Buying a good knife isn’t as simple as just picking one up off a shelf. There are a number of key things to consider to ensure the one you choose will be right for the tasks you want it to perform and – importantly – stay sharp and cut efficiently for many years to come.
The chef’s (or cook’s) knife is the most versatile of all, measuring around 16-20cm and able to handle most chopping tasks, from vegetables to meat, with ease. So we’ve chosen to focus on the best chef’s knives
How to buy a chef’s knife
Knives aren’t simply a blade and a handle. They have several elements, including the tip, belly (the curve of the blade), the butt and a bolster, which is the thicker part where the blade meets the handle. The bolster is key, as it’s used to balance the knife and is mostly seen on forged knives.
Some knives also have a tang, which is the part of the blade that runs through the handle. A full tang runs through the whole of the handle to the butt (end) while a partial tang just runs some of the handle’s length. Tangs ensure the handle is well-balanced and strong, making it less likely to break if it’s put under pressure – cutting through bone for instance.
What is the best chef’s knife in 2019?
After thoroughly testing the knives, we declare the Classic 16cm Chef’s Knife by Wusthöf as the best you can buy. For a more affordable option, the Lakeland Select Grip Japanese Steel 20cm Chef’s Knife is our best budget chef knife.
Best chef’s knives
1. Classic 16cm Chef’s Knife, Wusthöf – best chef’s knife overall on test
Wusthöf have been making knives in Germany for more than 200 years, so they know a thing or two about what makes a good blade. The Classic range has a comfortingly traditional look and feel, featuring a riveted, full tang blade that’s precision formed from a single piece of steel with a Rockwell rating of 56.
We opted to test the slightly smaller 16cm version, although they also do a standard 20cm, 23cm and a massive 26cm one. It proved to be a good choice for the smaller handed of our two testers as it fitted beautifully in the palm and the blade didn’t feel as weighty as some.
As you’d expect, the sturdy handle and full tang mean it’s very durable and it coped as well with boned chicken thighs as it did with soft herbs such as mint and coriander. We feel it’s balanced, super-sharp knife that’s the perfect addition to any cook’s kit.
Ideal Home rating: 5 out of 5 stars
2. 16cm Santoku Ceramic Chef’s Knife, Kyocera – best super-sharp ceramic knife
We tested a number of ceramic knives and this was definitely our favourite. While it’s not as much of a looker as Kycera’s Red-Dot awarded Japan Series wooden-handled knife, the ergonomic soft-grip handle was very comfortable to hold.
The first thing we noticed was how super lightweight it felt, compared to steel knives and we were concerned that it wouldn’t have the cutting power of a heavier knife.
It was definitely incredibly sharp, coping well with vegetables, especially softer tomatoes but ceramic can be quite brittle so it’s recommended not to cut hard foods or use it to carve, pry, flex or to use it to bone meat, meaning it’s not as versatile as a steel blade.
We tried the 16cm version but there’s also an 18cm and it comes either with a black or white blade. It is made from a Z212 advanced material that the maker claims stays sharper two times longer than its Z206 blades.
Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars
3. Select Grip Japanese Steel 20cm Chef’s Knife, Lakeland – best budget chef’s knife
While this forged steel knife didn’t feel as razor sharp as the Wusthöf, the ice-hardened Japanese steel blade coped brilliantly with everything we threw at it, from herb cutting and garlic crushing to chicken chopping. And while it doesn’t have a Rockwell rating, it feels on the harder rather than softer side.
The steel butt means it’s well balanced and not too heavy. The gently rounded soft-grip handle with bolster felt both comfortable and safe in the hand, allowing us to experiment with our ‘chef’s rock’ without fear of our hand slipping off the handle onto the blade. It also comes with a hard protective plastic case to keep the blade covered if you’re storing it in a drawer.
Ideal Home rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
4. Pro 18cm chef’s knife, Zwilling – best for professional-style knife skills
This knife is also available as a 20cm and a frankly sword-like 26cm version, but we felt the 18cm was plenty big enough to cope with most things you’d find in a domestic cooking situation.
It has a pleasingly classic three-rivet handle, which suited both our smaller and larger-handed testers, and is made of fully forged, ice-hardened German steel. The full-tang design means it is a touch heavier than some we tried, but not unpleasantly so, and it’s still well balanced.
The blade has a lovely curve from bolster to tip, ensuring we could chop like a pro with a pleasingly rocking motion. The back of our hand sat snugly in the rounded end of the handle with the front resting safely against the bolster.
If you must, you can pop this one in a dishwasher, although the maker recommends you don’t as the harsh salt and detergents will blunt the blade faster than simple hand washing.
Ideal Home rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
5. Pro 20cm Cook’s knife, Füri – best for heavy-duty chopping
The all-in-one handle and blade design of this 20cm Australian-made Japanese steel knife had a pleasing aesthetic and made it feel larger than some of the other 20cm knives we tested. It also means there’s no potential dirt trap, which can sometimes exist between blade bolster and handle.
It has a 20-degree bevelled edge, meaning it’s super sharp and while it certainly was great when finely slicing squishy tomatoes and avocado, it was also strong and long enough to make light work of larger, harder items such as butternut squash and celeriac.
Furi advises that it is only sharpened with its own make of industrially crushed diamond-coated sharpener to ensure the blade stays at the optimum 20˚ angle.
Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars
6. Premier Collection PCK06 21cm Chef’s Knife, Taylor’s Eye Witness – best for… passionate cooks
Taylor’s Eye Witness has hand-crafted knives in its Sheffield factory since 1838, so has plenty of history when it comes to making quality products and this limited edition series of knives is no exception.
We tried the 21cm Chef’s knife and first and foremost, straight out of the presentation box it feels like a professional restaurant kitchen tool. It pairs a Swedish chromium stainless steel blade with a dark Mexican Bocote wood handle, secured to a full tang with copper and brass mosaic rivets and looks every inch the experienced cook’s tool.
The unusual curve at the top of the blade, along with the rounded belly, creates a clip point that thins towards the tip for maximum accuracy with finer tasks such as thinly slicing onions and softer fruit. It certainly feels substantial, with that extra 1cm length adding to its cheffy appearance.
It has a Rockwell Hardness of 60, meaning it will stay sharper for longer, too. While it is definitely a considered buy, its makers say it should last a lifetime so if you’re a serious cook who wants a versatile, quality chef’s knife to help hone their skills then this could be an investment worth making.
Ideal Home rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Buy now: Taylor’s Eye Witness Premier Collection PCK06 21cm Chef’s Knife, £310
7. Signature Chef’s Knife, Robert Welch – best for fine chopping
This full tang German steel cook’s knife with Japanese-style, hand-applied 15˚ edge comes in variety of blade lengths, from a petite 12cm to a large 25cm. We loved the gently curved shape of the blade and the angled bolster and the rounded handle felt comfortable and secure to hold.
At 14cm long, this was the smallest of the chef’s knives we tried but it definitely held its own in terms of harder root vegetables such as swede and carrot, although if we were regularly chopping larger items such as butternut squash, we’d opt for a longer blade length.
The blade was great for chopping foods very fine – potato for dauphinoise for instance – but still substantial enough to efficiently cut up large pieces of meat. A good-value, versatile knife.
Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars
How to buy the best chef’s knife for you
What’s the best knife material?
A forged steel knife is generally more expensive and is made from a single piece of steel that is then heated and hammered, either by hand or by machine, into shape. A stamped knife is created by cutting out the shape from a sheet of steel that is then treated and honed to ensure it is strong and long-lasting enough to use.
A forged knife will be heavier with a thicker blade and usually a bolster and tang, and more durable. A stamped knife will have a thinner blade, great for delicate slicing and is more flexible so could bend when cutting tougher ingredients. Ice hardening is a manufacturing process where steel is exposed to temperatures below sub zero.
This helps to increase the hardness while at the same time making it resilient enough to cope with even the toughest of kitchen conditions. Ceramic knives have a blade that’s harder and therefore more brittle than steel but that tends to stay sharper for longer. They’re also resistant to acids and rusting so great for fruit, vegetables and boneless meats.
What is a Rockwell rating?
The Rockwell Hardness Scale (RHC) measures how much of a dent in metal with a measured amount of weight a diamond point will make – the smaller the mark, the harder the steel. The RHC rating of your knife is useful to know if you’re looking for an all-purpose, sturdy knife that won’t snap or chip under pressure.
A general-use ‘softer’ steel knife can range from 54-56, while more professional style premium blades, from 58-64 at the upper end. The higher the rating, the thinner the blade can be forged, creating a finer, sharper cutting edge but there are trade-offs as knives this hard can be brittle, chip if misused and take longer to sharpen.
As a general rule German blades tend to be on the lower end of the scale, while Japanese are on the higher.
Why do people rate Japanese knives?
Generally there are two things that separate Western and Japanese steel knives, blade hardness and shape. Japanese knives are harder and razor sharp, while German knives tend to have a lower RHC but they are easier to sharpen.
Japanese santoku knives will have a straighter, scalloped edge to prevent things such as thinly sliced fish sticking to the blade, while German chef’s or cook’s knives will usually feature a smooth blade with a rounded belly which make them great when using a rocking, chopping motion.
How to sharpen a knife with a sharpener
All knives are sharp when first bought but constant use will deaden the blade resulting in them becoming blunter over time. Regular sharpening will ensure your knife remains in tip-top condition.
There are many methods of sharpening, from traditional whetstones to electric blade sharpeners. Whetstones or sharpening steels are great for a professional finish particularly on harder or Japanese knives, producing a perfectly angled cutting edge but they can be difficult for a beginner to achieve the perfect angle.
Standard sharpeners are great for sharpening to the right angle without the guesswork and are suitable for most Western style blades but not good with scalloped Japanese style knives or ceramic knives. You’ll need a diamond dust coated sharpener to keep a ceramic blade in top condition. Finally, electronic models will give your blade an effort free edge but can be expensive.
Never use a knife on a glass or ceramic chopping board – wood or plastic is best – as they will blunt the knife much sooner.
Should I put my knife in the dishwasher?
While some knives say they are dishwasher safe, most makers and chefs recommend you don’t put them in the dishwasher, particularly if they have wooden handles. Just wash by hand in warm, soapy water to ensure a clean, sharp edge for longer.