As one of our editors 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 cookware store (rather than an online or mail-order source) 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 for Sur La Table, which lets customers chop food with their knife samples. 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.
Another shopping tip: Have an open mind. Richard Von Husen, owner of Warren Kitchen and Cutlery in Rhinebeck, New York, has customers “play” with a range of knives without looking at price to determine the size, shape, and weight of knife that they prefer. Then he helps narrow the choices down to those within the customer’s budget.
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 (just don’t ding it or wear down the blade). For ideas on what tasks will best help you to evaluate a knife, see "How to test," below.
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