A chef’s knife is probably the single most important tool used in cooking. Starting at 7 inches and going up, this knife will likely be used more than any other in the kitchen, therefore a lot of thought should go into making this important decision.
You should first consider how you intend to use the knife. Different cooking styles and ingredients require different knife characteristics. In general, Japanese blades are thinner than German or French chefs knives, and therefore can get very sharp and make very clean cuts. If used primarily for cutting very hard ingredients like squash and potatoes a heavier weight knife is a good option. If cutting very delicate ingredients like tomatoes and soft fruits, a lightweight knife would be a better option. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference.
The dimensions and feel of the knife are also important, as they can determine how you handle it. Consider the overall weight of the knife. Do you like the greater force of a heavy knife or the nimbleness of a lighter type? Similarly, the length of the knife changes how you’ll use it. A longer blade is better for cutting large ingredients, while a shorter blade can increase your precision. Of course, you can always find a medium option that maximizes versatility.
You should also examine a knife’s balance. Gather an understanding of your balance preference by holding a knife in your hand. Do you favor more weight towards the handle or towards the tip? Does the knife tend to lean to one side when you try to cut straight down? Note that some knives are made for right-handed people, with no angle at the edge on their left side. A left-handed person should opt for a 50/50 balanced knife or one that is sharpened to have the cutting edge on the opposite side.
The type of steel that is used in making the blade determines its hardness and toughness or ability to stay sharp. But what do these terms mean? Hardness refers to how easily a blade will hold its edge. It’s measured in units on the Rockwell scale, beginning at 56, where 61-63 HRC is considered ideal for kitchen knives. Toughness indicates how prone to breaking a knife is. Knives with low toughness can more easily chip, or crack. Often, you trade hardness for toughness, and vice versa. Ideally, you should try to find a knife that does well in both categories.
Several varieties of stainless steel are typically used to make commercially available knives. Stainless steel is a popular choice because it resists rust and has a high toughness due to its chromium content. However, hardness is usually low, and therefore, knives made with stainless steel do not hold an edge as well. Carbon steel—which is made of a mixture of mainly iron and carbon, with traces of other metal elements—makes for sharper and harder knives. However, it can be more brittle, and is prone to rust, so finding the optimal blends are necessary. Carbon steel knives require more care and maintenance but many chefs love them for their superior performance.
Japanese knives have a reputation for their high-quality construction. If you’re interested in adding some Japanese cooking knives to your collection contact Chubo Knives, to help you choose the perfect knife for any purpose. We are honored to connect top blacksmiths and craftsmen with the world’s most talented chefs.