Hi, I’m Jessica, and I have no idea how to cook (yet).
It’s not for a lack of interest in food; I love food. The only time I’m not fantasizing about my next meal is when I’m shamelessly indulging in my current one. And it’s not that I overly crave junk food – I do make an effort to stay healthy and eat seasonally, at least, most of the time.
So you’re probably raising an eyebrow and wondering how is it that I can’t cook.
Suffice it to say that no one in my nuclear family ever cooked at home, so I simply never learned how to prepare fresh foods. When I entered college, survival of the fittest meant who can survive the longest on 42-cent Ramen noodles (I always won). Then, I moved into my first off-campus apartment where my roommate and I took turns buying Chinese takeout.
Now, I’m in my late 30s and I’ve convinced myself I still have a defensible excuse: DoorDash. Until now.
Earlier this year, I was complaining to a friend that my monthly rent had just increased (again), and I felt panicked that I wasn’t going to be able to make ends meet. My friend had a blunt and eye-opening response.
“Maybe if you cooked your own meals instead of ordering delivery every night, you’d be able to save some money.”
I flinched. He was right. Of course, I was already armed with my next excuse: “I don’t own any cooking kitchenware.”
On my birthday the next week, he gifted me a crockpot.
I’ve always joked that I’m so inept in the kitchen, I can’t even master Easy Mac — I’m waiting for the Kraft brand to release a remedial version. But even I know that you can’t get more elementary than a slow cooker. You literally plop a pile of ingredients into the gaping container, go about your business all day, hear your tummy rumbling and voilà! You have yourself a giant pot of cozy wild rice soup.
But wait! Not so fast. In my typically impulsive fashion, I was totally skipping a step: you still have to slice your ingredients, from fresh vegetables to chicken cutlets, before you shove them into your slow cooker. When I confronted my friend for not warning me about this extra task, he shrugged his shoulders and said plainly, “Come on. It’s common sense. Of course you have to chop your ingredients first.”
This frustrated man had already given me the confidence and the crockpot. There was no way I could beg him for grown-up cutlery (or lessons on using it properly).
I sighed heavily. I may be an amateur in the kitchen, but I’m a wizard when it comes to research. Hungry to learn, I set off on a new mission: falling in love with a perfect set of chef’s knives that could slice and dice my favorite ingredients without chopping off my trembling fingers. What, exactly, should I look for when shopping for cutlery?
As it turns out, there’s more to choosing the right chef’s knife than meets the eye (or hand). You shouldn’t just grab the first shiny object you see. According to one kitchen knife guru (literally, that’s what Nate Ouderkirk calls himself, and he has the bladesmithing chops to back it up), you want to consider two main factors: 1) How ergonomic is the knife? and 2) How well will it hold its sharpness?
Don’t get distracted by the decoys, Ouderkirk says, that is, the features touted by the manufacturers that don’t really matter to knife quality. If a brand brags its product is “full-tang” or “forged only,” for example, those traits are pretty irrelevant (and confusing). Again, you want to focus mostly on grip feel and sharpness.
But what if you don’t have the time to check out your chef’s knives in person? Especially with the pandemic raging on, many of us still don’t feel comfortable with in-store shopping.
The good news is, even if you’re shopping online, there are certain features you can look for to estimate the feel. In particular, you should make sure the knife has an ergonomic handle and is relatively lightweight, not overly clunky.
According to Ouderkirk, the length of the knife blade is also ergonomically important, but there’s no one-size-fits-all value. If you’re cooking for a party or handling cumbersome ingredients (think squash or pumpkins), then don’t be afraid to go long (about 10 inches). If you’re not yet a culinary master and aren’t sure about the length, choose a blade between 7 and 9 inches.
And what about the sharpness? How do you know your knife is made of cutting-edge steel that lasts? For this, heed the knife guru’s warning: there is no free lunch. In other words, you get what you pay for; high-performance steel isn’t cheap. (And beware of any brands that tout their toughness but are significantly less expensive than name-brand knives of similar size and design.)
There you have it! Now that, like me, you’ve sharpened your knife-buying skills, you’re all set to get shopping and chopping. But of course, dear reader, we’d never force you to start your chef’s journey from scratch. Below, find our short list of top-notch knives that would make any kitchen guru proud. They’ll cut your toughest ingredients, comfortably, without cutting corners.
Best High-End Knife: Zwilling Henckels Professional 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
Best Knife For Everyday Use: Mac Knife Professional 8-Inch Hollow Edge Chef’s Knife
Best High-End Knife
This high-carbon, stainless steel knife contains a resilient blade that stays extra sharp and has an ergonomic three-rivet handle. Real 5-star review: “I was not surprised to find this chef’s knife to be more than adequate for my uses. I cook nightly and often chop foods of all textures. This knife retains its edge, feels great in my hand, and has a nice weight. It was pricey, but this knife will be passed on to my grandchildren and is worth every penny.”
Best German Knives
This versatile German knife, made from high-carbon stainless steel, carries a cutting edge and has a triple-riveted plastic handle for comfort and control. Real 5-star review: “These knives are solid and on the lighter side with quick action. Easy to maintain, keep clean, and they sharpen nicely. These are the best knives for everyday serious chefs, reasonably priced with a lifetime warranty.”
This gourmet precision knife features an ultra-sharp blade stamped from stainless steel, a traditional three-riveted handle, and a comfortable, lightweight feel. Real 5-star review: “One of the sharpest knives I’ve ever used! Compact and perfect size too, great for any food!”
Best Japanese Knives
This traditional Japanese knife contains stain-resistant steel, a hand-sharpened double-bevel blade, and a comfort-grip composite handle. Real 5-star review: “If you think a good knife won’t change your life, think again. This knife is super sharp (so be careful) and it’s also really beautiful. It has a beautiful wave pattern along the sharpened edge. It slices watermelons like butter. You don’t have to be a chef to appreciate and benefit from this knife.”
This distinctive Japanese knife boasts a triple-layered steel blade, razor-sharp edge, and ergonomic handle with thumb rest. Real 5-star review: “This knife is outstanding! It fits my hand so well and cuts like a dream. The weighting of the handle is excellent, and the blade is super sharp! Cheese slices fall right off, and it goes easily through veggies.”
This hand-honed Japanese knife contains an ice-hardened blade of fine carbide steel and a triple-riveted ergonomic handle. Real 5-star review: “Well balanced and fits my hand perfectly and comfortably. Great edge.”
Best Knife For Everyday Use
This lightweight, hollow-edge knife features a dimpled blade for extra glide and a pakkawood handle for a hardy grip. Real 5-star review: “This is my favorite purchase of the year. The knife is everything I’ve ever looked for in a knife. For the price, you are getting such a quality piece. The knife is well balanced, has a nice rock, and is SUPER SHARP.”
Best Budget Knives
This affordable German knife is your best option on a budget, with its durable plastic blade, protective bolster, and traditional triple-rivet steel handle. Real 5-star review: “I actually use this knife more than my Wusthof I paid three times as much for. It’s a very sturdy blade and I have not even sharpened it once – since I got it two years ago – because the blade is so stiff that it only needs to be rubbed on a steel. I rarely grab other knives because I know this will be reliable.”
This multipurpose Japanese knife is another top pick for buyers on a budget, with its sturdy stainless steel, extra-sharp edge, and ergonomic pakkawood handle. Real 5-star review: “This knife is great. It looks beautiful and I can 100% confirm is hella sharp. I was able to test this theory in less than 10 minutes by almost slicing half of my finger off while cutting an onion. This knife went through the layers of that onion as fast as college withered my soul back in 2012. I would definitely recommend this knife to anyone who has any basic skill with knives.”
This elite German knife comes in high-carbon stainless steel, boasts a bolsterless heel for sharpening and honing, and has an industrial-strength ergonomic handle. Real 5-star review: “Simply put, the knife lives up to the hype. I can attest that it was beautifully sharp out of the box. With regular steeling, this baby maintains an edge well. Despite the relative thickness of the spine, the 15-degree bevel slips smoothly through even the toughest chopping jobs, like the 4 pounds of sweet potatoes that go into my kitchen poutine, then gracefully transitions to slicing paper-thin onion for side salads.”
This one-piece, hollow-ground knife boasts high-scale sharpness and hollow handles filled with sand for the perfect weight and balance. Real 5-star review: “Awesome knife, so lightweight! Makes chopping veggies a breeze. I can’t imagine what life was like before this knife!”
This classic multitasking knife, constructed from a durable blend of super steels, contains a 22-degree edge and a D-shaped handle for comfortable cutting. Real 5-star review: “I love this knife! I was needing a new chef’s knife and read many reviews, during which I found out that it is a favorite knife of Chef Bobby Flay. The knife was given great reviews, especially for being a workhorse in the kitchen. I have had the knife for a couple months now. It’s super sharp and it has performed perfectly. This is my first Shun knife, and I plan on adding more to my kitchen!”
This Swedish knife is made from stain-resistant steel with an asymmetrical edge for peak sharpness. Real 5-star review: “This knife is a scalpel that needs a surgeon’s touch. I’ve used it now to make several meals. It will cut anything like it’s butter, but it excels at slicing and dicing. I have a very healthy respect for this knife’s ability to slice and have no doubt it would just as easily slice and dice a finger if allowed.”
This Swiss-made knife of stainless steel material has a modified maple handle for easy everyday use. Real 5-star review: “I cannot say enough about the functional beauty of this knife. The wood handle is a delight to touch and gives the knife a timeless and traditional character. Handle shape is pleasantly ergonomic. The cutting edge is very sharp and appears to be a hardness that will make it durable yet not too difficult to resharpen when needed. I also like the height of the blade, which will make it possible to chop and scoop. In my opinion, a person would have to spend much more for something equivalent.”
This high-end knife features fine-carbide steel, a 3-step sharpening system for exceptional sharpness, and a polished bolster for perfect balance. Real 5-star review: “The ergonomics of this knife are peerless. It fits comfortably in your hand, and the blade is deep enough that even with big hands you’ll have no trouble with a pinch grip. The wide, round handle never chafes. You could cut with this thing for hours – I have never had a more comfortable chef’s knife.”
Have you tried any of the cutting-edge products in this list? Which knives are your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!
Want The Latest In Lifestyle And Home Trends? Read These Articles Next: