The Tests

  • Do a paper test (slice the knife through a piece of plain copy paper held aloft) to evaluate initial sharpness

  • Slice tomatoes to evaluate initial sharpness

  • Dice onion

  • Dice stalk of celery

  • Dice carrot

  • Slice block of cheddar

  • Mince parsley

  • Have panel of children, ages 8 to 13, chop celery

Standard 8-inch chef’s knives are too big for most kids, so we were pleased when we discovered kid-size versions a few years ago. These knives have handles designed for smaller hands, shorter 2- to 4-inch metal or plastic blades, and built-in safety features such as blunt cutting edges or finger guards. With more on the market and a team of test cooks busy at work on our upcoming series of children’s cookbooks, we wondered if our old favorite from Opinel ($45.00) was still the best. To find out, we tested it alongside five other knives ranging in price from $7.36 to $58.50: four kids’ chef’s knives as well as the 6-inch version of our winning 8-inch chef’s knife. Our lineup included a mix of serrated and straight-edged knives with blades made from either plastic or metal.

We put each of the knives through a series of tests to evaluate their safety and performance. We eliminated two models. A group of children tested the remaining four.

Cutting Down the Lineup

Using this wide blade was like driving a wedge into produce

Before we gave the knives to kids to test, we wanted to make sure they were safe to use. We put them through a round of basic tasks: slicing ripe tomatoes and blocks of cheddar cheese; dicing carrots, celery, and onion; and mincing parsley. Two knives performed so poorly that we eliminated them from the running. Both were serrated and incredibly dull. We had to use a labored sawing motion to hack through food, and even then the knives sometimes failed to pierce the skin of produce and skipped off, landing on the cutting board with a thud. One was also too thick, and the other was much too small. The bulky one, the only all-plastic knife in our lineup, was nearly ¼ inch thick at its spine—about five times thicker than the other knives. We knew from our previous standard chef’s knife testings that the thickness of the spine affects how easily the blade cuts through food. Sure enough, using this wide blade was like driving a wedge into produce; we had to push hard on it, and the blade often drifted off-center. The small model, meanwhile, was more like a pumpkin-carving tool than a true knife. It had a tiny handle and a dinky metal blade that was less than ½ inch tall and only 3½ inches long—1/2 inch shorter than any other model in our lineup. These knives’ dull serrations damaged food; everything we cut looked ragged and bruised, and puddles of juice accumulated on the cutting board. The other knives were sharp and comfortable. With four strong contenders—three straight and one serrated—we recruited a panel of young cooks to test the knives.

Of the six knives we initially tested, two mangled foods with their dull, serrated edges. We had to push hard on them to slice through foods and they felt very imprecise.

What Did the Kids Think?

Our panel of testers included 12 boys and girls aged 8 to 13, with a mix of righties and lefties. Some had cooking experience, and others had never held a knife before. The kids approved of all four knives, but they liked some better than others. The serrated knife, though sharper than the ones we had eliminated, wasn’t always easy to use. Testers said that they felt some resistance and that the cutting motion “wasn’t as smooth” as that of straight-edged blades. A Japanese knife with a round nose and straight edge reminiscent of a santoku knife had a strong showing across all ages, but when it came to picking a favorite, the kids were divided.

Our panel of kid testers deemed all of the knives acceptable, but preferences did emerge based on age and experience of the user.

The 8- and 9-year-olds all preferred our old winner, the Opinel Le Petit Chef Cutlery Set (2 Pieces) ($45.00). It has a comfortable wooden handle with a finger hole to encourage a safe grip. (It also comes with a small, shield-shaped plastic finger guard that kids can use on the hand holding the food.) The 4-inch blade was sharp enough to be effective, with a rounded nose that prevented accidental nicks. The 12- and 13-year-olds rated the Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 6" Chef’s Knife ($20.99) highest; it’s the small version of our winning chef’s knife and has all the same qualities we like in the larger version: Its blade is sharpened to 15 degrees on either side, so it’s nimble and effective, and it’s lightweight. The kids reported that it was “comfy” and “cut the best.” Although the pointed tip necessitates extra caution, our testers said they felt safe, and adults felt comfortable watching them use it. As for the kids in the middle of the pack, the 10- and 11-year-olds, their preference between the Opinel and the Victorinox came down to their hand size and level of experience in the kitchen. We think that either of these knives is an excellent addition to a young cook’s toolkit.

Younger members of the testing panel preferred our previous winner. Older kids, and those with more experience in the kitchen, gave highest marks to the 6-inch version of our winning chef’s knife.

Winning Traits

  • Sharp enough to cut through soft tomatoes, semisoft cheddar cheese, and crisp vegetables

  • Narrow blade so that minimal force is required to push through food

  • Blade is at least 1 inch tall and 4 inches long so it can cut through wide or tall foods

  • Wide, rounded handle that is comfortable for both right- and left-handed children using various grips