One of the best ways to figure out if a chef knife is the one for you is to hold it in your chopping hand and ask – How does it feel? And one of the major things that affects how a knife feels in your hand can simply be – its length. So, when shopping for a quality chef knife, you’ll be smart to be familiar with the various lengths available. Tomahawk
There are basically two standard sizes of chef knife – an 8-inch and a 10-inch. (The length refers to the blade only – not including the handle.) The 8-inch length is designed more for consumers and the 10-inch for professionals. (There’s also an 11-incher you can sometimes find, but it’s more unusual.) Most major manufacturers make chef knives in both these sizes, but not in every line or model. The shorter of the two, the 8-incher, is probably the most all-out common. So if you want to go with the herd, just buy an 8-inch blade. Otherwise, ponder it some, and try out both sizes.
Pros and Cons
There’s no doubt an 8-inch blade is easier to maneuver than its longer sister. Because of this, the majority of home cooks feel more comfortable with this size. It’s not as intimidating. Plus, your average knife block doesn’t usually fit a 10-inch blade (much less an 11). So, there’s less chance you’ll need to make special plans to revamp how you store your knives.
Yet for many home cooks, especially those who cook enough to feel like pros, nothing will do but a 10-inch chef’s. They find the heft and size of the blade speeds up their prep work when dealing with large quantities or handling cumbersome foods like pumpkins and squash and bundles of kale. And the width of the blade enables them to effortlessly scoop up whatever they’ve just chopped up and toss it in the soup pot. Also, if they have large hands, a wide blade insures their knuckles don’t get pinched between the handle and cutting board when slicing and dicing.
That’s fine. Choose whatever size you’re most comfortable with. And what will work best for the range of tasks you need it for-from cubing carrots to splitting open a melon.
A Couple of Non-Trad Alternatives
In the last few years, more and more manufacturers have begun offering a 9-inch chef knife. Which is awesome news because it’s a great in-between size – a touch more oomph without going whole hog. Messermeister was one of the first manufacturers to produce this model, but now other major brands, such as Wusthof and Henckels, have followed suit. So, if you desire more knife, but aren’t ready to jump up to a 10-inch, you’ve got an intermediate option.
Meanwhile, coming from Japan, a totally new style of chef knife is gaining immense popularity. It’s called a santoku (pronounced “sahn-TOH-koo”) and sports a different shape than a traditional chefs – broader (or wider) with not as sharp a point. What’s nice about a santoku is you end up getting the width of much larger knife without the length. So you can take advantage of some of the perks of a longer blade without having to suffer the unwieldiness. Santoku’s come in different sizes, but a 7-inch blade tends to be the standard and is comparable to an 8-inch chef’s.
If you’re not sure about what length of chef knife is best for you, I recommend going with a standard consumer-sized 8-inch chef’s. Or if you favor Japanese styling and a shorter blade, then a 7-inch santoku. Leave it up to experience to eventually teach you what you do, or don’t, favor. For that matter, there’s nothing saying you can’t buy a couple of different lengths/types and switch back and forth between them. (That’s what I do!)