What brand of knives do professional chefs prefer, and why?

Oh man.

Get visions of damascus steel exotics out of your head.

Most cooks use cheap $30 knives from companies like Winco, Dexter, and Mercer. They do the job, you can bang em around and they’re still happy.


But, that isn’t what you’ve come here to hear, is it?

So, let’s start with what my chef friend Mikey bought when he started making some money: A Misono UX10.

And, of course, the first thing that happens is that the point of the knife chipped off, because the tradeoff you have in this world is between sharpness and brittleness. I still remember the look on his face. Priceless.

Still, pretty.

After a few years, I finally went and got my own dream knife, as well. My baby is a japanese dual steel knife from Fujiwara:

And, of course, the point and heel chipped within weeks. That said, the Fujiwara is a very interesting knife as it contains a core of carbon steel for sharpness wrapped in a “shell” of more flexible steel. It’s quite lovely and wicked sharp: The first day I had it I disrespected it by drying it on my pants, which it promptly proceeded to slice through, going a good ways into my thigh. Lesson learned.

I love the sh*t out of it even though I only reserve it for certain tasks.

For everyday work, I use Wüsthofs these days. However, my chef’s knife is modified – the blade has been thinned to make it lighter and “faster” and, like the Fujiwara, I have had the spine rounded so that it is comfortable to hold for long periods of time.

Now.

I have some acquaintances who swing serious d*ck. Guys who are world famous if you’re a professional. They have connections. And they managed to get their hands on a few knives from Blood Root Blades. Lucky guys. I don’t know that they’re better than my Fujiwara (personally, I think not,) but they are very lovely and very expensive and very hard to get.

Here are six recommendations that cover some of the best chef knives around, each produced by a different world-class knifemaker. This short list is designed not only to highlight quality chef knives, but to give you a sense of what’s out there (a lot!) and help you find the knife that’s right for you.

This is not a Top Ten List (or Top Six). And it’s not comprehensive. (You’ll notice there aren’t any traditional Japanese knifemakers on my Best Chef Knives list. Sorry, can’t explain why now.) But it should aid you in making some sense of the kitchen knife world and give you some ideas!

. . .a chef knife, depending on how hard you use it, could easily last 30 years or more.

The brands covered are: Henckels, Wusthof, Messermeister, Global, MAC, and Shun. The first three are centered in Germany, the last three in Japan. Most of these manufacturers produce a range of sizes/lengths as well as slightly different models of the same caliber. For example, although I’ve chosen Global’s santoku knife for this list, Global also makes a number of regular chef knives that are comparable quality. So, if one of the models on this list doesn’t exactly work for you, poke around some, you may find what you’re looking for.

Also—before you bemoan the prices, remember that your best chef knives, depending on how hard you use them and how well you take care of them, can easily last 30 years or more. I’m not exaggerating. Plus, they’re the single most important tool in your entire kitchen. (What would compete, your large sauté pan?) If you dollar-cost average the price of the most expensive knife on this list (say, the Shun 10-inch for $170), over 30 years it would cost you a whopping $5.66 per year! So try to see the BIG picture.

Henckels Professional S 8-Inch Chef Knife

Henckels is one of the largest knifemakers in the world and has been around since the 1700s.

They produce at least 11 different lines of knives, so it’s especially important to be clear what model you’re buying. The Pro S line is one of their finest and is manufactured in Solingen, Germany where their core factories are located. They also have factories in Spain and, as a newer development, in Japan as well. It’s in Japan where they produce their latest creation, a model designed by Bob Kramer, the American bladesmith who has set the bar high for kitchen-knife quality.

The Professional S is fully forged from one hunk of steel—and with a bolster, a full-tang, and a three-rivet handle, it’s as classic as it gets. Although the handle’s been made to look and feel like wood, it’s not. Wood handles are no longer the norm and most manufacturers assume customers would rather have the longevity offered by a synthetic material.

This chef knife is one of the mainstays of my kitchen and I loooove the feel—nicely balanced with a little heft, but nothing that tires my hand out (for the record, I don’t spend hours prepping). I got it sharpened well over a year ago, and with regular honing its kept it’s edge. It comes in two sizes, an 8-inch and 10. (There’s also a 6-inch, but that’s too small for an all-purpose blade.)

MORE OPTIONS
• Henckels now makes the Pro line (no “S”) that sports a stripped down bolster which makes the blade easier to pinch grip as well as sharpen (same level of quality):

• If you prefer to buy Wusthof—which I discuss below—they make a very similar model:

Wusthof Classic Ikon 7-Inch Santoku

Wusthof is the other of the “Big Two” German knifemakers and some pros swear by it over Henckels because they feel the quality is higher. Not sure if this perception is justified, but it’s probably aided by the fact Wusthof has been family-owned and run for almost 200 years. Interesting enough, both Wusthof and Henckels are manufactured in the same German town (along with dozens of other blademakers) which is one of the knife-making capitals of the world. (What’s another capital? Seki City, Japan.)

Although Wusthof makes a terrific traditional chef knife very similar to Henckels, as a contrast, I recommend looking at this model because:

1) it has the Classic Ikon curved handle that might feel better to some people’s hands

2) it’s a santoku, Japanese-style blade, which some might prefer. It gives you the width of a longer knife without the more cumbersome length. And it should be noticeably thinner and lighter than your traditional 8-inch chef knife.

Whether or not you like a bolster is up to you, it is no measure of quality. . .

Like the regular high-quality chef knives made by Wusthof, it’s fully forged and has a full tang. But, unlike them, it does not host a full bolster. Whether or not you like a bolster is up to you, it is no measure of quality, but will make the knife easier to sharpen. This santoku also sports the scalloped edge that is all the rage to, theoretically, keep food from sticking. Because this model is in the Japanese-style, but made by a German knifemaker, I would call it a hybrid of sorts. (Henckels makes santokus as well.)

If you like the santoku style, but don’t care about the Ikon’s curvy handle and would like to save some cash, check out the santoku Wusthof makes in the Classic line. The feel will vary slightly (because of the different handle), but the blade itself will be exactly the same. You’re paying extra for the handle.

Messermeister Meridian Elite 9-Inch Chef Knife

Messermeister knives, like the name sounds, are rooted in Germany—the Meridian Elite line being forged in the very same German town as the preceding knives from the Big Two. While Messermeister is not as big an operation as Henckels and Wusthof, they’re no less revered for their quality. Maybe even more so.

This knife makes my Best Chef Knives list for three reasons:

1) it’s highly recommended by Chad Ward in his book An Edge in the Kitchen as being uber-sharp. It comes from the factory with a highly polished edge that Ward claims is superior to any of the “big-name knife brands” and will hold it for a substantial amount of time.

2) it has a partial bolster which makes it easier to sharpen (and is a nod to Japanese knives)

3) it comes in a 9-inch size that’s a perfect compromise between an 8- and a 10-inch—but often doesn’t cost any more than your average 8-inch. Neat, huh?

There’s only one caveat—the blade width (of the 9-inch) is too wide for your average knife rack. You’ll need to make special provisions. If that concerns you, or, if you don’t care about the extra length, then buy an 8-inch. (See the link above.)

KitchenKnifeGuru eBook—
Kitchen Knife Basics

For all you eBook junkies who would rather snuggle up with with an iPad than click and scroll on a computer. Kitchen Knife Basics ($7.95) has got all the core material from the KitchenKnifeGuru website, but in an easy-to-read format that only an eBook can offer. You’ll learn about the most common edge styles for kitchen knives, what a hone (or steel) is and exactly how to use it, how to find and choose a quality sharpening service that’s not expensive—and much much more. You can even download a sample if you just want to get a taste!

Global 7-Inch Santoku (G-48)

Global revolutionized the kitchen-knife world in the 1980s by creating a series of high-performance knives that were on the cutting edge of fashion (forgive the pun), yet still affordable. Like traditional Japanese knives, they’re extremely light with a thin, razor-sharp edge. Yet in blade design, they generally owe more to Western tradition than Japanese. That’s why I call them Japanese hybrids in that they graft one tradition of knifemaking onto another. Most of Global’s knives are not forged, but made of a high-quality steel that has been tempered and heat treated to new levels of sophistication.

While the shape of the blade on the G-48 is similar to the Wusthof santoku, the balance and feel should be quite different. To say nothing of the styling. No major knife brand stands out as so stunningly modern. (Interesting detail: Global injects the perfect amount of sand into the hollow handle to make it balance correctly.) As mentioned before, if you prefer a more Western-styled chef’s blade, Global has plenty of those also. Try a G-2 or a G-61.

I own this santoku and am embarrassed to admit I treasure the edge so much that I can’t bear to do much chopping with it, but save it mainly for slicing. Which it does amazingly! (Crazy, I know.)

MAC MTH-80 – Professional Series 8-Inch Chef Knife with Dimples

MAC knives seem to be one of the best kept secrets of the consumer kitchen knife market. Professionals seem to know all about them with famous chefs like Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter unabashedly endorsing them as the ultimate cutting machine. But ask your average home gourmet, and odds are they’ve never heard of them.

Japanese designed and manufactured, like Global, they’re a new breed of knife, a hybrid—that incorporates the harder and thinner Japanese steel with a Western-shaped blade. They’re not as stylish as Global, but probably even sharper. And (like Global) they’re also not forged, but highly machined.

As the Messermeister above, Chad Ward (in An Edge in the Kitchen) raves about the pure cutting fury of the MTH-80. So for those who worship sharp, this one’s for you!

The MTH-80 Professional is the workhorse of MACs various product lines and I’m guessing it’s the most popular because it offers the maximum sharpitude for your dollar. Plus, the welded-on bolster creates an unusual combination of super-thin blade with added weight that keeps it balanced in your hand more like a German-style knife. According to Gourmet Magazine, a MAC knife is “the difference between a minivan and race car.” Care to take one out for a spin?

Shun Classic 8-Inch Chef Knife (DM0706)

Shun, along with Global, is probably one of the most popular and well-known Japanese brands in the U.S. It’s no wonder—their flagship line, Shun Classic, is very attractive and very sharp. They’re manufactured in Seki City which, along with Solingen, is another knife-making capital.

Don’t let the beautiful wavy pattern on the blade fool you—it’s much more than a pretty face. Sandwiched between 32 layers of swirly-patterned softer steel (16 layers per side) lies a thin hard core that creates the edge. At Rockwell 61, it’s harder than half of the knives on this list. Which gives it the ability to hold a 16-degree edge for a very long time.

I have to admit when I first unpacked my new Shun 6-inch chef’s not so long ago, I was stunned at how light it was. For someone used to weightier German blades, the lightness felt almost chintzy. Silly me. Over the past year I’ve now come to fully appreciate the way the thin sharp blade can slice through denser foods with ease and less resistance than my thicker German knives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ready to abandon ship—but it’s great to have Shun as an option.

Another reason the Shun Classic is on this list is its distinctive Pakkawood handle. It’s similar to the nimble feel of a traditional Japanese knife, but different. The unique D-shaped contour might fit certain cook’s hands better than others. So, if a typical Western-style knife handle always feels too clunky, here’s another way to go.

• • •

Best Chef Knives Summary

If you like a knife with heft, then the Henckels or Messermeister will probably please you most. They’re forged German steel through and through and will feel the most solid.

If you want light and nimble, then the Global and Shun should be at the top of your list. The Wusthof and MAC could be back up.

If you have a smaller-sized hand and want your knife to fit snuggly in it, the Shun and Wusthof should be your fist picks. The handles on both are more streamlined and less bulky.

If you have a larger hand and don’t want it to feel squished on the cutting board, the Messermeister and the MAC should give you the most clearance. The handles are long and the width of the blades should keep your knuckles from banging the countertop. (Actually, the Global will work equally well in this regard, it’s pretty roomy.)

For pure beauty, the Global and Shun would be hard to beat. The Global is designed in high-tech modern, the Shun in classic contemporary. The Wusthofalso, with it’s curved handle, has some extra swish. (And rest assured, there’s no sacrifice of looks for performance on any of these knives.)

If you love tradition, or know you want a knife with a classic look and feel that will never go out of style, the Henckels is your man. It is the closest to a vintage chef knife.

Finally, if you crave sharposity, if you’re aching to get your tired chef hands on one of the meanest slicing-and-dicing machines on the planet—go with the MAC. You will not be disappointed. (And, as a more elegant second, consider the Messermeister.)

Six up, six down! As you can see, there are a lot of wonderful knives out there. Hopefully this short list of best chef knives has given you a taste of the possibilities. Remember, stay with quality brands—there’s no free lunch—and stay with what feels and works best for you. It’s your body. It’s your kitchen. Have fun cooking!

itchen knives are forged from the best steel and they are the home gadget used in the kitchen that makes food preparation quite easy and fast. Both professional and amateur cooks will agree with me on the importance of a good kitchen knife. Equipping your kitchen with the best steel for kitchen knives is not an option but a necessity.

Professional chefs take pride in their cutting techniques and this often impress people but the secret to their quick and graceful cutting lies on the little metal in their hands. Knives play a vital role in the achievement of any chef.

Therefore, to make a successful career as a chef or to prepare good food at home it is essential you choose the best steel for kitchen knives.

There are different kinds of steel for kitchen knives available in the market as there are different purposes for each knife. You don’t want to use a knife meant to chop, for slicing or the one’s meant to dice vegetable to dice meat.

When sourcing for your knife, you should also watch out for inferior knives. Nobody wants to go for knives that lose their sharpness easily and become dull upon little usage.

The kitchen knives usually have different characteristics that make them better than the other available products. Knowing the right way of choosing the best knife for your kitchen is important for the success of your job.

Types of kitchen knives

This write-up should give you an insight when purchasing knives. It is necessary you know what you want to use the knife for. Each knife is designed for a particular purpose. There are no knives without its usefulness.

Use this article to carefully understand the purpose of each steel in the kitchen knife before purchasing any knife so you won’t have to stock your kitchen with knives that can’t be useful for your kind of cooking.

Boning knife

Boning knife as the name implies is kitchen knives used to separate meat from a bone. This knife makes it easy to work with meats.

This knife as a narrow blade, that curves inward to give you precision control when removing meat from the bone. It ranges from 4 inches to 8 inches. A boning knife is sometimes used by experienced butchers for shaping, denuding, and seeming boning meats, lamb legs, and filleting fish.

The best part of a boning knife is the ability to help you make straight, precise cut without wandering.

Bird’s beak knife

Bird’s beak knives are curved pairing knives but with a shorter blade than a paring knife. It is otherwise called a tournée knife (tournée means to cut into football shape). It is 2 to 3 inches long.

This knife is commonly used for cutting and peeling of fruit and vegetables. It features upward curve on both the cutting edge and the top edge that makes peeling around a fruit easily.

Bird’s beak knife is a type of utility knife and should be present in every kitchen.

Ceramic knives

Ceramic knives are durable and rustproof knives. This knife maintains its sharpness for long before getting blunt.

Ceramic knives are basically used for slicing, mincing, and chopping. They cannot be used on hard materials such as bones as this can result in breaking of the knife.

Also, if the knife falls accidentally or hits a hard tiled floor it may break apart of the blade. Ceramic knives are quite sharp and can even cut through a shoe, it’s advised you use with extreme care.

Cheese knives

Cheese knife as the name implies is a type of utility knife used to cut through soft or hard cheese. This cheese knife can either produced through the narrow blade or short wide blades.

This knife can also be used to cut through citrus fruit or garnishes like pickles, onions or cherries as required.

The major use of the cheeses knife is for cutting cheese as cheese is mostly served whole. When the cheese is served and begins to harden, this knife is best to cut it.

Chef’s knife

Chef’s knife also called Cook’s knife is one the most commonly used knife in the kitchen. The knife ranges from 6 inches to 14 inches.

The chef’s knife is an all-purpose knife that is used for chopping, slicing, mincing and dining. This knife features a wide blade with symmetrical sides. The spine of the blade gives it strength and balance.

The blade comes in sizes. It’s best you choose the blade size according to your hand size as this helps with handling. You can also add a bolster to prevent the knife from slipping. Chef’s knife is a must for your kitchen.

Santoku knife

Santoku knife is a Japanese knife that is composed of the Chef’s knife and the Cleaver. This knife is quite similar to the chef’s knife in most function except for the difference in shape and construction.

Santoku knife has a wider blade, thinner in thickness, shorter in length, and curves up at the end. The Santoku is used for chopping, dicing, and slicing of food into fine pieces.

This knife is a bit expensive to purchase as it is precision made to be well-balanced for ease of handling and control.

Oyster knife

Oyster knife is one of those work-specific knives. This knife specific function is to open the hard shell of oyster or clam to remove meat. Oyster knife are short, sharp and strong.

The knife is inserted into the shell, twisted and break the shell apart, the knife is then used to cut through the oyster muscle and membrane. Every oyster knife has a round shield on its handle to protect the users’ hands from the sharp edges of the shell and also houses the thumb for a better grip on the knife.

The oyster knife comes in diverse styles, which includes; new Haven, Providence, Boston, Galveston, and Frenchman. Oyster knives are good for seafood Chefs.

Fillet knife

Fillet knife is also a work specific knife that is used majorly to prepare fish. These knives are 6 to 11 inches long and are very flexible.

The flexibility and narrowness of the knife make it possible to move easily along the backbone and under the skin of fish. Fillet knives are basically fish knives.

Cleaver knife

A cleaver knife is a dual-purpose knife. It can be used to chop vegetables and meat. A cleaver can be further classified as a meat cleaver or a vegetable cleaver. A vegetable cleaver is known to be a finer knife than a meat cleaver.

The knife is thick and as a beveled blade which makes chopping of vegetable or meat easy. a cleaver knife can also be used to open lobsters.

The knife comes with a hole on the top end of the blade and this makes it easy to hang.

Sashimi blade

Sashimi knife is also a Japanese knife like the santoku except that the sashimi knife is used majorly for slicing and dicing not for chopping. The knife is 16 to 18 inches long with a thin and sharp edge.

The knife is not made for chopping as this task dulls the knife easily. Sashimi knife is best used for slicing of vegetables, fruits, and dicing of fish.

Andre Fosh, MD/CEO at Kitchenutilitypro

Usually comes down to a few preferences;

Weight

Steel type

Price

Ergonomics/Practicality

Some brands offer a lighter thickness of steel, making a lighter stroke and faster movements on the cutting board. The brand that comes to mind personally is Global Knives, but there are far far lighter blades, usually Japanese or Japanese inspired.

Other brands are quite thick, such as Wusthof and with that added weight, make chopping effortless and larger tasks easier to tackle. These blades are usually more western (german).

Some Chefs* and cooks prefer a certain type of steel. Usually chosen for its edge retention, or ease of sharpening, or ease of maintenence.

Japanese steel tends to be a bit harder than German steel, holding an edge for longer, but requires more work to re-sharpen. It can also be more brittle, the edge has a tendency of chipping rather than rolling. German steel is softer, dulling faster but also easier to sharpen. German steel often has stainless-qualities.

The handle can have a large effect on the efficacy of the blade. The handle should fit well in the hand for the tasks it’s to perform. Many cooks will not use certain brands as they just don’t feel right, so it is always important that you try a brand out before buying them (I have made this mistake)

This handle is very slippery when wet!

Some cooks will avoid knives by hygienic basis. Knives that come with nooks and crannies in which food stuffs could accumulate and bacteria could propegate should be avoided, though there’s debate on what is best.

Finally, cost. This is the big one as it usually trumps all of the above. Most kitchens offer incredibly low wages to offset the heavily competitive price of food in restaurants, and many cooks find it hard to justify spending 300$ on a knife that (in experienced hands) will perform the same job as a 30$ knife. So at the end of the day, like many subjects in cooking, it is subjective.

I’ll leave you with a list of knives that I’ve come across in my 10 years of cooking (in Canada), in order of descending popularity**

10. Kussi (my personal favorite)

9. Sanelli

8. MAC

7. Messermeister

6. Shun

5. Sysco

4. Wustholf

3. Global

2. Victorinox

1. Zwilling J.A. Henckels

Cheers!

*most of the time it is a misnomer to call everyone in a kitchen who uses these knives Chef. Chef is french for “chief” or “boss”. Often there is only one chef, though not always. There is also a title of Sous-Chef, meaning under-chief, and Chef de partie, meaning the chief of that particular station.

** many brands offer a wide selection of knife styles to appease as many cooks criteria. I chose pictures of knives that best represented the knives I have seen in my travels. Not all Henckels have yellow plastic handles.

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