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What's Really the Difference Between a $35 and $150 Chef's Knife?

Cutting through the noise.

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Every cook is looking for thee perfect chef's knife. It should be sharp, durable and resilient. While some may be content with a blade from somewhere like Ikea, there are some willing to invest their life savings in a knife that theoretically slices and dices just as well. Just look at Bob Kramer, the most highly coveted knife maker in the world. A price range from $10 to $10,000 begs the question: what adds to a knife's price tag? Here are the basics when it comes to buying a chef's knife.

Buy Now (Victorinox Fibrox): $35 | Buy Now (Zwilling Pro): $150

Steel

The main part of a chef's knife is its steel. Both the Victorinox Fibrox and Zwilling Pro knives are made of high-carbon stainless steel, which makes them good for entry-level chefs. Generally, steels fall into three groups: stainless steel, carbon steel and high-carbon stainless steel. This is a simplistic view, but here's how the three types compare:

Stainless steel is prized for its resistance to corrosion and rusting, but it's softer than carbon steel, so it doesn't hold its sharpness well. However, its softness makes it less likely to chip if you drop it the wrong way.

Carbon steel's greatest strength is its hardness, so it can be sharpened to a ridiculously fine edge. However, a carbon steel knife can rust with exposure to moisture or acids.

High-carbon stainless steel has benefits of the former options, making it the middle-of-the-road pick for beginner cooks. They're slightly less resistant to damange than stainless steel, but they're almost as sharp as carbon steel.

Then there's partial or full tang. The former meaning the knife's blade stops partially into the handle whereas the latter means the blade extends through the handle. A partial tang may feel slightly unbalanced, so knife brands will add weight to the handle to counteract the imbalance. With a full tang, you're getting more steel, which adds to the price.

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Buy Now (Victorinox Fibrox): $35

Stamped vs. Forged

The Fibrox knife is stamped, which means the blade was cut from a sheet of metal, then fashioned into a knife. A forged blade, like the Zwilling Pro knife, is more labor-intensive and time-consuming to make. Essentially, a bar of steel is heated, then pounded into shape. One can tell the difference between the two treatments by looking at the knife's bolster, or where the blade meets the handle. The blade can either have a lip, the result of forging, or be smooth throughout, signs of stamping. The bolster adds weight and balance to a knife, which makes long-term chopping easier on the hands. Stamped knifes are thinner and lighter than forged knifes, and they're also less durable than their forged counterparts. However, one can find a poorly made forged knife or a well-made stamped knife, like the Fibrox, so one is not necessarily better than the other.

Handle

Both knives utilize a plastic handle, but the Fibrox feels notably cheaper in the hand. It uses a rough molded plastic whereas the Zwilling Pro uses a smooth polymer handle that's more ergonomic. The Zwilling Pro knife's handle lends itself better to those who utilize a pinch grip when chopping, especially because of its bolster. The Fibrox knife isn't as ergonomically designed, so it allows for more gripping styles without feeling "off." While these two knives use plastic handles, there are other knives on the market that may use different types of wood that may add to the price.

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Buy Now (Zwilling): $150

Performance

All of the aforementioned properties knives contribute to how well it performs in the kitchen. For example, because the Zwilling knife is forged, it has a bolster, which feels more balanced in the hand, which also contributes to better, and more precise, control and chopping. Also, because the Zwilling blade is forged, it's heavier and more apt at handling larger tasks like carving poultry (though we'd recommend a carving knife). The Fibrox, which is half the weight of the Zwilling, is more apt for endlessly chopping light vegetables than cutting through thick produce and dense meats.

After testing the Victorinox Fibrox, we found it was sharp out of the box, but was prone to chipping. The Zwilling knife uses a proprietary steel called Friodur, which is ice hardened making the knife hard and durable. We found no signs of deterioration after months of use, and it retained its sharpness from day one.

Verdict

If you're just getting into cooking, get the Fibrox knife. Victorinox's range of Fibrox knives are designed to give amateur cooks a highly capable knife at a reasonable price point. They may not look the best hanging on a knife strip, but they cut out the comparable competition. Once your Fibrox knife is out of commission, which will happen eventually, graduate to the Zwilling Pro. The higher-end knife has everything one is looking for in a good knife — sharpness, durability and high-performance — plus it comes with a lifetime warranty.

Buy Now (Victorinox Fibrox): $35 | Buy Now (Zwilling Pro): $150

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