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#Equipment: The Best Chef s Knives

J. Kenji López-Alt Managing Culinary Director

If there's one kitchen equipment question I get more than any other, it's this one: What is the best chef's knife?

The honest answer? There is no such thing as a "best chef's knife." It'd be like asking a violinist to name the "best violin" or an architect to identify the "best material." There are many factors that come into play, and depending on what type of cook you are and how your hands, body, and wallet are shaped, you might opt for one over another. Here are some things to consider:

  • Style: Do you prefer a slim-and-maneuverable modern gyutou -style hybrid knife, a rough-and-tough Western-style knife, or a more precise and delicate Japanese-style santoku?
  • Design: A good knife should be as fine-tuned as a race car with every aspect, from the curvature of the blade to the weight of the bolster to the shape of the handle, taken into consideration for optimal balance and performance.
  • Craftsmanship: Do the pieces all fit together tightly and firmly? Are the rivets going to fall out or is the blade going to separate from the handle? Is the finish on the handle smooth and pleasant to hold, and is the blade properly honed straight out of the box?
  • Materials: Is the steel hard or soft? Harder steels in Japanese and hybrid-style knives retain edges for a longer time but are tougher to sharpen. Softer steels are easier, but need to be honed and sharpened more frequently. Is the composite or wood in the handle durable and comfortable?

But the most important by far is personal preference: Once a certain base level of quality and design considerations are taken into account, the rest is all about your own reaction. That knife is going to be an extension of your hand, the most important tool in the kitchen. Does it feel natural? Are you comfortable holding it? Does it look nice? When you first put it in your hand, did you think to yourself, "this is the one for me"? Cooking should be a pleasure, and there's no more surefire way to get yourself to enjoy cooking than taking the chore out of knife work.

The guide is divided into three broad sections that cover the major styles of modern chef's knives: hybrid, Western, and santoku. Just as some guitarists like the heavy hit of a Fender while others prefer the mellow singing voice of a Gibson, depending on your cooking style, you'll probably find yourself gravitating toward one genre or another.

While this guide is as complete as I can make it, the reality is that there are far too many knives out there for me to possibly be able to test all of them thoroughly. This list draws upon both my personal and professional experience with dozens of models, but if you don't see your favorite knife on here, tell us about why you love it—I'm always happy to be introduced to more options.

Modern Hybrid Chef's Knives

Japanese knife-making reflects Japanese cuisine, where extreme precision in knife work is of paramount importance. Traditionally, Japanese knives were specialized for very specific tasks—the usuba with its chunky rectangular blade designed for slicing vegetable, the deba with its triangular wedge-shaped blade for butchering fish and poultry, and the yanagi with its extra-long blade designed for slicing sashimi and other raw meat.

Compared to Western-style knives, these traditional Japanese knives are thicker, sharper, and, to be frank, more difficult to control without plenty of practice. Because of their flat cutting edges, it's nearly impossible to employ the rocking chopping motions Western cooks are accustomed to using.

Since the end of World War II, a new knife has taken the place of the three traditional knives and the santoku has become the knife of choice in most Japanese kitchens. An early hybrid between Japanese and Western styles, it kept the blocky tip of a usuba and combined it with the thinner profile and lightly curved blade of a German chef's knife, resulting in a knife that excels at slicing, chopping, and mincing (santoku translates roughly to "three virtues").

More recently, both Japanese and German knifemakers have moved on to an even newer style: Gyutou knives are designed to perform many of the standard Western tasks trading in heftiness for better control and precision. They're more maneuverable but a little less precise than santokus, with more deeply curved edges for better rocking.

Who they're for: Because of their light weight, ability to take an extremely sharp edge, and versatility, they're great all-around knives that excel at mincing, precision vegetable prep, light protein prep, and general feeling awesomeness. Their biggest downsides? They're not ideal for heavy-duty tasks like chopping through bones or splitting big 'ol squashes in half.

Here are my top picks.

My Favorite: The Misono UX10 Gyutou

The Misono UX10 8.2-Inch Gyutou is the cream of the crop with an extremely sharp edge out of the box. High-quality Swedish steel treated to a Rockwell hardness rating of 59-60 means that this blade can get sharp, and more importantly stay sharp through repeated use.

The heavy composite wood handle is comfortable in the hand and has a slim metal bolster at the top that makes gripping the knife a pleasure. If your hands are like mine, you will not want to put this baby down.

Because this knife is more heavily beveled on one side than the other, it is not ambidextrous—make sure to get either the right-handed or left-handed model for optimal performance.

High Performance, High Maintenance: Korin Suisin Gyutou




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