photo credit: Photo: Courtesy of Miyabi
Choosing a quality chef’s knife can be a daunting task. There are seemingly infinite options, in a variety of styles, sizes, shapes, and materials. And if you aren’t confident in your knife-wielding skills, the thought of graduating to a razor-sharp blade can seem properly terrifying.
Adding to the weight of the decision is the fact that a chef’s knife is, by definition, the most important tool in any cook’s kitchen. It’s what you’ll use to chop herbs, dice onions, make paper-thin slices of meat, and operate on hulking squashes. So it’s a common misconception that you need to spend big in order to get a long-lasting, high-performing knife.
If you ask pro chefs what makes for a good chef’s knife, the majority of them won’t evangelize about one particular make or style, or convince you to splurge. They’ll tell you that the best knife is, quite simply, the one that feels and moves best in your hand.
“A great chef’s knife is very subjective and depends on what the user likes,” says Mari Sugai of Korin, a New York City shop that specializes in Japanese knives. “It also depends on how the user holds their knife. Culinary school will teach you the way to cut, but most people do what they want.”
Of course, so much of what makes a knife feel good comes down to a handful of more technical variables, like its length and weight, the composition of the steel, the grip and size of the handle, and the style of knife.
Japanese knives are generally thin, lightweight, and easy to maneuver. The trademark of this style is a single bevel (or angle) on one side of the blade. Because of this, a left-handed chef will use a different Japanese knife than his right-handed colleague. Another hallmark is its flat blade, which makes it ideal for straight, clean chops.
Whereas Western-style knives—which marry elements of traditional Japanese knives with aspects of European knives, particularly those made in Germany—have a symmetrical V-shaped blade that is beveled on both sides. Its rounded belly allows for a rocking motion, where the rounded tip of the knife remains in contact with the cutting board as the blade moves up and down. It’s also a bit heavier.
Without getting too in-the-weeds about metallurgy, most chef’s knives can be broken down into two broad categories: carbon steel and stain-resistant steel. A carbon steel knife rusts when exposed to acid and moisture, so you’ll need to keep it dry when you’re using it (which is why any sushi chef worth his salt will wipe down his blade after each use). The benefit is that carbon steel is sharper and way easier to sharpen than stain-resistant steel. “It’s seen as the ‘purer’ knife in a sense,” says Sugai.
Stain-resistant steel, on the other hand, is infused with chromium and carbon, giving it protection against corrosion and rust. A knife made from more stain-resistant alloys retains its sharpness for longer and requires less maintenance—which is why it’s the go-to of most home chefs.
As for the picks of professional chefs, read on to find out which chef’s knives our favorite food people stock in their kitchens.
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Chef and owner of J Chong Eats
“My first kitchen job was a cute little Italian restaurant in Louisiana. One of the people I worked with had a 6-inch Miyabi chef’s knife, and the first time I held it in my hand I loved it. Eight years later and I own six of their knives. I’m so loyal I even travel with them.”
Chef and owner of Che Fico
“I own a couple different chef’s knives today, but when I was first starting out, I used Misono’s UX10 Suisin Inox Western-Style knife. It can withstand a busy night of service and offers incredible precision. It also gets insanely sharp. At home, I like the chef’s knives made by brands like J.A. Henckels and Forschner. They can take a beating and don’t require sharpening after each use, which is essential for a working dad like me.”
CEO, chef, and co-founder of Katie Button Restaurant Group
“My go-to is a Western-style Japanese knife is a Misono UX10. I like it because it’s relatively lightweight and balanced, which means that when you hold it where the handle meets the blade, it balances easily. The other thing I like is that the blade sharpens easily, but also does a good job of holding its edge. I’ve had mine for years and it has never chipped. It’s a reliable workhorse!”
James Beard award winner and chef at Pasjoli
“During my first cooking job, I fell in love with a brand called Nenox, which makes Western-style Japanese knives. Their Desert Iron Wood Gyuoto chef’s knife is 9.5 inches and features a beautiful wooden handle that feels and looks great. It’s a worthwhile investment, at $660, if you’re like me and spend 90% of your day with a knife in hand. The chef’s knife I recommend to my friends is the MAC Professional 8” Hollow Edge chef’s knife. If you have $150 to spend, this is the one to get. It won’t stain, and it’s soft enough that it won’t bend and hard enough that it won’t chip.”
Chef-owner at The Brothers Sushi
“I like a 30-centimer sushi knife from Masamoto. It’s shaped in such a way that fish doesn’t stick to the knife. It’s also balanced and allows for a seamless stroke. If you’re going to be a true sushi chef, you want to go with something that’s not stainless so you get used to repetitively wiping your blade.”
Executive chef at Nakaji
“I use a custom-made sushi knife that was given to me from a chef friend as a birthday present, so it’s not available to purchase in stores. In general, I think the most important quality to look for is the sharpness of the knife and expensive knives aren’t necessarily better. If you live in New York, you can get a great knife for $50-$150 at MTC Kitchen or Korin.”
Partner and chef at Henrietta Red and The Party Line
“Tojiharu makes an all-purpose chef’s knife that’s great for cutting vegetables and doing standard knife cuts. I also like the slightly larger chef’s knife from Miyabi.”
Chef at Red Rooster Overtown
“I use a Misono Swedish carbon steel Sujihiki most of the time. It’s made of softer metal and is easy to sharpen. The long, thin, flexible blade makes easy work of slicing fish and meat. I also love Middleton Made Knives from Quintin Middleton. I’m a big fan of supporting domestic craft bladesmiths, and Quintin happens to be one of the best African American knife makers in the country. His designs are elegant, well made, and the handle is super comfortable for someone who has a knife in his hand all day.”
Chef at Knife & Spoon
“My favorite knife is a slicer. They’re easy to sharpen and to keep sharp and are typically lightweight. My first one, which is also my favorite one, is the Misono Swedish steel. It is light as a feather and made from a durable soft metal. I purchased this knife on a payment plan 20 years ago. It took me three payments to earn it.”
Knife expert at Korin
“There isn’t a knife that we carry at Korin that I wouldn’t recommend, but the brands that have the widest variety of knife styles and steel types are Togiharu and Korin, both of which offer a fair price point for anyone starting out.”
“Bloodroot Blades in Athens, Georgia produces my favorite knives, hands down. Everything about their knives, from the blade to the handle and everything in between, is tailored to your liking. They use reclaimed steel and their knives stay sharp for a very long time. The important thing to know is how to sharpen your knife—the type of knife doesn’t matter in the end. They’re currently sold out but if you want another good knife, the Sakai Takayuki 33 Layer Damascus Gyutou is a good everyday knife that I would buy.”
“I started using my Middleton Made 8” Echo Chef Knife a few years ago and it has become my go-to. It’s sturdy, forms perfectly to my hand, and can easily withstands hours of daily prep. The brand’s bladesmith, Quintin Middleton, is based in the South and he crafts his knives with chefs in mind. As an added plus, it’s also just really nice to look at.”