Ask a Chef: How to Pick the Right Knife

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I was recently berated by a friend for not knowing the difference between a Chef’s knife and a Santoku knife. I did not know this was something one could be berated about, but the point stands that I cannot tell the difference, and this is coming from a woman who generally knows about knives. I know a paring knife from a carving knife, and I know what knife to use if you don't want to ruin a tomato, but for some reason the distinction between a Chef’s and a Santoku eludes me. 

From what I can tell though, a knife like one of those two knives should be a staple of your kitchen–at least six inches long, heavy and sturdy, as good for butchering a chicken as it is for mincing garlic. If you had to choose just one knife, that would be the one you’d choose. But, how exactly do you choose? Between blades made in Japan, Germany, France, different metals, and pretty hefty costs, finding a straight-up good knife can be really intimidating.


The Catbird Seat has become known as one of the top dining destinations in Nashville, where diners get a seat at the bar and watch Chef Trevor Moran and his team assemble a new tasting menu every day. Chef Moran’s suggests trying a gyuto knife, a Japanese-style chef’s knife, “Because it’s so versatile. The dimensions of the blade are great for slicing meat, it has a good bevel for chopping, and a wide blade for picking up items off of the board.” 

However, it’ll likely take a bit of trial and error to find exactly the right knife for you. It feels like that scene where Harry Potter (stay with me) is buying a wand–when it fits, you’ll know. Thankfully, “expensive doesn’t always equal better,” says Moran, “but it is worth spending a little money on a good knife.” You can certainly find a good knife from $100-$200 out there, but you can also pay over $1,000, if that’s what you’re into. 

Once you have that knife that fits your hand like your prized wand from Ollivander’s (I’m sorry), how should you go about caring for it? As you probably know, knives don’t stay sharp on their own. I was devastated to discover that Moran did not think my dinky tabletop sharpener was the most effective way to accomplish this task, nor is that honing steel that I forget how I got. But if you don’t want to get your knives professionally sharpened, he suggests you “buy a whet stone and do it yourself – it’ll keep the knife like a razor blade.” You can pick one up for under $20, and go to YouTube to learn how to use it. Or you can just get it professionally done, if you don’t trust the Internet.

Okay so back to my personal question–what the hell is the difference between a chef’s knife and a Santoku knife? Chef Moran says, “A Santoku knife has a flatter bevel so it is more suitable for veggie prep. A chef’s knife is more universal and can be used for everything.” Just please, go a little more high end than the $18 model from Ikea