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7 May 2021

Five expert tips for buying and using your chef's knife

We explain everything you need to know about chef's knives, from blade size and design of the grip to washing and keeping it sharp.

Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned cook, using a well made chef's knife when you're preparing food will make all the difference.

There's a number of things to consider when trying to find the right implement, including blade size, grip, style of knife, composition and sharpness.

Find out what you need to know before spending money on an expensive knife.

We've just tested ten chef's knives - read our reviews to find out which ones impressed.

A selection of kitchen knives

1. Blade size and balance


Chef's knives come in a variety of sizes. Some are as short as 12cm while others can go up to 20cm.

In our tests we found it's not the size of the knife that mattered, but the skill in which it's used.

However for fiddly knife tasks such as mincing or dicing, a smaller knife may be preferred.


The point of balance between the handle and the blade is another important consideration.

There are three options available:

  • Back-heavy - more weight in the handle.
  • Balance - the handle and the blade are almost equal in weight.
  • Front-heavy - more weight in the blade.

Similar to blade size, balance can be a matter of preference. However our testers found back-heavy knives were easier to control.

Kitchen knife chopping a pepper

2. Design of the grip

You need to find a chef's knife with a handle you can comfortably fit in your hand, especially as it's the part of the knife you have the most contact with.

If you're left-handed then you may wish to avoid knives with a moulded grip as these are usually designed for right-handed use.

The type of handle can also make a difference when it comes to cleaning. For example, some wooden handles should not be submerged in water.

A japanese and european chef knife

3. Japanese vs European knives

Below we summarise the key differences between Japanese and European chef's knives:

Japanese knives

  • Have thinner blades.
  • Often don't have bolsters (the balancing point between the blade and the handle which provides support).
  • Harder steel.
  • The blade is usually straighter and therefore more suited to slicing.
  • Generally light and well balanced.

European knives

  • Have thicker blades.
  • Considered more robust especially towards the bolster (which they are more likely to have).
  • Normally softer steel than Japanese knives.
  • They are typically heavier than Japanese knives.

4. Carbon steel vs stainless steel

Another difference to bear in mind is the material the blade is made of.

Carbon steel knives will react to the environment over time and patina (an incrustation, usually green or brown, produced by oxidation on the surface of the metal). A stainless steel knife should not rust or patina over time in most typical circumstances.

With that in mind, you may think a carbon steel knife sounds like a bad idea, but they remain popular as they are easier to sharpen and some prefer the aesthetics of the patinated blade.

If you don't have the time to take care of a carbon steel blade, then you are better off getting a stainless steel knife which requires less maintenance.

5. Keeping your chef's knife sharp

When it comes to keeping your chef's knife sharp you have a few different options.

During our research, we found whetstones often give the best results but require practice and skill to use.

A far easier option is to use a handheld sharpener. These tools guide the motion to create a much simpler sharpening experience.

Remember though, handheld sharpeners are designed to keep your blade fresh, and you should use them to top up the blade after every few hours of use.

They aren't great with fully dulled knives; that's what a whetstone is for.

Find out more in our guide to the best knife sharpeners and how to use them.