We tested the sharpness and edge durability of eight 18-21cm chef’s knives, then gave them to our experts in the test lab kitchen for hands-on assessment.
With their long, curved blades and prominent points, chef’s knives are versatile tools that can be used for various kitchen tasks, including jointing and cutting meat, dicing vegetables, and chopping herbs and nuts. What they’re not good for is precision work such as peeling, cutting, and deseeding small fruit and vegetables. (See Types of knives for information on other common knives.)
What to look for in a chef’s knife
You’ll often see celebrity chefs using a rocking motion when chopping herbs. They couldn’t do this if the blade weren’t sloped. So look for a long, generous curve that will let you roll the knife all the way from hilt to tip and back.
Generally, the handle and blade of a chef’s knife are equally weighted, putting the centre of gravity where the two meet. If the blade is too heavy, you might not have much control when making small, intricate movements. If the blade is too light, you might feel unsafe when trying to chop through bone, tough cuts of meat or hard vegetables.
This comes down to preference, the size of your hand, and whether you’re left- or right-handed. If you’re going to be using a knife for even a few minutes at a time, you’ll want a relaxed grip, so look for a non-slip handle. If you have small hands, go for a thinner handle. Try the knife out in the store to make sure it feels comfortable.
The tang, or shank, is the metal bit that extends from the blade into the handle. A full-tang knife will have been forged from a single piece of metal (see How knives are made). If you prefer the feel of a wooden or plastic grip, look for a long tang that runs all the way through the handle – that will connect the handle and blade more securely and quite likely provide better balance.
How knives are made
Blades are either forged or stamped.
Forged knives are made from a single piece of steel that’s been heated, moulded, hardened, tempered, and then ground to a cutting edge. They often have a heavier blade, which is good for cutting tougher foods. But they’re also often the most expensive. Few modern knives are truly forged, but the heat treatment that all good knives go through towards the end of their production means that forging makes no practical difference.
Stamped knives are machine-stamped out of a piece of steel, then ground, polished, and honed. One-piece seamless knives are also stamped, but the blade and handle are all metal, in one piece. Stamped knives are often lighter than forged knives.
We’ve focused on Western-style chef’s knives – their broad, curved blades suit a range of cutting techniques and can generally withstand a fair amount of abuse – but you might prefer a Japanese-style model. They have a straighter edge and are good for rapid slicing. They also tend to be thinner and lighter, as well as more delicate.
Then there’s the matter of the steel. Japanese knives are often made from harder steel. This allows for a very sharp, thin edge. The downside is that thin edges chip more easily (see Sharpening and steeling). Because Western-style knives are generally made from softer steel, they’re less likely to chip but they won’t stay sharp as long.
We've tested 8 kitchen knives.
Find the right one for you.