There's a reason chefs tote their knives around with them: kitchens and appliances may vary, but the well-loved chef's knife is irreplaceable. It's true for home cooks, too. But a chef's knife is an investment. And $150 can feel like a lot for a good knife - let alone for one you end up disliking. So before swiping "buy" on Amazon or tossing the cheapest knife in the cart on your next outing, it's important to think about two questions: what does a chef's knife offer, and what do you need it for in the kitchen?
High-quality chef's knives above all offer versatility. Unless you spend considerable time deboning fish or peeling pears, a chef's knife should be able to accomplish 95% of your knife needs. So it should feel good to use - properly weighty, but not heavy enough to make using it tiring; well balanced between the handle and the blade; durable, since it gets so much use; and of course, consistently sharp.
The second question - what you need - is a little harder to answer. Luckily, we've tested some of the most popular chef's knives on the market, and below are the best picks for every kind of home cook.
Best knife overall
Mac Professional Series 8-inch Chef's Knife with Dimples
CNET TAKE: This Japanese-style chef's knife lies at the higher end of the spectrum when it comes to price, but it rests at the top of most best lists online for a reason: it's a fantastic product. Not only is it supersharp (it slides through tomatoes without any tearing whatsoever), but its blade is thinner than heavier knives like Wusthof's, which makes slicing snappier veggies like carrots feel like cutting a ripe banana with a butter knife. No exaggeration. Mac's most popular knife is perfectly balanced, so you never feel at risk of losing control of the blade. Its belly is also comfortably rounded, which makes the rocking motion while mincing feel natural.
Best heavy knife
Wusthof Classic 8-inch Chef's Knife
CNET TAKE: Wusthof's 8-inch classic chef's knife is a workhorse in the kitchen. It's one of the weightiest knives we tested, which helps it slice more delicate foods such as tomatoes as effortlessly as warm butter and cut through more robust foods like butternut squash without exertion. The weight helps guide the blade in consistent movements as you use it, but the Wusthof isn't so heavy that you ever feel controlled by the blade. The Wusthof was our initial pick for best overall knife, until we had a chance to try the Mac knife (above), and it still stands up as a top-of-the-line option. The only shortcoming of the Wusthof is the slightly softer steel used for its blade, which makes it not quite so razor-sharp as the Mac.
Best midpriced knife
Zwilling Gourmet 8-inch Chef's Knife
CNET TAKE: For $50, J.A. Henckels' Zwilling Gourmet 8-inch Chef's knife is a great budget option. It doesn't have the heel of a heavier-duty knife like the Wusthof or J.A. Henckels Classic, but it's well-balanced and makes clean cuts on tomatoes and herbs, makes quick work of dicing onions and breaks down a chicken with relative ease. The Zwilling Gourmet is a stamped blade, rather than a forged one, which means it likely won't hold its edge as long as the Wusthof. It's also lighter, which means your hand won't be guided quite as well through a tomato or similarly delicate food. All that said, the Zwilling's cuts were consistently clean, it felt comfortable in hand, and for $50, we'd be more than happy to add this knife to our kitchen.
The following CNET staff contributed to this story: CNET staff writer David Priest, Copy Editor Jim Hoffman and Senior Editor Laura K. Cucullu. For more reviews of personal technology products, please visit www.cnet.com.[object Object]