When it comes to chef’s knives, there are two main categories to choose from: German knives and Japanese knives. They're not as dissimilar as one may think. but here are the key points of differentiation worth noting:
German knives: Heavy and thick, especially at the bolster (where the blade meets the handle), German knives can be used for everything from mincing garlic to cutting through chicken bones. They have thicker blades that tend to be curved to facilitate rocking and are made from softer steel, so you’ll need to sharpen frequently.
Japanese knives: Lightweight and razor sharp, western-style Japanese knives tend to have a thinner blade and straighter edge than their German counterparts, making them ideal for precise tasks like cleanly slicing cucumbers or tuna. And because they’re crafted from harder steel, they can typically go longer between sharpenings but may be prone to chipping or cracking.
How we test chef's knives
Our experts in the Kitchen Appliances and Technology Lab tested to find the best kitchen knives on the market. We tested with home cooks in mind and evaluated how well each knife cut and retained an edge after slicing and chopping through onions, chicken, cooked steak, carrots, and cheddar cheese. We sliced basil into fine ribbons, minced garlic and parsley, and sliced tomatoes. The most impressive knives were super sharp and made paper thin slices of tomato with no effort at all.
We also checked the comfort of the handle and grip and the overall experience using the knife: We loved knives that rocked back and forth easily and ones that required little pressure to cut through meat.
During testing, the details that stood out the most were how the handles felt in our hand and the weight of the knife. While heavier ones felt more sturdy, they tired our hands when it came to slicing hard ingredients like carrots. The larger handled, lighter knives gave us more control, while the smaller handles knives allowed us to slice quickly and thinly.
Our top pick is the Wusthof 8-inch chef's knife. It's razor sharp and super versatile, and it was one of the only knives in our test that could cleanly slice tomatoes, chop onions, and bone a chicken with ease. It is great!