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Chef's Knives, Innovative

In search of an improved mousetrap, we tested seven knives with innovative designs.

What We Learned

We ask a lot of our chef's knives in the test kitchen. We want one that's versatile enough to handle almost any cutting task, whether it's mincing delicate herbs or cutting through meat and bones. We want a sharp blade that slices easily, without requiring a lot of force. We want a comfortable handle that doesn't hurt our hands or get slippery when wet or greasy.

We've tested 30 knives in recent years, and we know what we like. But manufacturers have recently begun offering new designs that challenge many of our assumptions about the classic chef's knife. We've seen unusual handle angles and blades, ergonomic designs for reducing hand fatigue and improving grip, and a variety of other features that promise better handling and easier cutting. Would any of these prove to be a real improvement?

A good handle should virtually disappear in your grip, making the knife the oft-cited "extension of your hand." The knives in our lineup featured handles shaped like metal triangles or wedges, handles tilted upward, handles covered with spongy plastic or pebbled polypropylene, and handles with ergonomic bumps and bulges. We found that metal handles became slippery when wet or greasy, as did textured polypropylene handles. The slick plastic grip was heavy and uncomfortable, making the knife feel "angular and awkward."

One knife we did like had a handle that rose in a 10-degree angle to keep knuckles clear of the cutting board. This provided leverage for hard cuts, but there were some complaints about the exaggerated rocking motion during mincing. A second innovative handle that really won testers over has a short wooden handle that arcs downward, with a pronounced bump on the belly. The metal bolster is cut away to help fingers grip the blade and mercifully extends over the sharp spine to protect the fingers. The wood did not become slippery, and testers reported that the knife felt natural and maneuverable as they worked. A nice touch: The bottom of the bolster stops 1/2 inch short of the knife's heel, allowing it to pass completely through a sharpening device.

Some blade innovations were also successful. Thin profile knives avoided the impact of wedge-shaped knives. While a wedge-like blade can be useful for jobs like splitting open a heavy squash, it can rip food and make slicing slower and less precise.

Overall, while we found plenty to admire among the top-rated innovative knives in this test, we remain hard-pressed to pay a premium—sometimes as much as $175—for their innovations.