Knifemaker Explains The Difference Between Chef's Knives | Epicurious

I'm will Griffin I'm a knife maker the

knife is the most important tool that a

chef uses a chef's knife is the most

versatile knife in the kitchen if you

have to buy one knife make it a chef's

knife first let's talk about steel this

knife here is Japanese made in a western

style you can see it has a lot of

similarities to the wood saw here which

is German made the big difference

between these two is that this knife is

made of a carbon steel a high carbon

steel not a stainless steel this knife

will react with the environment so it

will patina and darken over time and

potentially rust as well the patina on

this steel right here is from six or

seven years of use in a professional

kitchen whereas the stainless steel


it won't patina or rust over time in

most normal circumstances the reason you

might choose a carbon steel knife

carbon steel is easier to resharpen and

many people myself included prefer the

aesthetics of a knife that adapts to its

environment over time

the next thing to talk about is the

hardness of the steel you can control

the hardness of the steel based on how

you heat treat the steel as part of the

knife making process here's the Japanese

made knife with a very high level of

hardness in the steel the benefits of it

are that it maintains its edge for a

longer so you don't need to sharpen the

edge as frequently the downside of that

is the edge is more brittle I have an

example of a very hard knife here that I

dropped on my kitchen floor and the tip

just broke right off the Wisthoff is a

good example of a knife that's a little

bit softer there's pros and cons of that

as well so the softer knives they won't

retain an edge as long but the edge

won't chip as easily and the whole knife

in general will be more resistant to

shock and abuse if you were to drop it

on your kitchen floor the tip would kind

of bend over and you could probably bend

it back straight so the next thing to

talk about is the blade shape so this

type of a profile or blade shape it's

very flat along the edge it's really

well designed for slicing and for

cutting things on a cutting board this

way the German style profile with a very

rounded belly is much more designed to

cut this way on the cutting board so

it's a rock along that curved belly if

we're now just talking about European

style blade shapes

you've got the German guy here and then

here is this French chef's knife and you

can see the difference in these profiles

so the French chef's knife is a little

bit more similar to the Japanese one and

that it's pretty flat and tends to be a

little bit more narrow it's still

rounded here so it can still do that but

the fact that it's so straight on the

back says to me that it's designed also

for a lot of slicing and sort of push

cutting techniques as well

next let's talk about blade thickness

here's an example of a Japanese made

knife that's a very thin the thinner a

knife is the better it is for most

cutting tasks the only downside of a

thin knife is that it can be more

delicate when you start to talk about

more robust foods anything where I might

run into a bone or something you know

this knife isn't the knife for that job

one element of the thinness is that it

doesn't have a lot of weight behind it

that can be a pro or a con it's nice to

have something that's light if your

chopping all day but also sometimes you

feel like a little bit more weight can

help you get through things and then the

other example is the wussed off here

much thicker in cross-section thicker at

the spine but also thicker down at the

edge as well the thicker knife is just

going to do better in situations where

there's more stress but on the blade one

isn't necessarily better than the other

but I will say in general if you can

cook in a delicate way then you should

choose the thinnest knife that works for

you because the thinner the knife the

better it's going to move through the


let's talk about double bevel versus

single bevel knives this is a Japanese

made single bevel knife the bevel refers

to the part of the knife that's ground

on a grinder down to the cutting edge

and you can see there's a line that's

the transition between the bevel and the

upper part of the knife so this has a

bevel on the right-hand side but it does

not have a bevel on the back side

essentially it's flat although it's

actually concave there are a lot of

benefits of knives like this

they cut extremely well these knives are

ideal for cutting raw fish that's why

sushi chefs used those sashimi knives

there's nothing like those in the world

but there are a number of downsides with

these types of knives the edges tend to

be very very delicate because of how

thin they are and it requires some

learning and some experience to know how

to sharpen these kind of knives because

it's a completely different sharpening

technique than your double bevel another

tricky part of these single bevel knives

is that when you cut the cut tends to

want to wander away from the bevel the

nice just wants to pull over to the left

a little bit you can adapt to it and

sort of adjust your technique and you

can do it but a double bevel knife will

cut straight down there's a small bevel

here and a small one here and it's

ground equally on both sides the

benefits of that is a little bit more

meat right at the edge of the knife so

it's a little bit more robust they're

also easier to sharpen another feature

of these single bevel knives is that

there's a handedness to them so this is

a right-handed knife the handle is

shaped to accommodate or right-handed

grip and that the blade is actually a

right-handed blade as well so the bevel

is on the right hand side and the hollow

is on the left hand side so it's

designed for a right-handed person to

cut this way a left-handed knife would

have the bevel on the left and the

hollow over here and the person would

cut this way if you're left-handed be

careful before you buy one of these

so let's talk about blade length 240

millimeter or let's say nine inches up

to around ten inches is a very common

size for professional cooks a larger

knife can be good for processing a lot

of ingredients quickly you can line up

more stuff on your cutting board and

kind of get through it quicker a larger

knife has some downsides they tend to be

heavier because there's just more steel

there they can also just be overkill if

you have a small space if you use a

small cutting board I would say the most

common size of chef's knife out there

has probably around an eight inch chef's

knife so this is the 8 inch Whist off

here's another 8 inch knife the Japanese

made knife that's a great all-around

size for most things and many people in

restaurants use this size as well but I

also think there's something to be said

for a knife that's smaller than eight

inches so here's the Wisthoff six inch

chef's knife and I think this is a great

size for people who have limited space

you feel like you have more control over

a knife this size especially like out

towards the tip of the knife I feel like

I have more pinpoint control over that

area then when I'm holding a knife like

this and the tip is just so far away

from where I'm holding it so if you're

doing mincing shallots doing finer work

a small knife is great and this is also

big enough to chop carrots do whatever

so if you don't do hours upon hours of

prep work at home the savings that come

along with a smaller knife might be

something to think about

moving onto handles first we're going to

talk about the Tang design so here's a

Japanese maid chef knife features a

hidden Tang style construction in the

handle it means that the steel of the

blade extends part of the way into the

handle and then is usually glued in

there and then there's a handle material

that's shaped on top of that here's an

example of a hidden Tang knife with no

handle on it so it gives you a good

sense of what's going on inside the

handle of a hidden Tang knife and then

if you compare the hidden Tang to the

full tang knife here's the wussed off

again the steel extends all the way

through the handle and then there's just

two flat handle scales that are glued

and riveted on to that steel so there's

a lot more mass and material back here

in the handle and that tends to move the

weight of the knife back towards the

handle one difference to maybe think

about is the hidden Tang knife design is

a little bit less suited to very heavy

applications I would say it's not meant

to be really hammered into the cutting

board a full tang design is much more

robust in that area you could be a

little rougher on the knife and not

worry about the handle coming apart with

the Tang for most cooking applications I

wouldn't say there's a big difference in

quality or strength between these two

types of handle designs


knife makers use a lot of different

materials for their handles again it's a

matter of preference this particular

knife is a Victoria Knox their handles

are made of this fiber ox material a

very food service kind of oriented knife

it's easy to wash it's certified to not

harbor bacteria and things like that

which is important in sort of

institutional kitchens so the material

needs to suit the environment that it's

being used in there's also the Wisthoff

they use step black plastic material

it's a man-made material that's

basically indestructible very easy to

maintain it doesn't warp or change and

dimension a great material for ease of

maintenance I would say here's a handle

that's very similar in design to the

wussed offer this is the vintage French

chef's knife and this is when they were

still using wood on their handles so

that requires a little bit more

maintenance than the man-made material a

wood handle might be appropriate for

somebody who appreciates the beauty of

the natural material and the uniqueness

of it as well no two pieces of wood are

exactly alike so there's some element of

nature finding its way into the knife

which I appreciate there are a really

wide variety of handle shapes out there

the most important thing when it comes

to choosing the shape of the handle of

your knife is putting it in your hand

and seeing how it feels

one thing that's characteristic of these

is this flared out end of the handle

here that tends to hold your hand in

place and then it's got a little swell

here that kind of fits your palm if you

look at the savatya the French version

you can see how there's similarities

about little differences they both have

the swell here at the end but this one's

just a little more narrow a little

straighter you can even bring in a

western-style chef's knife but made in

Japan they've adopted a similar handle

profile just with a little bit more

angular I would say but it has that same

swell there so that's that's a common

feature and then you can go to something

like this this is a Croma chef's knife

and they've designed sort of an

interesting thing here where the handle

and this blade is one integral piece of

steel a knife like this I would

certainly want to hold on to before I

bought one just to make sure that that

feels calm

to me in cooking there's two main ways

you hold a chef's knife you hold it this

way for doing heavy duty chopping and

then you hold it this way with your

fingers up pinching the blade and that's

for more fine work so this leads us into

a discussion about the balance of a

chef's knife I would say balance is very

much a matter of personal preference and

when we talk about balance generally we

mean where does the knife balance from

this end to this end if a knife is more

blade heavy it tends to balance out here

if a knife is more pandal heavy it tends

to balance somewhere along the handle

this knife is very blade heavy some

people prefer a more handle heavy knife

some people prefer a more blade heavy

knife a knife that balances in the front

of your hand where that first finger

kind of is tends to be a knife that

feels balanced if the balance point were

to be way out here and I'm holding the

knife here that's gonna be a knife that

feels very top-heavy if the balance is

way back here it's gonna feel like it

takes a lot of extra work to get it to

go this way so in general you want to

look for a balance close to where you're

holding it with this first finger and

both of these knives are close to that

this one happens to be a little bit in

front of it

this one happens to be a little bit

behind where that first finger is but

they're still generally balanced in that

way another part of the handle to

consider is the bolster if you look at

this list off you can see that this

knife has a bolster the bolster is this

steel that's around the heel of the

blade that sort of transitions into the

handle here if you take a look at one of

the knives I made there's no bolster

here so it's just the blade steel that's

the difference now it's sort of a safety

feature the bolster it prevents your

finger from slipping up here and getting

nicked on the very heel of the blade

that seems to be the main function of

what the bolster is there to do but that

also comes with a very serious drawback

it becomes very very difficult to

sharpen this blade all the way down to

the very corner no bolster you can get

your fingers closer in to where the

blade is

whereas this knife there's no sharp edge

in the corner so I can't use that for


whereas this night I

use this sharp corner to do things those

are the main differences so as we've

seen there's a lot of variety in the

materials and design and construction of

chef knives so when it comes to picking

one it's important to find a knife that

you connect with because you're gonna be

the one using it and the more you like

using it the more you're going to be in

the kitchen and the more fun you're

going to have