Chef’s Knife · The Ultimate Guide – 2018

chef knife

Top 5 Chef’s Knives On The Market

BRAND / MODEL RATING REVIEW
Victorinox Forged Professional
Review
Zelite Infinity Chef Knife
Review
KAN Core Chef Knife
Review
Wusthof Classic
Review
Mac Knife Professional Hollow Edge
Review

“There never was a good knife made of bad steel.”

– Benjamin Franklin

A couple of days ago I was looking through pages of comments – another epic battle royale about the best steel grades on the market. A routine, you might say, but there was one peculiar comment… rather a question about the kitchen knives. The person was just a stranger looking for the good working blade to chop and slice whatever in the fridge. At that point, I realized, that it has been quite a while since I last thought about knives that people do not wear as accessories, about knives that actually found their true purpose in life – about chef knives. So here I am, working yet on another story, inviting a fellow reader, to find and decide what kitchen knife suits you best.

Intro

No more lyrics, I say, from now on we fire with generous irony and sharp facts. The theme of kitchen blades is… well you probably will not find much on the web. Therefore, it is a really dark corner not many knife aficionados even try and clear out. I myself was trying to find the starter pack and finally get into cooking with the right blades. But time passed and, realizing I was no closer to the point, I just had to make my mistake and buy that Japanese nakiri. We will talk about this peculiar blade later but first there are questions to answer. What is a chef knife? Why professionals use chef knives? What is the best chef knife for a beginner? How to choose chef knife for left handed? What is that knife with holes in the blade? And my favorite – how to use a chef knife? Today we are covering a lot of material so buckle up and get ready to know everything about kitchen knives.

chef's knife

What is Chef’s Knife

Enough has been written already and not a single definition. Here it is: a chef knife is a cutting tool for food preparation. Originally, these things were long, sharp and used for slicing and cutting meat. In case you already wonder – yes, any knife can be used for meal preparation. However it is only a chef’s knife that will do the job fast and efficient. So forget about using Spyderco Delica with bread and butter. A real chef’s knife is usually equipped with a big (6 to 14 inches long) and sturdy (up to 4mm wide) blade which is perfect for most cooking jobs. It is a multi-purpose knife that fits all kitchen tasks and can easily handle chopping greens, slicing fish or disjoining meat.

Since chef knife is such a utilitarian tool, people from all over the globe had their own vision of a blade like this. Meaning, the form factor differs much as we go from Europe, to China and Japan. The most popular western style chef knives are French and German blades. German-style knives’ cutting edge curves from bolster all the way to the tip, while French knives are straight and warp only at the very end. Japanese Santoku have purely utilitarian sheep-foot blades, while Chinese cleavers… well you get the idea – it looks like a cleaver, also referred to as ‘vegetable chopper’. You will see later, the blade styles may differ, but the multipurposeness of all chef knives stays at their best.

Chef’s Knife Brands

Probably the most common thing people pay their attention to when looking for the first chef knife is brand. Because when you don’t know anything about blades it sure is better to stick to the professional brands who do their job best. But who are these rock stars of today’s kitchen cutting scene? Let’s find out. When I first decided to start my own collection of kitchen knives, KAI blades were first of the list. Kershaw has always made good to budget and quality fixed/folding knives. So there I was, few days later, unboxing the Kershaw Cutting Board Set. A very nice thing to give as a present to your wife’s parents indeed. Not that I disliked this pair of knives, but it became obvious pretty soon that there are still more interesting slicers on the market anyway.

Second came a truly ‘no name’ carbon steel Santoku from Japan. The knife arrived with the master’s initials on the side of box and a pressing on the blade. But, since I know nothing about the language, there could be written anything like “the hottest blade in the world”, for whatever reason I care. Anyway, this still is one of the sharpest blades I own. It is carbon, it rusts, but it slices like crazy. A budget handcrafted Japanese Santoku is the best present for a beginning cooking fanatic. Prices on these usually range from 20$ to 50$, spending more is at your own risk. Google it, find it, buy it!

Why do I love Swiss blades so much? They are far from being the best slicers, but damn are they comfortable to use. Meet another good working blade and a company to trust – Victorinox. Indeed, Victorinox is not the perfect kitchen knife company. Still, if you want a reliable and easy to sharpen workhorse – try their 7-Inch Fibrox Pro Santoku. This fine chef knife combines the best western manufacturing traditions with the acclaimed eastern blade design. What can I say – I love this knife and for it’s price, I really think Victorinox guys really exceeded themselves here.

What we have to understand here – there are numerous companies that make good kitchen knives: Mac, Hattori, KAI, Victorinox, Shun, Mcusta, Kanetsune and many others. Prices range from the budget to the most expensive all considering the materials and the brand. So first you have to get the picture of what kind of knife you want to obtain and then look for the best brand to fit your needs. Since all manufacturers usually stick to a particular target audience, I am sure you will find the chef knife that will be either an all-round beater blade, or a beautiful addition to the granite tabletop on the kitchen. But to understand what kind of chef’s knife you need, we will now learn what steel grades there are on the market.

Chef’s Knife Steel Grades

We’ve already touched the theme of knife steel grades at the beginning, so let’s investigate further. Here I would like to highlight two pivot points – the process of knife making and the materials. When talking about the way a blade is manufactured, I mean it is either forged or stamped. If it is the blade’s material – well, the monologue is ought to be tiresome, so, maybe, take a snack and get back to reading the next paragraph.

The blade materials these days are indeed numerous. A chef knife’s blade can be made of carbon or stainless steel, ceramic or plastics, Damascus or Laminated steel. Now I will not get into the details of the plastic knifes, because they are basically created for kids to learn and master pre-school cooking skills. That being said, I suggest we discuss the most popular blade materials on the market.

The steel grade you will probably stumble upon first is stainless. Since most people love keeping their chef knives shiny and clean, today’s market offers the wildest range of blades that fit the niche. The main idea behind stainless steel is that it is rust resistant. Getting into chemistry, this material is an alloy, which consists of nickel, chromium, molybdenum, iron and a very small amount of carbon. The resulting blade, made of stainless steel, is less sharp than high carbon blades, but is very corrosion resistant and relatively cheap. Of course there are exotic highly stain resistant materials with about the same edge retention as carbon blades. But we are talking mass market here. The perfect examples of steel grades are 4116 Krupp, Sandvik 12C27 and the infamous VG10.

Carbon steel, as you’ve might already guessed, is an alloy of iron and about 1% carbon. Such a combination makes knife less corrosion resistant while boosting sharpness and edge retention to the top. These types of steel tend to get darker (in color) with time. Surely you can oil the knife and keep it dry. However, in my humble opinion, a used and ‘worn’ look only adds up to the overall aesthetic and style. After all – we are talking about the sharpest steel grade here.

Now with Damascus and Laminated steel situation is quite peculiar. These are not pure steel grades like the above mentioned stainless and carbon. Rather, a combination of both. Laminated steel grade often utilizes the soft ‘backbone’ with only working edge covered in more hard (carbon rich) layer. As a result, these blades are utilitarian with extremely good edge retention. With Damascus steel situation is very similar except for manufacturing technology. Dama-steel is usually made from two billets of steel – stainless and carbon. The pieces are melted together and forged numerous times. Finishing knife not only has beautiful blade pattern but also perfect sharpness. Such results are possible due to saw-like micro-edge that stays strong for ages.

Finally there are chef knives with ceramic blades. They are simple to use however require skills to sharpen and maintain. Ceramic blades are commonly fragile but stay sharp much longer than steel knives. A well known fact is zirconium dioxide (also known as zirconia) when sintered to shape is chemically nonreactive. So, like with stainless steel, these blades won’t stain in time. Speaking of colors, ceramic blades can be found practically in any color. So if pink gets you high as a kite, I guess ceramic blade chef knife is your weapon of choice.

Blade Manufacturing

At the beginning of the previous part I mentioned that knife blades differ not only in materials but also in manufacturing methods. Speaking of the letter, steel blades can be either forged or stamped. Forged blades are usually hand made and require skilled professionals to make. Pieces of metal are repeatedly heated and beaten to shape numerous times. The finishing blades are temperature heated and clamped with handle. These knives are expensive but sharp and extremely fun to use. Forged blades weight more and, frankly speaking, have the charisma of a tool my grand-children might use and be proud of. Stamped blades are simply cut from sheets of metal, heat treated and sharpened. These knives are much easier to produce. Consequently, you have more chances to find stamped blade chef knives in malls and markets. Forged blades are sometimes sold separately from handle on specialized websites and stores. Anyways, that’s it for the rocket science part. Now we talk ergonomics and size.

Chef’s Knife Size and Ergonomics

You know there is a lot of talk on the knife size issue, let alone a chef size question. Which size chef knife is the best? What size chef knife will cover all kitchen tasks? Do I buy a 10 or 8-inch blade chef knife? We will cover all the question marks step by step.

For starters let’s look at what blade sizes does the market offer us. Usually, on the web or in a house appliances store you can hear people talking about just two sizes of blades – the 8 and the 10 inch. Indeed these two have long became stamps that just anybody can advise you. However, after closer examination and a few chit-chats with my fellow cooks, things got a bit more clear for me. Thing is chef knife blade sizing starts with 6 inches and can reach up to 14 inches. The reasons for this may be various, although I consider ergonomics to be the major. And the variety, of course, God bless all the competition and demand on the market.

All sarcasm put aside, today’s wide range of chef knives indeed shines at its best. You can buy chef knife for your kid, for your left handed grand ma or a huge 12 inch cleaver for anyone with big hands. What I mean is blades have weight according to size and so it only looks logical to match both with your preferences. Another thing of course is the number of kitchen tasks you want to perform with the knife. If you are often cutting big slices of cheese, meat or watermelons, a bigger knife is the best. On the contrary, if chopping parsley, potatoes and cabbage for a soup is your thing, buy a smaller blade. It is as simple as that.

Last but not least is the overall ergonomics. And I am not talking about handle shape only. Same concerns blade shape and width. Speaking of the first, the handle should not be slippery. That being said I find it very amusing to see top brands produce chef knives with golden bolsters and thin wooden handles. A handle can be wooden, but it should be rough and thick. Or it can be plastic like on Victorinox blades. Either way – the handle should be very comfortable. With blade width and shape things get interesting as well. You see, the most common way of holding a chef blade is pinch grip. This way, you are holding a knife by the bolster with half hand on the back of the blade. So the blade should have slick and preferably wide spine. Otherwise it is possible to hurt one’s hand severely. So before spending money, always take the blade and hold it in hand. Put some pressure on the blade and make sure your grip feels comfortable.

Chef’s Knife Sharpening

Hopefully we all know well how to use a knife. However, as we go through piles of bones, tons of vegetables and thousands of salad plates, our knives get dull. And only some people can actually sharpen them. Not that sharpening is some kind of special mastery. Still many newcomers, who are eager to learn the skills, find themselves tangled when things come to honing the blade. So to make things easier, let’s start with the ways we can sharpen a knife. This includes the devices and techniques.

The first and probably the most traditional way of sharpening knives is with a stone. Or, to be more accurate with a number of whetstones. It is important to know that the term itself comes not from the word ‘wet’ (although water is indeed used during sharpening) but from the archaic ‘whet’ (what they used to call sharpening). The whetstone, also known as water or sharpening stone, is a compact ‘brick’ made from artificially created or natural materials. Considering latter have long become somewhat of a luxury, nowadays sharpening stones are made with bonded abrasive particles. This way, the resulting stone is cheaper and the control over grit is easier. The grit is the level of stone coarseness. The bigger the number, the softer the surface, as easy as that. Generally, whetstone grit ranges from 220 to 8000. At the same time traditional Japanese grade system describes only three types of whetstones: rough stone (ara-to), medium stone(naka-to) and finishing stone (shiage-to).

The sharpening process includes running the blade’s edge against the surface of the stone, previously covered with water. Oil is considered to slow down the sharpening process, although can be used for learning and mastering the skill. It is important to always read stone manual and soak fine stones in water unless instructed. Otherwise you can damage surface or ever crack the sharpening stone. To sharpen a knife you need several stones of different grit. Usually sharpening stones are two-sided (with each side of a different grit), which makes it more budget friendly for the beginners. The 1000 grit stone is considered a starting grade for dull knives. The technique is simple – hold the knife (one hand on top of the blade, another on the handle) and slide it away from you, tip to the base. Fifteen strokes is enough to switch to the other side of the blade, then change your stone to medium (usually 3000) and finishing-touch (6000) grades, every time repeating the motion. If setting a 10 or 15-degree angle is a hard thing for you to do, use a degree setting tool or a stack of quarters to help and practice.

All the things mentioned above are fine if you are sharpening a knife from a near to dull point. Or if you want to become a professional blade sharpener. Or if you have a lot of money, I mean, come on, good whetstones cost money, trashy stones are not worth your time. However if you don’t want to spend a lot, there are easier and more budget friendly ways to make it razor sharp.

First there are steel rods for knife sharpening – probably the most classy way to make the job done. You’ve seen it million times on TV and in movies. Just grab the rod and run your blade several times on each side. The edge will become ready to slice and dice in no time again. Anyway, it is hard to explain the simplicity of sharpening a knife this way so just go online and watch the straightforward video of any YouTuber.

Another way to sharpen the blade is the Spyderco triangle. Like with stones, the system also uses abrasive compounds. Problem with a triangle is that the finishing 30 degree angle can be good for EDC blades, but is almost useless for chefs blades. The 15 to 20 degree angle has long become a standard for kitchen blades. So this way of sharpening is recommended only for those who can actually set the knife for the right angle (which is hard, yet possible). And already I start hearing the echoes of the past with the typical “But man this thing costs a hundred bucks!”. Well yeah, new from the shelf it does, but it is an extremely versatile thing that can actually sharpen many other things. So in the meantime, I strongly advice you give it a chance and try sharpening blades with the triangle system.

Now if any of the described methods are too complicated for you, there is a better way – the manual and electric knife sharpeners. Usually they are extremely cheap and can easily rough up or even destroy the knife’s edge. These sharpeners use one of the three abrasive materials for whetting the blade: carbides, ceramic and diamond. The first two cost less and take off more edge when sharpening. Diamond abrasive, from my perspective is the best – it is harder, it lasts longer and it is more gentle to the blade’s edge. Another thing to consider is the sharpeners chamber. Most electric sharpeners have special rails to prevent knife wiggling. With manual sharpeners, it is better to stick to the more expensive models from the acclaimed brands. This way you have less chance to buy cheap sharpener and destroy your favorite knife’s edge.

Finally, there are cups. What, on earth are you talking about, you might ask. Well, there are situations when you are out of pricy sharpening systems, whetstones and iron rods. But any kitchen has ceramic cups and that is, believe me, a good sharpening tool. Like with whetstones, you run the knife’s edge against the ragged bottom part of the cup. In a few moves your knife will we shaving sharp and ready to slice and dice vegetables with ease. What I do not advice to do is sharpen 200-dollar blades with cups. After all, we are talking about a very unusual way of edging the blade.

Chef’s Knife Sharpening on a Whetstone video 

Chef’s Knife Kit

Now that we are done with all the technical parts let’s roll on with the part I promised we talk about again – the chef knife kits. Imagine you’ve just finished renovating your kitchen. Buying a bunch of separate knives for different tasks might appear to archaic for you. Plus, you are just new to the topic and still in need of a good kitchen kit. Stay awhile and hear some advice on the best kitchen knife kits there on the market.

For starters let’s figure out the definition of a chef knife kit. A chef knife kit is a set of several knives each for their own task, usually equipped with a beautiful base. A base is a holder made from any material, wooden to glass, used for storing all blades in one place. The number of blades in kits is usually different, as well as the holder style and quality. Now I won’t get into the purpose details of all the blades in the kit (we’ll cover this topic in the next section of the review). However we’ll talk about the three best kitchen sets currently on sale.

I’ll start with my favorite Mercer Culinary Genesis 6-Piece Set. This Knife kit is a real treat for those who love minimalistic lofty designs and good old German blades. The set includes a couple of paring knives, a chefs knife, a carving and serrated blade. As you’ll see later – this set is the optimal minimum any person should have on the kitchen. Add a beautiful thin block that eats little to no space on the counter. And of course the perfect high carbon stainless steel blades from Mercer – I guarantee you this is a really good purchase for about 130$ that will last you a lifetime.

Mercer Culinary Genesis 6-Piece Set
Mercer Culinary Genesis 6-Piece Set

Mercer Culinary Genesis 6-Piece Set >>   Check Price

Another good set is the DALSTRONG Gladiator Series Knife Set – another good example of the HC German steel blades at a price of 250$. This time the block is made of solid acacia wood piece. The set features a 7-inch Santoku and an 8-inch chef knife, two serrated blades (6 and 9 inches) and two paring blades. The steel here is high carbon X50CrMoV15 steel hardened to 55 HRC and handle is laminated pakkawood, so the knives stay always sharp, handy and stainless. In addition, there is a beautiful engraved rivet on the handle of every knife. Again – this is a good example of a minimalistic set absolutely worth its money.

DALSTRONG Gladiator Knife Set
DALSTRONG Gladiator Knife Set

DALSTRONG Gladiator Knife Set >>   Check Price

Getting back to a more budget approach – take a look at the Victorinox 8-piece Knife block set. Featuring a pair of slicers (one serrated), an 8-inch chef knife, a pair of paring blades, an iron sharpener and scissors. If you ask me – I think this is absolutely the best starter pack for any kitchen. Plain, simple and with all the tools you need. The absolute advantage of this here set against all the previous are the scissors. Opening packages or cutting through meat – they can do everything. And of course the sharpener – a truly useful addition to the set since your blades are definitely going to dull in time. Ah, and the price – you can find the Victorinox 8-piece set anywhere for about 160$ which is probably the best bargain you’ll get on the market.

Now that we know what chef knife sets there are let’s go into the details and learn what all the terms like ‘paring knife’, ‘serrated edge’ and ‘vegetable knife’ actually mean.

Chef’s Knife vs Marketing

One of the questions I hear sometimes about chef knives is – do I actually need a huge chef knife on a kitchen? Considering there is a ton of other blades on the market, the question is indeed relatable and worth mentioning. So now we are going to quickly review the most commonly used kitchen knives and compare it to the victim of today’s discussion – a chef knife.

Chef’s Knife vs Kitchen Knife

Number one in my list is the Kitchen Knife – a true villain and rival. This guy here is a tad smaller and is always confused for a chef’s knife. So basically it is a scaled version of a chef’s blade for more precise tasks that do not require the heftiness of the latter. I personally own a 6-inch Santoku blade that is used more often for regular tasks. Like bread, cheese and butter slicing for a sandwich. Sometimes getting an 8 inch blade is just plain uncomfortable, so there you have it – a good choice for people who don’t want a big blade like chef’s knife.

Chef’s Knife vs Vegetable Knife

Coming up next is a vegetable knife. Frankly speaking it would be better to compare a kitchen knife to a vegetable knife, since a vegetable knife is even a smaller version. Say, you want to make a ‘rose’ from the tomato – a nice decoration piece for the meal. Taking out the chef’s knife and trying to carve those lines wouldbe ridiculous. Therefore people invented smaller and thinner blades. This way you can pile fruits and vegetables with ease and not look stupid. Besides it is just plain comfortable to use smaller blades with smaller objects.

Vegetable Knife
Vegetable Knife

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Chef’s Knife vs Slicing Knife

The slicing knife usually comes with Granton-edged blade. The term originates from the Granton Company that invented knives with this kind of edge. Previously slicing blades came with holes, however Granton type knives have scallops (a row of dimples) instead. This way food, that is being processed with a slicing blade of this particular design doesn’t tear and get caught in the holes. A good slicing knife is particularly good at working with moist foods like cheese, meet, seafood and vegetables (like cucumbers or tomatoes). Indeed, everything a slicer is capable of, a chef’s knife can do. Still, going through a big loaf of roasted beef would be much handier with a razor sharp Granton edge blade.

Slicing Knife
Slicing Knife

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Chef’s Knife vs Bread Knife

Now the bread knife is a horse of another color. These blades come in any shape and size but what unites them all is the serrated edge that goes through anything like butter through knife… well, the other way round, you get the idea. So the serrated edge is a wavelike edge that, due to the ever-changing slicing angle, has the perfect features for going through fresh bread or a fat 3 layer burger. A sharp chef knife would probably squish your cooking masterpiece, leaving a mess, nobody would try and taste. But a good bread knife will even cut through ripe tomatoes. It is a true saver and helper, if you, by some chance don’t own it – go and choose one right now.

Bread Knife
Bread Knife

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Chef’s Knife vs Paring Knife

A paring knife is usually a small 3 to 4 inch blade knife for general-purpose tasks. Say, if you enter the kitchen and want to eat an apple, you will most probably grab either a paring or a vegetable knife. Either way, the closest to shape and form factor is indeed a veg-knife. A paring knife can come in several different blade designs, with like a bowie or a hook blade. So the term ‘paring’ actually covers a lot of different blades for many intricate tasks. The most typical and affordable example of a paring knife is the Swiss Classic Paring Knife and if you don’t own it yet, well, I suggest you buy this thing. It is really handy, I promise.

Paring Knife
Paring Knife

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Chef’s Knife vs Nakiri

Ah, the Nakiri… Sorry, got carried away here. Thing is we have a long lasting discussion with my old friend. He says it is the best vegetable chopper there is on the market. However, I personally stick to the traditional chef’s blade or Santoku. But you probably know the story of Squid and Whale. So the Nakiri knife is very similar to the meat cleaver, only thinner and longer. The edge is rounded which makes chopping easy… still very similar to the way we use chef knives. The Nakiri is a traditional Japanese vegetable knife. But due to the size comparable to a traditional 8-inch knife this here blade is used as all round kitchen knife. Whether it is indeed more comfortable to use or not – I leave to you. Personally, I consider it a very charismatic addition to my kitchen. Yet, I would definitely choose a Santoku or Victorinox on the very first occasion.

Nakiri
Nakiri

 Nakiri Knife >>   Check Price

What Chef’s Knife is the Best?

Now I know I have already touched the theme previously in the brand section. But it is not the question of brand usually, rather the ergonomics and the overall aesthetics that drives us buy knives. There is also the material part but we’ve already discussed it. Price is also of major importance as not that many people are actually eager to spend a lot of money on kitchen blades. All these things made my head literary explode when I started writing the article. I decided to choose one knife that not only suit the “first budget kitchen knife” niche, but can also satisfy the most exquisite professional tastes. So if you ask me what chef knife should I buy without a doubt, my answer would be the Victorinox 8-ich chef knife.

First thing’s first – the average price on the market is 40$. However this Victorinox chef knife for sale can be bought for about 20 to 30 dollars. Which makes it the best brand chef knife for the money, even a student can afford. The next big thing is the steel grade. By this moment, you probably know I am a big fan of carbon steel blades. But for an average user the stains and the rugged looks of a knife is somewhat strange, even revolving. The steel on Victorinox is 5 Chromium 15 Molybdenum Vanadium, a good stainless steel hardened to about 54-56 Rockwell points. This means the blade will cut well, while still being extremely stain resistant and always shiny. Cut a lemon, drop the knife into the sink and leave it there for a week – not a single stain.

Last but not least is the overall ergonomics and handle. The handle is made from textured Fibrox nylon material. It is relatively thick and just sticks to your palm. With the pinch grip Victorinox Chef’s knife also feels great considering the 4mm spine of the blade and the perfectly rounded edges. I’ve been using a similar model for quite a long time and had no troubles using the knife for long sessions.

Conclusion

To sum up, the world of chef knives is rich and boundless. It can suggest a blade for everyone – from a searching beginner to a successful professional. The already mentioned Victorinox 8-ich chef knife is my personal entry level choice for people who want to have a working kitchen knife and master their skills. However, life is a wonderful journey after all and I do hope this article will help you find a kitchen knife that suits your needs best. As usual, stay sharp and look forward to more reviews.

 

 

One thought on “Chef’s Knife · The Ultimate Guide – 2018

  1. After 5 years in the kitchen I’ve gone back to my victorinox that I started out with as an apprentice chef. My arthritic hand appreciate the fat handles and my poor Shun sits in the knife bag

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