How to Choose a Chef’s Knife

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One of editor likes to say, a chef’s knife “is like a dance partner.” A knife that feels comfortable and graceful in your hand might feel klutzy to someone else. When you start shopping for that perfect chef’s knife—one that will make slicing, dicing, chopping, and mincing more pleasurable, precise, and effortless—it’s important to identify your personal preferences, and to realize that there isn’t one knife that’s right for everyone. Finding your ideal knife might take a little time, but you’ll know it when you’ve found it.

Where to meet your match

The first step to finding a chef’s knife that works for you is to search out a cutlery or online shop with a wide selection of sample knives that you can hold or, even better, maneuver on a cutting surface. “You can’t buy a knife off a peg board. You need to feel it and talk to someone who can guide you,” says Jacob Maurer, a cutlery buyer. Seek out salespeople who can lead you to a knife that fits; don’t fall prey to those who tell you which knife to buy.

Wherever you buy your knife, ask if you can return it if it feels dull or isn’t the right fit after a short test drive at home.

How to test

In choosing some of our favorite knives (below), the Fine Cooking test kitchen ran more than two dozen models through this battery of tasks. If possible, try using your favorite few knives to:

  • Mince parsley
  • Dice an onion
  • Slice winter squash
  • Cut carrots into thin strips
  • Carve a melon

What to look for in a knife

Once you’ve got a knife in your hand (see photo above for proper grip) you should immediately get a sense of its fit. It should feel comfortable, like a natural extension of your hand. It should inspire confidence, not instill fear. If it feels wrong, move on. If it feels pretty good, start chopping, noting how you respond to the knife’s physical characteristics.

  • Weight:You’ll need to try several knives to find your ideal knife weight. One school of thought believes a hefty chef’s knife cuts through foods easier because it “falls” with more force. Another thinks a lighter chef’s knife flows more freely and lets you maneuver the knife more skillfully. Bottom line: Choose the style that feels right to you.
  • Balance:“Perfect balance” is in the palm of the beholder. Judge balance by gripping the knife by its handle. If it feels uncomfortably weighted toward the back of the handle or toward the blade, then it probably isn’t for you. An unbalanced knife will make you work harder. Side-to-side balance is also important. When you come down on the blade, the knife shouldn’t feel unstable, as if it wants to teeter toward one side or the other.
  • Size:An 8-inch chef’s knife is the most popular among home cooks because of its versatility. A 10-incher’s longer blade can cut more volume but may feel intimidating. A 6-inch chef’s knife can offer an element of agility, like that of a paring knife, but falls short when working with volume or when slicing through something large, like a watermelon.