Everything You Need to Know About Kitchen Chef Knives
Table of Contents
How to Select Your Best Kitchen Chef Knife for you
Part I: How to find the Best Kitchen Chef Knife
Determine the Quality of Materials, Construction and Design
Start with the materials
There are specific stainless steel metals that are commonly used in the better knives available in the market today. The most common types of metals are Japanese stainless steel and German stainless steel. While all metals can be evaluated based on corrosion resistance, edge retention, and ease of sharpening, the final choice when it comes to selection is a matter of preference and cooking style.
Determine How the Knife is Constructed
Another element to consider when selecting a kitchen chef knife is whether or not it is constructed with a full tang or a partial tang. A full tang is a single piece of metal that runs the full length of the knife. A full tang makes a knife strong and extremely durable. While partial tang knife construction has improved, they are still more likely to bend and do not stand up to extreme use. Another benefit of a full tang is that it offers better balance and leverage. The way a knife’s weight is distributed affects how it handles and how much leverage you get. The more you use your knife, the more important balance, control and leverage become.
Does the knife have a bolster?
A knife bolster is a thick junction between the handle and the knife blade which provides a smooth transition between the two. A bolster strengthens the knife, adds durability, and provides a counter-balance. Since the handle is lighter than the blade, the bolster contributes to better balance and improves control of the knife while in your hand. The bolster can also be a good safety feature that keeps your fingers from sliding easily from the handle to the blade when cutting.
A knife handle can indicate quality
A knife’s handle is another important piece of the construction. There are many different handle materials available on the market today. Just remember that a good handle is key to your overall comfort and performance in the kitchen. A good handle will provide a level of hand control, allow for precise cuts, a strong grip, limits fatigue in your hand, is water and temperature resistant, easy to clean and limits bacteria growth, and most importantly enhances the look of your knife.
Review the Kitchen Chef Knife Design
Lastly, let’s look at the design and function of the blade itself. When selecting a kitchen chef’s knife you first have to ask yourself what is the most common task you are looking to use the knife for. Knife blades vary in length, width and thickness. Blades can be designed to support different cutting motions. Some have a flatter blade profile for chopping and push cutting styles. Others have a deeper blade to ensure maximum knuckle clearance and are designed to encourage the rocking-motion style of cutting. A hollow ground feature on the blade reduces surface drag allowing the meat to easily fall off the blade. Versions with hammered or Granton textured sides will have increased performance as well. Wider blades allow for smooth chopping, cutting and slicing while also providing surface area to easily scoop up freshly cut food. As you can see the blade itself is more than just the sharp part of the knife.
Part II. How to Care for Your Kitchen Chef Knife
Proper Knife Care and Use:
It’s important to always cut on a blade-friendly surface such as wood, plastic or rubber. Other materials such as glass, ceramic, marble, tile or granite are NOT recommended because they will dull the edge of your knife and possibly cause chipping.
While cleaning your knife remember that it is not built to soak in water for a period of time. Therefore, it is best to hand wash your knife with mild dish soap, rinse with clean water and towel dry after use. Do not leave your knife submerged in water in the sink or wet and dirty on a work surface for a prolonged amount of time. Dishwasher use is NOT recommended. Chemicals, salt, humidity and heat are not friendly to most metals. In addition, there is a chance that the fine blade can be damaged by impact with other utensils or ceramic items in the dishwasher during operation.
Remember you have purchased a kitchen chef knife with the sole purpose of cutting food. While it may seem obvious to say this – only use your knife to cut fruits, vegetables, fish and meats with no bones. There are common misuses of a kitchen chef knife that can damage your knife and cause safety concerns in the kitchen. Avoid any attempts at cutting bone, cartilage, or shell as well as items with pits or woody stems. Do not cut or try to pry apart frozen or semi-frozen food. If you embed the tip of the blade and apply a lateral force you will damage the blade. Use common sense when utilizing your knife and you will stay safe and happy during food prep.
Make sure to properly store your knife in a knife block, on a magnetic holder, or in the padded protective box when not in use. Do not leave it loose in a cutlery drawer with the edge unprotected. Some knives come with outer sheaths for safe storage or you can purchase special knife liners to go inside your kitchen drawer to protect the blade when storing.
Honing for Knife Maintenance:
Like all tools, your knife requires care and must be regularly maintained. This means regular honing to keep the fine edge in alignment. A proper maintenance tool should always be available in the kitchen, because a sharp knife is a safe knife.
It’s important to note that honing does not remove a significant amount of metal, rather it removes microscopic burr that forms during regular use and realigns the edge. For all straight-edged (non-serrated) blades, honing is recommended after every 6-8 hours of use or when the knife is noticeably not making cuts with ease any longer. Honing is the process whereby the rolled metal is simply returned to center and the edge is straightened by running the entire blade down a rod. It is this realignment of the edge which restores the cutting performance.
The rod, typically called a honing rod (or a honing steel or sharpening steel) can be made of metal, ceramic or diamond-coated metal. We recommend using a metal honing rod for German steel knives and a ceramic honing rod for Japanese steel knives. There are many honing rods available and Amazon is a great place to find one that suits your assortment of knives and your budget. We recommend that you select one with a sturdy base, uniform rod surface and a rod that is ~2” longer than the length of the longest blade that you plan to hone – this will ensure that it will work for all your blades.
When honing no longer improves the cutting performance, then it is time to sharpen the blade to reestablish the v-shaped edge.
How to Hone Your Knife:
- Hold the honing rod vertically with the tip on a stable, non-slip surface such as your cutting board (you can also place a tea towel under the tip).
- Hold your knife against the rod at the heel (area closest to the handle) and establish the bevel angle between the blade and the honing rod using the angles suggested by your knife manufacturer. For example, our Zelite Infinity knives are designed at the following angles:
- Executive-Plus Series: 9-12°
- Alpha-Royal Japanese Series: 12-15°
- Razor-Edge Series: 12-15°
- Alpha-Royal German Series: 15-18°
- Comfort-Pro Series: 15-18°
- Cleaver Knives: 18-20°
- Using a smooth swiping motion, pull the knife blade down and across the sharpening steel applying slight pressure, from the heel all the way to the tip. Make sure to keep the angle consistent throughout the movement (see images below).
- Repeat steps 2 & 3 on the other side of the blade.
- Repeat the entire sequence approximately 5-6 times per side.
- Speed is not important, but fluidity of the motion is. It is important to maintain the angle and to hone the full length of the cutting edge.
Sharpening for Edge Restoration:
With regular use, your knife blade (non-serrated) will eventually dull and honing will no longer restore the edge. At this time, an abrasive material, which is harder than the metal, is needed to restore the edge.
Sharpening grinds away major imperfections and folds on the edge of the blade and reestablishes the v-shaped bevel. Since sharpening takes metal off the blade itself, doing so too often will shorten the life of your knife.
When sharpening is needed, we recommend using a combination 1000/6000 grit whetstone at the angle corresponding to your knife series. If you are not confident using a whetstone, seek a professional knife sharpening service to sharpen your knife. It is important to note that electric sharpeners and manual pull-through sharpeners are set at different edge angles and use different abrasive materials to remove metal. Be aware that the factory edge geometry of your knife may be altered and scratching of the blade may occur (in some cases, this may void the warranty).
Sharpening Your Knife Using a Whetstone
While using a whetstone is a tried and true method to restore and sharpen the edge, it does take some practice, but it is definitely a skill worth learning.
There are many different whetstones available, we recommend the King Combination 1000/6000 grit Whetstone (or whetstones of similar quality). With the many videos available online, it may be helpful to watch some “Sharpening on a Whetstone” videos beforehand to visualize different methods and find a suitable technique.
Practicing on an old knife to get comfortable with your technique may also prove to be helpful. We have provided written instructions, however your whetstone may come with its own instructions, so this is simply a guideline and many other techniques will work as well.
- To prepare your whetstone, submerge it completely in water for about 10-15 minutes or until you no longer see small air bubbles rising.
- Place the stone on a non-slip surface and start with the coarse side facing upward (note that a lower number corresponds to coarser grit, i.e.1000 grit is rougher than 6000 grit).
- Hold the knife handle with your dominant hand with the blade facing away from you. Place your thumb on the spine and your index finger on the heel of the blade. Start by placing the knife at the top of the whetstone. Establish the correct edge angle (see Table i) and remember to keep this angle throughout the entire motion.
- With your nondominant hand, apply a light pressure on the blade and swipe the blade down using a pulling motion. Remember to maintain the angle as you pull the knife down the whetstone. Apply light pressure on the downstroke only.
- Keep track of the number of swipes while you repeat this several times going across the blade. Check intermittently for the formation of a raised edge, or burr, on the opposite side of the blade with your thumb. The burr should run along the entire length of the blade and should feel like a thin wire.
- When the burr is raised along the entire blade edge, then it is time to sharpen the opposite side of the blade.
- Flip the knife over to the other side, this time the edge will face down. Your index finger should be on the spine and your thumb on the heel of the blade. Establish the angle and repeat the process. This time, start at the base of the whetstone and swipe up while applying slight pressure with your non-dominant fingers, ending at the top of the whetstone. Move across the entire length of the blade.
- Repeat for the same number of swipes as it took to generate the burr on the first side.
- Flip the whetstone to the fine 6000 grit side. Remember to rinse the knife thoroughly before you begin so that coarse matter is not carried over to the fine stone.
- Once again, establish the correct bevel angle and sharpen in an arc motion over the stone, applying light pressure and keeping the angle consistent. Repeat several times keeping track of the number of swipes.
- Flip the knife over and repeat on the other side.
- Carefully inspect the edge. There should not be any burrs at this point.
- Clean the knife with mild dish soap, rinse with clear water and dry. Your knife should be sharp and ready for the tasks at hand.
- You can test the knife’s sharpness by cutting effortlessly through paper without catching or trying to slice a tomato without any puckering of the skin.
- Always allow the whetstone to air dry thoroughly before storing it.
Part III. Consider Who Makes the Chef Knife
If you are planning to invest in a high quality, long lasting kitchen chef knife, we recommend you look into the company you are purchasing from. Do they stand behind their product? Do they provide long-term use and care instructions? Do they have a customer service department to assist if you have any questions? A good knife brand should be willing to guarantee the production value of their product to your satisfaction.
Zelite Infinity is a family owned and operated company.
Every knife we sell has been hand-sharpened and independently inspected to give you the high quality you expect. We pride ourselves on building lasting relationships through great products backed with exceptional service. We personally handle each customer service request to do just that.
Part IV. Build Your Collection: Chef Kitchen Knives
Understanding Different Kitchen Chef Knife Blade Types
If you ever asked yourself what knives do you really need in your kitchen, this is for you. There are so many options, not only in knife shape, but in metal choices. If you wonder why there are so many to choose from, we will break down the options and provide information on what each style is made for.
Using the correct knife for the task.
As seen below, there are almost too many knife options to choose from. However, some are considered multifunction knives, and others are specialty knives designed to do one specific task very well. Using the correct knife for cooking will allow for easier use, while enhancing speed and accuracy.
The Classic Carving Knife
A specialty knife designed to carve meat. Perfect for large pieces such as turkey, ham, or any beef. The average blade is 10 inches long with a Granton (dimpled) side. This knife is thinner with less height to allow for slicing in one motion versus sawing back and forth. The Granton design prevents the knife from sticking which enhances both function and feel.
The Classic Butcher Knife
A specialty knife designed to carve large pieces of meat. If you go to a butcher shop and select a 20 pound sirloin to be sliced, this is most likely what you will see being used. While this knife may not be a perfect fit in the average kitchen, for a household that grills large meats or breaks down pieces of beef at home, it is a necessary tool. It is also useful as a carving knife on turkey, ham, or any beef. The average blade is 10 inches long and just as the carving knife above, comes standard with a Granton design. This knife blade is thinner with a curved edge to increase performance and usable cutting surface. The Granton design is important for function as it prevents the knife from sticking during use.
This blade design is taller at the tip, providing more forward weight for chopping. The edge closely resembles the classic butcher knife with a long and curved edge. This makes it a great carving tool. These blades range from 8 to 10 inches and have the dimpled Granton design for ease of use. For those who need to carve and have the ability to chop, this is an excellent choice. It is a cross between a carver and a cleaver with a majority of the function leaning toward the carving side of the function curve.
The Kiritsuke Knife
A knife created for Japanese cuisine, yet it can function as a multipurpose chef knife. It has a average blade length of 9 inches and is designed for raw fish, vegetables and sushi. The blade is slightly curved, and functions best using a push cut or chopping style which will both gracefully slice through soft items with ease and accuracy. It is best described as a cross between a Japanese Santoku and a Western chef knife.
The Classic Chef Knife / Western Style Chef Knife
It is called “the” chef knife for a reason. If you were to buy only one knife for your kitchen, this would be it. It is the most versatile kitchen knife known. Well rounded in functions, it chops, slices, minces, and carves just about anything you put under it. The blade design is curved and designed for a rocking cut motion, but can be used in a chopping motion as well. These have the heft to crush garlic and height to scoop prepped items. The most common length is 8 inches, though 6 and 10 inch versions are also popular choices.
These knives feature a long, thin blade with a serrated edge. This specialty knife cuts through a loaf of bread with ease, and without damaging or squishing while slicing. This knife was designed specifically for this task, yet, it can also be used to slice some types of soft melons and even tomatoes.
Designed to chop through dense pieces of meat, bone, and cartilage. These feature a thicker and heavier blade that is usually made of German steel. This provides weight and strength while maintaining durability. The cleaver can also be used to chop through other tough items, such as squash or turnip. This knife is versatile enough to be used to slice meat and vegetables, but the heavier weight is a consideration for some users. The large flat side is good for scooping prepped items and even tenderizing some proteins. The Chinese style cleaver is thinner and much lighter. This allows for less efficiency as a chopper, but increased efficiency as a cutter.
Best described as the Japanese version of a traditional Western chef knife. The flatter blade profile is designed for chopping and push cutting styles. The blade averages 7 inches in length and thin, making it lighter than its’ Western counterpart. An accurate and efficient knife for slicing, chopping, and mincing. The Granton texture on the blade allows it to glide through meat, vegetables, and fish with ease.
The Nakiri Knife
A specialty knife designed to be the ultimate vegetable chopper. This blade style also works well as a pull or push style slicer. Tall and thin, this blade averages 6 inches in length making it a useful tool for scooping up freshly cut veggies. The length and height provide a lot of control for even the thinnest of slices. Versions with a hammered or Granton textured sides will have increased performance.
The Gokujo Fillet / Boning Knife
The Gokujo (which means “all-in-one”) is a multi-purpose Japanese-style knife for both boning and filleting. The high carbon 6 inch, German stainless steel blade has a small amount of flex which makes separating meat from bone a precise action. The hollow ground features on the blade reduces surface drag allowing the meat to easily fall off the blade. This blade design also allows use as a small chef knife, making it good for light prep work.
The Boning Knife
This 6 inch specialty knife is more than just a boning knife. The blade shape makes it an effective tool for removing bones from beef, pork, lamb, game and poultry. The pointed tip and strong blade also makes this knife a good choice for trimming fat, prepping meat, and removing skin from chicken and fish.
The Utility Knife
This 6 inch multi-use knife is one of the most used knives in any kitchen, only following the chef knife. The blade is good for many tasks including slicing, trimming, coring, and peeling. The blade height makes it light and diverse. It is easy to control through meats, vegetables, and fruits. The utility knife is a necessary kitchen tool to fill in the gap for tasks that the chef knife is too large for.
The Honesuki Knife
A boning knife designed specifically for poultry. The short triangular blade is strong and pointed. It has similar function and capabilities as the gokujo boning knife, but has a shorter and taller blade. The blade was created to break down poultry by cutting through the joints, not the bones. While considered a specialty knife, this knife offers some diversity with light prep work capabilities.
The Paring Knife
Another important knife for the kitchen. The 4 inch blade makes it easy to control with extreme accuracy making this the knife of choice for decorative carving. The paring knife is thought of as a peeling knife first, but is also a strong performer for trimming, slicing, coring and precision work.
The Bird’s Beak Paring Knife
Even smaller than a regular paring knife with an average blade just short of 3 inches. This provides a lot of control for use off the cutting board. It serves the same functions as other parings knives, but provides enhanced peeling and detail work capability.
© Gourmet America Magazine July/Aug 2020
Part IV. You May Consider German vs. Japanese Chef Knives
When shopping for a kitchen chef knife you will find that the majority of options fall into one of two categories: German and Japanese. Both types of knives are well known and often favored by the best of chef’s over others available on the market. As long as you are purchasing from a reputable company you can’t go wrong with either type.
The choice between German and Japanese steel knives is a matter of preference and cooking style. The difference between the two lies primarily in steel hardness and edge angle. When it comes to kitchen knives, however, the more hard-wearing option isn’t necessarily the better choice.
The amount of carbon in a piece of steel directly correlates to hardness and inversely correlates to durability. German steel is relatively softer, it’s capable of holding an edge longer and doesn’t need to be sharpened quite as often as Japanese steel blades do. German steel knives are known to be more durable and easier to sharpen. They are a good metal choice when cutting into boned meats or doing more robust kitchen work. While German blades are typically finished with a machine, Japanese blades are almost always hand-honed and hand-refined. German blades are often viewed as more versatile, used for chopping, cutting and slicing; their multi-purpose use and increased durability go hand-in-hand.
The Japanese Super Steels and Damascus style knives are sharper and hold their edge better. Due to a difference in forging techniques, Japanese steel blades contain a lot more carbon than German blades, making them harder, but also more brittle. Their fine edge is a little more fragile for hard boned items, but this is where blade shape and function come into play. Since these “Japanese super steels” can be more brittle they are almost always layered between other metals in a Damascus style.
An example of this is the Zelite Infinity Alpha-Royal Japanese Series 8” Chef Knife. They use an AUS10 Japanese Super Steel as the core of the blade, plus they add 33 layers of high carbon steel on each side. With 67 total layers of steel, the knife is very sharp, strong and durable – not to mention the Damascus layering adds a beautiful pattern to the blade. Damascus kitchen knives are considered the highest level of sharpness, edge retention, and performance that you can own.
Japanese knife blades are thinner than their German counterparts, allowing for a sharper edge — typically in the range of 15–16 degrees, compared to 20 degrees in Western style knives. Japanese kitchen knives are precision cutting tools, designed to slice first and foremost.
A quality knife in either group will last for generations. In a word the German steel knives are thought of as a “workhorse” while the Japanese steel knives are used for more intricate slicing. Weight, handle comfort, and overall care and maintenance are other considerations that differentiate the two. Still can’t decide? Get one of each and enjoy the best of both worlds in the kitchen.
Part V. Learn How Zelite Knives Compare
German Knife Examples Using X50CrMoV15 Stainless Steel Blades:
- Zelite Infinity Alpha-Royal German 8 inch Chef’s Knife $55.97
- Zwilling Pro 8 inch Chef’s Knife $149.99
- Wusthof Classic Ikon8 inch Chef’s Knife $169.99
Examples Using Japanese Super Steel Blades:
- Miyabi Kaizen 8” Chef Knife VG10, 64 Layer Damascus Rockwell Hardness 60 $215.00
- Zelite Infinity Alpha-Royal Japanese Series 8” Chef Knife AUS10, 67 Layer Damascus Rockwell Hardness 61 +/- 1 $124.97
- Shun Classic 8” Chef Knife VG-MAX, 68 Layer Damascus Rockwell Hardness 60-61 $188.00
Zelite Infinity is a family owned and operated business aiming to make the perfect chef knife. What does perfect mean in their minds? A knife with great balance, outstanding performance, lasting edge-retention and superior comfort – at a great price. Even more importantly they focus 100% on customer service. Keeping their customer service team within the family allows them to develop relationships with their customers and hear directly from cooks when they have positive and negative feedback to their knives.
Zelite Infinity has several series of knives – German Steel and Japanese Steel – in order to offer their customers varying options in selection, price and overall quality. This allows both professional and home chefs to find the type of knife(s) to fit their kitchen needs.