While I totally empathized with his desire to slash through the marketing hype and discover for himself what might be the sharpest and, thus, the best chef knife, I found it important to remind myself that his fervor was slightly misplaced. Because all he was really testing was what is commonly called the “factory edge”—the level of sharpness each manufacturer grinds and polishes their knives to before they exit the factory floor.
. . .under average use and even if maintained to perfection, the factory edge will only last a year or two.What’s wrong with that you might ask? Isn’t that the only fair way to compare just how sharp a knife from each knifemaker actually is? Well, yes, sort of. But it’s not realistic. And it’s not very accurate—in the long-term. Why? Because the edge that’s being tested, no matter what, will not last. As a matter of fact, under average use and even if maintained to perfection, this factory edge will only last a year or two max. Then, it will be time for resharpening. And then the performance of each one of these knives, will even out considerably. And the best chef knife will depend more upon the expertise of who last sharpened it than the edge it left the factory with.
Let me be more specific: If I were to send all nine of these chef knives to one of my favorite professional sharpening services, say Seattle Knife Sharpening, and on their return run them through the very same series of tests—I’m betting the difference between the winners and losers would narrow down quite a bit. As a matter of fact, in many cases, it would probably be hard to detect much difference at all. How do I know this? I’ve done it.
That’s NOT to say that all quality chef knives, once you get past the factory edge, are pretty much equal. Of course not. Some, because of the steel they’re made of and the way they’ve been heat processed, will definitely hold a finer edge and keep it longer. And some will be more versatile or require less maintenance or withstand more abuse. And, of course, some will simply feel more comfortable in the palm of your hand. That’s to be expected.
Sooo, what’s the moral of the story? There are two really:
1) Finding the best chef knife, or more accurately put, the one best for you, shouldn’t depend solely on how sharp it is out of the box.
2) Your long-term satisfaction with whatever chef knife you choose to call your own will depend more upon how well you maintain it—by using the right cutting boards, honing regularly, properly sharpening—than upon the exact brand or model. Because a quality chef knife could last thirty years or more and require quite a few sharpenings. And proper maintenance is crucial to your enjoyment!
For a crash course on how to keep your kitchen knives sharp and happy, read Kitchen Knife Sharpening Action Plan. And for more tips on how to find the best chef knife (for you), check out my articles on best chef knives and buying a great chef knife.