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There is a wide variety of knife choices they come in different designs, steel, form, size, and brand name. You have Damascus pattern or hammered Damascus finish etc. the list goes on and on. What is VG-Max, VG10, German steel, AUS-10? I will explain everything on this page. The knife I can recommend to anyone that is looking for a new knife so that they can start cooking is the chef’s knife.
Chef’s knife and all-purpose knife
Why do I recommend the chef’s knife? They are versatile and can be used for the majority of the task in the kitchen. You can use it to rock chop, slice, push cut, tip slice, etc. The only thing you should not do is chopping through hard bones or frozen food. I did chop through chicken bones when I worked at the restaurant and the German Wusthof Chef’s knife could handle it without chipping the blade. However, they were the knife from the restaurant and not my personal knife. I simply will not cut through bones or frozen food with my own knives. The knife sharpness will decrease super fast if you do that.
Note: I do recommend a Chef’s knife but in the western cuisine we only know one type of chef’s knife which has a rounder belly profile compared to other knives. I prefer a straighter profile and therefore I prefer, the Chinese all-purpose cleaver also called the Chinese chef’s knife. I also like the Bunka, Gyuto or the Santoku knife. So despite recommending a chef’s knife, there are a lot of variations than the standard ”western chef’s knife” that we know.
Info: The Nakiri knife is advertised as a vegetable knife but that does not mean it can’t be suitable for another task than vegetables. It is basically a slimmed-down Chinese vegetable cleaver which we call the ”Chinese Chef’s knife” but then with a different steel type and most likely have a rounded front.
Each cuisine has its own knife!
When I say ”chef’s knife” in this article I do not mean the standard Western/German Chef’s knife. It can be anything from a Santoku to a Chinese Cleaver but more on that later in my next article ”types of knives”. Like I said my definition of a ”chef’s knife” goes further than the typical traditional western/german chef’s knife profile. The cuisine that you plan to cover has a major impact on the knife that is more suitable for you. An easy example to see the differences in cuisines is with the fish dishes. In Japan, they eat raw fish (not pre-seasoned or smoked) and it requires extreme sharpness to keep the fish fresh. In the western cuisine, we mostly eat cooked fish filets no head’s attached and only the filet with all the bones removed. In China, they don’t eat anything that is raw, even cucumbers are mostly cooked before they eat it. Their fish is mostly scaled and they will steam or deep fry the complete fish with skin, head, tail, and all the bones still intact.
Note: This is a small example to explain the differences in traditional cuisines. Now with modern cuisine, we now smoke raw fish. And also with the fusion cuisines, we can now see a shift in flavor palates. Even in China, they are now serving salads in their fusion kitchens. Mostly the ”Millennials” are shifting towards a fusion cuisine. Traditional cuisines still have their place but you will see more and more fusion cuisines. The Millenials in Japan still love sushi but they also love Italian food. So they modified their Pizza with the flavor palate of Japanese people and therefore it is a fusion between Italy and Japan.
The length of the knife
The blade length of the knives is important. For knives that are pre-designed for a specific test like the Santoku or the Nakri, you won’t find much length variations. The shorter the knife the faster you can control it. Let’s start by explaining the length of a western chef’s knife. I will explain the length of the other types of knives in the article ‘types of knives”.
Housewife knife length
”Shorter is better” in the eyes of the ladies when it comes to knives. The ladies simply don’t like to use bigger and longer knives. They prefer a 5 to 7-inch (12,5cm to 17,5cm) knife in their kitchen. Therefore you will see that the Santoku knife also called the housewife knife is 7 inches. And the western chef’s knife is now also available in 7 inches or lower. Personally, I like the 6.5 inches as my minimum length but, what do I know I’m not a lady. I have seen ladies using a utility and even a paring knife as their all-purpose knife (I’m truly amazed that they manage to do everything with such a small knife).
Home cook length
The most common length that you can buy today is an 8-inch (20cm) chef’s knife. They sit right in the middle not too long not too short ideal for the home cooks. Most home cooks will search for an 8-inch length however that does not mean that everyone should get an 8-inch. it comes down to personal preference and for what you are going to use it for. I like my 8 inches however when used in a professional kitchen they are sometimes too short.
Professional chef length
10 to 12 inches is the length that is recommended for professional cooks however, it is a blade length that needs practice and should be used every day in order to have control over it. Of course, it depends on which restaurant and type of cuisine you are using the knife for. Most restaurants that I have worked for used a minimum of 10-inch chef’s knife. The shortest knife is an 8 inch but that was a knife for personal home use and sometimes used in a nonbusy prep day.
General knife length guide
- 6 to 7 inches (15 to 18 cm): For the ladies.
- 7 to 8 inch (18 to 20 cm): For general home use.
- 9 to 10 inch (22 to 25 cm): For the home chef’s hobbyist and if you have the space for it at home.
- 10 to 12 inches (25 to 31 cm): For professional cooks, chefs but depends on what cuisine you are using it for.
Note: My recommendation is just a general guideline, this does not mean that you can’t use a 7-inch knife in a professional kitchen. Every person has their own preferences. I personally use 7 to 12 inches at work. a 7-inch Nakiri (for chopping lettuce to make salad etc.), 8-inch Chef’s knife (for days that require less prep work), 10,5-inch Chef’s knife, 9 to 12-inch Yanagiba for small fish and bigger fish like seabass to salmon and tuna.
Warning: Make sure that you also have the correct size cutting board for your knife length. If your knife is longer than your boards cutting surface then it is recommended to buy a larger cutting board. More information about cutting boards can be found here.
There are a lot of handle choices for each knife. Some work better on another. There is a preference from chef to chef and person to person. That is why I also recommended you to see what kind of direction you want to go in terms of cuisine that you want to cover. In that case, you would have determined what profile and knife design you want. The handle choices are endless, but the most common handle designs are the standard western handle and the standard Chinese and Japanese handles. Before you can decide what handle is the best you need to figure out what your primary gripping style is. Is it a pinch grip at the handle or the blade? A fingertip or a thumb grip? I can recommend the following universal handle that suits most gripping styles. The Octagonal and D shape handle for Japanese knives. A standard western handle will work for all gripping styles too dependent on the knife design. More manufacturers are making custom handles wich only suits one gripping style. The Global Sai series is a great example of a forced pinch grip at the intended handle design for your thumb.
Note: I recommend the following gripping style for the Western Chef’s knife and that is the pinch grip. Since the blade overall design is the best suitable for a pinch grip especially with the rocking motion from the western cuisines. A fingertip grip is only recommended for slicing motions, if you use a fingertip grip for a lot of chopping then you will put a lot of strain in your fingers. The reason why so many Japanese chefs use the fingertip grip especially the sushi chef’s is that they mainly slice instead of continuous chop. Always adjust your gripping style depending on the situation and food.
Maintenance & safety
It is very important to keep your knife sharp, not only will you perform your task faster it is also safer since you have more control and less resistance. You can hone your knife with a honing rod, or sharpening it with a whetstone. A honing rod is a quick and simple solution to maintain your knife sharpness. Since a honing rod does not sharpen but realign the edge the sharpening effect will eventually fade away. Your only solution is to recreate a sharp edge with a whetstone or let a professional do it for you when that happens.
Never put your knives in a dishwasher! Hand wash them and dry it with a kitchen towel and let it air dry before storing it.
Note: A complete Maintanance Guide coming soon…
Steel Types & Hardness (HRC)
Now that you know what knife I recommend and why it is important to keep your knife sharp it is time to dig deeper into the steel types and hardness also called the Rockwell Hardness or in short HRC (the type of machine they use to measure the Rockwell is called HRC). I can only tell you about my personal experience with the steel types I have used. An HRC or Rockwell is a great indicator of determining what a knife can do or not. The general rule is the higher the HRC the sharper and the more brittle it becomes. usually the higher the HRC the longer the edge retention is on the knife. You have different steel types. I will cover the most popular steel type on this page. I will cover the Japanese High Carbon steel type on a separate page. So basically you have Stainless and High Carbon and Powdered Steel-types.
What knife should I buy?
Once you know what cuisine you want to cover then you know what knife is the best for the task. But most home cooks and culinary students will need and want to make dishes from different cultures. If you want to focus on multiple cuisines then I recommend knives with an HRC of 56 to 58 The reason for this is simple, easy to maintain, stainless, won’t chip or break, medium edge retention and less care is needed. Just to name a few in this range, Victorinox Fibrox (HRC56), Zwilling (HRC 57), Wusthof (HRC 58), Global (HRC 58), or the Shi Ba Shi Chinese All-Purpose Cleaver (HRC 57/58). The Shi Ba Shi is the #1 selling and #1 recommended Chinese all-purpose cleaver in China from home cooks to culinary students and professional kitchens.
Home Cooks: The German/Western Chef’s knife is the knife I recommend as your all-purpose knife especially if you occasionally want to fillet fish or go through small to soft bones. They are versatile and will handle the most task as your all-purpose knife. Won’t break or chip, stainless, less maintenance needed, easy to sharpen.
Chinese All-Purpose Cleaver: is a great knife for home cooks too. It requires some practice but once you master it you will appreciate the knuckle clearance, knuckle guide, meat tenderizer, and food transfer properties.
Japanese Knives: I don’t recommend it to home cooks since they need more maintenance, more brittle, and prone to chipping. Of course, I’m talking about Japanese knives with a high HRC of 60 and above. You can go through soft fish bones and spine but the risk of microchipping is still there especially if your knife technique is not good. You will also destroy your edge and I don’t see the point in filleting a complete fish with a Japanese Gyuto for example. Therefore you need a specially designed Deba for that kind of task. You are better off with an HRC of 58 if you want to do those kinds of tasks with one knife. But if you don’t go through bones or hard food like hard bread, cheese, semi-frozen meat, etc. Then the Japanese knife has a far more superior edge retention than a western chef’s knife. So for your first Japanese knife, I can recommend the Japanese Fusion knives with AUS10, VG10 they are all stainless. Want more sturdiness but less edge retention then you can look at the German-made Japanese style fusion knives like the Santoku from Wusthof or Zwilling.
Culinary Students: For Culinary students, I recommend the same HRC of 56 to 58 just like the home cooks. I don’t recommend the Chinese all-purpose cleaver since it is big, heavy, bulky, and not practical to have one in your knife roll to take it from class to class. Also, it requires a different knife skill than everything they teach you at the culinary school (Unless it is a Chinese culinary school for Chinese cuisine). So a western/German chef’s knife is your best choice. Also, ask your school to provide the recommended knife length.
Profesional cook: If you work in a kitchen then you know what cuisine you cover. I will recommend an HRC of 57 to 58 as your all-purpose knife. I don’t think that a professional chef should only own one knife. So I recommend an all-purpose knife for everything else that does not require special attention. Add more to your collection later on. However, I don’t recommend the Japanese High Carbon steel for western cuisines or fusion kitchens. The maintenance of that knife is something you won’t be able to keep up. Especially if your restaurant is transitioning to the new way of food ordering. So services like Deliveroo, Uber, Just Eat and many more services will make your work a lot harder, more to prep, more to do, and less time for maintaining and taking care of your knives. Japanese Stainless steel is a better choice like the VG10, AUS10, VG1, AUS8. (Only you can decide if you need it or not this is just my advice).
HRC, RC or Rockwell
Here is a brief overview of the Rockwell Hardness:
- 52-54 HRC: Cheap chefs knives, mostly very cheap 8 euro (10 dollars) made in China. Needs to be sharpened every time we are done with a task. If used in a professional kitchen.
- 54-56 HRC: Better than cheap knives. Mostly for home cooks and not for the professional kitchen. Most cheap Chinese bone cleavers use this kind of hardness. Needs to sharpen a few times a day if used in a professional kitchen.
- 56-58 HRC: Easy to sharpen and used in a professional kitchen. Most german knives or better quality Chinese vegetable/bone cleavers use this kind of hardness.
- 58-60 HRC: Better quality kitchen knives like Japanese knife global. They stay longer sharp but are harder to sharpen.
- 60-62 HRC: The knives remain sharp for a long time but have more risk of becoming brittle. Harder to sharpen and quality depends on the production. Mostly used in Japanese knives.
- 63-66 HRC: Needs cleaning after each use and more prone to breaking and becoming brittle. Some steel types with this high HRC needs a wet towel wipe before each slice.
Of course, these are just guidelines. The manufacturer, steel type, and where the knives are made have a huge role in the quality.
If you are a Culinary student, home cook, or a professional cook and you are looking for an all-purpose knife. Then I recommend an HRC of 56 to 58HRC. You can pretty much perform all tasks without worrying about chipping the blade. Since the steel is softer it will bend and can be honed with a honing rod. Yes, it is less sharp and the edge retention is not great. However, you need less maintenance and less care for the knives.
The knife brands I can recommend:
They are all stainless and won’t chip. Easy to maintain and you don’t have to switch knives unlike Japanese knives for a certain task. Perfect for cooks that want to test different cuisines.
Tip: It is important to know what cuisine you want to cover. Each cuisine has its own ”Chef’s knife type”. Chinese cuisine uses a Chinese all-purpose cleaver instead of the western chef’s knife. More information about types of knives can be found here.
Most knives say just stainless steel without telling you what type of steel they use. The keyword is in ”stainless” it still stains but then ”less”. Most cheap knives or your local celebrity chef use the cheapest form of stainless steel for their own branded knives. They are overcharging you just for their heads on the package. I recommend the branded celebrity chefs knife only if they are on a huge 80% discount (especially when it is their own branded knife). So I would pay max $15 and then I still think I overpaid for it. Good for home use or as a beater knife. My recommended price point for stainless steel without telling you what type they use is $10.
Unbranded Stainless steel is usually 54 to 56 HRC.
Like the stainless steel the German steel shares the same pros. The difference is in the material that they use in their stainless steel which gives them a new name ”German Steel” they usually specify the German steel with ”German Steel” or ”4116”, ”4116 German Steel”, ”4116 Krupp” or ”
They are usually used in Wusthof or Henkels knife with a high stain resistance but medium edge retention. They have an HRC between 56-58.
The AUS steel is produced by Aichi Steel Corporation of Japan. They are tough, easy to sharpen, and has good wear resistance. But the kitchen knives that use this steel only use their AUS 10 or AUS 8 series so we won’t look at AUS 6. AUS 10 has good rust and stain resistance is less brittle compared to other knives with the same HRC of 60. You can maintain and resharpen the AUS 10 steel type very easily compared to a VG10 or VG-Max. An AUS 8 is comparable with German steel with an HRC of 56 to 58.
VG steel is made by Takefu Special Steel. Just like the AUS series they have different types. But the knives we can buy for our kitchen usually only use the VG10 or VG-Max series. Despite the higher HRC of 61 vs the AUS 10 HRC of 60, the VG10 series is more brittle and less corrosion resistance than the AUS10. Therefore you will see most VG10 or VG-Max knives being sandwiched between other stainless steel layers.
Also called Chinese stainless steel but they also make this type of steel in America. Chinese knife manufacturers use them and the steel manufacturers are mostly unknown. I have been experimenting with a few knives of these series and I have to say that I’m impressed as a cook compared to VG10, AUS10, German Steel, and Stainless Steel. Just like the AUS and VG series they have different types of Crmo/Crmov:
- 3Cr13 = 52 HRC: cheaply made in China knives
- 4Cr13 (Stainless Steel) = 55 to 57 HRC Mostly used for Chinese Bone Cleavers
- 4Cr14MoV = 55 to 57 HRC good enough to make kitchen knives, claimed to be 55 HRC
- 7Cr17MoV = 55 to 57 HRC. Increases strength, wear resistance, and increased toughness claimed to be 55HRC
- 8Cr13MoV & 8Cr14MoV = 58HRC Similar to AUS 8 Japanese Steel. This has wear resistance, toughness, and easy to sharpen if it is similar to AUS 8.
- 9Cr18MoV = Low-cost high corrosion resistance stainless steel should be 58 HRC
- 10Cr15CoMoV Also called the Chinese VG10 = 60-62 HRC: Claimed to be 60HRC. This steel type is still unknown and only China uses it and they claim that it is the same as VG10 Takefu stainless steel which has good wear resistance and rust resistance.
Of course, these are just guidelines. The manufacturer and where the knives are made has a huge role in the quality.
Update 10Cr15CoMov: After testing this type of steel for more than 2 months in a Professional kitchen I can say that they are definitely not comparable to a VG10 no matter how the sellers want to advertise it. The edge retention is less than a VG10 and the rust resistance is not there either. However, if used at home you won’t notice these differences and therefore I recommend them for domestic use and they are not suitable for professional use mainly because of the rust resistance. The Rockwell hardness feels more like a 59HRC but the quility differs a lot from brand to brand. I can only recommend Xinzuo since they gave me one of the best 10cr15CoMov steel types.
Even after experiencing different steel types, manufacturers, and brands, it is still very hard to recommend a chef’s knife. Even when I asked for advice from other chefs that I work with everyone has their own preferences. In my career, I have worked with 20+ chefs. And believe me, they all suddenly switch brands and steel types from time to time. It is very personal and therefore I have decided to tell you about the steel types rather than the brand.
Brands that I have used and their steel type:
- Shun: VG-Max, 61 HRC: Very sharp and has great rust, corrosion resistance but very brittle and prone to chipping.
- Miyabi: MC63, 63 HRC (They feel slightly sharper than the VG10 or VG-Max series and is lighter than the VG10 but just as brittle and prone to chipping like the VG10)
- Ryusen Hamano Japan: Cobalt VG10 – 61 HRC: Pretty much the same as a Shun VG-Max Steel type. However, it is sharper more durable than A VG-Max from Shun. Imho, even better than a Miyabi MC63 Steel.
- Global – Cromova 18 Stainless Steel – 58 HRC: Slightly less sharp than the VG10 but definitely great for everyday use, I have not experienced any chipping
- Sakai Takayuki: AUS10 – 60 HRC: Out of the box it felt exactly like the VG10 in terms of sharpness and I did not experience any chipping.
- Wusthof: German Steel 4116 / X50CrMoV15 – 58 HRC: Felt slightly less sharp than the Global but definitely a workhorse! I’m not afraid to go through chicken bones, however, it won’t chip but it certainly can bent depending on how much force was needed to cut through the chicken bones
- Zwilling knives by J.A. Henckels – Friodur Steel – 57 HRC: Pretty much the same as the German steel.
- Chinese Brands:
- 7Cr17MoV – 55 – 57HRC: The quality differs from manufacturer to manufacturer but definitely a good quilty/price ratio of around $15 – $20.
- 9Cr18MoV – 58-60HRC: Sharpness on par with a Global knife, however, it is more brittle and prone to bending and chipping. Also, the manufacturer plays a huge role in edge retention and sharpness.
- 10Cr15CoMoV – 60 – 62 HRC: Sharpness on par with an AUS 10 or VG10 steel just as brittle and prone to chipping like the VG10. Edge retention is less than a VG10 or AUS-10 steel. Rust and corrosion resistance is not good.
Note: Some brands use steel types that are not covered here. That is because they use their own special steel designed for a specific brand. Like the Miyabi MC63 or the Zwilling Friodur Steel. Since I’m not a knifemaker but a chef I measure them by using them and comparing them in a real scenario. I think that the Miyabi’s are just a rebranded SG2 or R2 steel.
The same can be said for the Kai Shun VG-Max which is basically a rebranded VG10 exclusive for Shun.
They are inexpensive and the steel type they use is good compared to the more expensive brands.
Definitely a good buy for the price they sell them for (you will have to pay more for aesthetics so the below price is pretty much the minimum price for the core material without calculating the extra price for aesthetics and brand):
- 7Cr17MoV $8 to $15
- 9Cr18MoV $20 to $35
- 10Cr15CoMoV $35 to $40
The prices above are for an 8-inch Chef’s knife without the aesthetics like hammered finish Damascus layers etc.
Warning: The Chinese steel is definitely good considering the price and the performance that they deliver. There are a lot of sellers online that straight out lie about the specification and oversell you this type of steel for 80% more than the original price. The 10Cr15CoMoV is called the Chinese version of the Japanese VG10 and the seller’s straight-up lie about the steel and tell you that they sell VG10 and charge you $80 to $200 for a
10Cr15CoMoV that is worth max $40 (In my opinion for an 8-inch Chef’s knife).
AUS 10 made in China
After using the AUS-10 steel type I fell in love with it. They imported the AUS 10 steel from Japan and therefore you won’t find any AUS 10, 8-inch chefs’ knife under $40.
The aesthetics of a knife and cladding
The hammered Damascus is getting more and more popular. You have knives that have a mirror polish or knives that has been brushed so that scratch marks become less visible. Beware that they also have fake Damascus layers which means that they have ”lasered” the look on the knife. What we now label as ”real” is ”layered Damascus” so steel layers to create the pattern. You also have Damascus edging if the edging is deep enough then you won’t be able to wash it away. The most important thing to know is that these are aesthetics so no benefits at all. Keep in mind that the layered Damascus usually have stainless steel on top of the core material with a lower Rockwell hardness. This means that the layers will scratch a lot faster since the hardness is lower. A hammered Damascus only helps when food reaches the hammered part and that is not really noticeable for many domestic cooks. The cladding is used with softer stainless steel to protect the core material from many of the high Rockwell of Japanese knives. The upside is that it protects the core material making it sturdier and less prone to breaking, the downside is that it can be easily scratched by normal use since the cladding is usually on a lower Rockwell usually below 56.
Want to know more about the core types of knives? Click Here!
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