Last Updated Feb 2020 – Nothing will improve your kitchen more than a high-quality chef’s knife. While other tools might help with specialized tasks, a chef’s knife will see use in virtually every dish you make. You’ll chop vegetables, slice meats, shred herbs, and more. When your knives are sharp and comfortable to use, you’ll speed through food prep and get a lot more enjoyment out of the time you spend in the kitchen.
This means it’s pretty important to choose the right knife. Whether you’re looking for just one chef’s knife or a whole block of more specialized blades, you probably want a product from a trusted German knife manufacturer like JA Henckels or Wusthof. Both companies make blade using the right blend of modern and traditional techniques with high-carbon steel.
Why Choose A German Knife?
Broadly speaking, there are two varieties of chef’s knives on the market. The German variety (the kind made by both Wusthof and Henckels) features thicker blades and more “normal” double bevels. Japanese-style knives tend to be thinner, lighter, and often have a much sharper grind.
More traditional Japanese-style knives are often only sharpened on one edge, meaning they can only be used right or left-handed. When it comes to steel, German knives are usually slightly softer (56-58 Rockwell) when compared to Japanese knives (60-61 Rockwell).
So why choose German knives if sharper is better?
The short answer is that it’s not, at least not after a certain point. Japanese knives don’t perform that much better in normal kitchen situations. This is because a sharp German-style chef’s knife is already sharp enough to cut through food like a hot knife through butter.
Japanese knives carry quite a few downsides, too. You have to treat their incredibly thin, delicate edges with a lot of care and respect. While the harder steal means you don’t have to sharpen them as often, it also means the knife is more brittle. Especially if you use your knife around bones, the thicker, softer steel of a German knife gives you a lot more room for errors before you damage your knife.
There isn’t anything wrong with either style, of course, so if you know you prefer Japanse knives from experience, feel free to buy one (both Wusthof and Henckels make Japanese-style knives, too). If you’re not sure, however, or if you don’t have a lot of experience caring for a high-quality chef’s knife, it’s better to err on the side of caution and get a more durable German-style knife instead.
Wusthof Versus Henckels Knives
It turns out that there’s not a huge difference between these top German manufacturers. Both have been making high-quality forged knives for a very long time (Henckels was founded in 1731, Wusthof in 1814). Both make knives in a wide variety of styles with plenty of options for you to choose from. It’s far more important for you to choose a style of knife you like (handle, length, grind, etc) than it is for you to choose the “right” manufacturer.
There are some subtle differences, at least as far as each company’s “standard” knife is concerned. Henckels knives tend to be between 56 and 57 on the Rockwell scale, while Wusthofs tend to be about 58. This means that Wusthof knives will hold an edge slightly better while Henckels knives are slightly easier to sharpen. In practice, you’re unlikely to notice a difference.
It’s worth noting that there are exceptions to this: older Wusthof knives are a bit softer, around 56 on the Rockwell scale, while you can find Henckels knives that are as hard as 60 Rockwell. In other words, choose the knife you want, not the brand you want.
As far as grind goes, both companies again sell knives with a variety of edges. The “default” Henckels grind these days is 15 degrees on each side (on the higher-end Zwilling lines, anyway) and the “default” Wusthof grind is 14 degrees. Both of these are a fair bit sharper than the normal German grind of 40 degrees (20 degrees per side). Again, it’s not very likely that you’ll notice a difference of just 2 degrees in your knives, so don’t worry too much about this distinction.
So if brand doesn’t matter, what knife should you buy? Here’s a review of the top products from each manufacturer for your consideration. We’ve highlighted important differences between each knife or knife set so that you can choose the best product for your kitchen.
JA Henckels Reviews
The best way to ensure you have the right knife for the job is to get a set like this. It’s a bit more expensive than just getting a single chef’s knife, sure, but you don’t pay very much more for a full set of utility knives, a beautiful wooden block, and some fancy steak knives that you can use when you entertain.
One of the big draws of this particular set is that it comes with a hollow-edged Santoku knife in addition to an 8″ German-style chef’s knife. This means you don’t have to choose between Japanese and German style knives. You get both instead. You’ll be able to compare and contrast the blades in your kitchen and learn for yourself which knife you like using for which task.
The knives in this set have a Rockwell hardness of 55, meaning that they’re on the softer end of things. This means they’ll dull relatively quickly, but they’re very easy to sharpen. There’s honing steel included in the set to help maintain the edges. The chef’s knife has an edge angle of 18.5 degrees per side, which isn’t quite as sharp as the ultra-premium Zwilling line, but still sharp enough for everyday kitchen use.
While the steak knives in this set are stamped, everything else is forged from high-carbon steel and features a full tang. This adds a bit of durability and gives the knives great balance.
Overall, this set is one of the best ways of ensuring you have the right knife for the job. You won’t get the same ultra-premium German-made knife you would with the Zwilling line, but you’ll still get plenty of performance for your dollar. Plus, the cherry block will look great on your counter.
Henckels makes knives in two categories: the “normal” ones, which are made wherever is cheapest, and the Zwilling line, which is manufactured in Germany to an exacting standard. This knife is a great example of the high-end Zwilling line.
It’s fully forged from high-carbon 57 Rockwell steel, has a crazy sharp 15-degree grind, and is made using the latest technology to ensure that each knife comes out of the factory with a fine, even edge. Importantly, it’s also dishwasher safe and very forgiving in the kitchen, meaning that it’s still a great choice for newer chefs.
The handle on this particular knife is straight, black, and made of plastic. Henckels makes this knife with a variety of handles, however, so feel free to look around for one that suits your cooking style better.<
If you want a premium chef’s knife that’s still pretty affordable, this Zwilling J Henckels knife is a top choice. It’s got great balance, a very sharp edge, and is very beginner friendly.
Wusthof Knife Reviews
The big difference between this set and the JA Henckels set above is that each knife in this Wusthof set is from the premium Classic line.
It doesn’t have quite as many knives, but each knife is made in Solingen Germany and features a lifetime warranty and features the incredibly sharp PEtec edge angle of just 28 degrees (14 per side). Each knife is fully forged, has a full tang, and is made of high carbon 58 Rockwell steel. The handles are made of synthetic black material and are comfortable and easy to clean.
You don’t get quite as many knives with this set, however. You still get more than enough for kitchen work, with a paring knife, a utility knife, a bread knife, and easy-to-clean scissors. The block itself is made from beautiful Acacia, although multiple options are available. Feel free to choose whichever style suits your kitchen best.
If you’re after a more premium knife set, this Wusthof set beats the Henckels set cold. If you’d prefer more knives, however, you’ll want to choose the more inclusive set above.
This high-end chef’s knife is nearly identical to the one you’ll find in the set above. It’s got a 28-degree grind, it’s got a Rockwell hardness rating of 58, and it features very similar branding on the blade itself. The biggest difference is that the handle has a noticeable curve. For many chefs, this design is a bit more ergonomic than a traditional straight handle.
One other difference between this and the Zwilling Henckels above is that this knife is available in both 9 and 10-inch varieties. If you’ve got bigger hands or you’d prefer a larger knife, you’ll definitely want to choose one of the larger variations of this knife.
If you think that the ergonomic handle on this knife might be more comfortable than a regular straight handle, this Wusthof Ikon is a great choice. It’s got everything you need in a premium chef’s knife, including great balance, a sharp edge, and high-quality steel. Plus, the lifetime warranty will give you plenty of peace of mind.
Wusthof Vs Henckels: The Choice Is Yours
Overall, it’s much more important to find a knife you like instead of a knife brand you like. Both Wusthof and Henckels make very similar knives, especially when you compare their high-end lines.
By choosing a knife (or knife set) that suits your cooking style, you’ll ensure you have lots of fun making your favorite recipes in the kitchen.