The 10 Best Chef's Knives
Making The Cut
If you've ever cut yourself while working in the kitchen, there's a good chance that the knife you were using was too dull. Sure, it did a number on your fingers, but that's only because it wasn't sharp enough to cut your food more easily, so it slipped and got you instead.
A good knife cuts by virtue of its edge, which must be honed to a fine point. Even the sharpest blades are marked marked with microscopic peaks and valleys. Those tiny imperfections catch a piece of food that you want to slice — for example, the tough and smooth skin of a tomato — and tear open that surface as cleanly as possible. After that, the continued friction of the knife's edge and its properties as a wedge finish separating the food.
Conversely, if your knife is too dull, instead of a crisp edge with many peaks and valleys to create friction, you have a rounded surface, smooth like a wire. If you draw that smooth texture across the surface of your food, there's nothing for it to grab on with, so it slips and cuts into the next thing it finds. Unfortunately, that's often your other hand.
It's a simple matter of physics, but it requires that your knives receive a good honing after every couple of uses. That's why a lot of knife block sets come with honing rods to keep your best knives in true. Those physics also mandate that a good chef's knife not be serrated. You'll notice that none of the chef's knives on our list have an overt serration, and if you have one that does, it's a sure sign that you've got something cheap and dangerous in your hands.
A Cut Above The Rest
Any long-time culinary expert will tell you that one of the most important aspects of a knife is how it feels when you’re using it. As such, you might not know for a few months exactly how you feel, deep down in your soul, about your newest tool. If you’re serious about collecting effective knives, then our selections are a great place to start — most chefs will agree that you can never have too many knives. If you want to make sure you get yourself or the cook in your life the right blade on the first try, there are certainly some objective facts to point you towards one option or another.
For starters, there are two main categories of chef’s knives: Eastern and Western, also called Japanese and European. Knives of German and, to an extent, French heritage are made with heavier, thicker, ultimately softer steel than their Asian counterparts. Somewhat counterintuitively, this lower hardness makes these knives more durable, as they’re more likely to flex or give slightly under extreme force, rather than chip.
Japanese knives, as well as some very fine French knives, are known for their extremely thin blades and harder, inflexible steel. This style can get brutally sharp, albeit often with a lot of elbow grease, and the edge usually stays like that for quite some time. The smooth, resistance-free, razor-like cutting ability of some of these is so notable that pros use the word "laser" to describe such a knife — a knife so sharp and thin that it falls straight through food as though it wasn’t even there.
You’ll also want to take notice of whether the metal is a stain-resistant alloy or old-school carbon steel. Carbon steel can get sharper under the right conditions, but it requires very meticulous care to keep it from oxidizing, pitting, or rusting. A lot of high-quality options utilize a carbon steel core for the actual edge, and encase it in protective, stain-free layers.
No matter what, remember to keep your knife clean — there’s no such thing as truly stainless steel.
Blade Of A Bygone Age
One of the most epic depictions of the dawn of man in any art form comes to us in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, when we see the first moment that primitive man took up tools of any kind. We're shown the immediate consequences of that discovery, as well as mankind's development into a space-traveling species.
It's an amazing feat of cinema, and one that immediately comes to mind when looking back over the history of the knife. Researchers in Spain discovered a flint knife deep within a cave that dates back 1.4 million years. It's humbling, to say the least, to think about mankind functioning such a level so many years ago, and it makes one wonder about the knives we'll leave behind for archaeologists to find millions of years in the future.
Since that date, the knife has seen plenty of transformations, evolving from the flint tools of the stone age into bronze and eventually iron. Steel blades grew in popularity for military purposes before they found their way into the kitchen. Throughout the middle ages, most individuals carried some sort of blade on their persons that served for protection as well as food preparation.
As modernity reared its head after the discovery of America, Europe saw an enormous influx of raw materials and wealth, eventually leading to class revolutions. This offered more diverse culinary experiences to citizens on either side of the Atlantic, necessitating the slow and steady development of culinary tools like these chef's knives.