The Best Chef Knife
Professional quality and intuitive design
The best chef knife can’t be defined by a single set of features. It’s all about hand-feel: The knife should comfortably tackle a variety of tasks, functioning as an extension of your forearm. We talked to two chefs, a cooking instructor, and a knife expert, then chopped, diced, and peeled with 11 best-selling chef knives to see which stood out.
Best for Experienced Cooks
Best Starter Knife
The Best Chef Knives
- MAC MTH-80 Professional Series 8-Inch Chef Knife with Dimples
- Shun Classic 8
Best for Experienced Cooks
- Victorinox Fibrox 8-Inch Chef's Knife
Best Starter Knife
- Wusthof Classic 8
- Global G-2 8-Inch Chef's Knife
There’s a reason we call the best kitchen knives “chef knives.” A good chef is a multitasker, so a good chef knife is designed to handle multiple jobs. Think of all the slicing and chopping involved in a beef stir-fry or a chicken noodle soup. You want a single tool that can handle it all.
The “mighty MAC” was the clear favorite of our testing team — and widely praised by the experts we spoke with. It’s maneuverable enough to chop mint leaves, slice carrots, and peel butternut squash, offering clean cuts without requiring perfect form. It feels comfortable for both large and small hands, and its medium-weight balance means it’s neither too light nor too heavy (we’ll go ahead and call it the Goldilocks of knives). A half-bolster helps you maintain a professional grip, and dimples prevent food from sticking to the sides of the knife as you chop. Retails at $175.
The Shun has a weight and heft similar to the MAC and is versatile enough to handle a range of dicing, slicing and chopping — but only if you treat it right. The knife is covered in an outer layer of Damascus steel, which provides a gorgeous appearance but makes the knife edge more likely to chip if you don’t use proper chopping technique. Like the Mac, the Shun is a half-bolster knife, helping you maintain a professional grip without the added weight of a full bolster. Several of our novice cooks had trouble holding the Shun comfortably, but testers who were already experienced in the kitchen loved its elegant performance. The Shun is slightly more expensive than the MAC, retailing at $182, and a good pick for those who’ve mastered the basics.
If you want a quality knife but don’t have a lot of money to invest, the Victorinox is our pick, retailing for around $45. While half an ounce lighter than both the MAC and the Shun, the Victorinox is large — wide blade, wide no-slip plastic handle — and designed to take on big jobs. (Think large cuts of beef, not chicken tenders.) Our testers found it comfortable and easy to use even when chopping herbs, but noticeably bulky compared to the Shun and MAC. The Victorinox’s price point also means the blade might not hold an edge as long as a more high-end knife. If you’re just beginning to explore the world of fancy kitchen equipment, consider it a test run: try it for a few months, and if you find yourself using it all the time, think about upgrading to the MAC or the Shun.
Two other options, the Wusthof Classic 8 and the Global G-2 8-Inch Chef's Knife, are also worth a mention. The Wusthof Classic, like the Victorinox, is geared for heavy-duty chopping and cleaving. It’s the heaviest knife that we tested (9.1 ounces, versus the Victorinox’s 6.6 ounces) and was a favorite among testers with large hands, who liked its extra heft. The Global stood out for the opposite reason: It’s extremely lightweight, at only 5.9 ounces, and most suited for vegetable dicing, but some small-handed testers preferred it over our top picks.
How We Found the Best Chef Knife
Why we chose 8-inch kitchen knives More would be overkill. “Eight inches is great,” chef Ariane Resnick explained. “Twelve or thirteen is enormous! I'd only recommend that if you do a lot of cutting really large food.”
The world of kitchen knives is vast. Popular brands like Wusthof offer several lines apiece, and that’s before you consider whether you want an 8-inch, 9-inch, or 12-inch blade (we decided on 8-inch). And there’s an avalanche of additional options: Do you want a full bolster, half bolster, or no bolster? How about a full tang? A granton edge? We were admittedly overwhelmed.
But in the process, we learned that no single feature makes a knife objectively better. Rather, they’re indicators of how the knife is designed to perform. Take the bolster (the band of metal separating handle from blade): A bolster can help you maintain a safe grip. It also allows you to put a little more oomph into your chop without damaging your knife. But chef Ariane Resnick points out, “Bolsters make knives harder to sharpen, and heavier. So even though they offer some protection [for both your fingers and the knife], they have downsides; it’s just a matter of personal preference.” All you really want is a knife that, to quote Resnick again, “gets you excited about cooking.”
- Butt: The back end of your handle.
- Heel: The back end of the blade, closest to your fingers.
- Tip: The front half of the blade. Not to be confused with the point.
- Point: The literal pointy bit at the end of the knife.
- Edge: The sharp side of the blade. Be careful.
- Spine: The top of the blade. Some people place their index fingers along the length of the spine as they chop, but this is considered bad technique.
- Tang: The steel that extends past your knife blade and into the handle. When a knife has a full tang, it means the steel goes all the way to the butt.
- Bolster: The thick band of steel between the knife handle and the knife heel. A full bolster extends all the way into the heel; a half bolster stops before the heel. Some knives have no bolster at all.
- Granton Edge: The dimples on the blade. Not all knives have them. In theory, these stop food from sticking as you chop.
That said, some knives and some brands consistently outperform others, so we knew that “best chef knife” wasn’t entirely subjective. To narrow the playing field, we did some research to identify the brands with the best reputations (which included asking our experts which brands they preferred). Then we contacted these companies to learn which of their knives were also bestsellers.
Over the course of several weeks, this allowed us to cull a starting list of 170 knives down to 11 final contenders. Then we (carefully) carried those knives up to our testing kitchen to see which ones would make the cut.
Anolon 8″ Chef’s Knife with Sheath, Anolon SureGrip 8″ Chef’s Knife, BergHOFF Eclipse Ceramic Chef’s Knife, BergHOFF Geminis 8″ Chef’s Knife, BergHOFF Hotel Line Chef’s Knife, BergHOFF Orion 8″ Chef’s Knife, BergHOFF Ron Chef’s Knife, Böker Arbolito Classic Chef’s Knife, Boker Brava 13″ Olive Wood Chef’s Knife in Brown, Boker Ceramic Chef’s Knife, Boker Damascus Black Chef’s Knife, Boker Damascus Olive Chef’s Knife, Boker Damascus Pure Chef’s Knife, Boker Damascus Superior Chef’s Knife, Boker Forge 13.62″ Maple Chef’s Knife in Brown, Boker Gorm Chef’s Knife, Boker Saga 12.75″ Chef’s Knife, Calphalon Contemporary 8″ Chef’s Knife, Calphalon Katana 8″ Chef’s Knife, CasaWare Groovetech 8″ Chef Knife, Chicago Cutlery Ashland Chef’s Knife, Chicago Cutlery Belmont Chef’s Knife, Chicago Cutlery Damen Chef’s Knife, Chicago Cutlery Essentials Chef’s Knife, Chicago Cutlery Fullerton Chef’s Knife, Chicago Cutlery Fusion Chef’s Knife, Chicago Cutlery Kinzie Chef’s Knife, Chicago Cutlery PRIME 8″ Chef’s Knife, Stainless Steel, Chicago Cutlery Uptown Chef’s Knife, Chicago Cutlery Vivid Chef’s Knife, Chicago Cutlery Walnut Tradition Chef’s Knife, Chicago Cutlery West Town Chef’s Knife, Clauss Titanium Bonded Hollow Edge Chef’s Knife, Cuisinart Advantage Chef’s Knife, Cuisinart Artisan Chef’s Knife, Cuisinart Classic Nonstick Edge Chef’s Knife, Cuisinart Classic Titan Chef’s Knife, Cuisinart Classic Triple Rivet 8″ Chef’s Knife, Cuisinart Elements Ceramic 8″ Chef’s Knife, Cuisinart Graphix Chef’s Knife, Cuisinart Pakka Wood Chef’s Knife, Curtis Stone Stone Series 8″ Chef’s Knife, Edge of Belgravia Ceramic Lime Chef’s Knife, Edge of Belgravia Precision 6″ Chef Knife, Edge of Belgravia Tasekiso Chef’s Knife, Ginkgo Gou Chef’s Knife, Ginkgo Taylor Eye Witness Cook/Chef’s Knife, Ginsu Chikara Damascus Chef’s Knife, Ginsu Essential 8″ Chef’s Knife, Ginsu Koden Series Stainless Steel Chef’s Knife, Global Asian’s Chef’s Knife, Global Classic 7″ Hollow Ground Asian Chef’s Knife, Global Classic 8″ Hollow-Ground Chef’s Knife, Global Classic Chef’s Knife, Global G-1 8″ Chef’s Knife, Global G-16 10″ Chef’s Knife, Global G-29 7″ Wide Chef’s Knife, Global G-4 7″ Oriental Chef’s Knife, Global G-55 7″ Chef’s Knife, Global G-6 7″ Chef’s Knife, Global Heavy Chef’s Knife, Global Ukon 7″ Asian Chef’s Knife, Global Ukon 8-Inch Chef’s Knife, IVO ViRTU Chef’s Knife, KAI for Williams Sonoma Chef’s Knife, KAI Luna 8″ Chef’s Knife, KAI Wasabi Black Chef’s Knife, Ken Onion Rain 8″ Cook’s Knife, Kikuichi Gyuto Gold Chef’s Knife, Kikuichi Hammered Chef’s Knife, KitchenAid Classic Forged 8″ Brushed Stainless Steel Chef Knife, KitchenAid Classic Forged 8″ Triple Rivet Chef Knife, KitchenAid Professional 8″ Chef’s Knife, Korin Suisin High Carbon Steel 8.2-Inch Gyutou, Kuhn Colori Chef’s Knife, Kuhn Colori Titanium 7″ Chef’s Knife in Black, Kuhn Colori+ Chef’s Knife, Kuhn JIU Chef’s Knife, Kyocera 7″ Premier Elite Chef’s Knife, Kyocera Ergonomic Series 6″ Ceramic Chef’s Knife, Kyocera Revolution Ceramic Chef’s Knife, Kyocera Revolution Ceramic Professional Chef’s Knife, MAC Knife Professional French Chef’s Knife, Messermeiser Mu Fusion Chef’s Knife, Messermeister Four Seasons Chef’s Knife, Messermeister Mu Bamboo Chef’s Knife, Messermeister Oliva Elite Stealth Chef’s Knife, Messermeister Royale Elite Walnut Chef’s Knife, Messermeister San Moritz Elite Stealth Chef’s Knife, Michael Symon 6″ Chef’s Knife, Misono UX10 Gyutou, Miyabi Artisan SG2 Collection Chef’s Knife, Miyabi Birchwood Chef’s Knife, Miyabi Evolution Chef’s Knife, Miyabi Fusion 8″ Chef’s Knife, Miyabi Kaizen II Chef’s Knife, Miyabi Koh Chef’s Knife, Miyabi Morimoto Edition 9-Inch Chef’s Knife, Nesmuk DIAMOR Chef’s Knife, Nesmuk EXKLUSIV Full Damascus Chef’s Knife, Nesmuk JANUS Chef’s Knife, Nesmuk SOUL Olivewood Chef’s Knife, Oaks Bottom Forge 6.5″ Chef’s Knife, OXO Good Grips 8″ Chef’s Knife, OXO Good Grips PRO 8″ Chef’s Knife, Pfeilring Olive Wood 8″ Chef’s Knife, Rosendahl Grand Cru 8″ Chef’s Knife, Sabatier 8″ Classic Forged Chef Knife, Sabatier 8″ Wood Chef Knife in Olive, Shun Classic Asian Chef’s Knife, Shun Classic Hollow-Ground Asian Chef’s Knife, Shun Classic Hollow-Ground Chef’s Knife, Shun Classic Western Chef’s Knife, Shun Fuji Chef’s Knife, Shun Hiro Chef’s Knife, Shun Kaji Chef’s Knife, Shun Kaji Hollow-Ground Chef’s Knife, Shun Kaji Western Chef’s Knife, Shun Kanso Chef’s Knife, Shun Premier Chef’s Knife, Shun Sora Chef’s Knife, T-Fal Zen Ceramic 6″ Chef’s Knife, Victorinox Rosewood Chef’s Knife, Victorinox Swiss Army 8″ Chef’s Knife, Victorinox Swiss Army Traditional Forged 8″ Extra Wide Chef Knife, Wolf Gourmet Chef’s Knife, Wusthof Classic 7-Inch Ultimate Everyday Knife, Wusthof Classic 8-Inch Uber Chef’s Knife, Wusthof Classic Chinese Chef’s Knife, Wusthof Classic Hollow-Edge Chai Dao, Wusthof Classic Hollow-Edge Chef’s Knife, Wusthof Classic Ikon 8″ Hollow-Edge Chef’s Knife, Wusthof Classic Ikon Extra Wide Chef’s Knife, Wusthof Classic Wide Chef’s Knife, Wusthof Epicure Chef’s Knife, Wusthof Gourmet Chef’s Knife, Wusthof Gourmet Extra Wide Chef’s Knife, Wusthof Gourmet Hollow-Edge Chai Dao, Wusthof Gourmet Ridge Chef’s Knife, Wusthof Gourmet Wide Chef’s Knife, Wusthof Grand Prix II Chef’s Knife, Wusthof Ikon Blackwood Chef’s Knife, Wusthof Ikon Damascus Chef’s Knife, Wusthof Pro Chef Knife, Zwilling J.A. Henckels Eversharp Pro 8″ Chef’s Knife, Zwilling J.A. Henckels Fine Edge Pro 8″ Chef’s Knife, Zwilling J.A. Henckels Five Star 6″ Chef’s Knife, Zwilling J.A. Henckels Four Star 40th Anniversary 7-Inch Chef’s Knife, Zwilling J.A. Henckels Four Star Chef’s Knife, Zwilling J.A. Henckels Pro Chef’s Knife, Zwilling J.A. Henckels Pro Chinese Chef’s Knife, Zwilling J.A. Henckels Pro Serrated Chef’s Knife, Zwilling J.A. Henckels Pro Smart Chef, Zwilling J.A. Henckels Pro Traditional Chef’s Knife, Zwilling J.A. Henckels Pro Wide Chef’s Knife, Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Four Star II Chef Knife, Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Signature Chef’s Knife, Zyliss 7.5″ Coated Chef’s Knife in Blue, Zyliss 7.5″ Stainless Steel Chef’s Knife with Protective Sheath, Zyliss Control 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
- Global G-2 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
- MAC MTH-80 Professional Series 8-Inch Chef Knife with Dimples
- Messermeister Meridian Elite Chef’s Knife
- Messermeister Park Plaza Carbon 8″ Chef’s Knife
- Miyabi Kaizen Chef’s Knife
- Miyabi Morimoto Red Series 600 S 8″ Chef’s Knife
- Shun Classic Chef Knife
- Victorinox Fibrox 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
- Wusthof Classic Chef Knife
- Zwilling J.A. Henckels Professional S 8-Inch Chef Knife
- Zwilling J.A. Henckels Forged Razor Series 8″ Chef’s Knife
We chopped and we diced.
We invited Deborah Brownstein, cooking Instructor and owner of Mangia Bene Catering and Kitchen Coach Cooking School, into our testing room to help us put our 11 contenders through their paces. Each knife completed four tests:
- Herbs: Can the knife cut mint leaves without bruising them?
- Carrots: Can the knife slice carrots without splintering the slices?
- Butternut Squash: Can the knife both slice into, and carefully peel, a butternut squash?
- Chicken: Can the knife successfully butterfly a chicken breast?
What's the best way to hold your knife? According to Bob Tate, knife sharpener and owner of Seattle Knife Sharpening & Supply, you should hold your kitchen knife in a pinch grip: grip toward the front of the handle, with your thumb and your curled index finger pinching the base of the blade.
Right away, Brownstein identified a problem with our plan: all the knives we’d chosen were going to succeed. “These tests determine whether a knife is sharp,” she explained, and since our knives were quality brands being used straight out of the box, they were pretty much guaranteed to be factory sharp.
Brownstein told us to focus on how the knife felt in our hands as we performed each task. Were we able to grip it comfortably? Was it too light or too heavy? Did the spine rub awkwardly against our index fingers as we chopped? These are the details that can make or break a cook’s relationship with their kitchen knife.
Our testing group comprised a range of ages, body types, and hand sizes — not to mention vastly different levels of cooking experience — so we were surprised to find that yes, there actually was consensus as to which knives felt best.
Our Picks for the Best Chef Knife
The MAC MTH-80 Professional Series 8-Inch Chef Knife with Dimples is the brand’s “most popular knife for everyday use” — and it was the most popular knife in our testing room. It was easy to handle, comfortable for most hand sizes, and allowed us to complete a full range of chopping, slicing, and peeling. One tester reported that the MAC felt “precise” when chiffonading mint leaves, and another noted “very clean cuts” as she halved her butternut squash.
At 7.1 ounces, the MAC is right in the middle of our contenders in terms of weight, but the blade is only 1.88 inches across — which means you never feel like you’re wielding a cleaver (unlike the Messermeister Park Plaza Carbon, which one tester reported “just felt big and heavy”). In fact, the MAC’s satisfying heft was a running theme, which one tester describing the knife as “thin and light, but balanced.”
This balance might have been helped along by the MAC’s half-bolster. Two of the three full-bolstered knives that we tested got dinged for feeling “clunky” or “heavy,” while the the Global G-2 8-Inch Chef’s Knife, which has no bolster at all, felt “almost too light” to some of our testers.
Japanese vs European-style? Japanese-style knives are lighter, with thinner blades; European-style (or German-style) knives are heavier, with wider blades. Neither is necessarily better. It boils down to personal preference and the type of cooking you're likely to do.
“The MAC knife is one of my favorites,” Brownstein told us. “The weight/balance is perfect for me. It’s wide enough to keep your food together and it keeps a great edge.” Tate agrees that the MAC is good for smaller hands and for people who want to make thin cuts. It’s a Japanese-style knife, which means it’s going to be smaller in general than a European-style knife. If you plan on cutting up, say, a lot of chicken bones (or if, like a couple of our testers, you just want more finger protection), you might consider a heavier knife with a full bolster, like the Wusthof Classic Chef Knife, one of our runners-up.
The MAC’s granton edge — aka the “dimples” along the side of its blade — are designed to prevent food from sticking to the knife as you chop. Brownstein noted that while these divots don’t make a huge difference, the best way to keep sticky food off is to rub the blade of the knife with a little plain vegetable oil before cutting things like garlic or potato. But testers did notice that the MAC accumulated fewer bits of carrot and mint than other contenders.
The final selling point? We asked Brownstein which knife she’d like to take home with her, as a thank you for helping us with the tests. She chose the MAC.
Best for Experienced Chefs
The Shun Classic Chef Knife was another testing room favorite. The packaging was so beautiful it caught our eye before we even took it out of the box: the Shun seems designed to elevate dinner prep to an artistic event.
It also made a vivid impression when we started chopping. Testers had no trouble halving a butternut squash, and the knife was maneuverable enough to peel said squash in “nice long strips.” It was also the only knife we tested that made that satisfying “shwing” sound when we sliced. (If you hold a piece of paper in front of you and slice off a corner — carefully, and away from your body — you’ll hear it.)
The Shun, like the Mac, is a lightweight Japanese knife with a half bolster — no chicken bone chopping, please. “I love Shun knives,” Brownstein told us. “They’re beautiful — like a functional art piece — with great balance and good quality steel.” And our testing team agreed. The knife “feels and looks elegant,” one tester told us, and at 7.3 ounces, with a blade that’s 1.8 inches wide, it had a heft and balance similar to the MAC.
But the Shun is clearly designed for people who already know their way around a kitchen. Several novice cooks in our group struggled to maintain a comfortable grip, with one lamenting that “it just doesn’t feel right.” The knife’s spine was also less forgiving, rubbing against index fingers that slid out of a proper pinch grip. That said, the knife got an overwhelmingly favorable response from experienced chefs — and even novices liked it better than the Japanese-style Miyabi knives we tested, which had blades and handles that felt stiff and clunky.
In fact, the Shun’s handle was a standout feature. Rather than being totally round (like some traditional Japanese knives), it’s D-shaped: the curve of the D fits into the curve of your fingers as you grip the knife. But here again, Shun notes that the handle is designed with a professional pinch grip in mind. If you’re not maintaining proper form, your mileage may vary.
The curse of the Shun’s ergonomic handle is that it’s designed for right-handed people. The company offered a “reverse grip” for lefties but discontinued the line, stating that many lefties actually prefer the standard handle. This raises a whole new set of questions (why offer ergonomic handles at all if they don’t make a difference?), but we’re begrudgingly inclined to believe Shun: our left-handed tester had no trouble with the knife, despite her general dislike of kitchen equipment for righties. That said, we’d suggest trying it out in person before you buy.
The trade-off for the Shun’s visual elegance is that the knife also requires careful maintenance. The handle, for instance, is made of a wood/plastic composite that’s more delicate than the polymer or Fibrox of picks like the Wusthof and Victorinox. Brownstein noted that too much water exposure would be bad for it; you’ll need to dry both knife and handle thoroughly after use.
The knife is also Damascus-clad: The blade is made of steel, then coated with an outer layer of Damascus steel. The end result is a gorgeous swirled pattern on the blade, but Tate doesn’t like Damascus-clad knives. While Damascus on its own is quite strong, when it’s only an outer layer, the knife edge is more likely to chip. In fact, Shun’s website includes this warning in their FAQ: “Chips can happen due to improper cutting technique. Shun Cutlery is designed to be used in a smooth, slicing motion—and never in a forceful, up-and-down ‘chopping’ manner.”
But if you master the right technique, your Shun can stay sharp for a long time. “My favorite brand of knife is Shun,” Resnick told us. “Their Western-style Japanese knives can go ages without sharpening, even with serious use.”
Best Starter Knife
The Victorinox is an excellent option for people who want to start cooking regularly but aren’t yet ready to invest a lot of money, offering a solid performance for around $45.
It’s a European-style knife, meaning the blade is both wider and slightly thicker than the Japanese-style MAC and Shun. It only weighs 6.6 ounces (lighter than both our top picks), but the blade measures 2 inches across at its widest point. It also didn’t feel quite as maneuverable as the Shun or the MAC. One tester noted that she “didn’t like the large handle for cutting small things,” although it was “great for large things” like squash.
The Victorinox’s handle was its most controversial feature. Made of Fibrox, with a slightly textured pattern, it offers a no-slip grip even if your hands are wet. Our fingers felt undeniably safe. But the handle also felt bulky to some testers, with several people noting the material seemed “cheap” or “flimsy.” One tester even told us, “each time I use it, it’s more comfortable. But it feels cheap, so I have a mental block there.”
Tate agrees that the Victorinox is the best knife for people who are on a budget (although he, like our testers, prefers a wood handle to the Victorinox’s plastic). Brownstein told us that commercial kitchens often order this knife for their line cooks. If you’re looking for low cost but respectable quality, the Victorinox is a good place to start.
We considered one other budget knife during hands-on testing, the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Forged Razor Series 8″ Chef’s Knife, which retails for about $40. It looks more impressive than the Victorinox, with a smooth, contoured handle that testers loved. But we were less impressed once we hit the kitchen. One tester noted that “the Victorinox did a better job chopping and peeling” across all categories. Another reported that the Zwilling required her to “saw” in order to cut her squash in half.
Other Knives to Consider
Both the lightest knife and the heaviest knife in our testing group got high marks from our testers although they weren’t as universally popular as our top picks.
The Wusthof Classic 8, a full-bolstered, European-style knife weighing in at 9.1 ounces, was favored by our large-handed testers: “The edge of the bolster has a nice gentle slope and sits wonderfully in my hand,” one participant noted. Testers praised the knife’s good blade control, even when chopping mint, and reported that they fell easily into a smooth rocking motion as they worked. “The Wusthof is my favorite German knife — a little heavier and a little cheaper than its Japanese counterparts,” Brownstein told us. “Wusthof was the first professional knife I bought 28 years ago, and it’s still in perfect shape.”
On the other end of the scale — literally — is the Global G-2 8-Inch Chef's Knife, weighing a mere 5.9 ounces. “I’ve always liked Global,” Brownstein said, explaining that this lighter knife is good for people who are more likely to prep for a single meal than spend long stints prepping as it can leave a sore spot on your hand after a long day of prep. Because it is all metal it is easy to maintain. Thanks to great quality steel, it also keeps a wicked edge.
Our testers agreed that the Global felt sleek and easy to handle: slicing carrots was like “cutting butter.” But it tended to be most popular with small-handed testers (one of whom flat-out told us, “I want this knife.”) Others found it a little too lightweight and didn’t like its lack of a bolster, which left fingers feeling exposed.
Did You Know?
Chef knives are versatile, but you’ll still need a few specialty knives.
As a rule of thumb, if the purpose of the knife is in its name — bread knife, filleting knife, even steak knife or grapefruit knife — it marks a task that will be difficult to accomplish with an all-purpose chef knife.
If you’re still building up your collection, a serrated bread knife to cut loaves of bread, and a paring knife — which has a very short blade — for tasks like paring apples or potatoes are good places to start. Depending on the cuts of meat and fish you use, you may eventually want to invest in a boning knife or a filleting knife as well.
But all of our experts agreed that you shouldn’t waste your money on a knife set. “Buy knives one at a time,” Rachel Muse, private chef and founder of Talk Eat Laugh, told us. “Each chef will have their own mixture; a set is too constricted and too prescriptive.”
Keep your chef knife properly sharpened.
As Muse puts it: “If you buy a professional knife, you need to keep an edge on it, otherwise it’s like owning a car and not putting fuel in it.”
If there’s a professional knife sharpener in your area, you can outsource the task. If not, MAC, Shun, and Wusthof all offer mail-in sharpening for a small fee. (Note that Victorinox and Global do not offer this service.) You can also learn to sharpen your knife yourself, but Wusthof notes: “It is always recommended to use the same brand sharpener as the knives you are sharpening, because the steel hardness varies from one manufacturer to another.”
Honing and sharpening are not the same.
A knife honing rod, or honing steel, is designed keep your knife functioning well between sharpenings. Honing straightens the edge of a knife, while sharpening literally grinds away part of the steel to produce a sharper edge.
Brownstein recommends honing your knife each time you pick it up (the whole process should only take 10-20 seconds) or, if prepping a lot, whenever it starts to feel dull. She offers these tips:
- Hold the steel upright and move the blade swiftly across and down the steel at a 25-degree angle, as if you were cutting slices of cheese.
- After you hone, check your knife’s sharpness by gently sliding it across a soft tomato. The knife should bite into the fruit right away without pressure.
But be aware that not all of our experts recommend honing. “People often hone incorrectly,” Resnick told us, “so unless you know you’re doing it right, it’s not worthwhile.”
There’s a right way and a wrong way to chop.
If you’re looking to improve your chopping game, Bob Tate offers these tips:
- Imagine your cutting board is a clock. Most people point their knife toward noon, placing the food horizontally across the cutting board. But if you angle your knife so that it points towards 10 o’clock (and adjust your food to stay parallel), the knife becomes an extension of your forearm and is easier to handle.
- Keep your knife in contact with your cutting board or work surface. There’s no need to lift it off the cutting board for each cut.
And one more word of advice: only use your knife on food. When Brownstein teaches cooking classes, she’s astonished at how many students use their chef knives for tasks like cutting open boxes. “A chefs knife is your most important kitchen tool” she says, “buy a pair of kitchen shears for boxes and bags!”
Avoid the dishwasher.
Regardless of manufacturer instructions, never put your chef knife in the dishwasher. And while you’re at it, never toss it into the sink. Every time the knife blade bangs against something — like the plastic spines of your dishwasher or the metal sides of your sink — it has the potential to dull, and you want to keep the blade as sharp as possible for as long as possible.
Instead, wash your knife by hand with standard dish soap, then use a clean dishtowel or paper towel to rub it completely dry. (If you let it air-dry, it can develop water stains or rust spots.)
Think about your cooking style. Do you regularly chop up whole chickens and large cuts of beef? If so, a full-bolstered European-style knife might be the best fit. More likely to dice veggies or butterfly chicken breasts? Japanese-style may feel more intuitive.
Take a test drive. If you’re unsure about your preferences, it’s a good idea to hold a few options in person. The best chef knife is the one that feels right to you.
Treat your knife kindly. One expert we spoke with has a chef knife she’s used since she was fifteen. Yes, a good knife is an investment — but if you treat it well, it’s a long-lasting one.