What is a Chef Knife?
A chef knife is your go-to kitchen powerhouse; a multi-purpose, highly versatile kitchen knife that can be used for all manner of culinary tasks. It’s a “happy medium” between all the different types of knives out there, and it may be the only knife most home cooks ever really need. For all your chopping, mincing, and slicing needs.
1. What Is A Chef Knife?
When I was a young, naïve kitchen novice, I was under the impression that there were exactly two types of knives. I called them “big knives” and “smaller knives.” The only distinction was their size. And in my mind, they all did pretty much the same thing. “A bit of everything.”
Well, I grew up and started becoming acquainted with all manner of kitchen tools and specialty knives. It soon became clear to me that there were special knives created for pretty much any kitchen scenario.
Need to separate meat from a bone? Use a boning knife! Need to do some precision cuts on vegetables? Try a paring knife! Looking for clean slices of homemade bread? A serrated bread knife is what you need. And if you’ll be chopping up cuts of meat, a butcher knife, carving knife, or cleaver is what you’re after.
However, it turns out that the young, naïve version of me wasn’t entirely incorrect. There is, in fact, a type of knife that does “a little bit of everything:” slicing, dicing, chopping, you name it. And that is the noble chef knife, your go-to multi-purpose kitchen lifesaver. This is the Platonic ideal of a kitchen knife: a medium-sized, general-utility blade.
It also turns out there are various types of similar multi-purpose knives across many cuisines. For instance, the Santoku knife is the Japanese knife version of a chef’s knife. But in this article, we’ll be focusing on the general-purpose chef’s knife used by western cooks.
2. Chef Knife vs. Chef’s Knife
What’s in a name, anyway?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve found yourself confused by these two terms. On one hand, “chef’s knife” feels more correct; after all, it is the knife of a chef. But then “chef knife” is so ubiquitous as a term, and it makes sense grammatically as well. So which is it?
After much research, it turns out that the correct term is chef’s knife. But keep in mind that when we say “correct term,” what we mean is “the original term.” Language is, of course, fluid; it evolves along with our usage of it. And by this point, enough people use the term “chef knife” to refer to the same piece of cutlery that it might as well be correct too.
The knife was originally referred to as a “chef’s knife,” and as time went on people started to slowly use the technically incorrect term “chef knife,” and now they’re nearly equally common. To make matters even more complex, there is also the term “cook’s knife,” which some consider a synonym of “chef/chef’s knife” while others contend it refers to a different type of knife altogether... but we’re not going to get into the “cook’s knife” controversy today.
Suffice it to say, whether you use the technically-correct term “chef’s knife” or the more recent malapropism “chef knife,” we know exactly what you’re talking about. And in a show of solidarity, we’ll be flip-flopping back-and-forth between the terms throughout this article.
It’s not because we keep forgetting which is the correct one. Promise.
3. How To Use A Chef Knife
When it comes to the tools in your kitchen arsenal, your chef’s knife is one of your most valuable assets. You’ll turn to it to chop vegetables. You’ll turn to it to crush whole spices. You’ll turn to it for slicing meats. You’ll basically turn to it for most tasks that don’t require a hyper-specific specialty knife. So how do you actually use it?
It’s pretty straightforward, actually; the fact that the chef’s knife is designed to be the ultimate go-to powerhouse means that it’s also designed to be used quite easily by even the most inexperienced novices. However, there are still a few things you have to take into consideration if you want to get the most out of your chef’s knife.
How to hold the knife: This is a big one. If you hold the knife incorrectly, you’ll lose control of the knife; it’ll be less balanced, less stable, and more prone to accidents. Holding your knife correctly will help your slicing and make things safer! Make sure you pinch the bolster (the area where the handle meets metal) with your thumb and index finger, and then wrap the rest of your fingers around the handle when you’re slicing.
Where to use the knife: The right surface is almost as important as the right knife. If you cut on extremely hard surfaces such as glass and ceramic, you’ll dull or damage your blade. To avoid this, stick to wood cutting boards, or, at the very least, plastic.
What part of the blade to use: Always make sure you’re using the right part of the blade depending on the task you’re attempting to accomplish. The point should be used for piercing and scoring foods, as well as slicing. The heel can be used with hard ingredients such as carrots. The spine can be used for scraping and chopping vegetables.
And finally, here’s a big tip: never use a dull knife. It might sound counterintuitive, but a dull knife is considerably more dangerous than a sharp one. Keep your chef’s knife sharpened and you’ll find using it as pleasurable as the day you first purchased it.
4. What To Look For In A Chef’s Knife
Because a chef’s knife is such an important kitchen essential, you can’t just pick any cheap knife from the rack at your local big-box store. Well, you can, but then you’re going to find yourself going back just a few weeks later to buy a replacement; or, worse, you’re going to be struggling with an uncooperative knife and affecting your food quality (or even hurting yourself!).
You need a good chef’s knife. And you need to know what to look for. And since I didn’t know what to look for when I started my culinary journey, I’m going to give you the straight facts on the stuff I would’ve liked somebody to have told me. Then hopefully you can tell someone else… or just link them to this blog. Up to you.
How should a good chef’s knife feel? When you hold a chef’s knife in your hand, it should feel like an extension of your body. It should feel comfortable and easy, instilling you with confidence instead of fear. If you can test it out before actually making the purchase, all the better.
There are also materials: what is the knife made of? Stainless steel is good, but there are other options available, like carbon steel knives or a good ceramic knife. And what kind of knife should we be looking for? German knives, Japanese knives? If you're going by written stats, here’s a few things to keep in mind.
Size. The most common length of a chef’s knife is 8 inches. Of course, you’ll find knives that are bigger and knives that are smaller, but the 8 inches tend to be perfect for most home cooks in their everyday use. There are 6 inch knives available as well, of course, and they provide you with much-needed agility when it comes to precision cuts, but they fall short when working with larger food items. So try to stick to the 7-10 inch range if possible.
Weight. If this is your first-ever time buying a chef’s knife, you might not know what to even look for when it comes to weight. Here’s when it becomes useful to try different knives at once, to get the sense of what works for you. Some folks favor a hefty chef’s knife, and some prefer the flow of a lighter touch. This one’s going to be up to you.
Balance. This one took me a little while to properly gauge. What you want to do is grip a knife by its handle and see how it feels. Does it weigh down towards the back of the handle? How about towards the blade? (This can sometimes happen with wooden handles) Does it slope down to one specific side? You want “perfect balance”; a knife that feels consistent in its weight all around.
So where do you get a good chef’s knife? Sure, you could look for them in person, but with the wonders of the Internet, it’s easier than ever to find a knife that’s just right for you. You might also consider purchasing these knives as part of a knife set (some of them come with a handy knife block) but it’s sometimes more useful to purchase the knives individually.
5. Top Chef Knives To Buy
Now that you know what to look for, let’s run through our list of best chef knives available. You can’t go wrong with any of these picks – they’re all quality knives – but they each have their unique strengths that might fit your precise kitchen needs.
We’re starting with the crème-de-la-crème, an absolute top-of-the-line premium tool. This showstopper from Dalstrong’s Shogun Series X is the chef knife to beat. It’s the perfect length for a multi-purpose chef knife, it’s well-balanced, and it will help you make perfectly clean cuts. This knife is made up of an AUS-10V Japanese super steel core; a 67-Layered Damascus knife sharpened under the ancient 3-step Honbazuke method. It features a Rockwell Hardness Score of 62+, with incredible edge retention. If you’re looking for the absolute best, you’ve got it right here.
- The best Damascus steel chef knife for home cooks and professional use
- Probably the most beautiful chef’s knife you’ll ever come across.
- Extremely sharp, with an 8-12 degree angle per side.
- Extremely durable knife blade for sharp edge retention
- Ergonomic military-grade G10 handle with unique copper mosaic
- Truth be told, this is toward the upper end of the price range represented in this list. Not for everyone’s budget, but you get what you pay for and more.
- If you’re not much of a fan of “busy” knife designs, maybe look into some of the more understated knives in this list.
Classic, stylish, and timelessly cool. This 10” chef’s knife from Dalstrong’s acclaimed Gladiator Series is a fantastic go-to workhorse for all manner of culinary tasks, and at 10 inches, this blade ensures that no task is too large.
- Carefully designed for maneuverability and comfort
- Precision forged knife. Razor-sharp edge, wear-resistant high carbon German ThyssenKrupp Steel.
- Added chromium increases its stain resistance.
- Clean, unpretentious, timeless look.
- Before purchasing a 10” chef’s knife, really think about the tasks you’ll be performing with it and whether you need it to be that large. Most home cooks will do just fine with a 6-9” chef’s knife.
- Though its clean and elegant look is one of its appeals, you might be looking for something flashier. Maybe try the Shogun Series X 10.15” Chef Knife.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to escape into daydreams about using some sort of sci-fi weapon as a kitchen implement, the Shadow Black Series is for you. This gorgeous 6” chef’s knife will be sure to catch people’s attention as part of your kitchen arsenal; couple that with its ruthlessly sharp blade and comfortable grip and you have a world-class chef’s knife.
- Cutting-edge, high-performance chef’s knife.
- Extremely sharp blade at 15 degrees per side, using the traditional 3-step Honbazuke method.
- Made of high-carbon vacuum treated super-steel.
- Black, non-reflective titanium coating.
- If you don’t want your kitchen knives to look this cool, this knife is not for you. Plenty of other more traditional-looking options throughout this list.
- The black titanium-nitride coating makes this knife a tiny bit trickier to sharpen, though it’s still a breeze.
When we say we like our knives to look sharp, we’re not just talking about the blade sharpness. We also want knives that reflect our personalities and individuality. We want to say something about ourselves with the products we purchase. So this gorgeous knife from the Frost Fire Series is a fantastic choice for those with a penchant for beautiful kitchenware.
- Absolutely gorgeous ergonomic handle with a honeycomb design.
- Sandblast finish provides a “frosted” look and enhances non-stick properties.
- Blade made of 7-layer high-carbon high-chromium stainless steel.
- Great edge retention on this blade, coming in at 60-61 Rockwell hardness.
- It is a bit on the light side, which also makes it easier to handle.
- As pretty as it is, some people might not be enchanted with the honeycomb handle.
When you take a look at the Quantum 1 Series 8.5” chef’s knife, you immediately think “forward motion.” “Cutting edge.” “The future.” And that’s because this incredible chef’s knife looks like something they’d have in the kitchen in the Starship Enterprise. Not only is it a looker, but it also has the performance specs to match its attractive presentation.
- Great compromise between sharpness and resilience, painstakingly hand-sharpened to 8-12 degrees per side.
- Precision-forged, single-piece high carbon American BD1N-VX stainless steel.
- Beautiful design, featuring Dalstrong’s “Nova Prime” blade pattern.
- Fiber-resin military-grade G10 & carbon fiber hybrid handle, highly impervious to heat, cold, and moisture.
- The grip on the handle takes a little bit of time to get used to.
- As is the case with most of these knives, the ones that feature flashy designs on the blade might be a little too visually busy for some.
Now, this is what we call a conversation piece. This incredible 10.25” Shogun Series X is an absolute powerhouse, featuring all the best specs from the Shogun Series X 8” Chef’s Knife but even bigger. Features 10.25 inches of AUS-10V cutting power, and its super-steel core features extra-high carbon levels to aid in sharpness and edge retention. Powerful and beautiful in equal measure.
- Precision-forged blade at 62+ Rockwell hardness.
- An absolutely stunning knife, featuring the Shogun Series Tsunami Rose blade pattern and the Dalstrong lionhead engraved logo.
- An ultra-premium G10 garolite handle, highly durable.
- Tapered blade to minimize surface resistance and make any kitchen task that much easier.
- We’re not going to sugarcoat it: this is the most expensive knife on this list. But it’s also the absolute best. If it fits within your budget, you should seriously consider it.
- At 10.25”, it’s also the largest knife on the list. Some home cooks might prefer something smaller.
This utterly unique 7” chef’s knife from Dalstrong’s Gladiator Series features a Barong design, looking very much like the swords traditionally wielded by the Tausug tribes of the Southern Philippines. This is a powerful, versatile knife that will aid you in all your prep work.
- Awesome-looking design; you’ll feel like you’re wielding your very own Barong sword.
- Precision forged, ultra sharp, wear-resistant, high carbon steel.
- The knife is full tang, providing great robustness and quality.
- Extremely easy to take care of; low maintenance and hygienic.
- A fairly nontraditional shape for a chef’s knife, but you can make it work.
6. Frequently Asked Questions
How big are chef knives supposed to be?
Chef knives tend to be anywhere from 7 to 9.5 inches. Every once in a while you’ll find a 12 inch chef knife, or a 6 inch “mini chef knife,” but those are pretty unusual. More often than not, you’ll find chef knives in the 8-inch range, and that’s usually more than enough to cover all its basic tasks.
What is a chef knife used for?
Chef knives are used for… well, a little bit of everything. They are meant to be a versatile, catch-all tool for the kitchen, “the only knife you’ll ever need” (in a general sense, of course; you’ll find some specific tasks to require more specialized tools). They can be used for slicing, chopping, mincing, and more.
Can you put chef knives in the dishwasher?
Generally, you want to avoid putting your knives in the dishwasher. This is because dishwasher detergent is extremely abrasive, and coupled with the banging-about that occurs during wash cycles, it’ll end up taking the sharp edge off your knife. To be safe, we recommend always washing your knives by hand.
Is it illegal to carry a chef's knife?
Chef knives are work tools, and as such you should have no problems carrying them around. If you attempted to use them as weapons, well, that would be a whole other story. It should go without saying, but… don’t use your chef knife as a weapon.
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Written by Jorge Farah
Born on the coast of Colombia and based in Buenos Aires, Jorge is a cooking enthusiast and kitchenware obsessive with a tremendous amount of opinions.