What is the Best Chef’s Knife?

People often ask me, “What’s your favorite knife for a professional kitchen?” It always makes me pause because there are a bunch of things to consider before I can answer:

  1. What kind of metal? Forged or folded?
  2. What’s the best ratio of high carbon steel to stainless steel?
  3. What kind of tang (the part of the blade that extends into the handle) does it have… full or half or is it a rod covered in plastic?
  4. Should the heel be flush with the blade or steeply taper out to give you an effective bone cutter (or can opener)?
  5. Should the edge be serrated or straight or curved?
  6. Should the side of the blade sport dimples (for releasing/preventing wet food from sticking to the side of the blade as you cut) or should it be flat?
  7. Should the blade be flexible or rigid?
  8. Should the tip be pointed like a “V” or should it be more blunt, providing more uniform blade-edge surface area at the front?

All great questions and they mostly center on what you plan to use it for. I’ve never met anyone, for example, who lists the meat cleaver as their favorite knife, but try to cut through bones with a paring knife and you’ll wish you had one.

Asking a chef to choose one knife is like asking a golfer to pick one club to use for driving, chipping and putting… or asking a carpenter to choose one tool that is best for cutting, measuring and drilling. However, if you let a golfer choose 3 clubs or a carpenter choose 3 tools, it gets a lot easier for them. So here are my 3 favorites and (why):

  1. 8” Chef’s Knife It’s the right size for most big jobs. Don’t waste $150+ on a great big 12” chef’s Knife just so you can cut through a Tombstone Pizza. Rather, get a decent $15 mezzaluna for that. For handle, heel, steel and feel (sorry… couldn’t help it), I like the MAC MTH-80 Mighty Chef 8” with Dimples. The steel is hard so it holds its edge very well, but be careful not to chuck it into your knife drawer or it might chip the blade. Japanese knives can be a little brittle compared to German knives, which are more like Ford F-150’s than Ferrari’s. Go Japanese for your chef’s knife. Once you cut with a sharp Japanese style chef’s knife, you’ll throw away your collection of “As Seen on TV!” and pampered chef knives. You might even toss out your Henckels… or give them to a neighbor. This particular knife has “dimples.” They make it lighter and help to keep food from suctioning to the side of the blade. I’ve cut myself more dang times trying to slide vegetables or meat off the side of a sharp knife.
  2. 6” Utility Knife This isn’t a boning knife (not really flexible) nor is it a paring knife (about 3 inches longer), but it can take on most tasks of both. I like this knife to be Japanese too because I have no patience for sharpening German knives. I like thin blades that are razor sharp… and stay that way. If you’re de-boning a chicken, this knife will do a nice job. It’s also great for peeling fruit and trimming sinew from a pork loin. I use a SHUN Classic 6”.
  3.  8” Serrated Bread Knife This one is good for much more than bread. In fact, it’s often the first knife I grab. It doesn’t need to be sharpened, which is a plus, and I just get rid of them when the “teeth” wear down too much. They’re great for trimming rind off of melons, cleaning peppers, slicing tomatoes or cutting through a wrapped sandwich without leaving bits of paper in the cut… not to mention they do a great job with bread. I also use it to slice slender cuts of meat like beef/pork tenderloin or stuffed chicken breasts. Even though it’s called a “bread” knife, I use it as my true utility knife. Generally the Germans are the only ones making good bread knives and you need that hearty, thicker steel so you’re not burning through knives. Besides, I’ve never seen a thinner/harder steel version from the Japanese. I like the Wustof 8” Classic IKON Bread Knife.

Buying great knives won’t make you a chef. You have to know how to use them. Futz around with a whole chicken using a dull knife or the wrong knife and you’re bound to wind up in the emergency room getting stitched up. Chop chives with your chef knife instead of slicing through them and your razor-sharp prize will become as dull as a butter knife (ever hear someone “whack-whack-whacking” through a case of mushrooms, showing off how fast they can chop… whadaya think is happening to their knife edge as it strikes the cutting board over and over?). Use your 6” utility knife to cut through that confounding plastic packaging that entombs your daughter’s new Barbie and you’ll wonder why you threw out your “Laser” knives from COSTCO. Buy three smart knives, protect your investment and use them correctly.

Ray Camillo – Founder & CEO, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting

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