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How to Select the Best for Your Needs
I didn’t learn a lot about cooking from my Dad as Sunday brunch and the BBQ were pretty much the extent of his culinary expertise.
But I did learn about tools from him. He was a mechanic by trade and grew up on a farm, so he knew the value of investing in a well-made tool.
And that once you’ve purchased a good tool, keeping it well maintained is key to maximum efficiency, performance and longevity.
And while the knives in our kitchen weren’t all necessarily top of the line, he always kept them razor-sharp – which made them a real pleasure to use.
So, in this post, we’re going to look at one of the basic pieces of a good knife set, the chef’s knife.
We’re going to:
- Present our #1 Pick
- Give you our budget recommendation
- Give a brief overview and disucss the various styles that you will encounter
- Discuss what features to look for
- Briefly talk about maintenance for peak performance
- Present a number of reviews for your consideration
Bottom Line Up Front
Foodal’s #1 Pick for the Best Chef Knife for the Average Home Cook or Pro
The 8-Inch Messermeister San Moritz Elite Chef’s Knife is not the cheapest option, but it is far from the most expensive. It may be a steep investment for some but will last a lifetime.
Why do we (the Foodal staff) think so highly of this blade?
Here’s the deal:
Made in Germany, this chef’s knife features a high carbon content which means that it is extremely easy to sharpen AND it holds its edge.
Moreover, it is sharpened at a steeper angle than most western examples and its razor sharp out of the box.
What else is there like about it?
Its wider than most conventional western blades. Meaning that it is easy to scoop up your ingredients after you are through prepping them.
Its ergonomics are very well thought out with a polished and rounded spine to prevent irritation to your skin (or calluses if you are a pro).
Unlike other blades, the bolster doesn’t get in the way when sharpening.
The smoothly polished polymer handle has a certain feel to it, a weight, a superb surface that screams quality.
And most importantly, it won’t crack, splinter, or break…even if left submerged in water for a long period of time (something that you shouldn’t do to any blade).
Yes, it’s a bit pricey (although not prohibitively so) but most quality tools are. “Buy once, cry once” with this one.
Our Best Budget Recommendation
Available affordably, the Victorinox 8-Inch Chef’s Knife in Rosewood is a decent quality option for those who want a decent quality blade with some pop to it thanks to the real wood handle.
The Victorinox has several things going for it:
The stamped construction makes it a cheaper alternative than most of the other offerings and it maintains a decent edge.
Moreover, the stainless is easy to sharpen and easy to “straighten up” using a steel to refine the edge making this offering perfect for those who are looking to get into their first decent blade.
The handle is riveted to the full tang handle and Victorinox claims it is dishwasher safe (although I would NOT recommend sending any quality tool through a dishwasher – bad idea all around).
All in all – a great knife at a good price.
All About Chef’s Knives
A clumsy, dull knife makes your kitchen efforts clumsy and dull. And that is definitely not the best motivation to spend more time crafting healthy meals at home.
If you’d like to amp up your cooking skills, with more enjoyment making meals, having a few good knives on hand is essential.
You only need a few to start with, and they don’t necessarily have to be the most expensive either.
The best you can buy for your purposes is more important than their price tag.
Of course, you’ll need to know what makes a ‘good’ knife ‘good’ in order to purchase the best for your budget…
A chef’s knife, or cook’s knife, is a large bladed tool used in a variety of food preparation techniques.
Originally designed for disjointing large cuts, the long, tall blade was needed to handle the torque required to slice through tough cartilage and connective tissue.
Today, thanks to its unique design, it’s become very popular as more of a general purpose knife and serves a variety of functions.
A chef’s knife is the home cook’s equivalent of a Swiss Army knife – it’s ready and willing to perform any task given it.
In general, it will have a blade length of 8” and a height of 1.5 – 2”, although many models will range in length from about 6 – 14” and can measure up to 3” in depth.
The actual shape of the blade is determined by the style it’s meant to emulate. If you’ll visualize a straight line from the base of the heel to the point of the tip, the area below this imaginary line is where the main difference lies.
A French-style blade will have a straighter edge extending from the heel, before curving up to the tip of the blade – it has a truer triangular shape.
A German-style blade has a deeper, more continuous curve beginning at the heel and traveling all the way to the tip, which gives it more of a rocking motion – the area below the line has a wider angle, or a big belly.
A Japanese-style chef’s knife has a profile similar to either the French or German style, and comes in a variety of shapes for particular tasks. And, it will usually be thinner in the cross-section and lighter than its European counterparts, and is typically constructed of an exotic stainless steel alloy.
Japanese blades are well-known for the hardness of the alloys used, and their extreme sharpness. A typical Japanese-style knife is ground to a 15 – 18° angle, while a Western style blade will have a less severe angle of approximately 20 – 22°.
This article delves deeper into the western blade profile. Subsequent articles will explore Japanese kitchen knives in more detail.
None of these styles is inherently better than the other, and it really comes down to being a matter of personal preference.
Features to Look For in a Chef’s Knife
To find the knife that’s just right for you and your kitchen, give the following points some thought before making a purchase.
Just as there are many shapes and sizes, there’s also considerable variation in weight. A heavier knife might cut through dense food easier due to its weight, while a lighter one may offer greater maneuverability and versatility. It’s really a matter of personal preference for the typical tasks you’ll be using it for.
Balance is another somewhat ambiguous feature. Too much weight on either the blade or handle will make you work harder than a well-balanced tool, and side-to-side stability is important as well. The best way to determine balance is to hold a knife lightly in the palm of your hand to see whether it teeters to one side or the other, and if it feels natural when gripped.
The 8” chef’s knife is very popular for home cooks because of its versatility. A smaller 6” size is wonderfully agile and great for detail work, but may not be robust enough for cutting through large pieces.
And a large 10” size will handle more volume with ease, but can feel awkward and a bit overwhelming.
See the section All About Chef’s Knives above for details on styles and blade profile.
A well-made chef’s knife should be sharp right out of the box. How well it will hold its sharpness, and ease of sharpening, is primarily determined by the materials used in construction.
The spine is the top edge of the blade, thicker at the heel and tapering to the point of the tip.
Typically it will have square edges which may cause some discomfort if you like to grip your knife with the forefinger over the bolster and spine – if you find it to be uncomfortable, a little buffing with emery paper will round it out easily.
The heel is the thickest and broadest section of the blade and is located at the base just before the handle.
This area holds the greatest heft and provides the necessary force for cutting through tough tissue or large items.
Look for a sturdy heel that offers strength and stability when it contacts the cutting board.
This is the thick connective piece located between the heel of the blade and the handle. It’s used to add strength, stability and balance and also acts to protect your fingers. Some knives will have no bolster at all, some will have a half-bolster that makes sharpening the entire length of the blade easy to do, and others will have a full bolster from spine to edge.
Handles come in a variety of materials, shapes and sizes, so look for one that gives a feeling of comfort and security – and gives plenty of underside clearance to ensure you don’t bash your knuckles when chopping.
A Note on Sharpening and Maintenance
It can’t be said enough, your tool is only as good as the maintenance it receives. A $2000 custom made blade or a $150 decent quality knife will not cut any better than a $2 Walmart special if it is not kept sharp.
One of the key differences between a $2 example and a good quality product is that a better made blade will retain the edge for a lot longer and be much easier to sharpen.
Despite all of the discussions within various groups and message boards on the net, the special alloy, high chromium, high carbon hoopla doesn’t turn these tools into magic wands. They still need sharpened.
Check out Foodal’s sharpening section for techniques and tips on how to better maintain your edge.
Also, it should be mentioned that the surface that you cut your food on needs to knife friendly as well.
I see these glass cutting boards everywhere. How long do you think an edge will last chopping down into glass? Glass is a very hard substance and would quickly take the edge of a samurai sword let alone a kitchen tool.
Make sure to check Foodal’s cutting board guides and reviews to help you find out which kind works the best for you.
The following reviews are for French and German style knives made with carbon steel or high-carbon stainless steel.
Messermeister San Moritz Elite 8” Chef’s Knife
Our #1 pick for the best chef’s knife is the Messermeister San Moritz Elite. This beauty is still hand-crafted in the lineage of cutlery artisans in Solingen, Germany. This high quality knife is constructed of one-piece, hammer forged high-carbon steel alloy.
Messermeister San Moritz Elite Chef’s Knife, 8-Inch available on Amazon
The flagship of the San Moritz line, it’s solid and versatile with a broad blade that tapers from the spine to the cambered, hand-polished Elite cutting edge.
Shaped to easily peel, trim, slice, dice, chop, and mince vegetables, it can also cut meat or fillet fish.
As the bolster doesn’t extend all the way to the cutting edge, sharpening the full length of the blade is effortless and the entire blade can be used, including the broad end.
The bolster at the front of the handle gradually tapers to the tip providing the geometry for ideal balance, with the weight distributed equally between the handle and the blade.
With a polished spine, using the pinch method for gripping is both comfortable and safe. The handle is made of molded polyoxymethylene (POM) that won’t crack or warp, and provides ergonomic balance and comfort.
It also has the unique feature used by professional chefs of a small plate at the butt end of the handle to engrave your initials on.
And the tang extends almost the full length of the handle, providing extra strength and stability.
At 3”, the blade is deeper than most chef’s knives and provides extra muscle for cutting through tough, fibrous ingredients with ease.
The blade measures 8”, and the overall dimensions are approximately 16.25 x 3.25 x 1.25”, with a weight of 10.6 ounces.
Hand washing is recommended to keep the blade sharp. Made in Germany with a limited lifetime warranty.
What Others Are Saying
The following notes are a compilation of the most common comments from verified purchasers at Amazon.
- This is another chef’s knife that gets universally high reviews for performance, efficiency and comfort.
- Happy shoppers like that the bolster doesn’t have a wide heel so sharpening, and using, the full length of the blade is easy and efficient.
- The well-balanced handle is on the smallish side compared to other brand name chef’s knives and makes gripping it comfortable, allowing the user to wield it with confidence and enjoyment.
- With 3” of depth to the blade, it provides an ample surface area that’s perfect for transferring food from the cutting board to a pot or dish.
- Exceptionally sharp out of the box, the sharpness allows the blade to do the work – the cook only has to guide it, there’s no need for extra effort or pushing.
- Versatility is another highlight as this knife works equally well for carving meat, chopping veggies or for delicate tasks like scooping out a blemish on fruit and vegetables.
The San Moritz Elite is a high-quality chef’s knife that comes with all the features you’d expect from a well-established company like Messermeister – the only real drawback is that it doesn’t have a full tang.
Crafted to the exacting standards of professional chef’s, it’s a valuable tool worth investing in, and with proper care it will last a lifetime.
Zwilling J.A. Henckles Professional S 8” High Carbon Steel, Stain Resistant Chef’s Knife
From Zwilling J.A. Henckles comes the beautiful and sturdy Professional S – an 8” hand-honed chef’s knife of high carbon, stain resistant steel.
With a broad, strong blade and a fine 15° cutting edge, this knife is crafted with precision forged construction for outstanding stability and highly accurate cutting.
Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Pro S 8-inch High Carbon Stainless-Steel Chef’s Knife available from Amazon
The tang extends the length of the ergonomic Novodur handle, a tough and durable resin, which is fully bonded to the tang and triple riveted for outstanding balance, strength and comfort.
The high carbon, non-staining steel is an exclusive Henckles formula and has been set with Henckles proprietary Friodur ice hardening system.
This provides maximum non-staining and non-rusting properties, greater blade strength and improved resistance to corrosion and pitting.
The full bolster provides balance and stability, and is tapered at the edge so you can sharpen the length of the blade.
After ice-hardening, the edge is laser bevelled, providing perfect geometry for the blade angle – giving it superior sharpness that stays sharp longer. The meaty bolster adds weight to the balance point, and ensures safety when chopping with wet or oily hands.
Although this lovely knife is made in Germany, it has the classic French profile with a straighter edge minus the big belly. It’s ideal for a variety of tasks from mincing herbs and chopping veggies to cleaving through ribs or a chicken with ease.
The blade measures 8” with overall dimensions of 17 x 3 x 1” and weighs 9.8 ounces.
Easy to care for, it’s dishwasher safe, although hand washing in hot, soapy water is recommended.
And it comes with Henckles full lifetime warranty.
What Others Are Saying
The following notes are a compilation of the most often repeated comments from verified purchasers at Amazon.com
- Without question, this knife is a favorite for both home cooks and professionals (at the time of writing).
- Highlights are the excellent balance, well-distributed heft and the comfortable handle that doesn’t cause fatigue with prolonged use.
- The non-staining carbon steel comes with a fabulous sharp edge and maintains its sharpness with just a few strokes on a honing steel.
- Its professional grade materials and construction makes it a pleasure to use in the kitchen, making short work of mincing and chopping with a smooth, flowing motion. And it’s sturdy enough to slice through ‘sticky’ vegetables (turnips, yams, potatoes, squash…) with ease.
- The skilled craftsmanship is obvious not only in its beautiful design, but also in the easy clean-up and low maintenance. There’s nothing light-weight or cheap about the Professional S.
- And Henckles customer service is another positive point, with no hassle exchanges even years after purchase.
- There aren’t many complaints, and at this time, only one from a verified purchaser who felt the knife he received was dull.
I purchased my Henckles Professional S Chef’s Knife over 30 years ago, and while it’s not the best knife I own, it’s certainly one of them.
It provides a professional feel, and the high-carbon content sharpens easily and retains a sharp edge much longer than stainless steel. Solid, well-balanced and versatile, it’s easy to use for a wide range of kitchen tasks.
And don’t be fooled by the cheaper versions of Henckles found in most big box stores – these less expensive lines are made in various parts of Asia using inferior steel.
The Pro S line is what made Henckles famous and is what you should get if you want a “forever” chef’s knife, a very close runner up in this price range.
A treat to handle, it’s one of the best French profile blades money can buy.
Wusthof Classic Ikon 8” Cook’s Knife
From Wusthof, we have their Classic Ikon 8” Cook’s Knife. Strikingly handsome with flowing, contemporary lines, this chef’s knife is forged from tough and durable stainless steel.
Wusthof Classic Ikon 8-Inch Cook’s Knife available from Amazon
Razor-sharp and long-lasting, each blade is hand-polished and delivers the ultimate experience in smooth, easy cutting.
The contoured handle design provides ergonomic comfort and is constructed of polyoxymethylene (POM) to resist fading and discoloration, then riveted to the tang in three spots for extra strength and durability.
With exquisite balance between the blade and handle, the Classic Ikon Cook’s Knife is easy to use and prevents fatigue when chopping through large amounts of food.
With a classic German-style profile, it’s a multi-purpose knife suitable for mincing, chopping, slicing, dicing, rocking and most any kitchen task given it.
The half bolster allows for honing and sharpening along the entire length of the blade, while the end cap gives an intuitive counter balance.
The Ikon’s blade is precisely tempered to 58 on the Rockwell Scale, then beveled with a compound angle from spine to tip and from bolster to tip. This results in an edge that’s strong, flexible and ultra-sharp with excellent retention.
Professionally forged from high-carbon stainless steel in Germany, the full tang extends through the handle for effortless cutting.
The blade measures 8” with overall dimensions of 12 x 2 x 1”, and weighs 11.2 ounces.
Dishwasher safe, although hand washing recommended. Backed by limited lifetime warranty, the Wusthof Ikon is made in Germany. 12 x 2 x 1, 11.2 ounces.
What Others Are Saying
The following notes are taken from the reviews of verified purchasers on Amazon. And at the time of this writing, the Ikon Cook’s Knife has received almost perfect scores for aesthetics, performance and sharpness.
- The contoured handle not only has a sleek, contemporary profile, it also provides comfort and safety. And the broad curved belly of the blade with the nicely weighted handle makes for a fluid cutting motion that’s easy on the wrist and forearm.
- It arrives out of the box with a super sharp edge that is easily restored after use with just a few swipes on a steel.
- The half bolster makes sharpening the entire length of the knife’s edge easy, so the entire blade can be used and gives full range for rocking and using the fat end.
- And the bolster is designed with a slight angle from front to back, which is ideal for those who like to use the pinch method for mincing, slicing or dicing.
- Solid, functional, comfortable and efficient it also holds an edge extremely well.
- There are very few complaints, and the only one to be repeated is in regard to the handle. One customer felt it was too lightweight while the other didn’t like the balance of it.
The Wusthof Classic Ikon 8” Cook’s Knife delivers in all areas.
An attractive addition to any kitchen, it’s a quality tool through and through. Affordably priced, it provides outstanding value for those who prefer a German-style profile.
Victorinox 8” Chef’s Knife with Rosewood Handle
Victorinox, the creator of the original Swiss Army knife, brings us this elegant chef’s knife of stamped steel with a beautiful rosewood handle.
Victorinox 8-Inch Chef’s Knife with a Rosewood Handle available on Amazon
A functional multi-purpose knife for all your kitchen cutting tasks, this chef’s knife features a German-style profile making it ideal for full-blade rocking.
Constructed without a bolster, the entire edge of the blade can be sharpened from heel to tip.
The high-carbon stainless-steel blade has been stamped from cold-rolled steel and provides maximum sharpness, edge retention and resists corrosion and staining. It’s conically ground throughout both the length and depth for a wider break point, and has been ice-tempered to retain its sharp edge.
The lightweight and ergonomically designed rosewood handle is rounded for comfort, doesn’t corrode or discolor, and is securely riveted to the full tang with stainless steel rivets for stability and durability.
Although we liked the rosewood handle model the best, both for looks and balance (the rosewood is very dense and adds heft), a Fibrox handled model is also available for slightly less money.
With an 8” blade, it has overall dimensions of 17.25 x 3.75 x 1.25” and weighs 4.8 ounces.
Hand washing is recommended, and it comes with the Victorinox lifetime warranty. Made in Switzerland.
What Others Are Saying
The following notes are taken from the most common comments from verified purchasers on Amazon.
- Satisfied customers rate this chef’s knife very highly for performance, aesthetics and value.
- Relatively light weight, it nonetheless has a sturdy, solid feel in the hand and is well balanced.
- Chopping is effortless with the blade doing all the work, and the rosewood handle provides comfort and a secure grip.
- It arrives sharp and retains an edge well with frequent honing, and is also easy to sharpen with the bolster-less edge.
- The aesthetics of this knife are also appreciated, with the wooden handle receiving high praise for design, appearance and comfort.
- A pleasure to use for a multitude of cutting functions, it offers superb value for the price.
- There are very few negative reviews (at the time of writing), but most of them refer to two issues with the handle. A couple of commenters pointed out gaps in the construction where the handle and metal meet resulting in a poor fit.
- And a few others have complained about an offensive odor that came from the handle. Victorinox replied that the odor can be caused by a build-up of natural oil applied at the factory, which can be cleaned with a household acid such as vinegar or lemon juice. And thorough air drying after washing.
Practical, functional, and reasonably priced, the Victorinox Chef’s Knife is a well-made multi-purpose cutting tool that gives very good value for the price.
Suitable for most daily home cooking takes, it also has that lovely, natural wood handle.
Sabatier Forged Carbon Steel Vintage 6” Chef Knife
From the original Sabatier factory in France, we have their unique 6” Vintage Chef Knife constructed of single piece forged carbon steel.
French Sabatier 6 Inch Forged Carbon Steel Chef Knife available on Amazon
The steel, measuring 54 – 56 on the Rockwell Scale, is tempered, ground and polished into a high-quality tool with superb cutting power, hardness and balance.
With incomparable sharpness, the fine carbon steel is matchless in edge retention and ease of sharpening, and will develop its own signature patina over time.
The comfortable polyoxymethylene (POM) handle won’t chip, crack or warp and is manually set and mounted on the full tang with three through-and-through brass rivets for strength and stability.
With a French-style profile, the tip is centered in a short, rigid blade for delicate work, and is ideal for chopping, paring and all cutting tasks.
The full bolster provides the perfect balance and alignment needed for comfortable all-day use without any fatigue or stress to the hand, wrist or forearm.
Old-school in properties and value, carbon steel isn’t for everyone. These knives are a specialty product, and they do require maintenance to prevent rusting – but will give unmatched performance and longevity in return.
They should never be put in the dishwasher, and need to be washed with hot, soapy water and thoroughly dried after each use. A very light coating of vegetable oil can be rubbed in after washing to help prevent staining and rust – wipe clean with a dry cloth before using.
The Sabatier Chef’s Knife has a 6” with an overall length of 10.25”. Made in France, it comes with Sabatier’s limited lifetime warranty.
What Others Are Saying
The following notes are taken from a compilation the comments of verified purchasers at Amazon.
- There aren’t a lot of reviews for the carbon Sabatier Chef’s Knife, but all of them are positive with top marks for quality, performance and sharpness.
- Satisfied shoppers report that the carbon steel is easy to sharpen and holds an edge better than stainless steel or the specialty alloys popular in Japanese blades.
- The blade is thinner than those of other chef knives, making it light weight with a good balance, feel and professional hand-finishing.
- The handle for the 6” is larger than others in its size making it easy to use without tiring out the hand or arm.
- It’s big enough, yet small enough to handle all kitchen tasks when prepping meals for 1 -2 people.
- This is an authentic, top-quality vintage carbon steel knife with an unparalleled sharp edge from Sabatier that is being offered at a very good price – a true pleasure to use.
- Being carbon steel, it will develop a patina and will rust if not hand washed and dried promptly – a coating of vegetable oil is recommended by most reviewers.
If you enjoy using, and maintaining, carbon steel knives then this may be the choice for you. Care must be taken to ensure it doesn’t rust or discolor, but you’ll be rewarded with a superbly sharp and functional knife for the bit of extra maintenance.
Not recommended for those with no interest or time to maintain it.
A great price for a true Sabatier, the 6” Vintage Chef’s Knife is top drawer for carbon steel knives if you’re on a budget.
Mercer Culinary Genesis 8” Forged Chef’s Knife
Mercer is a well-known knife brand in the food industry and provides supplies to over 90% of culinary academies in North America.
The precision Genesis Chef’s Knife is made of high-carbon, non-staining German cutlery steel and is crafted to exceed the demands of professional chefs.
The quality blade resists rust, corrosion and staining and has been precision forged from a single piece of steel for greater strength and durability.
The taper-ground and hand polished edge provides extra stability and long lasting sharpness as well as increased efficiency for cutting and chopping.
An ergonomic handle gives superior comfort and is constructed of santoprene for a safe, non-slip grip.
Strong and sturdy, it will not break down from exposure to kitchen oils or acids and is able to withstand both hot and cold temperatures. And the full tang runs the entire length of the handle.
A full-length bolster adds strength to the blade and provides excellent balance between the blade and handle. And, it’s also available with a short bolster.
The blade measures 10”, and overall dimensions are 15 x 2 x 1” with a weight of 8 ounces.
What others are saying:
The following comments are compiled from the most common points from various reviews of verified purchasers at Amazon.com
- The majority of reviewers give the Mercer Genesis high scores for design, balance and performance.
- The large bolster provides stability and comfort for long sessions of cutting veggies, and has excellent balance between the blade and handle for fatigue-free chopping.
- The comfortable handle is easy to grip even with slippery grease on the hands, and provides a solid weight and nice heft.
- Durable and sturdy, it’s a good choice for day to day use.
- Well-designed, the curve on the blade has a German profile that’s ideal for rocking and most cutting tasks.
- On the negative side, the blade loses its factory edge quickly and is difficult to sharpen, requiring constant honing to keep it usable.
- And the full bolster means the heel end of the blade doesn’t get sharpened, so you lose the ability to chop with the full blade.
The Mercer Gensis offer a superb price to benefit ratio making it a reasonable choice in the economy price range.
A good chef’s knife is the ultimate tool in both a pro and a home cook’s arsenal. I recommend that you choose a good one and keep it sharp and well maintained. Once you buy the one that’s best for you, take a look at the best knife storage options to fit your needs, to keep your knife safe and secured.
Although we named the Messermeister San Moritz Elite as the best overall and the Victronox rosewood model as the best value in chef’s knives, I can endorse any of the selections that we outlined above.
Happy food prepping!
Still have more questions? Ask away in the comment section or check out more of Foodal’s kitchen knife guides and reviews.
First published December 25th, 2015. Last updated March 17th, 2017.
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.