sharpening and caring for your kitchen knives

How to Buy a Great Chef Knife

A chef knife is the soul of the kitchen. It’s the tool you most use without even thinking, but can’t live without. It’s in your hands pre-dinner when you mince shallots and there again when you quarter a watermelon for dessert. So buying a great chef knife is worth some thought. (Photo below: Henckel’s Pro S Chef’s.)

Henckels Pro S chef knife

For me, it boils down to two big things:
1)
How does it feel in your hand?
2)
How well will it hold its edge (i.e. stay sharp)?

Do I hear someone whining, “But what about looks? Don’t they count for something?” And I would have to say—sure, as long as the two biggies are taken care of first. Then feel free to go to town. But beauty is no guarantee of usefulness. What matters most are the two big things.

HENCKELS KNIVES  The knife above is a classic 8-inch chef’s from one of Henckels oldest top-quality lines, the Professional S series. It’s a hand-me-down from my Mom and, I must admit, I love how it feels in my hand—balanced, with a nice sense of heft. Although Germany has hundreds of knife makers, Henckels and Wusthof are the two that are most well-known internationally. And for good reason—they make dependable knives (usually backed by a lifetime guarantee) that will stand up to a lot of hard use (and misuse) and still retain their edge. Take a look at Sur La Table, one of the web’s premier kitchenware merchants, who carries a full line of Henckels cutlery at competitive prices. And make sure to check out the Short List of recommended knives at the end of this article.

Access to the Merchandise

In an ideal world, we would all live near a major gourmet kitchen store that had walls of knives we could touch in the flesh before we bought. Oh, the salesperson probably wouldn’t let us chop up an onion, but we could get a general feel just by handling them a bit, pretending to slice and dice.

Alas, that’s not the case for most of us. And it presents a challenge when trying to understand how your future kitchen soulmate will feel in your grip. Nonetheless, no matter how limited a selection the stores near you offer, it’s worth making a visit to whichever ones carry quality knives. Don’t let the salesperson intimidate you. Ask to take out as many as you need from behind the glass display case and into your eager palm.

Most reputable online merchants have reasonable return policies because it’s in their best interest to encourage you to buy.

Also—be open to other non-trad avenues of getting a hands-on experience. Ask your foodie friends what knives they own and if you can try them out sometime. Or how about friends of friends who might work in restaurants? Be creative!

And then, of course, there’s the online universe—where your distance from a store doesn’t have to be an obstacle. Where you can get the feel for a knife in the comfort of your own kitchen and, because it’s in their best interest to encourage you to buy, most reputable online merchants have reasonable return policies. Plus, the pure quantity of brands and models you can sample on the web can easily make up for any inconveniences. (If you’re in a hurry to shop, go straight to my article Best Chef Knives — Six Recommendations.)

WORD OF CAUTION  Depending on the knife and how it’s packaged, you should be able to handle a knife purchased online before committing—and if it’s a total disaster, mail it back for a nominal charge. But make sure to talk with a telephone salesperson to find out which knives have problematic packaging and what the merchant can do about that.
Sur La Table Free Shipping
Sur La Table 22-Slot Knife Block
Are your knives overflowing your places to properly store them? Step up to larger knife block. This one’s especially handy because it has slots for not one, not two, but three chef knives—all of them extra wide and able to house a knife up to 10 inches long. All this with a gorgeous cherry finish! (And if you like everything but the color, try Wusthof’s version in beechwood—the slot design is identical.)

Decoys

There are certain features that manufacturers (or merchants) might tout about their knives that don’t necessarily matter. They can act as decoys distracting you from the things that are truly important. Let’s look at a few major ones—full-tang, forged only, the bolster.

Full Tang vs. Partial Tang

The tang is that part of the blade that sticks into the handle, that keeps the two connected. The tang is often sandwiched between two pieces of handle that are held together with rivets. A knife is described as “full-tang” when the metal from the blade runs all the way through the handle. (See the photo below.)

chef knife full tang
 
There’s nothing wrong with a full-tang. But the problem is, sometimes knifemakers, and especially merchants, brag about a full-tang as the ultimate measure of quality and durability. While, technically speaking, a knife with a full-tang structure might be stronger, it’s basically irrelevant. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You’re not prying off two-by-fours with your chef knife, you’re chopping carrots. Many custom hunting knives and Japanese swords are not full-tang, and they are (and were) built for more heavy-duty uses than your average chef knife. Don’t get hung up on the tang. Go with the overall quality of the knife.

Forged vs. Stamped

There are high-quality stamped blades and low-quality forged blades.

Historically, there has been a huge difference in quality between a blade that was pounded into shape (forged) and one that was cut out of a sheet of metal like a cookie (stamped). But today, thanks to the wonders of modern manufacturing—the accessibility of high-end steel, the sophistication of heat treatment—the gap between them has narrowed to none. It all depends. There are high-quality stamped blades and low-quality forged blades. Yes, the majority of bargain basement knives will still be stamped, and the majority of high-end blades ($200 and up) will still be forged. But in that wide middle ground ($70 to $200), if you match each type of knife at comparable price points, a quality stamped blade will meet a forged head-on and hold its own. It’s more about the feel and what you like.

Bolster Bluff

The bolster is the part of a knife between the handle and the blade that is built out a bit and can 1) help protect your gripping hand from sliding up against the back edge of the blade, and 2) help balance the knife. A bolster, along with a full-tang, used to be the mark of a quality forged knife. But now in our polyglot world, with the mixing of Western and Eastern knife styles and the proliferation of inexpensive manufacturing (i.e. China), this element is not a guarantee of quality. Most forged German-made knives have traditionally had bolsters while Japanese-made have not. A bolster is not essential, it’s a matter of taste. (Photo below: Two quality 6-inch chef knives—on the left, a Henckels, with a traditional full bolster; on the right, a Shun, with a partial bolster.)

bolster_Henckels-Shun

 

The Feel Factor: Weight and Handle

German-style [knives] are thicker and heavier. Japanese are thinner and lighter.
Assuming you can audition a physical specimen—how does this baby feel in your hand? Is it too heavy, too light? Does the handle seem comfortable? Too bulky, too small? How’s the balance? Does it want to stay in your hand while your work? Most cooks prefer a knife that weighs evenly between the blade and handle. Some prefer the blade to weigh a touch more and tug down toward the food. In the end, only you can determine what feels right. And you can’t be sure what works for your favorite celeb chef will work for you. You need to trust your own senses. (Photo below: Six different chef/santoku knives with six different handles. From L to R: Henckels, Global, Henckels 4-Star, Caphalon, Henckels Pro S, Shun Classic)

chef knife handles

Nowadays most quality chef’s knives (or cook’s knives) can be grouped into three general categories: German-style, Japanese-style, or hybrid. German-style (or Western) are thicker and heavier. Japanese are thinner and lighter. And hybrids are usually in the Japanese mode, but not always. It helps to know this when trying to figure out what you like.

For example, if you’re holding a Japanese-made G-48 by Global (which is a hybrid), you’ll definitely find it lighter and the handle skinnier than a German-made Classic Chef’s by Wusthof. So skinny, in fact, that when you open your grip, the knife will want to flop over sideways in your hand. (The Wusthof will stay put.) Do you mind the fact that it can’t rest in your hand without flopping sideways? Or are you so delighted with the lightness that it’s a non-issue?

Global’s santoku G-48 is on my recommended list at the end of this article. But if you’re in a hurry and need to skip to the chase, you can shop for one now @ Amazon or @ Sur La Table).

In the last decade, heavier German-style knives have been giving way to the lighter Japanese-style model. One of the pluses of the Japanese-style that’s been extolled is that because it’s so much lighter, you feel less fatigue. And it’s true—but it might not be a big factor for someone cooking only four meals a week for a family of three. At any rate, don’t just follow the trend, follow what feels good. (For what it’s worth, even though I own and use both, I still gravitate toward the heavier, Western, style.)

Two different Henckels knife handles
And while you’ve got it in your hands, pay special attention to what the handle’s made of. Do you enjoy the texture? Materials can vary. For example, both Henckels and Wusthof have top-of-the-line models with very different-feeling handles—one with a hard smooth finish that imitates wood and another that’s more plastic-looking, softer, and has more grip. (Photo at right: handles on a Henckels Professional S and a Four Star—both made of polypropylene.) And then, of course, there’s the trademark pebbled steel that Global knives sport. Remember, anything that mildly irritates you during a test might drive you nuts after using it a hundred times. Then again, if the blade keeps on cutting supremely. . .you just might get used to the handle.

THE RISE OF SANTOKU [san-TOH-koo]  For a hundred years at least, the standard chef knife in the West has pretty much looked like the one at the top of this article. It’s the one everyone thinks of as a cook’s knife or even just a kitchen knife. But in the last decade or so, there’s a style of blade from Japan that’s been gaining prominence as a new favorite all-around knife. Enter santoku. . . (Photo below: Calphalon Contemporary 7-Inch Santoku which, I’m embarrassed to admit, feels better in my hand than any other knife I own.)
santoku by Calphalon

One Size Does Not Fit All

Before we leave the world of ergonomics, there’s one more design factor worth thinking about—the length of blade you’re most comfortable with. A 7-inch santoku? A classic 8-inch chef’s?

A large knife blade definitely is something many find intimidating (like my sister, for instance, and I can empathize). Yet for others, like Norman Weinstein who’s taught professional chefs for over 20 years, nothing will do but a 10-inch chef’s. That’s fine. Choose whatever size you’re most comfortable with. And what will work best for the range of tasks alloted to it—from mincing garlic to splitting open a melon.

Let it be noted though that if you’re cooking for an army or handling a lot of cumbersome foods—like pumpkins and squash and bundles of kale—a 10-incher can come in quite handy. And the width of the blade enables you to scoop up piles of chopped carrots effortlessly. Also, if you have large hands, a wide blade insures your knuckles don’t get pinched between the handle and cutting board when chopping up onions.

9-INCH KNIFE  In the last few years, more and more German manufacturers have begun to offer a 9-inch chef knife. Which is awesome news because it’s a great in-between size! I’ve featured one by Messermeister in my Short List of recommendations at the end of this article and Wusthof manufacturers quite a few as well.

If you’re not sure about the length, then I’d recommend going with a standard consumer-sized 8-inch chef’s. Or if you favor Japanese lightness, then maybe a 7-inch santoku. (One great thing about the santoku is you can have the extra width of a 10-inch blade without the length.) Leave it up to experience to eventually teach you what you do, or don’t, favor. Actually, I’m in limbo a little on this issue of size myself. I keep going back and forth between my Henckels 8-inch chef’s and my Global 7-inch santoku. One night I’ll use just the Henckels, and another night just the Global. And some nights I’ll switch between them both.

Whatever works for you. You, you, you!

chef-santoku knife sizes

(Photo above: 6-inch chef, 7- and 7 1/2-inch santokus, and 8-inch chef. Please note: I do not recommend choosing a 6-incher as your main chef knife. It’s too short.)

Sharpness that Lasts (know what you’re buying)

Here’s my main criteria for sharpness: I want a chef knife that can cut through a tomato without any resistance. Time and time again. If it can do this, then it’s probably sharp enough for my uses. Simple and sweet.

Practically any knife you buy today—yes, even at WalMart—will start off this sharp. But it won’t stay that way. Only the good ones, assuming you’re not chopping on glass or metal or something insane, can retain their sharpness, or more accurately, have their original sharpness revived again and again for quite a few years. And the quality of the good ones, their strength and durability, their ability to hold their edge, totally depends on the quality of steel they’re made of.

Steel is an entire subject in and of itself, but suffice it to say, it’s a material that lends itself to a ginormous range of quality and character, and the steel in a cheap knife is light years away from the steel in a more expensive knife and it will not hold up. The edge will fold over and dull too easily and will require much more sharpening. And the sharpening itself will wear away much more metal, so that you’ll find yourself with either a perpetually dull knife, or a knife who’s cutting edge quickly wears away to nothing.

low-high quality chef knives

(Photo above: One knife sells for over $100 and the other for $17. Can you tell the difference? Be an informed shopper!)

So how do you know you’re getting a knife with high-performance steel? Go with a name brand. Here’s a short list to start with: Henckels, Wusthof, Shun, Global, MAC, Messermeister. But, unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated. Because most of these brands have quite a few product lines (try 11 or more for Henckels) that vary enough in quality to make them not the least bit comparable. And to wade through all the styles and models of just these six brands would take a whole website in itself. So the main thing I can do for you here, in wrapping things up, is to 1) give you a warning, and 2) point you to a short list of recommended knives to explore. (And encourage you to check out other areas of this site where I delve in deeper.)

First, the Warning: There is NO FREE LUNCH. If you find a brand of knife that’s trumpeting it’s specialness, but is significantly cheaper than name-brand models of similar size and design, let the buyer beware. It’s not humanly possible. (Well, maybe if it’s stolen merchandise. But you don’t want to get into that, do you?) You get what you pay for. And high-quality, high-performance steel never comes cheap.

Secondly, the Short List: Just a short scroll down is a list of six high-quality chef knives that are worth taking a look at. They’re purposely from a variety of makers in various styles. Of course, ideally, you’d be in a store where you could physically interact with them before you buy. But, again—no bricks-and-mortar store on the globe could offer you so many choices. Or such low prices.

Shun Hinoki Cutting Board, 18 x 12 x .8 inches
This board is does not come cheap, but the wood it’s hewn from has a wonderful quality of being highly resilient yet easy on your knives. It will offer their edges maximum protection. And remember, quality cutting boards, like quality knives, can last a long long time.shun hinoki cutting board

Priorities

One final thing: In thinking about how much space I’ve spent in this article on how a chef knife should feel, and how short a space in discussing the importance of its ability retain its sharpness—I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression. In my experience, sharpness has been just as important as ergonomics. Believe it or not, my hand (and arm) have readily adapted to the feel and shape of a variety of knives (and their handles) that I’ve used over the years. Whether they were chunky or thin, heavy or light. But when a sharp knife went dull and refused to be revived, I never ever could get used to it. It continually annoyed the heck out of me.

So, when in doubt—go with quality steel!

The Short List

Six different kinds of top-notch chef knife from six different manufacturers. To learn more about each knife and knifemaker and why they’re on the list, check out my article Best Chef Knives — Six Recommendations which should really be called How to Buy a Great Chef Knife, Part 2.

Henckels Professional S 8-inch Chef Knife

BUY NOW @ SurLaTable: $130 / Amazon special: $110

• • • •

Wusthof Classic Ikon 7-inch Santoku

BUY NOW @ SurLaTable: $150 / Amazon: $150

• • • •

Messermeister Meridian Elite 9-inch Chef Knife

BUY NOW @ Amazon: $140

• • • •

Global 7-inch Santoku (G-48)

BUY NOW @ Amazon special: $106 / SurLaTable: $123

• • • •

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

BUY NOW @ Amazon: $145

• • • •

Shun Classic 8-inch Chef Knife  (DM0706)

BUY NOW @ SurLaTable: $140 / Amazon: $140

21 Comments
  1. I’m always surprised at the number of people who don’t know the cutting board is there to protect their knife’s edge and will actually cut on a metal or stone counter when its convenient.

    • I’m retired now, but in my last restaurant one of my chefs turned up one day with her own chopping board — made of marble! She was really offended when I told her she could only use her own knives and would have to change boards if she needed to use one of my knives.

      • Great story! I must admit I always find it a bit shocking to hear about chef’s that don’t understand the basics of knife care :)
        Best, KKG

  2. Very informative site!

  3. I was wondering if anyone had used any of the Furtif Evercut knives.

    • Chuck, good question! I’d never heard of them, but here they are on Amazon (see below). Although they sound intriguing and seem to be wickedly engineered and designed, I must admit I’m immediately suspect of a knife maker that claims “the average user should only need to sharpen it once every 25 years.” They’re playing to the fantasy that every home cook wants to hear — a knife that will stay sharp forever without having to be sharpened. It’s not possible — or if it is, then there are always other serious drawbacks (i.e. it will crack if you drop it on a tile floor). I will try to investigate further when I get a moment. . .

      Best, KKG

      • Have you discussed any of the hand-made Japanese knives? There seem to be more expensive brands at the SLTable and WSoma type shops and on-line from the makers. I’d like to get one someday when I could afford their price or am I just being pulled into the hype?
        Thanks,
        JAH

        • Hi JA,

          Good questions! And the answer to Question #1 is. . .
          – No, I have not discussed hand-made Japanese knives. Why not? Mainly because (currently, at least) they’re not my thing. They’re also beyond the scope of the audience KitchenKnifeGuru was created for.

          KKG was designed mainly for home cooks, not professionals (although many pros have used, and thanked me for, the site). For your average home cook, I would not recommend hand-forged Japanese knives. Why? Because 1) maintaining their sharpitude takes extra time and trouble, 2) they’re easier to damage. 3) They also tend to be pricey.

          – RE Item #1: These hand-forged knives are not my expertise, but my understanding is that, because of the nature of the steel and its tempering, they need to be honed/touched up on a waterstone, not a hone. This requires the owner to learn how to do this to properly maintain their knife. If the owner doesn’t want to do this, they end up having to send the knife out to get sharpened much more often than necessary or risk using a dullish knife.

          – RE Item #2: On top of this, because these knives are heat-treated to a hardnesses of 60 and up, they are more brittle and cannot take the wear and tear of your average German knife or German-Japanese hybrid. If not treated with care, their edges can crack or chip. (This can happen with factory-made Japanese knives as well.)

          Here’s another article that relates to this topic:
          Knife Edges 101

          BTW. . .I did case out both Sur La Table and William-Sonoma and did not find any any hand-forged knives at all on SLT (except for the Mexeur and Cie which is French), and on WS, only one Japanese (Kikuichi) and one German (Nesmuk). The two WS knives seem pretty darn cool :)

          Regarding your Question #2, whether these high-end Japanese knives are worth the price or simply hyped up, I would say it depends on 1) what’s important to you, the cook (i.e. ergonomics, aesthetics, performance), 2) what your pocket book can reasonably afford, and 3) how much cooking you do. For a professional, a super-sharp knife can make the difference between their arm lasting through the day or ending up dead tired. But for your average home cook, it’s not such an issue.

          All said, these are beautiful knives with super-sharp edges. (I’m not even sure, exactly, what brands you are referring to.) But there are plenty of knives like these in the kitchen knife universe, and they don’t have to be hand-made or even Japanese to fit the bill.

          Here are two of my favorites that are not hand-forged, but wickedly sharp and beautiful to boot. (I believe to keep them sharp you could simply hone them regularly with a ceramic steel.)

          Miyabi Birchwood Chef Knife
          Miyabi Birchwood Chef Knife

          Shun Dual-Core Kiritsuke Knife

          Best, KKG

  4. Hey KKG, thanks for the detailed article. I have been using a professional sharpening service to keep my culinary knives sharp, but they just moved away and I need to get something to sharpen my knives. I have been looking at bench stones primarily. Is there a specific material or brand you would recommend?

    Thanks,
    James

    • Hi James,

      My thoughts on this subject are pretty much summed up in my article: Why Use a Professional Knife Sharpening Service? There are also a few more articles on the subject of sharpening under the “Sharpeners” tab on the KKG website which might be helpful to you. Check them out when you get a moment :)

      But, in a nutshell, if it were me, I would either:
      1) Mail my knives to a professional sharpening service
      2) Or, if I had the time to dedicate to sharpening my own, invest in the Edge Pro Sharpening System or something similar (i.e. using waterstones and some kind of guide to help keep your angles consistent).

      Hope this helps!
      KKG

  5. Hey,
    Was reading up on these knives because I am thinking of getting a decent knife for my GF’s folks for Christmas. The mom cooks better than my mom which is a sad thing to admit. The dad loves his roasts.

    Anyway, I’m a lover of knives in all forms. (My brother brought me a Gurkha hunting knife from the mountains of Nepal as a gift to my love of knives…it got stolen from me when they held me up at gunpoint…South Africa, eh?)

    I wanted to say that this is the best post I’ve read about this particular subject. The way you wrote it and the way you have empathy for your readers is amazing. As an engineer, I know how it is to relate to people in a way they will understand. You just rocked me.

    Thanks man. I get it now.
    Jon

  6. One more:

    If I had to buy my girlfriend’s mom and dad a present in the form of a decent chef knife—because she cooks the most amazing food and really knows what she’s doing, and he would also benefit cause he eats it—what knife would I get her? She has fairly small hands, yeah. She needs to slice numerous things (makes most things from scratch). Lot’s of roasts and big meat dishes to feed 6 people. I was thinking the Wusthof Classic 16 or 18cm (6/7inch American)

    Keep in mind the other brands are hard to come by…well, maybe i just don’t know where to look. Victorinox is ugly.

    Help? Anyone?
    Love
    Jon

    • Jon,

      First off. . .have you checked out my article, Best Chef Knives—Six Recommendations? If not, please do so immediately—it will give you some more ideas.

      For small hands, the Wusthof Classic Ikon 7-inch santoku works like a dream. It’s more nimble than a traditional chef knife and plenty sharp. It’s also a thinner blade which performs better, but is a touch more delicate. But it’s a little small for slicing up larger food items like a heads of cabbage.

      Also, Global knives can work well with smaller hands. They are lighter and have more slimmed down handles. The one mentioned in the Best Chef Knives article could almost work as a go-to because it’s wide which is great for chopping. But Global also makes chef knives that are longer, which I mention in the article as well.

      My gut feeling tells me that she needs a decent-sized blade, so ideally, you should get an 8 or 9-inch (200 to 230 mm), a 7-inch might not be long enough. If you don’t mind springing for it, the Wusthof Classic Ikon 8-inch chef also might work well for her because the blade length would be adequate, but the handle would be a little more comfortable than the regular Classic.

      And, yes, I agree, Victorinox is ugly :)

      Hope this helps some.

      Best, KKG

  7. I’m looking for a small chef knife since I have small hands and some arthritis. I was told at Sur La Table that my 5-inch Wusthof santokou has been sharpened too much and is now useless because the edge is worn down too much. They refused to sharpen it again.

    Is this information correct? I hate to discard it because it has always been my favorite. Any suggestions for a 5-inch chef knife?

    Thank you.

    • Hi Pat,

      #1) I’d have to see some photos of your santoku to confirm if I agreed with Sur La Table’s assessment or not. Knives can wear down quite a bit, especially if they’ve been sharpened too aggressively on a regular basis. On the other hand, a knife blade has to have been worn down quite a bit to be unusable.

      But, there could be another issue causing the problem. If your santoku has what Wusthof calls a “hollow edge” or a granton edge, and the indentations (or mullions) go down rather close to the cutting edge, this can end the usability of a knife prematurely. Repeated sharpening can remove the steel that separates the beginning of the mullions from the cutting edge. If the mullions now begin at the cutting edge—because of the unevenness of the thickness of the steel and the thinness of the mullions, you can no longer sharpen the edge without risking ruining it.

      #2) If you have small hands, I think you’re using a great knife for that. The only other knife that comes to mind would be a 6-inch Shun chef knife. This would still be a compact size, but because of the thinner blade, would be lighter and less tiring to use. And it would have a very sharp blade that you could easily keep sharp by honing regularly with a ceramic hone. Please see Best Chef Knives—Six Recommendations for a few more details about Shun :)

      Best, KKG

  8. Hi KKG,

    Love your site, thanks so much for all of your hard work.

    I want to buy a knife for my daughter. She also has small hands, but was able to hold both a Bob Kramer Essential 8″ and a Henckels Pro at Sur La Table and liked them over some of the others. My question is: I prefer Wusthof to Henckels and was looking at the Cordon Bleu for her. But if I go with the Henckels, is there a big difference (other than the bolster) between the Pro and the Pro S?

    Do you have a preference between these three knives?

    Many thanks,
    Nancy

    • Hi Nancy,

      OK, so we’re actually comparing four knives: two Henckels (Henckels Pro and Henckels Professional S), one Wusthof (the Cordon Bleu), and one Kramer (the Essential). For the record, you can’t really go wrong with any of them (just like any of the knives in my Best Chef Knives. . . article).

      The two Henckels and the Wusthof are all very similar. Even though they are different brands, the type and quality of the steel is comparable and the handles should feel very much alike. The Henckels Pro S will probably weigh a bit more than the other two because of the bolster.

      The Wusthof Cordon Bleu has slightly harder steel than the two Henckels (HRC 58 versus 57). This means it should have slightly better edge retention and stay sharp a bit longer. But nothing dramatic. The Cordon Bleu also may have a slightly thinner blade which will give it less resistance and allow it to cut a touch better. It also may come from the factory with a sharper and more finely finished edge. (Wusthof prides itself on this.) The initial sharpness of the blade, of course, will be moot after the first sharpening, so, personally, I would not put too much weight in it.

      Unless your daughter is a professional chef using the knife six or more hours a day, none of the differences above will be that noticeable. The most noticeable differences to her (if she, indeed, is a home cook) will be the look and feel. And that she can best tell by holding the knife in her hands. If your daughter happens to be a professional chef, then I might lean toward the Cordon Bleu. Otherwise, as far as looks are concerned, I must admit the Henckels Pro is my fave.

      The Kramer Essential is a very different animal to the three above and the price indicates this. In my opinion, the higher price is fairly justified. Why?
      – It’s made of a higher-quality steel designed to keep it’s edge.
      – The hardness of the steel (HRC 61 versus 57/58) will also take a finer edge and keep it longer.
      – The finishing of the blade, as well as of the whole knife, is rigorous, and should pretty much guarantee it comes from the factory in perfect shape and super sharp.

      Please note that the blade is wider than your typical 8-inch chefs. This is nice for knuckle clearance and scooping up veggies, but will prevent it for fitting into your typical 8-inch chef slot in a knife block. I’m also thinking, from what I can remember, that the handle will be larger than the handles of the others. (I’m wondering why this works with your daughter’s smaller hands, but I guess you’ve already got this covered.) It also might be a touch heavier than the three above. Might. . .

      Conclusion: If the Kramer Essential feels good to your daughter, she likes the wide blade, and price is not an issue, then I would probably buy the Kramer. It’s a beauty and it’s powerfully designed. It should, without a doubt, outperform the others, (i.e. take a very sharp edge and keep it for a long while in between sharpenings). My only caveat would be the hardness of the steel. Because the steel is harder, it is also more brittle and will not take as much abuse as the other three knives and must be treated with a bit more care. This is crucial to be aware of. If your daughter likes to power through bone joints or saw through frozen cookie dough with her chef knives (something nobody should do with any fine chef knife), this is NOT the knife for her!

      Hope this helps you decide—let me know. And don’t hesitate to ask any more questions.

      Best, KKG

      P.S. Please make sure to tell your daughter about the importance of honing. Learning how to do this, and do it regularly, will prevent having to sharpen the knife too often and keep the edge in tip-top sharpitude for a much longer time.

  9. Nary a mention of Sabatier. . .is it not a good brand? For no discernible reason, I have a good impression of them. All usual caveats about variety of models aside, is a top tier Sabatier comparable to the brand names checked here and in the Top Six article?

    • Hi Jenny,

      The answer is “maybe.” I’ve already answered this question in the comments for Best Chef Knives — Six Recommendations, so I’m going to start off by excerpting myself:

      “Sabatier is an odd brand—because no single company owns the brand name. Can you believe it? There are at least a couple of authentic, high-quality French knife makers that sell under that brand, but you must make sure which Sabatier you are buying from or you may not be getting high quality. I own a Sabatier 9-inch slicer I use for turkey, etc. that I bought years ago before at this KKG stuff. I got it sharpened a couple of years ago by my favorite professional sharpener, Seattle Knives, and the edge has held up very well so far. But it gets light usage, nothing like a chef knife. So who knows what kind of Sabatier I have. . .”

      If you buy a “top-tier” Sabatier, it will definitely be comparable to the brands/models covered in my Best Chef Knives article. But, to be certain you’re buying a high-quality Sabatier brand, takes more work, and that’s one of the reasons I left Sabatier off the Best Chef Knives list. Another reason is that Best Chef Knives was not supposed to be a definitive list, but simply some major recommendations to aid shoppers in their quest for quality :)

      Vive la France!

      Best, KKG

  10. What are your thoughts on hollow-ground cooks knives? Specifically, I am looking at the Wusthof Classic Ikon 8-inch cooks knife because it feels better in my hand than the Classic. The hollow-ground version goes for about $30-40 more than the traditional version.

    I have read about the benefits of the hollow-ground of keeping food from sticking to the blade, and I like the look of it. I am wondering if you think it is worth it or if there is a good reason to get the hollow-ground over the traditional? Or should I just get the regular cooks knife and save up for a santoku to add to my collection later?

    Just discovered your site recently and it has been really helpful. Thanks!

    • Hi Sierra,
      Thanks for your question about the value of a hollow-ground, or granton-edged, knife!

      In my opinion, especially in the case of a chef knife, you shouldn’t bother. It’s definitely not worth the extra–because the grantons only reduce stickage in certain situations and it’s usually pretty subtle. And an even bigger liability can be the fact that, if they are designed too close to the cutting edge, they can actually limit the lifespan of a knife. So you are missing out on very little, and maybe even avoiding a longer-term problem, by buying a chef knife with a traditional edge.

      If the granton edge comes with the knife–like many santokus–that’s fine. But I, generally, wouldn’t go out of my way to pay for it.

      BTW, I own a 9-inch version of the Wusthof Classic Ikon and love the feel. And, if you haven’t already, you might want to check out my article, Wusthof Knives–a Buyer’s Guide.

      Best, KKG

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An Edge in the Kitchen
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