well as a 2-piece set: Messermeister Meridian Elite 2-Piece Chef and Paring Knife.
If you can forgo the rubberish handles, here are two other ideas:
Wusthof Le Cordon Bleu chef, 8-Inch
This is a terrific knife especially designed for cooks.
Wusthof Classic Ikon 8-Inch Cook’s Knife, Black
This is one of my favorite handles ever. It’s not rubberish, but it’s a matt finish and extremely comfy.
If you can forgo needing a partial bolster and are willing to have a full bolster, here are two more:
Wusthof Grand Prix II 2-Piece Prep Knife Set
J.A. Henckels Four Star 2-Piece Chef’s Set
These are both top-quality blades, but the handles might be closer to that rubberish feel you want. And they both come in 2-knife sets for the same price as a single chef knife! Woo-hoo!
For what it’s worth, if all things are equal, I would go with Messermeister over Wusthof or Henckels. I think Messermeister are a touch higher quality and will come from the factory with a sharper edge.
IMPORTANT! Please make sure to buy a wooden or plastic cutting board and a ceramic hone. That’s the only way you’ll keep your knife edges sharp.
Take a look at these other KKG pages for more ideas:
Wusthof Knives—a Buyer’s Guide
Kitchen Cutlery Sets for Tight Budgets
Best of luck and feel free to check back at any time :)
This has been so helpful! My brother is in culinary school and I wanted to get him a chef’s knife for his birthday. Now I can look around with a lot more confidence in what I should be looking for. Thanks!
Glad KKG could be of service! If you haven’t already, make sure to check out Best Chef Knives and Quality Kitchen Knives on Sale.
Buying a chef knife for a pro is a tricky feat because of the amount of time they are going to spend with it. Little things that might not matter to a home cook can be a big deal. On the other hand, any pro will have multiple chef knives. Two tips: 1) Buy a knife that can easily be returned, in case your choice is not a match, 2) Buy the MAC MTH-80. It has a terrific track record and is pro-friendly.
I am looking for a chef’s knife that can not only cut through tomatoes, zucchini etc, but most importantly, slice though raw delicata squash, acorn squash, and butternut squash. Are there a number of knives that could stand up to that abuse and not wear down their sharpness too quickly?
#1) With the hard squashes you mention, the main issue is not wearing down the edge of your chef knife, but damaging it. Harder steel, which tends to be in Japanese knives, is brittler and thinner and does not handle the extreme density of these squashes easily. You risk cracking or chipping your knife edges.
#2) Soo, if you visit my Best Chef Knives — Six Recommendations page, I would recommend knives made by the first three knife manufacturers (which are German) for this kind of work. And, instead of buying the Wusthof Classic Ikon santoku, I would buy the Classic Ikon chef knife (and the Wusthof Classic chef as well). Although made of softer steel, the Wusthof 7-inch santoku is thinner and shorter than the Wusthof chefs which are slightly more durable and easier to use to power through problematic veggies.
I would also consider the Global santoku or Global’s chef knives. The HRC (hardness rating) for Global is not as high as the last two knives on my list (MAC and Shun) which I would definitely not recommend for slicing squash.
Thank you so much. Wish I had found your site earlier.
Thank you for such a detailed and informative website! I’ve found your posts very helpful.
I’m torn on which knife to get and would love to hear your thoughts/input. I’d like to have just one good knife that I can use for everything. I have small hands and just do normal home cooking… mostly chopping onion, potatoes, delicata squash, veggies, but also like to slice tomatoes without squishing them.
I’ve pretty much narrowed it down to the Global brand (though I’m curious what you think about Miyabi). I’ve tried the 7″ santoku (G-48) and like it—the wider blade from bottom edge to top feels comforting. I’ve also tried the traditional 8″ chef’s (G-2), but found the 8″ length too long. (Even though it comes highly recommended by chefs that have said if I learn to use it properly, or learn better knife skills, it will be more versatile than the santoku and thus serve me better in the long run.) Thus, I am torn between the 7″ santoku, the 7″ traditional chef’s (G-55), or the 7″ Asian chef’s knife (sometimes called rocking santoku G-4).
Greatly appreciate any feedback you have. Thank you!
Sorry to be so ridiculously delayed in responding—you’ve probably moved ahead with your decision long ago. (For the last few months, I’ve been deeply involved with moving my family halfway across the country. Whew.) Nonetheless, I’m happy to respond to your questions in case my answers can still be of use.
Miyabi is a terrific knife brand that flies under the radar much of the time. Their knives are well-made in Japan under the umbrella of Henckels. They come from the factory extremely sharp and are designed to keep their edge. So you can’t go wrong with Miyabi.
RE your three 7-inch knife choices
I would nix the Asian chef knife (G-4). You don’t want a knife with a curved blade as your main blade. It’s specifically designed for chopping, which is fine, but for other tasks, like slicing up a melon, it will make the job more complicated, instead of easier.
The other two could work fine. You might prefer the width of the santoku for chopping, but you might also find it a touch more awkward for taking the skin off a melon. I’ve used it for all these tasks, and more, and have not had major problems. The chef knife blade should be narrower and more maneuverable and will have less metal for things to stick to. So, for slicing up a chunk of Swiss cheese or cutting through a thick slab of meat, for example, it will have less resistance. It’s up to you.
A final tip: While it’s great to have a single knife as your main squeeze, if you cook at lot, you should allow yourself to play the field a little. Having a number of knives to choose from—some, even, for specialty tasks—can be a boon to your productivity and give you a lift in the kitchen. And the long-term cost, averaged over years of use, is a pittance. So, don’t be afraid to explore a little in the kitchen knife world. . .and allow yourself even to make a mistake or two.
Hello, very informative. Learned a lot. I was never taught any of this. I have Cutco knives, many of us “regular” cooks do. I have sent all the knives in to be sharpened a couple of times. They are comfortable, but never cut like what you describe. I am actually often afraid to cut melons with the 8”. So will be trying the Henckels 8”. I often cut meat with a scissors, I know, get over it, we have to do what is safest!
Question: Any advice on kitchen scissors? Also, what do you think about the plastic cutting boards? Is that why my Cutco dulls? I hate heavy wooden boards, but they are easier to clean—plastic has to go into the dishwasher every use.
Thank you so much for your advice.
I am a home cook mainly chopping vegetables and meat, nothing too crazy. I have used a knife bought from a supermarket which is around 5 inches I think and really like the length/maneuverability. My friend has an 8-inch chef knife and it just feels massive to use. How hard is it to change to an 8-inch do you think? I tried a 6-inch and it felt better, but the eight scares me a bit (haha).
Was going to ask if you can recommend any 6-inch chef knives, possibly a hybrid between German and Japanese? I’d like some sharpness of a Japanese and a bit of durability from a German if that makes sense. Was tempted to get the MAC you recommended, but don’t know if I would like the length.
I’ve got three things to tell you:
1) If you’re finicky, it’s very hard to figure out the right chef knife long distance—without feeling it in your hands. But. . .you might find you can adapt more easily than you think. At least that’s been my experience. The chefs/santokus in my knife blocks come in various shapes and sizes along with a variety of handles. And I find I don’t mind the variety, and my hand adapts from one to the other. Especially since I’m not a professional cook spending hours at a time, every day, chopping veggies. Soooo. . .you might find you get used to a “huge” 8-inch chef knife quicker than you think ;)
2) Many of the chef knives in my Best Chef Knives article come sized as a 6-inchers. Here’s a short list: Henckels Pro S; Wusthof Classic and Classic Ikon; Messermeister Meridian Elite (but NOT the “stealth”) and Oliva; and Shun.
3) RE the best hybrid for you: I would recommend Global—either the santuko or the regular chef (G2). It will be thin and sharp, but still tougher than your average Japanese blade. My second pick for you would be the Wusthof santoku. Pretty darn thin for a German knife and it comes from the factory pretty sharp. It should withstand a touch more abuse than the Global, but I don’t think it will retain its sharpitude (even if you hone regularly) quite as well as the Global. We’re talking subtleties here. . .
Feel free to ask more!
Best of luck,