MINNEAPOLIS -- It's a question a whole lot of people have asked at one time or another: Are expensive kitchen knives really worth the cost?
Type “chef’s knife” into amazon.com, and you’ll get about 43,000 results ranging from $8 up to $4,000.
What’s a home cook to do?
We enlisted the help of Chef Thomas Boemer, co-owner of restaurants Corner Table and Revival, to give us the perspective of a professional with years of knife experience.
“Knives that are good quality, you kind of feel it when you pick up the knife,” said Boemer. “You have to have that work horse. You have to have something that you can pull out every time and maintain a good edge, that's going to be comfortable in your hand.”
We also used Prior Lake mother of two and avid home cook, Jessica Weber, to get perspective from an amateur, at-home knife user.
“I would like to just have one knife that works for everything,” said Weber. “I feel like the knives are probably like wine; it’s different when they are all in front of you and you can see the differences.”
For our test, we purchased four, eight-inch chef's knives, based on popularity, price and style.
- Farberware Classic -- $16
- J.A. Henckels International Forged Premio -- $35
- Wusthof Classic Cook's Knife -- $100
- Shun Classic -- $140
We asked both Weber and Boemer—who were unaware of the prices--to test drive each knife through a gauntlet of vegetables (shallot, carrot, butternut squash, tomato) while noting power versus precision and comfort versus sharpness.
After evaluating each knife, here are their rankings.
3. J.A. Henckels Int’l
Weber described the thinner, finer-sharpened, Japanese-made Shun as the clear winner. She described the much heftier Wusthof as “mid-grade,” and the other two German-styled knives as “meh.”
4. J.A. Henckels
“(Shun) was the winner. It had the ease of cut, comfortable enough in the hand,” said Boemer. “Second is the Wusthof. It didn't quite have the finesse of the cut of this, not as easy to use, but still a comfortable, great knife. The big upset here was the Farberware. This knife came in at a lower price point as (the Henckels Int’l), a little bit more detail in the finishing, a little bit more comfortable knife. (Henckels) was not a great cutting experience. It's a well-built knife. I think people would generally be happy with it, but it was the only knife that really broke through a vegetable rather than cut through it."
Chef Boemer says you can get sharp knives for cheap prices, but better built knives will retain that sharp edge longer.
He says German-style knives feature heavier bodies with thicker blades that are throw-them-off-a-skyscraper durable. They are typically sharpened at a wider angle than Japanese blades (think broad sword). Meanwhile, Japanese-style knives tend to be lighter, thinner, more flexible and made from harder steal, which means they tend to be sharper but chip easier.
Boemer says most chefs use Japanese-style knives in restaurants today.
If you're not in the market for $100+ knives, Boemer says a professional sharpening goes a long way.
Lunds and Byrlys offers free sharpening for up to three knives per visit. Eversharp Kitchen Store in Minneapolis also offers knife sharpening for $4 per blade.