The most dangerous tool in the kitchen: a dull knife that slips off a carrot and through your digits. If you’re looking to save your fingers and spruce up your cutlery, the place to start is the 8-inch chef’s (or chef) knife — arguably the most versatile tool in the kitchen (and we don’t argue with a man with a knife). A good knife fits your hand, your culinary style and your credit card limit. Whether you’ve got Thug Kitchen on your shelf or Modernist Cuisine, at least one of the six knives here will suit your culinary preferences and your inspiration, from Lagassi to layman.
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DOWN TO A SCIENCE
How well do you remember the periodic table of elements from high school? No judgment here if you don’t, of course — but it’s important to consider that every piece of a knife is important, right down to the atoms. Here’s a quick rundown so you don’t get lost:
Molybdenum: Molybdenum is commonly used in kitchen knives for its strengthening qualities. When alloyed with steel, molybdenum can withstand up to 300,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. Unsurprisingly, Molybdenum is also used for mining and chemical production.
Vanadium: Alloyed with steel, vanadium effectively prevents corrosion, making it a mainstay of the chemical industry. So naturally, a molybdenum-vanadium steel knife can take damn near anything.
Carbide: A carbide is a compound of carbon and a less electronegative element. Carbide knives are especially sharp, though generally fragile (see: ceramic knives); however, carbide is stronger when alloyed with steel, as in the Miyabi Artisan SG2.”
Unobtanium: Three Avatar movies? Seriously?
Swiss Classic Victorinox
Trust the Swiss Army knife, and trust this knife. The Victorinox comes in at the price of a few packs of Easy Mac, but it’s no less of a knife for it. It’s a stamped knife, cut from a ribbon of steel rather than individually forged, sharpened and honed. The good news is that stamped knives keep their edge longer, so there’s less upkeep required for them to remain plenty sharp. The handle’s slip resistant to help preserve fingers, and the blade’s high-carbon stainless steel can be resharpened when it does eventually go dull.
MAC Chef Series
MAC’s a brand we’d never heard of — but all our chef friends had. Their chef series follows in the footsteps of their more expensive professional series. This knife’s molybdenum steel keeps its edge and is easy to sharpen, and the dimples that run along the edge prevent food from sticking to it. The handle is in the German style, but the gradual taper is more similar to a gyuto (Japanese chef
s knife). For a high-end Japanese chef’s knife, this is best value.
Wüsthof’s got a bicentennial birthday this year, giving apt depth to the “classic” nomenclature. But tradition doesn’t mean the Germans aren’t staying sharp; their new computer-controlled edge technology allows them to double the sharpness of their blades, giving a more exacting edge. The classic has a full tang blade (its blade extends the whole way into its handle) and a triple-riveted handle, and the German-style blade progression (steeper taper) fits the Western method of rocking the knife while dicing, rather than slicing. Meat eaters, this is your knife.
THE GEOGRAPHY OF KNIVES
The knife sector boils down to German and Japanese knives, for the most part, and each region informs its respective knife. To better understand, consider the regional cuisine.
Germany: Deutschland loves its meat, so its knives are made for breaking down animals and chopping up bones. The blades tend to be thick, sturdy and sharp, and the knife has a more anterior weight in hand.
Japan: More focused on fish and vegetables, the Japanese use knives that allow for careful, precise preparation. A thin, razor-like blade fits the bill, and the knives have a very balanced weight in hand.
Korin Masamoto VG
Poll the best chefs, and the name you hear again and again is Korin. The Japanese company’s cultivating a series of premier lines, but they also hone some approachable pieces for the rest of us. The Masamoto VG — made from hyper molybdenum-vanadium (say that ten times fast) — offers the perks of chef-level, highly-prized VG-10 steel, but at a quarter of the cost. The Korin’s sleek and sharp, and cuts with razor blade precision.
Miyabi Birchwood Chef’s Knife
Zwilling J.A. Henckels is a German company making Japanese knives. Their Miyabi knives are made in Seki, Japan, under the guidance of the Henckels Japanese branch; they’re bridging the gap between two cutlery superpowers. The micro carbide powder steel blade is ice hardened and scalpel sharp. It’s encased in stainless steel hammered with a Damascus-style texture, preventing food from sticking and giving the knife a katana-style look.
Buy Now: $230
Also Consider: Miyabi Artisan SG2 ($200)
Orchard Steel Chef’s Knife with Spalted Oak Handle
A number of American knife makers are making their presence felt in kitchens across the country. Moriah Cowles is one of them. She infuses both the Japanese gyuto style and French sabatier (closer to a German) style, then adds her own touch. The Orchard Steel’s made from premium 52100 steel, which is a carbon steel (not stainless). With the right upkeep, the blade will patina over time, giving wear patterns unique to the user. But be forewarned: carbon knives must be maintained, as they can corrode and pit without proper care.