Choosing a Brand of Chef Knives
Brands of professional chef knives
Asking a chef to recommend knives is like asking a musician to recommend instruments. Is a piano better than a violin? Is a Japanese knife better than a German one? As long as a knife is sharp and well-made, the only reason to choose a particular model is personal preference.
Buying from a brand with a strong reputation guarantees good quality, freeing you to choose whatever style of knife you prefer.
Founded in the 1700s, this is not just one of the world’s oldest knifesmiths, but one of the world’s oldest companies. They sell 11 different lines of knives, so style varies a lot within the brand. Generally, though, Henckel’s represents traditional German knife manufacture, with a relatively thick blade and broad handle for control and power. In 2004 it acquired the prestigious Japanese manufacturer Nippa, and launched the Miyabi brand to market Japanese-style knives made with Henckel’s centuries of expertise.
Founded over 200 years ago, Wusthof is still run by descendants of the founder; like Henckel’s, it is based in Solingen, a city known as the knife capital of Germany. Though the company has a long history, its products are ultra-modern.
Blades forged in a single piece are measured by lasers for accuracy before being sharpened by robots. This means Wusthof knives all have uniformly high quality.
Messermeister is a relative newcomer to the ancient German knife industry, founded in just 1981. It’s American-run but its products are manufactured in Germany and Portugal, using the traditional hot-drop and hammer-forging techniques.
Messermeister has diversified into other kitchen implements, from silicon tongs to melon ballers, but it’s still best known for its reliable, well-priced kitchen knives.
Victorinox is best known as a manufacturer of small knives – in addition to the famous Swiss Army knife, they are also loved for their razor-sharp and flexible paring knives. By contrast, its chef’s knives are a bit of a well-kept secret, surprising for the largest knife manufacturer in Europe. Their knives are high-carbon stainless steel, forged in a single piece, with handles guaranteed not to crack or separate.
Though you wouldn’t guess from its name, Global is one of Japan’s most prominent knife manufacturers, making both Asian and European style blades. Founded in 1985, it uses traditional Japanese swordsmithing techniques to make sleek, modern designs. Global knives are instantly recognisable by their all-steel construction and dimpled handle grips. Their blades have an acute edge rather than a bevelled edge (which is more common in European knives) which means they stay sharper for longer.
MAC is based in Seki, the Japanese capital of knife manufacture, where its craftsmen hand-finish each piece. MAC knives use thinner steel than most other manufacturers, meaning their knives slice easily without sticking – ideal for cutting raw meat or fish. Their fine edge makes them extremely popular with professional chefs, but they aren’t widely available in shops.
Shun’s blades use damask steel, which not only gives a beautiful rippled finish but also makes them harder than most knives of similar thinness. Though it manufactures both Asian and European styles, its lightweight steel and sleek handles mean that all its products have the distinctive lightness of Japanese knives.