Best European Knives for Kitchen Preparation – What To Look For And What To Buy
So what are the best knives for kitchen preparation?
There are a many kitchen knives available and all are designed to serve a unique purpose. Boning and paring knives for example are used to achieve different outcomes, as are steak and bread knives. But beyond the shape and style of their intended use, most knives fall into two distinct categories. Asian (Japanese) knives and European knives.
In this section we’re going to talk specifically about European kitchen knifes. To find out more about Japanese knives then visit our Asian Knives page where we tell you everything you need to know.
When we talk about European knives we really mean German knives. Although there are other countries like France (makers of Sabatier) and Switzerland (makers of Victorinox), most would agree that the best European knives are crafted by the Germans.
Like the Japanese, Germany has had a long tradition of knife making. German chef’s knives are known for being heavier, thicker and more robust in nature, making them some of the best knifes for kitchen preparation. The use of softer steel combined with the perfect weight makes them the ideal tool for preparing various types of meat and fibrous vegetables.
While Japanese knives are mainly hand-forged, German blades are typically machine-forged. This means that they represent both quality craftsmanship and good value for money.
Therefore when you buy a European (German) kitchen knife, you are in effect getting the best of both worlds. Moreover, machine-forging gives the blade a slightly curved finish. As a result, German knives are ideal for those ‘rocking‘ cuts typically made when slicing, dicing vegetables and chiffonading herbs.
On this page we’re going to discuss the best European knife brands as well as what you should look for in a quality kitchen knife before you buy. So without further ado, let’s dive in.
Best German Knife Brands
Even if you don’t know much about knives, you may have heard of;
- Zwilling J.A Henckels and
- Gustav Emil Ern
All these brands are based in the knife-making capital of Germany, Solingen – and collectively, ‘Blade City‘ – as it is affectionately known – produces some of the best chef’s knives in the world. Let’s take a closer look at each in turn.
Wüsthof is a family-owned company who have been making kitchen knives since 1814. The majority of Wusthof knives are precision machine-forged from one piece of solid stainless steel. Each completed chef’s knife has over 40 steps in the manufacturing process. The end result is a solid and robust knife with a well-balanced and comfortable grip.
Wüsthof make a variety of knives including:
- Peeling knives
- Paring knives
- Chai Dao
- 20 cm (8″) cooks knives
- Bread Knives
- Fillet knives
- Butchers knives and
- 35 cm (14″) Heavy duty cooks knives
They also sell a variety of full and partial knife sets. The Wüsthof classic knife block set for example is one of the most popular quality knife sets you can buy.
In addition and just to confuse you, Wüsthof also make a variety of Japanese-style knives which are built to be functional and robust but are also designed to mimic the stylish nature of a quality Japanese knife. In other words, if you need a knife for a particular kitchen prep task then Wüsthof undoubtedly make it.
Zwilling J.A Henckels
Often referred to as ‘Zwilling’ the company was originally set up in 1731 by Peter Henckels. 40 years later, his son Johann Abraham Henckels took over the company and added his initials and surname to the brand. Over the past 290 years Zwilling J.A Henckels have built up a reputation based upon tradition, quality and innovation and remain the oldest knife maker in the country.
Known for their detailed craftsmanship, Zwilling (the German word for twin) remain one of the best German Knife brands. Many of the world’s top Chef’s use Zwilling knives because they are known to maintain a sturdy heavy blade with a fine cutting edge. Although quality Zwilling kitchen knives don’t come cheap, there are a range of prices to suit most budgets.
Zwilling J.A Henckels offer a variety of knives to suit every food preparation task including;
- Slicing and filleting knives
- Fruit and vegetable knives
- Bread knives
- Special knives and
- Japanese-style knives
Like their counterparts, knife maker Gustav Emil Ern have been producing quality knives in Solingen for well over a century but unlike their competitors, all Gustav knives are made with synthetic handles. While some people will prefer the feel of real wood in their hands, the advantages are that synthetic handles will last longer, are more robust and ultimately, will retain the hygienic advantages of plastic.
Gustav Emil Ern also use a process called ice-hardening for their blades which makes knives such as the German vegetable knife ideal for slicing and dicing, especially through fibrous root vegetables. Skilfully designed, they offer the perfect combination of weight, balance and strength.
Moreover, because they are typically cheaper than both Zwilling and Wüsthoff kitchen knives, they remain popular among many professional chef’s and home cooks looking for a reliable chef’s knife at an affordable price.
Gustav Emil Ern have a range of popular chef’s knives on offer including:
- 8″ (20 cm) cooks knife
- 10″ 25.5 cm large cooks knife
- 6 ” (15 cm) filleting knife
- 6″ (15 cm) boning knife
- 10″, 12″ and 14″ (25, 30, 35 cm) serrated slicers
European (German) Knife Buying Guide – What To Look For
When it’s time to cook, it’s good to know that the right quality chef’s knives make food preparation tasks easier. So whether you are looking to upgrade your existing knives, or you’re seeking out that great ‘go to’ knife that will get the job done, then here’s what you should be looking out for.
Weight and rigidity
The only way to choose the best chef knife for you is to pick it up and place it in your hand. There is some debate on how heavy or light a knife should feel. Ideally however, a quality German kitchen knife needs to feel robust enough to be able to handle most tasks, but light enough not to cause your hand to ache after several minutes of use.
In addition, unless you are choosing a filleting knife, a quality kitchen knife should also feel rigid – e.g. not bend when you flex the blade.
A quality kitchen knife should almost feel like an extension of your arm so getting the handle right is key. A good knife should inspire confidence not instil fear so hold it as you normally would and see how it feels. Remember, there is no ‘best grip’ solution as every handle is different, so choose one that feels comfortable. Ensure factors like rivets don’t catch or handle indents are in the right place. Get this part right and you’re halfway there.
I wish I could go into some technical detail about what makes the perfect balance for a quality chef’s knife but unfortunately it doesn’t exist. Instead the perfect balance is often in the eye of the beholder. In other words, what’s perfect for someone might not be ideal for someone else.
The simple solution is to take hold of the knife (by the handle of course 🙂 and see how it feels. It may feel uncomfortably weighted towards the handle, or towards the blade. If this is the case, then that particular chef’s knife probably isn’t for you. Alternatively, if it feels right and doesn’t appear to want to teeter towards one side or the other, then you could say that the knife has the ideal balance for you.
If you had to buy one single all-round knife that can carry out many tasks, then the 20 cm (8″) cooks knife is the one to get. It’s large enough to slice and dice meat and vegetables, yet small enough to carry out finer accurate chopping. In other words, it’s among the best knives for kitchen preparation.
On the other hand, if you are looking a kitchen knife to carry out a particular task that you do frequently, then choosing the right knife will make the job easier. I’ve already written a page on this very subject where I go into more detail, so feel free to check it out.
The bottom line is that if you get those four elements of weight, grip, balance and size right, then you should have a quality German chef’s knife that you can happily use for many years to come.
What About Cost – What Should I expect To Pay for a Quality German kitchen knife?
The good news is that if you stick to one of the above brands then you won’t go far wrong.
Typically, Gustav Emil Ern kitchen knives are cheaper than their competitors and although they do a great job, they perhaps don’t look as stylish as Wüsthof or Zwilling chef’s knives.
What is important however is that most German Knives like Wüsthof share the same highly-quality manufacturing process across their model range. It is only then that they are customised and detailed to distinguish themselves from each other.
So what does this mean for you?
Simply put… if you do want to splurge a couple of hundred dollars, euros or pounds on the best looking knife, then be aware that any extra money you are paying for is going into the design and style of the knife. Therefore, it won’t necessarily be enhancing the cutting, chopping or dicing ability.
In other words, as long as you buy from a quality brand, a cheaper model could still be among the best knives for kitchen preparation. It should still slice, dice, hold it’s edge; and last as long as a more expensive version of the same brand.
So there you have it, everything you need to know about German knives and the best knives for kitchen preparation.
If you need any more advice, feel free to check out the rest of our site or subscribe to our blog. Here you can find a wealth of hints and tips to help you to find the best European (German) Chef’s knife for your needs.