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Frequently Asked Questions: Chef’s Knives
What is a chef’s knife?
A chef’s knife is a comparatively large utility knife that can be used for various activities in the kitchen. It is used for cutting, weighing and chopping fish, meat, fruit and vegetables.
Internationally, there are quite different variants of the kitchen knife. The design is in each case due to the local cooking and eating traditions. In Asian cuisine, for example, food is usually served already largely chopped, whereas in Europe, bite-sized portions are often only cut during the meal.
What all chef’s knives have in common is an extremely sharp blade, relatively long at around 16 to 25 centimeters, and a balanced handle that fits as comfortably as possible in the hand.
In European chef’s knives, the blade becomes larger and more solid towards the handle, and they usually have a point at the very front. Due to the ergonomically shaped handle, the knife is stable in the hand even when greater force is applied.
This knife shape has become widely accepted in Europe, even in places where international cooking is done. However, you can also find knives in other traditional shapes for a long time.
How does a chef’s knife work?
In principle, this point is quickly explained – in fact, any child can answer it. A chef’s knife is used to cut, slice or chop fruit, vegetables, meat, fish or other foods needed for cooking. With their relatively long, extremely sharp and sturdy blade, most chef’s knives are suitable as an all-purpose tool in the kitchen.
When working with a chef’s knife, it is always a good idea to provide a suitable, clean cutting surface. This is usually a board made of wood or plastic. If the food is chopped on this board, it can be processed more easily or transferred to the pot or pan.
In addition, the blade of the chef’s knife can “dip” into the board to a certain extent and is thus particularly protected. Hard surfaces such as plates or glass stove tops, on the other hand, are not recommended. The blade could be damaged here, and there is also an increased risk of accidents.
What knives are needed in the kitchen?
If you ask this question to amateur chefs, the answer is sure to be very different. Because which knives should be present in a kitchen as a standard assortment depends very much on one’s own cooking and eating habits. Nevertheless, some knives can be named as basic equipment.
The chef’s knife described in detail here can be used so universally that it is indispensable in every kitchen.
Bread knives can be recognized by their long, wavy blade. This special grind ensures that the bread does not crumble when cut and the cut is nice and smooth. The length and texture of the blade also make it possible to cut whole loaves of bread.
Vegetable knives also have a serrated blade that can penetrate a hard shell quite easily. Nevertheless, the inside of the fruit is not crushed, but cut. This prevents the fruit from being squished. Most vegetable knives have a blade length of less than 10 centimeters. Special tomato knives, however, are somewhat longer, so that they can also cut larger fruits well.
A paring knife is a very small knife with a short blade that curves inward. This shape makes it easier to peel round fruits or vegetables. With such a paring knife, the peel can be removed without getting too much pulp.
Anyone who wants to give kitchen knives as a gift should first find out about the cooking and eating habits of the person receiving the gift. It is possible that this list will have to be corrected individually. Perhaps he rarely eats bread, but wants to fillet meat or fish several times a week? Then a special filleting knife would certainly be a better choice than the bread knife mentioned.
Which steel is the best for a Chef’s Knife?
The fact that there are kitchen knives in very different price categories already suggests it: The blade quality depends on the material used. There is not only a distinction between steel and ceramic: There are also very different types and qualities of steel.
To begin with, we will briefly discuss ceramic blades: It is true that ceramic blades are particularly sharp – and permanently so. On the other hand, they are not flexible and are extremely sensitive to impact and breakage. So caution is not only the mother of the porcelain box, but also of the porcelain knife.
When it comes to metallic blades, a few standards have become particularly well established.
Expensive chef’s knives often use a multi-layer, folded Damascus steel. Especially in Asian chef’s knives, the hardness of this steel can be 60 to 65 Rockwell, which is considered extremely hard. The pattern that can be seen on the side, which is created by the special folding of the steel, is also particularly attractive.
If knives made of Damascus steel are well cared for, they will remain extremely sharp for a long time. However, they can also be sharpened well.
The chrome-molybdenum-vanadium alloy has become especially popular with Solingen cutlers as being of particularly high quality and permanently sharp. This steel, which achieves a hardness of 55 to 58 Rockwell, is corrosion-resistant and also otherwise meets all the demands placed on a good chef’s knife.
Stainless steel X50CrMoV15
The name of this stainless steel sounds like a complicated chemical formula. And indeed, it reflects the composition and material properties: the preceding “X” states that it is a stainless alloy. “50” stands for a carbon content of 0.50%, “Cr” means chromium, “Mo” molybdenum and “V” vanadium. The final number “15” indicates that there is 15% chromium in the alloy.
Overall, knives made from this material are considered sharp, but also less resistant to corrosion.
This steel has a gold content and can be ground extremely sharp. It is also harder than most other stainless steels.
Damascus blades also often have a core of VG10 steel, which further improves the product properties of the knife.
So even if you hardly notice it as a customer, chef’s knives are truly high-tech products that also use rare metals. All of this serves to make working with a chef’s knife easier and safer, and to increase the fun of cooking.
Admittedly, there is much less high-tech material in the handle. Nevertheless, manufacturers give a great deal of thought to its properties. For example, the handle of most chef’s knives, which is usually made of wood or plastic, is separated from the blade by a kind of protective nose. This prevents the hand from slipping towards the blade.
Advantages of Chef’s Knives
In principle, there are countless applications for a chef’s knife. For this reason, of course, only a few examples can be mentioned here.
Regardless of culinary preferences, every kitchen requires cutting. Especially fruits and vegetables, but often also fish and meat are cut, sliced or portioned during preparation.
Chopping is not always easy to distinguish from weighing, and the two activities often merge. When chopping, however, more momentum is usually exerted to chop relatively hard foods. This can be nuts or almonds, for example, but also onions, carrots, hard cheese or chocolate.
Types of Chef’s Knives
In this country, no one can really do without the European standard form of a chef’s knife, which will of course be discussed in detail below. However, this is not the only variant of a chef’s knife: Depending on the country’s typical cooking and eating habits, very different forms of chef’s knives have developed all over the world.
This list is also not complete, but it contains the most important and most used variants of the chef’s knife.
All-round chef’s knife
The European all-round chef’s knife is available almost everywhere at very different prices and in a wide variety of qualities. This form of chef’s knife has a blade about 16 to 25 centimeters long, which is pointed at the front and becomes larger and more solid toward the handle.
In general, an all-around chef’s knife can be used to prepare almost any type of food. Since the handle always fits comfortably in the hand during work, greater force can also be exerted. A small disadvantage of this chef’s knife is its size, which can sometimes be annoying when delicate handles.
A Santoku knife is the Japanese equivalent of the all-around chef’s knife. The santoku knife is recognizable by its “sleek” shape: The top of the handle usually merges into the blade in an (almost) straight line. Nevertheless, the height of the blade is generally higher than that of the European chef’s knife.
By the way, the name of the Asian knife can be translated as “knife of the three virtues”, which simply means: A Santoku knife is suitable for working with fish, meat and vegetables. Santoku knives are made of a special steel that guarantees excellent sharpness and can be easily resharpened.
However, this steel is also the crux of the santoku knife, because traditionally it is not a stainless quality.
The carving knife is quite different from the conventional chef’s knife. The blade is longer and slimmer than on the all-round knife and is therefore ideal for carving fish or meat or cutting potatoes. The particularly slim blade shape largely prevents food from sticking.
Nevertheless, a carving knife must be robustly manufactured and also be able to withstand stronger exertion of force without any problems. Therefore, the carving knife also has an ergonomically shaped, sturdy handle.
The name sounds Japanese and already reveals what the sashimi knife was originally designed for: Sashimi is a Japanese specialty reminiscent of sushi. However, in this case, the fish is not seasoned and eaten without rice.For the preparation of sashimi (or even sushi), the fish must be filleted.
For this purpose, the sashimi knife was developed, whose blade shape is reminiscent of a willow leaf. This blade is extremely delicate and therefore particularly sharp. To ensure that the blade is nevertheless stable, it was only ground on one side.
Therefore, sashimi knives can be purchased in left- or right-handed versions. Very high-quality sashimi knives have a special grind to prevent fish parts or other food from sticking.
In addition to the different knife and blade variants, the material must also be considered for chef’s knives. A rule of thumb here is that cheap chef’s knives have a blade made of comparatively inferior material. The blades of higher-quality chef’s knives, on the other hand, are made of multi-layered special steel, which can often be recognized by their appearance.
Another blade material that has become increasingly popular in recent years is ceramic. Some manufacturers advertise the unmatched sharpness of ceramic blades, which ideally also remain permanently sharp. However, cheap chef’s knives in particular are often not solid ceramic blades, but merely cheap metal blades that have been given some kind of ceramic coating.
With these, but also with “real” ceramic blades should be noted: The material is not flexible and breaks off comparatively quickly. In addition, ceramic blades cannot be sharpened again once they have become blunt.
How are Chef’s Knives tested?
At first glance, a chef’s knife may seem like a fairly simple product that is comparatively easy to test: it must be sharp enough to be suitable for all kinds of kitchen applications.
In fact, however, a chef’s knife is a technically complex product where product testers can find major differences. The following aspects are important in any product test and are decisive in determining whether a chef’s knife can be recommended for purchase.
Cutting & Chopping
The be-all and end-all of a chef’s knife is its sharpness. This is why the main focus of the product test was to check the sharpness of the knife. The cutting performance was tested in a wide range of disciplines: Fruit and vegetables were peeled and cut, fish and meat were sliced and filleted.
The testers also used the chef’s knives to weigh fresh herbs and chop nuts. The chef’s knife was not allowed to lose its sharpness even during continuous use.
A chef’s knife must always fit perfectly in the hand so that you can work with it quickly and safely. The product testers were therefore particularly interested in the ergonomic shape of the handle and made sure that the hand did not have to grip into any annoying corners and edges.
A chef’s knife must not slip out of the hand even when great force is applied and with sweaty fingers. However, the testers could hardly make any negative observations at this point – at least not with high-quality knives.
In everyday use, it usually takes months to see whether a newly purchased knife is stable and permanently sharp. The product testers, of course, had other methods with which they could examine knives for their durability and lasting sharpness within a very short time. Although all knives with steel blades wear out after a certain amount of time, this should generally only be the case after prolonged use.
In this context, the testers also wanted to know whether a chef’s knife can be easily sharpened. In many cases, this is possible with a conventional knife grinder in your own kitchen, but for some chef’s knives, sharpening by a professional is also recommended.
A few knives, however, have a special coating that makes sharpening almost impossible. Such chef’s knives were naturally rated less well in this aspect, as it is not compatible with the demand for durability.
Of course, a chef’s knife must be quick and easy to clean. This is particularly true if different foods are to be cut with one knife in succession, for example meat first and vegetables later.
In the product test, it was checked whether food residues still adhered to the knife after a quick rinsing process with standard washing-up liquid. Microscopically small particles were also important here.
What should I look for when buying a chef’s knife?
All those who regard cooking as a necessary evil will not attach any particular importance to cooking knives. However, there is a steadily growing number of hobby chefs who definitely attach great importance to high-quality cooking utensils.
When it comes to chef’s knives, however, it is not enough to simply look at the brand or even a higher purchase price to acquire quality. With the following checklist, however, the purchase of chef’s knives becomes much easier
What types of dishes are prepared?
A universal chef’s knife is suitable for preparing virtually all types of food. However, many amateur chefs have certain favorite recipes for the preparation of which a particular type of chef’s knife is ideal. In particular, the various Asian cuisines have produced chef’s knife traditions that differ significantly from the European form.
And, of course, preparation with an “original knife” is especially fun. Moreover, when cooking, you will find that the different shapes make perfect sense.
How often is the chef’s knife being used?
If a chef’s knife is only rarely used anyway, some compromises can be made when buying it. No compromises should be made in terms of sharpness, stability and handling. However, whether a knife is particularly durable or can be used very often before it becomes blunt is not of central importance.
Who uses the chef’s knife?
Some chef’s knives are very easy and intuitive to handle, others require a lot of practice. Children and young people in particular should first be carefully (and under supervision!) introduced to the basic shape before reaching for a special knife.
Experienced cooks or housewives, however, can handle any kind of knife. This should be kept in mind especially if you want to give a chef’s knife as a gift. Professionals definitely already have several utility knives in their drawer, but will be happy to have a specialty knife complement them.
What is the budget?
Of course, budget is also a key issue when it comes to chef’s knives. First of all, you should be clear: It is true that chef’s knives are already available for a few euros at discount stores or cheap stores. However, you can’t expect much from these knives.
In most cases, the handles and blades are not optimally shaped, and these cheap knives also quickly become blunt. Some chef’s knives also bend quickly, break off or lose the entire blade, while you actually only want to cut vegetables.Nevertheless, chef’s knives do not necessarily have to cost a fortune.
The current test shows that even chef’s knives from good brand manufacturers can be had for comparatively little money and meet all the requirements that are placed on a modern chef’s knife.
The Leading Manufacturers of Chef’s Knives
There are countless manufacturers of various types of chef’s knives around the world. However, the chef’s knives that generally enjoy a good reputation usually come from Germany or Japan.
Differences between these two “knife countries” are not only apparent in terms of design, however: while in Japan there is still a lively tradition of craft businesses dedicated to producing the highest quality chef’s knives, in Germany a number of well-known manufacturers dominate the market.
But of course, the production of chef’s knives is not limited to the two countries mentioned.
WMF Group AG (Württembergische Metallwaren AG) is one of the best-known names in Germany when it comes to metal goods for the kitchen, cooking and enjoyment. The predecessor company Straub & Schweizer was founded as early as 1853.
The young company, which mainly produced mill turbines and sold them throughout Europe, also employed Gottlieb Daimler, who later became the inventor of the automobile. By 1900, the company, which was based in Geislingen an der Steige, already employed around 3,000 people and had made a name for itself in its current field of business. It is striking that WMF was always concerned about the well-being of its own employees.
One example of this is the fish hall built in 1912, where employees could buy fish at cost price.
After an inglorious phase during the Nazi dictatorship, which is now considered to have been completely dealt with, the company quickly regained its former greatness after the Second World War. One reason for this, in addition to the high product quality, was the commitment of Bauhaus student and product designer Wilhelm Wagenfeld. To this day, his name is associated with household goods that are as simple as they are elegant, and which are also considered to be extremely durable.
Today, WMF is active in various business areas. The company continues to produce cookware, kitchen utensils and cutlery. However, the range also includes drinking glasses and professional coffee machines. All WMF products enjoy an excellent reputation, which is confirmed again and again in product tests.
In most cases, the prices of WMF products are in the upper middle range. Especially in the company’s own sales outlets, however, you can make bargains every now and then.
Chef’s Knife Accessories
To protect the blade of a chef’s knife, you should always use a suitable cutting surface. This should not be completely hard, i.e. not made of glass or stone. Wood or plastic, however, give way to the blade to such an extent that it can minimally “dip” here when cutting.
It is important that such a cutting board has a suitable size. A circumferential groove on the edge serves to catch any liquid that is produced. Some cutting boards also have a recess in the middle for this purpose.
By the way, contrary to rumors, wooden cutting boards are generally more hygienic than plastic ones. In addition, wood has a kind of “self-healing power”: if deeper cuts occur in the wood during cutting, they close automatically over time.
When you buy high-quality chef’s knives, you usually get them in a sturdy box with a specially shaped drawer made of foam rubber. Generally, it makes sense to store knives in this original packaging, but packing and unpacking is very cumbersome and time-consuming in the long run.
A knife block is a good alternative. Here, each knife has its own special compartment in which the blade is protected. Nevertheless, all knives are immediately at hand.
From some manufacturers of chef’s knives you can also get already equipped knife blocks. Of course, it is then guaranteed that each knife fits perfectly into the compartment. However, the manufacturer here has of course already made a pre-selection of knives that are supplied with the knife block.
So if you prefer to choose each knife yourself, it is better to buy an empty knife block and equip it yourself.
Thin disposable gloves are important utensils in the kitchen. Not only can they protect hands from strong odors (such as garlic) or spiciness (such as chili).
It is also possible to wipe off the wet gloves before reaching for the cooking knife or to replace them with fresh gloves. This way, you always have a clean, dry hand while working with the knife and can safely guide the blade accordingly.
A knife sharpener or grinder used to be found in every kitchen. In the course of the emerging throwaway society, however, these clever devices almost went out of fashion in the meantime: Often, people simply bought new knives when the old ones had become blunt.
Today, of course, much more value is placed on quality again, so the knife sharpeners are also coming back. However, caution is advised: Some knives have a special coating or a specially shaped blade and can therefore not be sharpened at all or only by professionals.
In addition, pay attention to the different qualities in knife sharpeners. Here, too, it is worth looking for the verdict of product testers.
Chef’s Knife Alternatives
It is true that a chef’s knife can be the alternative for numerous other types of knives. However, a chef’s knife itself can hardly be replaced by other cutting tools.
Admittedly, you can turn to other tools for some work in the kitchen, but they will never completely replace a chef’s knife. For enthusiastic amateur chefs, it is nevertheless worth considering the purchase of some additional utensils and kitchen appliances.
Small paring and vegetable knives
For many delicate tasks in the kitchen, the comparatively large chef’s knife is oversized. To achieve better results and prevent accidents, there should definitely be a selection of smaller knives in the kitchen. Even with small kitchen knives, by the way, there are standard formats that are suitable for different types of work.
A filleting knife has a long, slender blade and is quite suitable for filleting fish and meat. Although this work can generally also be done with a chef’s knife, it is faster and easier with the filleting knife.
When it comes to weighing or chopping food, for example onions, herbs or nuts, there is a good alternative to the chef’s knife in the form of the cradle knife. This knife, which generally consists of two curved, parallel blades, is even easier to use thanks to its two handles at the ends. The round shape is an additional relief during work.
However, a chopping knife is almost exclusively used with an accompanying cutting board, which differs significantly from an ordinary cutting board in shape and texture. It is smaller, but made of much thicker wood. Towards the center, the board forms a hollow whose contours ideally match the rounding of the knife blades exactly.
Shredder or food processor
Larger quantities of food can be chopped particularly well with a chopper or food processor. A rotating, motor-driven or hand-operated blade chops the food quickly and easily.Small quantities would get lost in the comparatively large container of the machine.
However, as soon as larger portions are involved or several foods are not only to be chopped, but also mixed together, the device is optimal.Another advantage of a chopper or food processor becomes apparent with regard to the consistency that is to be achieved.
Due to a stepless or multi-stage adjustability of the speed, both a coarse chopping and a dust-fine result can be achieved. If the food contains a lot of liquid, a chunky or liquid result can be achieved depending on the speed.
Last product update on 2022-06-28 | Source: Amazon Affiliate