Buying A Knife? Here Are 6 Things You Should Consider

By Ryan Leavitt •  Updated: 04/08/21 •  6 min read

A good selection of knives in the kitchen is a must if you’re serious about cooking. In fact, every kitchen should have at least one quality knife, preferably a chef knife. If you’re wondering what makes a good chef knife, you’re in the right place.

We’ve boiled down the entire process to 6 things you should consider before making a decision. Join us as we go over each of these factors in detail.

1. Price and Budget

As you probably know by now, chef knives come in a variety of different flavors. You can choose between all kinds of styles, blade lengths, materials, and more. More importantly, you can find expensive chef knives and those that won’t cost you more than a few bucks. The first thing you need to do is narrow down your search by establishing a budget.

If this is your first chef’s knife, it’s a good idea to start with a decent mid-range model. That way you’ll know if the type of knife you bought fits you. A good rule of thumb is to get to that $150-$250 price range if possible.

2. Build Quality

Working in a kitchen quickly teaches you the importance of quality in a knife. The way it’s manufactured, how well all of its parts fit together, finish — all of these factors are important even if you’re not the head chef of a Michelin star restaurant.

Remember, your chef knife is going to be your main tool in the kitchen. Pretty much all cutting you’ll do will involve this knife. If you do your homework and get the right knife, you’ll have a tool that will serve you for years to come. The best way to go about doing this is to stick with quality brands. Knife masters from you’ve chosen won’t fall apart on you, it’s time to look into the handle design.

3. Handle Design

The handle of a chef’s knife is arguably one of its most important features. The way a knife sits in your hand will define how comfortable it will be for everyday use. Different manufacturers use different handle designs. If there’s one thing you should remember about knife handles, it’s that all handle designs can be ‘good’ if they fit well in your hand.

Unfortunately, this part of knife selection is hard to nail perfectly without actually holding a knife in your hand.

Aside from comfort, you’ll also want to check the quality of wood used for the handle. In fact, check if it’s real wood at all. Synthetic materials can be as good as wood if done properly, but knowing what your handle is made of will simplify maintenance later on.

4. Balance

We can’t discuss handle design without talking about balance. Balance is an essential trait of a good chef’s knife. If a knife isn’t properly balanced, you’ll be fighting it every time you decide to use it.

A well-balanced knife will require very little input from the user in terms of making sure that it’s positioned correctly. Unlike handle comfort, the balance point of a knife or lack thereof is something you can check without having the knife in your hands.

5. Japanese or German?

Although the world of chef’s knives is rather colorful, there are currently two major schools of thought that most people are adhering to — Japanese and German.

The differences between these are significant. Just like medieval swords, German blades are heavier and designed for chopping while Japanese blades are lighter and designed more for slicing. Additionally, most Japanese blades will have a straight handle, which is considered to be the most neutral handle design you can get.

A light knife means that you won’t feel it as much during use, especially if you’re spending plenty of time in the kitchen. However, it’s worth noting that the extra weight of its German counterpart has its uses, too. For one, if you’re a fan of chopping rather than slicing, that extra weight comes in handy.

There is also a difference in steel between these knives. Japanese steel is generally harder while most western knives feature slightly softer steel.

6. Steel

Steel is one of those sensitive subjects in the world of knives as a whole. You can put 10 people in a room, and all of them will have a different idea of what the perfect knife steel is. We won’t go into various alloys and how they affect knife performance since that subject requires a complete guide of its own. We will, however, touch upon the stainless steel vs carbon steel discussion.

Stainless steel has been and still is, the backbone of the knife industry. Most knives on the market are made using stainless steel. Reasons for this are numerous. For one, it is relatively rust-resistant, which makes maintenance a breeze. Plus, stainless just looks nice.

The heavier weight of stainless steel also works great for the German type of knife. With all that said, stainless steel is relatively soft as mentioned before. The addition of chromium that gives its rust-resistant properties also makes stainless steel more malleable.

In comparison, carbon steel knives are a whole different beast. Carbon steels are enriched with carbon, which makes them incredibly strong. These knives hold their edge much longer and are generally easier to sharpen. However, the addition of carbon means that you’ll have to take good care of your knives. Carbon steel will rust and will do so easily.

Start Slow

One of the biggest mistakes that new chefs and cooking enthusiasts make is to buy knife sets. More often than not you’ll find yourself using 2 knives at most, while the rest will just gather dust in your knife block.

It’s a much better idea to invest in a good chef’s knife and build your collection one piece at a time. We hope that you’ve found this guide helpful in your journey to find the perfect kitchen tool.

Ryan Leavitt

Hi my name is Ryan Leavitt a Marine Corps Veteran and currently an over the road trucker (Long Haul). I am no expert chef but am enjoying preparing my own meals on the road and testing all the different knives.