The 6 Best Chef's KnivesPublished on 04/24/2023 · 10 min readFrom handle type to blade shape and more, Kitchen Expert Jacob Lewis explains the different types of chef's knives and lists a few of his favorites!
All three of these knives have their own perks, but I personally prefer the Santoku. Photo by Jacob Lewis
Choosing a chef's knife is a crucial step in creating a well-stocked kitchen. If a knife is hard to use or uncomfortable to handle, the job at hand will become both unpleasant and inefficient. Since having fun in the kitchen is what I’m all about, here is my guide to finding the best chef's knife for your needs.
How to Choose the Right Chef's Knife for Your Needs
Sorry to break it to you, but it might not be love at first chop. Finding a great knife that matches the shape and balance of your wrist and hand, your cutting style, and personal aesthetic can be arduous, boring, and expensive. But hey, let’s take a swing and see if we can shorten the process.
Consider your cutting style when choosing a chef’s knife. If you prefer a rocking motion, a knife with a curved blade such as a Santoku or German chef's knife may be more comfortable. If you prefer a straight up-and-down chopping motion, a knife with a straight edge like a French chef's knife or Japanese gyuto may be better. If you like delicately slicing, then you might need a Nakiri. Keep in mind that it's possible to adapt your cutting style to a particular knife, and that most chef knives can be used for a variety of cutting tasks.
Handle Shape and Material
The handle material and shape of a chef’s knife can affect how well-balanced and comfortable it feels in your hand. Handle options include wood, plastic, and composite materials such as resin or micarta. Wood handles are classic, but may not be as durable or sanitary as other materials. Plastic is lightweight and easy to clean, but may not be as comfortable as wood or composite materials. Composite handles are often more durable and comfortable than plastic but may be more expensive upfront. In the long run, however, a composite handle usually proves to be the most durable and affordable.
Blade Shape and Material
The blade shape and material of a chef’s knife can impact its performance and durability. Common blade shapes are narrowed from ancient designs—most commonly from the French, German, and Japanese cultures. Blade materials include stamped and forged stainless steel, Damascus forged steel, and high-carbon forged steel. Stainless steel is easier to maintain, while high-carbon steel is sharper and able to hold its edge longer—but requires more maintenance to prevent rust.
- Stamped Steel: Stamped metals are affordable to produce and have the potential to offer a quality product. These are used almost exclusively with low-cost options and quickly disappear as the price of knives goes up in trade for higher-quality forged metals.
- Forged Steel: Forged metals are generally the gold standard of quality knives, as they are more elegant, durable, and easier to maintain than stamped metals. The forging process, however, exists on a fairly broad spectrum, so not all forged knives are created with the same time and care. But typically, even a low-cost forged knife will have a higher performance than any stamped knife.
- Damascus Steel: Damascus steel is created by layering different types of steel and then folding and forging them together, creating a distinctive pattern known as the "Damascus pattern". It is also admired for its strength and durability, making it a popular choice for high-quality knives and other tools. The main drawback is this metal, while more rigid, may also be prone to chipping or cracking if misused, and the blade hardness can be difficult to sharpen for beginners.
- High-Carbon Steel: High-carbon steel is the most popular type of steel for chef knives because it is extremely durable and can maintain a razor-sharp edge for a long time. It is also relatively easy to sharpen and sustain, making it ideal for professional chefs and home cooks alike. Additionally, because of its excellent edge retention and ability to withstand heavy use, it is the preferred choice for knives that will be used frequently and for a variety of tasks.
- Carbon Steel: Carbon steel is a popular choice for professional chefs because it is incredibly sharp and can hold a very fine edge. Additionally, it is relatively easy to sharpen and maintain, which is essential for chefs who are using their knives frequently. Carbon steel requires more sharpening and touch-ups than Damascus steel knives, but for anyone who knows how to sharpen, this material can produce the sharpest and most rewarding edge of any knife. The main drawback with this material is it is prone to rusting if left in damp conditions—it especially must be left out of water.
Types of Chef Knives
Eight-Inch Chef’s Knife
An eight-inch French or German chef’s knife is a versatile tool that is ideal for a wide range of tasks in the kitchen, such as slicing, dicing, and chopping vegetables and meats. One of the main advantages of this size is that it provides a good balance between control and power—allowing for precise cuts and more force to be applied when needed. Additionally, the longer blade allows for more surface area to work with when chopping larger items. However, one of the main downsides of an eight-inch European chef’s knife is that it can be quite heavy and slow, which can be tiring for some users over extended periods of use. Additionally, the longer blade can make it more difficult to maneuver in tight spaces, such as when working with smaller fruits and vegetables.
Six-Inch Chef’s Knife
One pro of a six-inch European chef’s knife is that it is versatile and can be used for a variety of tasks in the kitchen, such as chopping vegetables, slicing meats, and mincing herbs. It is also a comfortable size for most people to handle—especially those with smaller hands—making it easy to use for extended periods of time. The downside is that it may be too small for larger tasks such as slicing a watermelon or cutting through a large piece of meat.
The Japanese Santoku typically has a shorter blade than chef's knives, making them easier to control and maneuver. The tip of the blade comes to a sheepsfoot, which is actually much safer to use than a standard European knife, but this same benefit can also be a con of Santoku knives—because they are not as nimble at the tip of the blade. Santoku knives can be quite thin and lightweight, which can make them feel less durable, but on the upside, more agile. Many people, including myself, find the Santoku to be one of the best first-choice knives in the kitchen. It's mostly built for slicing, but has enough angle on the blade that it’s still great for chopping. Though it’s often necessary to have a utility knife next to the cutting board.
My Top Picks for Chef Knives
The knives on this list make up some of my favorite chef knives in recent history. They are a mix of western-style and Japanese-style knives that all have a full bolster. Each must be hand washed and kept out of the dishwasher, and all fit the bill for value, durability, aesthetics, and fun. Some have a straighter blade that is better for slicing, while others have more curve that is great for comfort and chopping during prep. This list includes affordable knives, high-end options, and the all-around mid-range knives that match personal preference and can work their way through family kitchens from generation to generation.
The Cangshan TC Series Forged Santoku knife is a wonderful mix of traditional and modern Japanese design. The Sandvik 14C28N steel blade is incredibly sharp and holds its edge well. The knife's ergonomic handle is also well-designed, providing a comfortable and secure grip while in use. The included wood sheath is a rare offering, as most knives do not come with their own protective sleeves. Great for cutting butternut squash, the knife, however, is not so good for maneuvering around bones.
The Henckels Statement Hollow Edge Chef Knife is an affordable option for those looking for a versatile kitchen knife. I would choose this over a Victorinox Fibrox Pro because its feel is more premium. Additionally, the corrosion-resistant, stamped steel construction of this knife makes it lightweight and easy to handle. However, one of the drawbacks of stamped steel is that it may not be as durable as a full-tang, forged knife. Additionally, the stamped construction may not provide as precise of a blade as a fully forged knife. Otherwise, if it stays sharpened, this knife will do the job it was built for.
This seven-inch Hollow Edge Santoku knife is a safer and more beginner-friendly option than the European option listed above. One pro of this knife is its hollow edge, which helps prevent foods like a tomato slice from sticking to the blade while cutting. The seven-inch size is compact; a great length for a variety of tasks, from slicing and dicing to mincing and chopping. However, one potential drawback of this knife, as with all Santoku knives, is that it may not be as well-suited for tasks that require a sharp tip, such as precision cutting or peeling. But it’s great for safely learning pinch grip!
The eight-inch carbon steel chef knife from Steelport is a high-end choice for those in need of a versatile and durable kitchen tool. The carbon steel material is known for its sharpness and strength, making it perfect for tasks such as chopping, slicing, and dicing. The knife's full-tang construction ensures balance and stability for precise cuts. However, one of the cons of this knife is that carbon steel is prone to rust if not properly cared for, which means it may require more maintenance than other types of knives.
The Zwilling Pro slim chef's knife has a great overall value due to its high-quality construction and sharpness. The knife's thin, pointed tip allows for precision cutting and slicing, making it perfect for tasks like peeling and trimming fruits and vegetables. The blade is made from high-carbon stainless steel, which is durable and resistant to rust and stains. However, the knife's slim design may make it difficult for those with larger hands to grip comfortably.
The Zwilling Bob Kramer Euroline chef's knife is a Japanese knife with the styling of a German knife; a high-end choice for any kitchen, thanks to its beautiful and unique layers of the Damascus steel blade. The knife is extremely sharp and durable, making it perfect for slicing, chopping, and dicing all types of foods like onion and garlic.
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The main thing to remember when picking out knives is that it can take a while to find the perfect choice. Everyone has their own needs, cutting styles, hand shapes, and sizes. Some folks love the Wüsthof classic, while others prefer Global Knives. What’s most important is to be open to trying all the knives you can get your hands on to see what feels best. But once you find that perfect fit, it can be love for a lifetime. If you’d like some help finding true love in the kitchen, reach out to one of our Kitchen Experts who are happy to work with you to find the best chef knife for your needs!