What Professional Chefs Consider When Buying A Knife | Jonas Blade

What Professional Chefs Consider When Buying A Knife

What are thoughts to consider when buying chef’s knives? It is probably not a question most people have spent much time thinking about, but there is plenty to sink your teeth into. 

 

Imagine yourself cooking professionally, in the kitchen of a high-end restaurant. You get to work at 11:00am each morning. You spend the first few hours prepping; chopping this, slicing that, getting everything ready for the first dinner seating. Then, the first few orders come in and you begin to cook. Before long, it is prime time, and the orders are pouring into the kitchen. Your hands are a blur.

 

If you have ever needed to use—rely on—a small set of tools for a whole day (much less a whole career), you’ll know that the details are important. Sure, a good cook could pick up any old knife with a decent edge and cook with it, but given options, he or she will always opt for one knife over another. If you think about it, you probably do too. Real chefs buy knives with care and attention, whether they’re professionals or just passionate. 

 

Here is a breakdown of what to consider when buying your chef’s knife:

The Look

The Feel

The Quality

 

The Look 

So what should you be looking at when you’re buying a chef’s knife? They say “form follows function.” It is true that most cooking knives fall into categories whose general shapes are dictated by their function, but there is much more beyond this simple concept. For one thing, you may rely on the fact that there are knives that function perfectly well, despite their appearance. I found one in a drawer in an Airbnb that almost made me recoil with horror. Naturally, when you buy a chef’s knife, the first things to think about are: 

 

  • How does it look? 
  • Do its lines flow comfortably without trapping the eye in any one spot? 
  • Does the knife look like it was designed deliberately to look a certain way? 
  • Is it simply a mechanical manifestation of what a knife needs to do?

The Feel 

Once you’ve looked at it, the next thing to do is to feel it in your hand. For this, I actually recommend closing one’s eyes entirely. Visual feedback can be really distracting when you’re trying to focus on the tactile. Another set of questions to consider is:

  • Does the shape of the handle guide your hand to an appropriate, comfortable position? 
  • Does the knife feel heavy or light? 
  • When you move it around, does it follow or resist your hand? 

One could easily make the case that the feel is more important than the looks. If you’re going to be cooking in that restaurant for eight hours a day, you better believe you’ll reach for the knife that feels and works right before you reach for the pretty one. 

 

Of course, it must be said that good looks and good feel are not mutually exclusive, so naturally when one considers buying a set of chef’s knives, the goal is to find the right combination and/or balance of the two. After looks and feel, the next thing to consider would be materials. Most people don’t nerd out over steel the same way we knife makers do, but because the internet is a thing, there is no reason whatsoever not to do a quick search on the steel alloy. You will typically find the alloy designation laser engraved or etched onto most commercial blades. Any custom maker will be able to tell you what steel(s) their knives are made of. If they can’t, put the knife down and walk away. 

 

The Quality 

The handle material may also be important to you, and this is an area where custom knives really excel. Most commercially produced knives are done with either a molded handle in some kind of proprietary plastic or other synthetic material, or done in wood. In either case, the shape and finish will both be dictated and limited by the bottom line of production value. There will only be one or two options for any given knife, and the look and feel will be decent, at best. When I make a custom knife, there are dozens or hundreds of handle materials to choose from, and I am able to shape them carefully to feel outstanding in your hands. 

 

As with just about anything, when you buy any type of chef’s knives, there’s a deep, deep rabbit hole to explore. Simply put, it really all boils down to:

  • Does it look good?
  • Does it feel good? 
  • Is it made well? 

If you can check those boxes, you’re off to a good start. 

 

Visit Jonas Blade’s Culinary Collection to see examples!

 

About The Author

Zack Jonas was born and raised in Massachusetts in the 1980’s and is still a New Englander today. With his growing love for art over the years, he took an introductory bladesmithing class at MASSart. It was there that he learned one of his most valuable lessons, which is that everyone has some insight worth learning. Today, he is a full-time bladesmith and feels incredibly fortunate to have found his calling.