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Chef’s knives have an eight-inch blade and a handle around five to eight inches long. While most kitchen knives have a specific purpose – pairing, boning, cutting bread, etc – chef’s knives are built to do as much as possible. Break out your chef’s knife when chopping vegetables, carving meat, slicing fruit and everything in-between. In other words, knives are the pinnacle of cooking utensils – 2.6 million years in the making.
Professionals covet their chef’s knife because they know its exact weight and capabilities, allowing them to work accurately at lighting speeds. But culinary beginners can also benefit from the do-it-all functionality of a chef’s knife because they don’t demand knowledge of every knife in a bulky set.
What to Know Before Buying a Chef’s Knife
Picking a chef’s knife requires more research than some people realize. Ideally, you’ll want to try knives in person. Professional chef Tim Hayward suggests bringing a bag of tomatoes to the kitchen store and slicing right there. But researching and shopping online is much easier for most of us, so instead, order your knife and give it the tomato test at home.
There are a few key specs to look at before buying a new chef’s knife. Below are some of the most important.
Origin: Nationality is the most important factor when buying a chef’s knife because it determines the style and composition of the blade. The two main styles are Japanese and German (a.k.a Western). Japanese blades are harder and stay sharper for longer, but this hardness makes them more prone to chipping and cracking. German blades are softer (so they’ll dull faster), but this makes them tougher for heavy-duty jobs and easier to sharpen. When checking hardness you can also see where the knife falls on the Rockwell hardness scale. Low to mid 50s is softer, while mid 50s to low 60s is harder.
Handle Size: The handle of a chef’s knife should fit in your palm with a little extra space. Most handles range from five to nine inches long, so pick according to the size of your hand.
Grip: Some chefs prefer an ergonomic handle with more grip for heavy-duty cutting. Others like a more simple handle that allows for various positions and a more solid feel.
Weight: Generally speaking, Japanese-style knives are lighter than German knives. The lightness of a Japanese blade can be good for precise tasks, but the weight of a German knife can make heavy-duty mincing and carving easier.
1. Mercer Culinary Millennia Chef’s Knife
Mercer stays true to the chef knife’s do-it-all spirit with this Millennia knife. The knife comes from an American brand, uses a Japanese-style blade and features a comfortable grip.
The blade is made from a single piece of high-carbon steel that resists rust, stains and discoloration over time. It’s incredibly sharp right out of the box and stays that way for quite some time thanks to the hardness.
The grip is where the Mercer Millennia really shines. The ergonomically-designed handle is made with Santoprene (a rubbery material) and polypropylene (a flexible plastic), offering serious comfort without sacrificing any durability. You’ll also find a finger guard and slip-resistant textured finger grips on the bolster (where the blade meets the handle) for precise cutting. However, the handle is a bit long at 9.5 inches, which could make it a bit bulky for anyone with small hands.
PROS: The knife is very easy to clean, the ergonomic handle is great and the blade is incredibly sharp.
CONS: Large handle, less renowned brand.
2. Victorinox Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife
The Swiss brand Victorinox might be known for pocket knives, but they make a great chef’s knife as well. This Fibrox Pro is their best-seller with a European stainless steel blade (so, more of a German-style) that’s durable and strong enough for hacking up bone-in meats. However, because it’s a softer western blade, you will need to sharpen it more often than the other knives on our list.
Experienced chefs will appreciate the Fibrox, but it’s really geared towards casual cooks and beginners. The knife’s handle is very comfortable thanks to a TPE construction, and it’s ergonomically-designed to reduce wrist fatigue. This translates to easy extended use without any slipping or discomfort.
As is standard with German-style knives, the Fibrox is on the heavier side at 8.8 ounces. This makes it good for meats and other larger foods, but not as accurate for precision work.
Unlike the other knives on our list, the Victorinox is dishwasher-safe. Hand-washing is still preferable, but if you have a big dinner party and no effort for hand-cleaning, you can throw this knife in the dishwasher without a problem.
PROS: Dishwasher-safe, ergonomic handle, heavy-duty.
CONS: Requires sharpening often.
3. Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife
If you’re looking for a genuine, top-of-the-line Japanese blade, we recommend this chef’s knife from Shun. For more than 100 years, these knives have been handcrafted in Seki City, maintaining Japanese tradition and bringing in some modern advancements as well.
The blade is made up of 69 layers including premium Damascus steel, carbon, chromium and tungsten. Together these materials provide durability, corrosion resistance and razor sharpness. The Damascus steel cladding, which you see on the sides, makes the knife especially sharp and also gives it an elegant look.
Shun maintains the traditional Japanese style all the way through the handle with a D shape and pakkawood material. The curved side fits into your palm (sorry left-handers) providing some grip. The handle is less ergonomic than the knives above, but many chefs prefer this style because it offers more versatility in terms of grip positions.
This maneuverability comes in handy for switching between activities in the kitchen or approaching delicate procedures such as fish for sushi.
PROS: Maneuverable, premium quality, elegant look.
CONS: Sized for right hand use only.
4. Dalstrong Chef Knife
Another high-quality Japanese option is this chef’s knife from Dalstrong. Many knives come from old, established brands but Dalstrong is just eight years old – and that might be a good thing. Their products are on the cutting edge of knife technology (no pun intended), and the brand has become a serious contender in the knife world.
One thing you’ll notice immediately with this knife is its weight. At just 6.6 ounces, the Dalestrong is very light, making it great for precision tasks. Dalstrong also throws in a sheath with this knife (the others require a separate purchase) which is great for transportation and keeping the blade in tip-top shape.
The Dalstrong blade is made from a single piece of high-carbon steel that undergoes ice-tempering for a rock-solid construction. The handle is very similar to the Shun’s with a D shape and a pakkawood construction. However, the handle is quite short at just five inches, so anyone with big hands might have trouble.
The Dalstrong offers a high-quality blade that’s accessible to all skill levels. This makes it a good upgrade if you’re just getting into cooking, or a great purchase for expert chefs looking for something more affordable.
PROS: High-quality materials, sheath included, lightweight.
CONS: Short handle, right hand only.