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Celebrity-endorsed kitchen knives don’t always cut the mustard

Chef chopping herbs

Have you invested in a good chef’s knife? There’s a huge range available, from humble £10 offerings to expensive celebrity-endorsed knives. Yet, a high price or celebrity name doesn’t always guarantee quality.

I’ll cherish the memory of my birthday this year due to the extra special treat I enjoyed – a visit to the two-Michelin star restaurant L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Covent Garden. My seat at the bar overlooked the thronging kitchen, where skilled chefs created our meals as we watched in amazement.

I was struck not just by their skill in preparing gorgeous food, but by the way they used their tools. It was hypnotic to watch them carve wafer thin slices of ham off massive legs hung on hooks, and use special kitchen tweezers to transfer them to the plate.

It didn’t take me long to realise that all the knives they used in the kitchen were made by the manufacturer Global, which we’d just included in our latest test of kitchen knives. It was reassuring to see that a top chef thought as much of those knives as Which? does – especially as we’d just given them a high score for the second time.

Celebrity endorsed isn’t always best

But being associated with a top chef doesn’t always guarantee that a knife will be the best you can buy. We also tested knives with the names of Jamie Oliver and Raymond Blanc emblazoned on the handle – sadly they didn’t match the Global standard.

I always think it’s a shame when an inspiring TV chef has their name associated with a less than inspiring product – I’ve seen it several other times in our testing, with barbecues, steamers and health grills.

One thing that being involved in the Which? test of kitchen knives has taught me is that price is a really bad guide to how good a knife is. Our test awarded Best Buy status to one knife costing £100 and one costing less than £20, so you don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune on a knife to guarantee that it will be great.

Should you splash out?

Although they can be a cut above the rest, it’s hard to know whether it’s worth me splashing out on the really good Global knives when I don’t have the same skills as demonstrated by the hard-working young chefs in the kitchen of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon.

Is owning the best knife money can buy going to bring more confidence to my cooking? Or am I just going to feel guilty when I use them to chop cucumber and cherry tomatoes, rather than create astounding gastronomic delights?

I’m tempted to think it is worth the investment just to have a reliable, sharp and comfortable knife, whatever I’m cutting. But perhaps you’re happier with a more humble knife?

Comments
Guest
Damn Young says:
26 July 2011

I don’t like sharp knives. It is so easy to get a nasty cut. Even the great Jamie Oliver cut his finger with one on one of his USA trips. I once cut my finger with a serated knife, when I worked in Safeway’s fruit & veg years ago, and it took ages to heal. I think I am more likely to ban knives from my house, than to pay through the nose for them.

Guest

take a course on knife handling . what your saying is only based on fear of sharp knives . you are
among the minority .

Guest
Jordan says:
10 January 2016

That makes absolutely no sense. If a knife can cut a vegetable (or whatever else you’re cutting), it can cut your finger.
A dull knife is significantly more likely to slip off the vegetable than a sharp knife. If a knife slips off the vegetable, it’s significantly more likely to cut you than if it just sliced through the vegetable.
A sharp knife is much more likely to simply slice through the vegetable and hit the cutting board underneath, instead of slipping off and cutting you.
Having un-sharpened knives makes your kitchen more dangerous, and it’s simply irresponsible not to sharpen them regularly.

That is, unless you’re placing your fingers directly underneath the blade. If so, in either case, you shouldn’t be in the kitchen until you learn where to put your fingers.

Guest
Louise C says:
26 July 2011

I’ve three Sabatier stainless steel knives in different sizes.
Love the design and weight of these.
But after many years, I still can’t master using the sharpening rod!
I feel they should be professionally sharpened now.
Or do I just buy another type of sharpener?
Any advice would be welcome please.

Guest
Chris, Earby. says:
29 July 2011

Kitchen Devils by Fiskars, Finland, make a sharpener with two small wheels. It is about six inches long and I use it all the time and I have very sharp knives. Not suitable for serated knives. Chris.

Guest
Tony B says:
29 July 2011

I have owned a set of Sabatier knives for fifty four years and these are carbon steel knives.and appart ftom the occasional grind to straighten the cutting edges, they are perfect. The tool used for sharpening the knives is called a steel, not sharpening rod as Louise C stated, and is the best way to sharpen knives, as if it is used correctly does not tear strips of metal off the knife as cheap sharpeners do.

Guest
Spiro says:
6 December 2017

if you have a really high quality blade, you do not have to use those two-wheel sharpener, best way to keep the blade sharp is to sharpen it manualy on a steel rod or a fine whetstone. Afterwards you can shave your face with that knife. I find those wheel sharpeners to be knife destroyers

Guest

There is some advice on sharpening knives in our online guide to kitchen knives.
http://www.which.co.uk/home-and-garden/kitchen/reviews-ns/kitchen-knives/faqs/
Basically it is little and often and in a controlled fashion.
Don’t, whatever you do, try to copy what you see on the telly with people swooshing the sharpening steel left and the knife to the right and alternating the sides of the blade along the steel in a lightening fast action. I know from bitter experience that it is best way to get massive great dents in your blades!

Guest
Adrian McGachie says:
29 July 2011

Good advice – most TV chefs sharpen knives in the most dangerous fashion! My advice is to hold the sharpening steel by the handle with the steel pointing downwards, and away from you. None of this sharpening down the steel, onto your hand malarkey.

So, holding steel in this fashion, hold the knife against the steel with the heel of the knife nearest to the handle, at the top, at angle of about 20°. Now in a controlled fashion, draw the knife down the steel, at the same time pulling the heel of the knife through to the tip. This way you’ll sharpen the whole blade in a couple of strokes. Repeat on both sides of the blade.

Guest
markir says:
20 November 2017

To add to Victoria good advice (a long while later I know) – if you have a Japanese knife (incl a Global), don’t use a sharpening rod on it! It is likely to be made from steel harder than the rod…which will just dull the knife. I’d avoid a ceramic rod too…Japanese knifes are often sharpened at quite acute angles (e.g 15 degrees per side or less) and it is really easy to scratch up your knife trying to hold a rod at that angle (I have done this myself…growl).

I recommend getting 2 wetstones and learning to use them (e.g 1000 and 3000 grit). You will find that you get a much cleaner, smoother and sharper edge (with practise), In addition you can alter the grind angle as you get more experienced. I have Globals ground at 11 degrees – really sharp and a pleasure to use!

Guest
Rob O says:
29 July 2011

Great study, thanks Which?
I have used Wüsthof knives for many years and have been very happy with them. As an avid amateur chef I would take issue with the original poster’s claim that sharp knives are dangerous. It is widely recognised in the trade that blunt knives are more dangerous as they require a higher application of pressure to perform their task. This leads to fatigue, slippage and inevitable injury. Sharp knives and good technique reduce risks of cutting dramatically.

I attended the Rick Stein cookery school in Padstow last year. It was a hugely enjoyable and educational day. They have standardised on Global knives and I was pleased at the handling balance and quality of the blades. I think they just pip Wüsthof to the line. Global also supply a fantastic range of sharpening steels. The best one I tried is coated with diamond and hones a super-sharp blade in seconds. Every now and then knives should be professionally sharpened as well using an oilstone or similar. I use my local cobblers.

Rob

Guest
Damn Young says:
29 July 2011

It does seem that I am completely outnumbered by cooking nuts. I’d just add that I don’t like sharp razors, or power tools either. You might gather I’m not keen on self harming.

Guest

It seems you just need some practice. Keep your fingers tucked in away from the blade Damn Young! 😉

Guest

Interesting that despite the Made in Britain survey only one British knife was reviewed, nearly all of the others are made in China, and the review does not mention this. The Taylors Eye is Sheffield made and is first class, despite the test here it is one of the best knives to sharpen yourself and is far more useful in the kitchen than some of the so called “Chefs knives”. No mention of other first class knives like Samuel Staniforth Smithfield Range, or A.Wright & Son – Forged Range. You will find you butchers use these. I have a large collection of carving knives and the Sabatier style is awkward to use because of the way the blade shapes into the handle. Also there is no mention that Sabatier is an area of France not a manufacture, you need a full name like Véritable SABATIER France. If its just Sabatier its Chinese!I have a large collection of carving knives and the Sabatier style is awkward to use because of the way the blade shapes into the handle. Also there is no mention that Sabatier is an area of France not a manufacture, you need a full name like Véritable SABATIER France. If its just Sabatier its Chinese!
In the first post, a blunt knife is the best way to get cut, sharpen them before use, a couple of runs down the steel keeps them in top form. If you put your fingers in front of the blade they will get cut, and a blunt edge will slide off the food and probably its your fingers that it will find instead!

Guest

Sorry John Lewis are also British made.

Guest

Our selection criteria was based on the manufacturers themselves telling us what was available and going for the ones that have the widest distribution. Choosing only British-made knives would have given a massive distortion to our brand selection.

Guest

Chantry Knife Sharpeners. British made, well made and great reviews.

Guest
IanC says:
29 July 2011

Disappointed at the limited range of quality knives you tested. Eg no Kai Shun, Kasumi or Tojiro Senkou (Heston Blumenthal’s endorsement). Any of those should have been a match for the Global.

Guest

Thanks for the comment. As I said above the brand selection was based on best-selling, widely avaialable knives. It was an everyday item test – compared to the average price of the every day items such as washing up liquid and washing detergents the knives themselves were VERY expensive, which limited how many we could test.

Guest

Victoria Pearson “If the majority of knives on the market are Made in China, why should Which? go out of its way to find knives that are made in the UK?”
Who is saying that?

Guest

Hello philthunder, I’ve spoken to Victoria and she didn’t mean to cause offence and we have edited that sentence out of her original comment. Thanks.

Guest

Non taken.
One point, seems strange though that you can test 230 odd washing machines but a few knives are too dear, where does the cost cut in?—– ” It was an everyday item test – compared to the average price of the every day items such as washing up liquid and washing detergents the knives themselves were VERY expensive, which limited how many we could test”,
Would it not be better to test the knives after they have been sharpened to industry standards. A knife will never keep the factory edge for long, good or bad sharpening practice at the factory will not account for the quality of the steel its been made from. Also carbon steel has poor corrosion properties but takes an edge very well. Carbon steel will discolour but that does not detract from its quality
.

Guest

Hi Philthunder,
I agree it can be confusing to see that we have 200 or so washing machines versus just 20 knives on our website, but I think that this comes down to what people want to read about versus what is nice to read about. It was expensive to test the knives because we had to buy a new one for each major lab test that we did. Five Global knives cost us £510, which I think is actually more than the average washing machine! We buy all of the products that we test – and we have bought the washing machines over a number of years, but the knives all in one go.
What we test to some extent comes down to what people want to read about, and what they expect from Which? Our readers, particularly of the website have a vast amount more interest in washing machines that knives. Can you imagine how upset people would be if we have 230 knives and 20 washing machines on our website!
I suspect from your posts that you have a considerably more specialist interest than the average subscriber in kitchen knives!
The reason for not sharpening them to industry standards is that it would not be very representative of the consumer experience – and that is what we are trying to test!

Guest
Tai Pan says:
30 July 2011

Well, I’m a bloke so of course knives are important!!
I’m also an enthusiastic cook and know that of all the tools in a kitchen, the right knife for the job is perhaps the most important.
I now own some hand made Japanese knives, signed by the craftsmen who forged the blades. They are professionally sharpened once a year then honed on dry newspaper from time to time to maintain a razor sharpness.
You would not go back to ‘ordinary’ knives if you try a really good one.
BTW, when choosing a knife remember that knives need to be sharpened. For technical reasons, a knife that attracts a magnet is easier to sharpen than a non-magnetic knife (though a non-magnetic knife will stay sharpened for longer). So, take a magnet when you choose a knife.

Guest

Victoria, its nice to know the criteria and I agree with you! My skills started with wanting to be able to cut the bread straight as a young lad. That then moved on to getting a thin slice of Sunday roast. Being able to carve anything from a smoked salmon to Christmas turkey, entailed a basic understanding of the tools of the trade. Getting to know a Sheffield cutler and having knives made to my specification got to know where the boundaries lay. Being a keen cook lets you know what works and what to throw away! One knife may work well for some jobs but not others. Favourites do come into it and as you say pointing people to a suitable knife that works and value for money is your task, that you do well.
I think Tai Pan has it the wrong way round, a stainless blade (non magnetic) is softer steel and sharpens easily but gets blunt quicker, carbon steel is harder and so takes more effort to sharpen but holds its edge longer, here frequent use of the steel will keep the sharpness. If it is not used often it will corrode and not look at its best but a quick scrub up with a scouring pad will clean it up but not to shining.
Just to note the Chantry knife sharpener does not remove steel off the blade unlike some cheap sharpeners . The Chantry Classic was designed by Royal Designer for Industry,Robert Welch and unlike his knives is UK made.

Guest
SJS says:
1 August 2011

I tend to think how it feels in the cook’s hand is one of the most important things when buying a knife. This will vary from cook to cook, and is a combination of balance, length, weight, shape, ergonomic design (or lack thereof), and likely more. Sharpness can be adjusted after purchase. For our main chef’s knife, we have a Zwilling knife, which we’re both very happy with, though it’s too long for some things and will be accompanied by the shorter version when money permits.

Celebrity branding means little to me, or if anything makes me avoid a product, until and unless I hear a great deal of support for the item in question. Too many times celebrity-branded goods have a bad reputation for performance.

Guest

I’d like to add one more comment about how we wrote our article on kitchen knives after I’ve been deluged with letters from members and even the British Standards Institute about our comments on washing kitchen knives in the dishwasher.
Unfortunately it seems that people are interpreting what we wrote about washing knives in a dishwasher differently from what I hoped it said. I hoped we’d given the impression that washing kitchen knives in a dishwasher is not a good idea. But I ‘ve had a lot of letters saying ‘what you’ve said about recommending people wash their knives sticking up out of the cuttlery basket is dangerous’. This is not what I thought we had said.
In the article we wrote; ‘Leaving an expensive knife to clang around in the cutlery basket is not the best way to look after it…. If you do prefer to wash your knives in the dishwasher… Lying the knives blade up in a dishwasher knife rack will also help to reduce the risk of them getting chipped…’.
I used the words ‘knife rack’ not ‘cutlery basket’ quite deliberately. I meant the kind of knife rack that you get at the top of the machine, not the basket that you put in the bottom – you can’t lay a knife down in one of those. I hoped that by saying ‘laying’ it was giving the impression that the position was a horizontal one and care was being taken to position the knife out of harm’s way. I was thinking about the top-of-the-dishwasher knife racks/trays, developed by manufacturers some manufacturers to address this problem of knives in cutlery baskets.
This is of course a good example of where a picture of what we meant would have been better than words!
I was under the impression that we clearly say that putting a knife in the dishwasher cutlery basket is not a good idea, clearly indicate that dishwashing knives is not good for them and clearly suggest that it is a matter of personal choice ‘if you do prefer to wash your knives in a dishwasher’, not a Which? recommendation.
However, after receiving so many letters on this subject I would like to make our position really clear – it is not a Which? recommendation to wash your kitchen knives in the cutlery basket with the blade pointing up. It is potentially dangerous; there have been some unfortunate cases where people have fallen on knives pointing upwards out of the cutlery basket in the bottom of the dishwasher and have died.
I’d also like to add that washing kitchen knives in a dishwasher is not very good for them. If you want to keep your knife in top condition, please don’t wash it in a dishwasher.
I hope that clarifies the situation!

Guest

I have a set of Henckel knives that I love. They are used daily as I am an avid home cook. They were purchased as a set in Canada and are the Chinese made ones not the German made ones – there is difference in price. When I had them professionally sharpened I asked if the quality was worse because they were “Made in China” and the guy said “No, these are great knives.” I love the weight and the balance of them, having tried other knives I definitely like a heavier knife. I use a steel to sharpen about once a week and have them professionally sharpened once a year. One item I was disappointed to see was that Which did a dishwasher test – NEVER put good knives in a dishwasher, it dulls and ruins the blades.
Although not in scope of this subject I have to say that the Henckel kitchen scissors are the best I have ever had. They come apart for cleaning and cut through a chicken like a knife through butter – awful pun sorry 🙂

Guest

Sorry I am late into this, but thought I would just add my comments.
Having tried lots of knife sharpeners and sharpening devices I have been really dismayed, as I have spent £100’s on them for sharpening all types and prices of knives. Once a knife was blunt I couldn’t manage to sharpen any of them, so brand, price, endorsement aside,I was getting nowhere.
Until I found this product, the CATRAHONE diamond power knife sharpener, its the best thing I have tried and now all my knives are sharp and its made in Britain too, sorry don’t have the link, but just Google CATRAHONE

Guest

I haven’t seen any mention of victor Knox kitchen knives . they are one of the cheapest , yet
they rate as took as good or better than a knife costing much much more . a $35 victor rated just
as good as $200 knife in cooks country mag . this month and that is the stand knife they use in there tv show . I have made knives myself , I have two vector Knox a chefs and a butcher knife .
there is no reason to pay more than $60 for any knife . and before you run out and buy a diamond steel for touch up’s you better make sure you have a hard stainless chromium blade .
other wise you can rune the edge on a knife with a low rock well hardnes of 55 58 . and if you know how to sharpen a knife stick with a Rockwell hardness of 58 ot there a bouts . 60-62 and higher you won’t be able to sharpen it . if you don’t have the right stones or grinding wheel . I have a toureg with three stones . a 320 all around sharping , a 3000 jappenese water stone and a black course stone
for rebevelling the edge