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6 Ways to Tell if a Kitchen Knife is Worth the Splurge

February  8, 2016

There are several unspoken rules in the Food52 office: A batch of Chemex coffee is meant to be shared, when pie is served in the team kitchen you have to act quickly if you want a slice, and when Josh Cohen, our Test Kitchen Chef, pulls out a Harry Potter metaphor, whatever he’s talking about is going to be good.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

“You know in Harry Potter,” he told me while preparing food for an event in the office, holding a lightweight Birchwood Miyabi chef’s knife in his hand, “when they go to the wand store and hold a wand, they just know it’s good. High-quality knives are the same: You pick up the knife and feel a synergy with it.

Josh, who cooks everyday in Food52’s test kitchen—for editorial shoots, the food you see in our Shop photos, events, and meetings—spends no fewer than eight hours a day cooking, and that’s just at work. And most of that time is spent with a knife. So when he agreed to spend a week testing out the Miyabi Birchwood Knife Collection before we gave them the go-ahead to be stocked in our Shop, that means that he spent 56 quality hours with the wands—ahem, knives. The result? Josh loved these knifes so much that one lucky set is property of our test kitchen—and others are now available for you and yours.

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Suffice it to say, Josh knows a thing or two about the slice and dice. Here, he shares the 6 key things that make good knives worth the splurge—all of which he found to be exemplified by the Miyabi knives.

1. Sharpness

A sharp knife is the best luxury you can have in your kitchen,” Josh said, “It makes every job easier.” When Josh switched over from his admittedly “sort of dull” knife to the Miyabi chef’s knife, he saw an immediate difference.

The Miyabi knives, manufactured in Japan, undergo a four-step hardening process that ensures they stay super-sharp over time.

Josh saw the differences in the herbs he was cutting. With his dull knife, the herbs had looked mashed and bruised, but the sharp knife resulted in “pristine little slivers of fresh herbs.” He said, “When you use a sharp knife and have proper technique, everything feels easier—and more pleasurable, too.”

Details of our new birchwood-handled knives. Photo by Bobbi Lin

2. Design

A beautiful knife, Josh explained, is a luxury worth investing in since it’s the tool you’ll likely spend the most time with. “When a knife is in your hand, you notice the little details like the patterns on the blade and the way the handle looks,” he said, referring to the Miyabi blade’s textured pattern and birchwood handles.

3. Weight

A lightweight knife is easier to maneuver—not to mention less of a burden on your wrist. The birchwood handle on Miyabi knives make them so lightweight that Josh can glide effortlessly with them between kitchen tasks.

Ivan Orkin, the chef and founder of Ivan Ramen in New York, told us recently that the Miyabi Birchwood 4 1/2-inch utility knife is “so thin and light that I forget it’s in my hand.” But in a good way.

Photo by Alpha Smoot

4. Preciseness

When a knife is hand-honed, as the Miyabi knives are, you can tell, Josh said. During that process, the knife isn’t given a new blade as it is when it’s sharpened, but instead the filaments of the steel are realigned to make it more precise. And, since a honing steel comes with the set, they’ll stay as precise as the day you bought them.

This came in handy last week when Josh purchased a fish filet that had some belly bones still attached. He used the knife to slice the bones off the belly of the fish.

When a knife is properly honed, all you have to do is tap whatever you’re cutting and it’s like it bursts aside at the seams,” he said.

Photo by James Ransom

5. Attention to Detail

In addition to the patterns and beautiful details on the Miyabi knives, Josh said that he loves the attention given to the knife block they came in. Because it includes several slots in addition to ones provided for the four Miyabi knives, a sharpening steel, and scissors that come with it, home cooks can place the knives they already have in the block. A good kit doesn’t shouldn't replace your old knife collection altogether, but add to it.

Left: Miyabi 8-inch chef's knife; Right: Miyabi 7-inch santoku knife Photo by Rocky Luten

6. Length

As for the length of a chef’s knife, Josh said it comes down to personal preference. The Miyabi knives, which are available in an 8-inch chef’s knife and a 7-inch santoku knife (a traditional Japanese knife used for slicing, dicing, and mincing), can be used interchangeably.

“It’s like that Harry Potter thing again,” Josh said, “You choose what just feels better. Or rather, it chooses you.”

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Gias Ahammed
    Gias Ahammed
  • BLZeebub
  • Darren Wong
    Darren Wong
  • Ray
  • Harris
I eat everything.


Gias A. October 31, 2017
Japanese knife is sharpest , toughest and beautiful knife in the world. Miyabi is one of the best kitchens from those. You guyes can find more and different information about japanese knife from
Gias A. April 16, 2018
Yea, I totally agree with you. Shun is my another favourite brand too.
BLZeebub September 12, 2016
I'm thinking you can trust the steel that comes with a given set of knives. More specifically steels should be distinguished the same way as Japanese and Western cutlery. What works for one is probably not best for the other.
Darren W. September 12, 2016
Quite curious. In another Food52 article on how to properly take care of your knives, they caution against using a honing steel on Japanese knives. In this article on different knives, they show the Miyabi knife with a honing steel. So, what should you really do?
BLZeebub September 12, 2016
Ditto on the importance of attaining and maintaining a proper edge on the sharps. As a > than decent woodworker and hack chef, being able to quickly whet an edge makes a world of difference in how your end product turns out. My stone set is a few paces away from the cutting boards and I can get the edge I need in less than a minute and be back in time to turn whatever's in the pan. Practice is the mother of skill.
Ray February 8, 2016
My wife and I have been using Cutco knives for almost 20 years - love the handle-feel, love the weight, the balance, and the lifetime guarantee. We send our knives back for sharpening every 6 months or so - they come back as sharp as new. Cutco also replaces the knives if they can't be sharpened. Ideal for most home cooks.
Harris February 8, 2016
Agreed with Smaug on all counts. I'd add that one of the best upgrades you can do to your kitchen is to learn how to maintain the sharpness of your own blades. If I can get inexpensive $15 knives sharp enough to produce "pristine little slivers of fresh herbs", just about anyone else can as well with a bit of education and practice.
Smaug February 8, 2016
The edge on a knife when you buy it may be an indication, but what's really important is what edge you're going to be able to maintain; you won't really know much until you resharpen. It has seemed to me over the years that the Japanese are more inclined than Western manufacturers to ship tools with a serious edge; most western blades can use some refinement when new. Also important is the geometry of the knife; your cutting motion shouldn't result in your knuckles banging the cutting board; if you rock the knife a lot, you should be comfortable with the curve, etc.