My knife collection consists of a steak knife I “borrowed” from my parents a few years ago, a handful of paring knives, a souped-up butter spreading knife that I’ve spent years thinking was a bread knife, and a perennially dull chef’s knife. It’s hard to know where to start, but if you’re going to invest in one high-quality knife, make it an 8-inch knife, says Chris Scott, a chef at the Institute of Culinary Education.
“I always like to use the 8-inch knife,” says Scott, who was a finalist on season 15 of Top Chef. “It’s big enough and heavy enough for chopping and dicing jobs, but it’s also small enough to where you can really get into that primal cut butchery—like when you’re butchering fish or butchering meats. It’s small enough to where you can really cut through all of that.” And depending on the type of steel the knife is made from, it may be able to cut through bone.
High-quality knives completely transform your cooking experience. “When you’re in a kitchen, you’re going to be doing a host of jobs,” says Scott. “And you want something that really goes through the tests, something that you can keep sharp, something that you can count on.”
A good knife needs to be as durable as it is sharp. “Most of the knives that I have are made from Damascus [steel] and that’s mainly because they keep a great edge and they can kind of take a beating,” he says. “If you ever look at those, that’s the kind that have that wavy kind of look to it—that’s layers of metal that are on top of each other and beaten together.” Then there’s stainless steel and carbon steel, which are a bit hardier, meaning you won’t get the same precision out of them but they’re still sharp and require less maintenance. He says the latter are great for home chefs.
No matter what kind of knife you get, you have to take care of it. “That alone in itself also gives the user another layer of discipline because every good chef, every reputable chef, certainly takes care of their knives,” says Scott. “They sharpen them regularly, they’re cleaning them after every use, they never lend them out. Our knives are very near and dear to us.”
Once you get started with your 8-inch knife, Scott says you may want to expand your collection. It’s best to do that one knife at a time instead of investing in a big set.
“Get what you need,” says Scott. “My mother-in-law, she uses one knife and she’s used one knife for many years and she’s just doing stuff that she needs to do here at the house. Where, my wife working in the kitchens with me, she has a wide range of tools and knives.” Take your time to figure out what you need and make smart investments with high-quality kitchen tools that’ll last for years.
The best 8-inch chef’s knife for every budget
Forged from high-quality German stainless steel, this knife has a professional satin-finished blade, making it sharper than traditional knives to help make your cuts more efficient. The curved triple-riveted handle provides a comfortable ergonomic grip so your hand doesn’t get too tired as you chop away.
Shop now: Henckels 1895 Classic Precision 8-Inch Chef’s Knife, $65
2. Global Chef’s Knife, $125
Scott explains that Global knives are a go-to for many early-career chefs because of their name. But these Japanese knives are made of softer stainless steel, meaning that the intense use they get in a restaurant widdles them down in just over a year. However, he says they’re great for a home chef who isn’t cooking for dozens of people every day. The lightweight knife has an ergonomic handle, preventing fatigue and providing greater control.
Shop now: Global Chef’s Knife, $125
3. Shun Classic Chef’s Knife, $150
Shun knives originated in Seki, a city in Japan that’s historically the center for manufacturing samurai swords. This Damacus-clad blade is forged from 34 layers of steel, giving the blade strength, stain resistance, and incredible cutting performance. It’s also certified by the National Sanitation Foundation as meeting the high-level safety standards.
Shop now: Shun Classic Chef’s Knife, $150
4. Wüsthof Classic Chef’s Knife, $190
“Wusthof is an excellent brand,” says Scott. “The steels on those are usually pretty hardcore.” It’s precision-forged in Germany from a single piece of high-carbon steel, crafted through 40 meticulous steps from tempering to polishing. The design has been perfected across two centuries.
Shop now: Wüsthof Classic Chef’s Knife, $190
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