This week Reviews.com contacted me to share with you recent test results regarding chef knives. I was excited to see that they agreed with my findings and rank Victorinox & Wusthof as the top 2!! If you've been to my culinary classes, these are the 2 knives I work with and recommend to students over and over again. Take a moment to read the article below for a formal explanation of why these two are in the lead ... I'll be posting my knife skills class again this fall, so you may register and do some damage with these cutting implements in the HEAT Culinary, Carpinteria kitchen :) Big hugs, Nikki
The best chef knife can’t be defined by a single set of features. It’s all about hand-feel: The knife should comfortably tackle a variety of tasks, functioning as an extension of your forearm. We talked to two chefs, a cooking instructor, and a knife expert, then chopped, diced, and peeled with 11 best-selling chef knives to see which stood out.
There’s a reason we call the best kitchen knives “chef knives.” A good chef is a multitasker, so a good chef knife is designed to handle multiple jobs. Think of all the slicing and chopping involved in a beef stir-fry or a chicken noodle soup. You want a single tool that can handle it all.
The “mighty MAC” was the clear favorite of our testing team — and widely praised by the experts we spoke with. It’s maneuverable enough to chop mint leaves, slice carrots, and peel butternut squash, offering clean cuts without requiring perfect form. It feels comfortable for both large and small hands, and its medium-weight balance means it’s neither too light nor too heavy (we’ll go ahead and call it the Goldilocks of knives). A half-bolster helps you maintain a professional grip, and dimples prevent food from sticking to the sides of the knife as you chop. Retails at $175.
Best for Experienced Cooks
The Shun has a weight and heft similar to the MAC and is versatile enough to handle a range of dicing, slicing and chopping — but only if you treat it right. The knife is covered in an outer layer of Damascus steel, which provides a gorgeous appearance but makes the knife edge more likely to chip if you don’t use proper chopping technique. Like the Mac, the Shun is a half-bolster knife, helping you maintain a professional grip without the added weight of a full bolster. Several of our novice cooks had trouble holding the Shun comfortably, but testers who were already experienced in the kitchen loved its elegant performance. The Shun is slightly more expensive than the MAC, retailing at $182, and a good pick for those who’ve mastered the basics.
If you want a quality knife but don’t have a lot of money to invest, the Victorinox is our pick, retailing for around $45. While half an ounce lighter than both the MAC and the Shun, the Victorinox is large — wide blade, wide no-slip plastic handle — and designed to take on big jobs. (Think large cuts of beef, not chicken tenders.) Our testers found it comfortable and easy to use even when chopping herbs, but noticeably bulky compared to the Shun and MAC. The Victorinox’s price point also means the blade might not hold an edge as long as a more high-end knife. If you’re just beginning to explore the world of fancy kitchen equipment, consider it a test run: try it for a few months, and if you find yourself using it all the time, think about upgrading to the MAC or the Shun.
Two other options, the Wusthof Classic 8 and the Global G-2 8-Inch Chef's Knife, are also worth a mention. The Wusthof Classic, like the Victorinox, is geared for heavy-duty chopping and cleaving. It’s the heaviest knife that we tested (9.1 ounces, versus the Victorinox’s 6.6 ounces) and was a favorite among testers with large hands, who liked its extra heft. The Global stood out for the opposite reason: It’s extremely lightweight, at only 5.9 ounces, and most suited for vegetable dicing, but some small-handed testers preferred it over our top picks.
How We Found the Best Chef Knife
Why we chose 8-inch kitchen knives, more would be overkill. “Eight inches is great,” chef Ariane Resnick explained. “Twelve or thirteen is enormous! I'd only recommend that if you do a lot of cutting really large food.”
The world of kitchen knives is vast. Popular brands like Wusthof offer several lines apiece, and that’s before you consider whether you want an 8-inch, 9-inch, or 12-inch blade (we decided on 8-inch). And there’s an avalanche of additional options: Do you want a full bolster, half bolster, or no bolster? How about a full tang? A granton edge? We were admittedly overwhelmed.
But in the process, we learned that no single feature makes a knife objectively better. Rather, they’re indicators of how the knife is designed to perform. Take the bolster (the band of metal separating handle from blade): A bolster can help you maintain a safe grip. It also allows you to put a little more oomph into your chop without damaging your knife. But chef Ariane Resnick points out, “Bolsters make knives harder to sharpen, and heavier. So even though they offer some protection [for both your fingers and the knife], they have downsides; it’s just a matter of personal preference.” All you really want is a knife that, to quote Resnick again, “gets you excited about cooking.”
That said, some knives and some brands consistently outperform others, so we knew that “best chef knife” wasn’t entirely subjective. To narrow the playing field, we did some research to identify the brands with the best reputations (which included asking our experts which brands they preferred). Then we contacted these companies to learn which of their knives were also bestsellers.
Over the course of several weeks, this allowed us to cull a starting list of 170 knives down to 11 final contenders. Then we (carefully) carried those knives up to our testing kitchen to see which ones would make the cut.
Our 11 Finalists
Global G-2 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
MAC MTH-80 Professional Series 8-Inch Chef Knife with Dimples
Messermeister Meridian Elite Chef’s Knife
Messermeister Park Plaza Carbon 8″ Chef’s Knife
Miyabi Kaizen Chef’s Knife
Miyabi Morimoto Red Series 600 S 8″ Chef’s Knife
Shun Classic Chef Knife
Victorinox Fibrox 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
Wusthof Classic Chef Knife
Zwilling J.A. Henckels Professional S 8-Inch Chef Knife
Zwilling J.A. Henckels Forged Razor Series 8″ Chef’s Knife
Herbs: Can the knife cut mint leaves without bruising them?
Carrots: Can the knife slice carrots without splintering the slices?
Butternut Squash: Can the knife both slice into, and carefully peel, a butternut squash?
Chicken: Can the knife successfully butterfly a chicken breast
What's the best way to hold your knife?According to Bob Tate, knife sharpener and owner of Seattle Knife Sharpening & Supply, you should hold your kitchen knife in a pinch grip: grip toward the front of the handle, with your thumb and your curled index finger pinching the base of the blade.
Right away, Brownstein identified a problem with our plan: all the knives we’d chosen were going to succeed. “These tests determine whether a knife is sharp,” she explained, and since our knives were quality brands being used straight out of the box, they were pretty much guaranteed to be factory sharp.
Brownstein told us to focus on how the knife felt in our hands as we performed each task. Were we able to grip it comfortably? Was it too light or too heavy? Did the spine rub awkwardly against our index fingers as we chopped? These are the details that can make or break a cook’s relationship with their kitchen knife.
Our testing group comprised a range of ages, body types, and hand sizes — not to mention vastly different levels of cooking experience — so we were surprised to find that yes, there actually was consensus as to which knives felt best.
Our Picks for the Best Chef KnifeMost Popular
The MAC MTH-80 Professional Series 8-Inch Chef Knife with Dimples is the brand’s “most popular knife for everyday use” — and it was the most popular knife in our testing room. It was easy to handle, comfortable for most hand sizes, and allowed us to complete a full range of chopping, slicing, and peeling. One tester reported that the MAC felt “precise” when chiffonading mint leaves, and another noted “very clean cuts” as she halved her butternut squash.
At 7.1 ounces, the MAC is right in the middle of our contenders in terms of weight, but the blade is only 1.88 inches across — which means you never feel like you’re wielding a cleaver (unlike the Messermeister Park Plaza Carbon, which one tester reported “just felt big and heavy”). In fact, the MAC’s satisfying heft was a running theme, which one tester describing the knife as “thin and light, but balanced.”
This balance might have been helped along by the MAC’s half-bolster. Two of the three full-bolstered knives that we tested got dinged for feeling “clunky” or “heavy,” while the the Global G-2 8-Inch Chef’s Knife, which has no bolster at all, felt “almost too light” to some of our testers.
Japanese vs European-style? Japanese-style knives are lighter, with thinner blades; European-style (or German-style) knives are heavier, with wider blades. Neither is necessarily better. It boils down to personal preference and the type of cooking you're likely to do.
“The MAC knife is one of my favorites,” Brownstein told us. “The weight/balance is perfect for me. It’s wide enough to keep your food together and it keeps a great edge.” Tate agrees that the MAC is good for smaller hands and for people who want to make thin cuts. It’s a Japanese-style knife, which means it’s going to be smaller in general than a European-style knife. If you plan on cutting up, say, a lot of chicken bones (or if, like a couple of our testers, you just want more finger protection), you might consider a heavier knife with a full bolster, like the Wusthof Classic Chef Knife, one of our runners-up.
The MAC’s granton edge — aka the “dimples” along the side of its blade — are designed to prevent food from sticking to the knife as you chop. Brownstein noted that while these divots don’t make a huge difference, the best way to keep sticky food off is to rub the blade of the knife with a little plain vegetable oil before cutting things like garlic or potato. But testers did notice that the MAC accumulated fewer bits of carrot and mint than other contenders.
The final selling point? We asked Brownstein which knife she’d like to take home with her, as a thank you for helping us with the tests. She chose the MAC.
The Shun Classic Chef Knife was another testing room favorite. The packaging was so beautiful it caught our eye before we even took it out of the box: the Shun seems designed to elevate dinner prep to an artistic event.
It also made a vivid impression when we started chopping. Testers had no trouble halving a butternut squash, and the knife was maneuverable enough to peel said squash in “nice long strips.” It was also the only knife we tested that made that satisfying “shwing” sound when we sliced. (If you hold a piece of paper in front of you and slice off a corner — carefully, and away from your body — you’ll hear it.)
The Shun, like the Mac, is a lightweight Japanese knife with a half bolster — no chicken bone chopping, please. “I love Shun knives,” Brownstein told us. “They’re beautiful — like a functional art piece — with great balance and good quality steel.” And our testing team agreed. The knife “feels and looks elegant,” one tester told us, and at 7.3 ounces, with a blade that’s 1.8 inches wide, it had a heft and balance similar to the MAC.
But the Shun is clearly designed for people who already know their way around a kitchen. Several novice cooks in our group struggled to maintain a comfortable grip, with one lamenting that “it just doesn’t feel right.” The knife’s spine was also less forgiving, rubbing against index fingers that slid out of a proper pinch grip. That said, the knife got an overwhelmingly favorable response from experienced chefs — and even novices liked it better than the Japanese-style Miyabi knives we tested, which had blades and handles that felt stiff and clunky.
In fact, the Shun’s handle was a standout feature. Rather than being totally round (like some traditional Japanese knives), it’s D-shaped: the curve of the D fits into the curve of your fingers as you grip the knife. But here again, Shun notes that the handle is designed with a professional pinch grip in mind. If you’re not maintaining proper form, your mileage may vary.
Left-handed? A note about Shun's handles.
The curse of the Shun’s ergonomic handle is that it’s designed for right-handed people. The company offered a “reverse grip” for lefties but discontinued the line, stating that many lefties actually prefer the standard handle. This raises a whole new set of questions (why offer ergonomic handles at all if they don’t make a difference?), but we’re begrudgingly inclined to believe Shun: our left-handed tester had no trouble with the knife, despite her general dislike of kitchen equipment for righties. That said, we’d suggest trying it out in person before you buy.
The trade-off for the Shun’s visual elegance is that the knife also requires careful maintenance. The handle, for instance, is made of a wood/plastic composite that’s more delicate than the polymer or Fibrox of picks like the Wusthof and Victorinox. Brownstein noted that too much water exposure would be bad for it; you’ll need to dry both knife and handle thoroughly after use.
The knife is also Damascus-clad: The blade is made of steel, then coated with an outer layer of Damascus steel. The end result is a gorgeous swirled pattern on the blade, but Tate doesn’t like Damascus-clad knives. While Damascus on its own is quite strong, when it’s only an outer layer, the knife edge is more likely to chip. In fact, Shun’s website includes this warning in their FAQ: “Chips can happen due to improper cutting technique. Shun Cutlery is designed to be used in a smooth, slicing motion—and never in a forceful, up-and-down ‘chopping’ manner.”
But if you master the right technique, your Shun can stay sharp for a long time. “My favorite brand of knife is Shun,” Resnick told us. “Their Western-style Japanese knives can go ages without sharpening, even with serious use.”
The Victorinox is an excellent option for people who want to start cooking regularly but aren’t yet ready to invest a lot of money, offering a solid performance for around $45.
It’s a European-style knife, meaning the blade is both wider and slightly thicker than the Japanese-style MAC and Shun. It only weighs 6.6 ounces (lighter than both our top picks), but the blade measures 2 inches across at its widest point. It also didn’t feel quite as maneuverable as the Shun or the MAC. One tester noted that she “didn’t like the large handle for cutting small things,” although it was “great for large things” like squash.
The Victorinox’s handle was its most controversial feature. Made of Fibrox, with a slightly textured pattern, it offers a no-slip grip even if your hands are wet. Our fingers felt undeniably safe. But the handle also felt bulky to some testers, with several people noting the material seemed “cheap” or “flimsy.” One tester even told us, “each time I use it, it’s more comfortable. But it feels cheap, so I have a mental block there.”
Tate agrees that the Victorinox is the best knife for people who are on a budget (although he, like our testers, prefers a wood handle to the Victorinox’s plastic). Brownstein told us that commercial kitchens often order this knife for their line cooks. If you’re looking for low cost but respectable quality, the Victorinox is a good place to start.
We considered one other budget knife during hands-on testing, the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Forged Razor Series 8″ Chef’s Knife, which retails for about $40. It looks more impressive than the Victorinox, with a smooth, contoured handle that testers loved. But we were less impressed once we hit the kitchen. One tester noted that “the Victorinox did a better job chopping and peeling” across all categories. Another reported that the Zwilling required her to “saw” in order to cut her squash in half.
Other Knives to Consider
Both the lightest knife and the heaviest knife in our testing group got high marks from our testers although they weren’t as universally popular as our top picks.
The Wusthof Classic 8, a full-bolstered, European-style knife weighing in at 9.1 ounces, was favored by our large-handed testers: “The edge of the bolster has a nice gentle slope and sits wonderfully in my hand,” one participant noted. Testers praised the knife’s good blade control, even when chopping mint, and reported that they fell easily into a smooth rocking motion as they worked. “The Wusthof is my favorite German knife — a little heavier and a little cheaper than its Japanese counterparts,” Brownstein told us. “Wusthof was the first professional knife I bought 28 years ago, and it’s still in perfect shape.”
On the other end of the scale — literally — is the Global G-2 8-Inch Chef's Knife, weighing a mere 5.9 ounces. “I’ve always liked Global,” Brownstein said, explaining that this lighter knife is good for people who are more likely to prep for a single meal than spend long stints prepping as it can leave a sore spot on your hand after a long day of prep. Because it is all metal it is easy to maintain. Thanks to great quality steel, it also keeps a wicked edge.
Our testers agreed that the Global felt sleek and easy to handle: slicing carrots was like “cutting butter.” But it tended to be most popular with small-handed testers (one of whom flat-out told us, “I want this knife.”) Others found it a little too lightweight and didn’t like its lack of a bolster, which left fingers feeling exposed.
Did You Know?Chef knives are versatile, but you’ll still need a few specialty knives.
As a rule of thumb, if the purpose of the knife is in its name — bread knife, filleting knife, even steak knife or grapefruit knife — it marks a task that will be difficult to accomplish with an all-purpose chef knife.
If you’re still building up your collection, a serrated bread knife to cut loaves of bread, and a paring knife — which has a very short blade — for tasks like paring apples or potatoes are good places to start. Depending on the cuts of meat and fish you use, you may eventually want to invest in a boning knife or a filleting..
Growing up an only child I got into a fair bit of mischief. It was all generally innocent, but my high level of curiosity often annoyed my family a great deal. Just for curiosities sake I tended to second guess everything I was told, especially on the eve of a large holiday when I had to leave baked goods out. Here’s the thing … if you tell a five-year-old that they must give up cookies to Santa on Christmas eve, carrot cake for the Easter Bunny and then a candy bar for the tooth fairy we eventually begin to grow suspicious. Many of my friends were told by THEIR parents to leave a raw carrot out, because carrots were the Easter Bunny’s favorite snack – but not my mom! Many of my friends were also instructed to leave only their freshly pulled tooth beneath their pillow so that the tooth fairy would leave them a quarter. My mom told me to include a candy bar beside my tooth because that sweetens the dollar amount the tooth fairy could be bribed to leave behind. I believed mom only because I woke up to find a five dollar bill the next morning, as well as an empty candy bar wrapper. The economic response each holiday showed that the more I left for said holiday figure, the larger the present, basket or dollar amount I would receive in return.
Because of this each year I left a larger piece of carrot cake for the Easter bunny, until I eventually left him an entire carrot cake with a glass of carrot juice on the side to sweeten the deal. To wake up and see that I was only left a single Easter basket left me feeling both entitled and downright gipped! This occurred when I was the mature age of ten and I thought it best to discuss this with my mother Easter morning. She encouraged me to write a detailed letter of complaint to the Easter bunny so that he could see where I was coming from and why his cake portions would be cut down the following year. I sat down that very morning and in my best hand-writing wrote the Easter bunny my objections, signed sealed and then delivered to my mom who let me know she would make sure he received it. Years later I came to see who had really been lying and snacking on all the desserts I had thoughtfully left out! Though therapy was considered to help me get over such parental hypocrisy, I decided instead to be the bigger person and get past it on my own.
This year I’m in charge of the Easter feast and have decided to cook up some delicious braised rabbit for dinner. I’ll bake up some carrot cake for mom also, but will probably cut her a thin slice this time around as payback. Happy Easter & springtime everyone! Big hugs, Nikki
Braised Rabbit with Spring Vegetables
Cook Time: 1 hr. 20 minutes
· 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
· One 3-pound rabbit—cut into 2 whole legs, 2 front quarters and 1 whole loin all on the bone
· Salt and freshly ground pepper
· 2 tablespoons canola oil
· 1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
· 1 fennel bulb, cut into 1/2-inch dice
· 2 thyme sprigs
· 1 rosemary sprig
· 4 sage leaves
· 1/4 cup dry white wine
· 2 cups rabbit or chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1. In a bowl, blend the Dijon mustard and mustard seeds. Season the rabbit parts with salt and pepper. Spread the mustard all over the rabbit pieces. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil. Add the rabbit pieces and cook over moderate heat until richly browned, about 2 minutes per side; turn the pieces carefully to keep as much mustard crust on the rabbit as possible. Transfer the rabbit to a plate.
3. Add the onion, fennel, thyme, rosemary and sage to the skillet. Cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and cook, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Place the rabbit pieces in the vegetables.
4. Cover the skillet and braise the rabbit in the upper third of the oven for about 50 minutes, until is tender. Uncover and braise for 10 minutes longer, until the rabbit pieces are glazed.
5. Transfer the rabbit to a plate. Discard the herbs. Boil the sauce over high heat until the liquid is reduced by two-thirds, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and return the rabbit pieces to the sauce to heat through.
Coastal View, December 2016 http://www.coastalview.com/
Cookie Decorating Magic
Have you ever seen a Christmas cookie so beautifully decorated that it was just too pretty to eat? Yeah, me neither! But knowing the time and detail that that baker had put into it, I did end up feeling a little guilty. Since I was just invited to my first “cookie exchange” I thought I’d practice a bit to up my holiday game! I sat at my desk and quickly turned my laptop on, “clickity clack” I typed into the search bar Pinterest.com. Behold, the website holy grail of all things crafty and thereby time consuming. Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling … Aha, gingerbread stars with crystallized sugar bling – perfect!
Into the kitchen I marched to locate the ingredients and after my dough was made I rolled it out in between two parchment sheets and placed it in the fridge to chill. A few hours later with star cookie cutters in hand, I cut to my heart’s content and arranged them neatly on a silpat lined baking sheet. My first two trays came out exactly as I hoped, neat edges and looking 100% like the star shape I was going for. This all changed by the time I pulled out my third set of baked cookies, which had oozed into a sort of spiky circle. I finally figured out that this was because my buttery gingerbread dough was no longer chilled upon entering the oven heat. That’s alright though, I’d act like the funky ones were meant to be Christmas tree ornaments and entirely part of my cookie plan. As the hot cookies cooled on a nearby rack, I whipped up some royal icing meant to line, fill and flood to decorated perfection. With the precision of a surgeon, or at least that’s what I told myself, I slowly outlined each of my cookie edges and when set proceeded to flood in the filling. Finally finished and proud of my work I decided to do a taste test to confirm they were as delicious as they looked. Yep, they definitely tasted amazing and suddenly half the tray was gone. Here’s to happy cooking making and eating during the holiday season, big hugs- Chef Nikki
GINGERBREAD Spice Cookies
Cook Time: 18 min.
6 cups All-purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Allspice
1/2 teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/2 teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
3/4 cups Softened Butter
1-1/2 cup Firmly Packed Dark Brown Sugar
1 cup Molasses
2 whole Eggs
1 Tablespoon Maple Extract
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, allspice, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Drizzle in the molasses, mixing well and scraping the sides of the bowl a couple of times to make sure it's evenly combined. Add the eggs and maple extract and mix. Add the flour mixture in three batches, beating until just combined after each addition. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or more if you have time!
When you're ready to bake the cookies, remove the dough from the fridge and preheat the oven to 350 F. When the dough is soft enough to roll but still firm, divide it in half and roll out each half between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Cut out shapes of your choosing and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a baking mat. Bake for 12-15 minutes, depending on the size of cutters used, until the cookies are baked through but still soft. Remove with a spatula and allow to cool completely. Enjoy!!
Coastal View, September 2016 http://www.coastalview.com/
Breakfast for Every Meal
I’d be perfectly happy eating breakfast every meal of the day. Maybe it’s just me, but if a local diner offers all-day breakfast then you’d better believe I’m ordering it and returning as a happy customer. Syrup tends to make things taste better, especially when paired with the most important ingredient of all – Butter!! Late night pancakes, on-the-run a.m. breakfast burritos and a lunchtime omelet always satisfy. Yet it was on a trip to Tennessee that I was able to devour an amazing treat that works well for every meal of the day, the griddle cake. This isn’t your average pancake, no sir, it’s a deliciously crispy corn cake that you can enjoy alongside bacon and syrup just as easy as a gravy covered pot roast.
It turns out that griddle cakes are a permanent fixture in southern cooking, and the best part is that you only require a handful of ingredients to whip up a batch. Just mix up five simple ingredients into a “soup-like” consistency and get your cast iron skillet piping hot before adding some oil to fry. Then when the edges are all crispy and brown you flip your griddle cake over once and about a minute later you’re all set. Unlike a traditional pancake, griddle cakes are gluten free and soak up just about any delicious sauce or syrup you serve alongside it. So give these a try as we head into autumn with a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar on top. Sweet or savory, griddle cakes are where it’s at.