One of our favorite chefs once likened knife shopping to searching for a little black dress – and we think he was right on the money. After all, you want your knife to be just the right style, be of superb quality and most importantly, it should fit you perfectly. (Thanks for the tip, Nathan Lyon!)
Euro-style or Japanese?
The first decision you’ll have to make when choosing a chef's knife is which style to go with – a European-style knife with a slightly curved edge or a Japanese knife, also known as a Santoku, with a straight blade. The shape of the European-style blade is more suited to chopping with a rocking motion, while a Santoku works best using an up-and-down motion. Both can be used as all-purpose knives, but European blades tend to be better at tackling tougher items like rock-hard squash, while Japanese-style blades are ideal for fine cuts like a julienne.
It should feel just right
Your knife should feel like an extension of your hand, so go with a size you feel comfortable with. For some people, that means starting with a 7-inch blade, and for others it could be a 10-inch. Balance is also key: Check that the steel extends through the handle because without this feature, a knife can feel front heavy. The best way to know if a knife is for you, though, is to hold it in your hand and see how it feels. Many stores will allow you to try it out to see how it is in action, and others will allow you to return or exchange if you aren’t happy with it after purchase. Remember, choosing your chef's knife isn’t about fancy names or hefty price tags, but rather, it’s about finding the right fit for you.
1. The Samurai
Shun Classic Sumo Santoku 7½ inch
Shun blades are among the sharpest available with a 16° angle at purchase, making this knife a stellar choice for your precise vegetable cuts. Slightly heavier than other comparable knives, it has a wider blade, making it easy to pick up your chopped food and move it into your pan. Like other Japanese varieties, you can’t be as rough with it as you might with a European knife (we nicked our tester on a squash!), but we still think it’s worth splashing out for to have this stunner in your collection. $225 (comes with a knife stand), shun.kaiusaltd.com
2. The Budget
J.A. Henckels international Classic 8-inch Chef’s Knife
This knife comes from Henckel’s reasonably priced “Classic” line, for those looking for an a European-style knife without a steep investment. While it’s on the lower end of the price spectrum, it can still handle a multitude of kitchen tasks. Although it’s made to be stain resistant, we found it had some marks after washing. $55, zwillingonline.com
3. The Swiss
Victorinox forschner rosewood 10-inch Chef’s Knife
For the home cook who is comfortable with a longer blade, this Swiss-made, European-style knife is a great option. With a comfortable handle, this knife feels quite light for its size. The steel doesn’t go entirely through the handle to the end, which makes it very slightly front heavy. However, we still recommend this as a great all-purpose knife. $75, cutleryandmore.com
4. The Agile
MAC Professional series 6½-inch Santoku with Dimples
Perfect for those wanting a smaller knife for easier maneuvering, this Santoku clocks in with a blade of just 6½ inches – but even with its petite size, this powerhouse can still perform at the same level as any other professional knife. With an incredibly balanced weight distribution, it also has dimples along the blade, meaning your chopped food doesn’t stick.
5. The Groovy
Global 7-inch Hollow-Ground Santoku Knife
Made famous by an endorsement in celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential (Ecco, 2007), this brand has a standout feature: The knife is made of one piece of steel, including the handle, which means there’s no wood or plastic handle for food or dirt to get stuck in. The grooved handle has good grip and the knife is rust and stain resistant.
6. The Traditional
Wusthof Classic Chef's Knife 8 inch
This is your quintessential European-style knife – it’s on the heavier side, but it’s ultra durable and can perform all your toughest kitchen tasks. Made in Germany, it has a great weight balance that makes chopping a breeze. $130, williams-sonoma.com