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How to Select a Chef Knife to Meet All Your Kitchen Needs

A woman's hands slicing vegetables with a chef knife.
CorneliaP/Shutterstock

A chef knife is the most versatile tool in your kitchen—but only if you pick the right one. Here’s what you need to know before you shop for your new knife.

Chef’s knives come in multiple sizes, shapes, and colors, which can make choosing one an intimidating task. However, once you’re armed with some info about design and construction, you’ll be prepared to pick out the perfect knife.

The Anatomy of a Chef Knife

A diagram with different parts of a knife labeled.
Before you shop, familiarize yourself with each part of a chef knife. Emilee Unterkoefler

The Shape of the Blade

If you understand the different blade shapes, it will help you decide which knife you need for the type of cooking you do. The two primary types of blade shapes are German- and Japanese-style.

A German-style knife has a rounded belly ideal for slicing by rocking your knife along the curve of the blade.

The Japanese-style chef knife typically has a thinner, sharper edge, and a straight blade, which allows for precise slicing.

The Length of the Blade

Chef’s knives vary in length, but some of the more common measurements are between six, eight, and nine inches. The most common and recommended length is eight inches. It’s the most versatile length, and you can use it for most of your kitchen needs.

So, when would you skip the common eight-inch variety and go shorter or longer? If you chop large quantities of food at a time, you might prefer a nine-inch knife. But remember, more steel means more weight. A shorter blade, like a six-inch, gives you a lot more control and is ideal for mincing foods, like shallots or garlic.

The Type of Steel

High-carbon steel and stainless steel chef knives sitting next to a cutting board, an onion, cucumber, and a cherry tomato.
Emilee Unterkoefler

The blade of a chef knife is typically made from one of two types of steel—high-carbon or stainless. Which one you select is based on personal preference, but it can help if you understand how each material works, and the pros and cons of each.

High-carbon steel chef knives hold their sharp edges for much longer due to the hardness of the carbon element. The upside is you don’t have to sharpen these knives very often. Keep in mind, though, that you have to wash and dry a high-carbon steel knife efficiently and keep it away from moisture, or it will rust over time.

A stainless-steel knife is much softer and easier to sharpen, but you do have to sharpen it often, as the edge doesn’t retain its sharpness long. The upside is it’s rust- and corrosion-resistant, hence the name.

The Handle

The right handle is, arguably, the most crucial part of choosing a chef knife. We don’t recommend that you purchase your chef knife online because you can’t hold it. You want to make sure it fits your hand, as that makes a world of difference. You must be “one” with the knife.

Chef knives either have a full or hidden tang handle. In the image above, you can see the tang of the knife extends through the handle, and it’s visible.

On a hidden tang knife, the handle covers the tang. You might not want to use as much force with these types of knives, as the handle could loosen and come off over time.

A full tang means the steel extends throughout the handle and makes the rivets visible. These knife handles are typically more durable.

The Final Slice

Remember, holding the knife is the most vital part of your chef knife selection adventures. Hold different ones until you find one that feels right and will work best with your slicing or cutting techniques. You’ll be grateful you did so down the road.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »

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