Picking the best Chinese chef knife is not as straight forward as it may seem and here's why...
Food is serious business in China. It’s not just amazingly delicious but their cuisine is straight-up art, and a massive and integral part of their culture.
So it makes sense that their utensils and knives are among some of the best in the world.
Their knives in particular are a thing of beauty, and none are so reflective of hallowed traditions and culture, so utterly versatile and sought after than the Caidao, or Chinese chef knife as it’s sometimes referred to.
Of course, many nations have their analogous rendition of the Caidao.
The French have one, and the Japanese have the Santoku, but these knife shapes have already found their way into western knife sets; the Caidao remains a rather elusive and special utensil.
But if you’ve been craving that rectangular cleaver-esque blade for creating some authentic Chinese culinary masterpieces, or if you just feel it’d be a handy tool to have in your kitchen, you’re in luck.
We’ve reviewed five of the best you can buy and composed a handy buyer’s guide and FAQ section to help find the knife for you.
Need something stat?
Here’s our top pick for a speedy purchase of the top Chinese chef knife...
OUR TOP PICK
Our number one knife isn’t just made of the highest quality components, but crafted by the book too.
Arriving razor sharp out the box, the flat edge running ⅔ of the blade is fantastic for lightning-fast push-cutting.
It falls through carrots like candy floss. Even cold rutabaga straight from the fridge couldn’t stop the Classic’s silken drop.
The last third of the blade is expertly curved for smooth and precise roll-chopping. You’ll only ever want to use fresh herbs with this Shun blade, for dried herbs are a missed opportunity to really let it fly, and any knife that inspires you to put in more effort and use fresher ingredients is a winner in our book.
Handle-wise, you have a dark-stained, right angle pakkawood construction which feels fantastic in hand, but isn’t really designed for lefties, unfortunately.
Pakkawood is an amalgamation of hardwood veneer and plastic resins. It’s much harder wearing than standard wooden handles, and water-resistant too.
Using a new proprietary blend of high-carbon metals to create their Shun VG-Max ‘super steel’ core, the Classic is then swaddled in 34 layers of stainless steel with gorgeous silken Damascus patterning unique to each blade.
Non-brittle, corrosion-resistant, razor-sharp, perfectly balanced, the Shun Classic arrives at the intersection of traditional authenticity and modern, high-performance metallurgy.
- Ground sharper than most western blades
- Pristine balance
- VG-Max core
- 34 layers of stainless steel (68 coats in total)
- Flat belly and arched nose
- Durable hilt
- Shun offers a free lifetime sharpening service
- Mega pricey
- Not designed for lefties (but some prefer the right angle handle anyway)
Our second Chinese slicer is actually crafted by master German bladesmiths.
What sets Henckels’ knives apart from competition is their proprietary tempering process that doesn’t just involve heating and cooling, but deep freezing too. This Friodur freezing process ensures that the one-piece stamped blade attains a Rockwell rating of 57HRC.
The Twin’s stainless steel alloy is composed of an elegant ratio of chromium, iron, and carbon ensuring durability, a long-lasting edge, and thanks to the special freezing process, flexibility too.
‘Frickin’ laser beams’ are used to sharpen the edge into a V which is then professionally hand-finished.
The classic V shape is great for ambidextrous chopping and uber-straight push-cuts, and if you’re a bit of a speed chopper, you’ll appreciate the featherweight 10oz overall construction.
We can’t fault this Zwilling blade, ergonomically speaking. The polymer handle is beautifully shaped for a comfortable hand-feel, the bolsterless hilt welcomes a stable pinch-grip, and the balance is spot on.
Three stainless steel rivets secure the full tang blade and imbue a classic aestheticism.
This Caidao is sturdy, far cheaper than you’d imagine, and sharp as all hell, but there is one caveat to speak of.
The curved flow of the edge makes it amazing for roll-cuts, but due to the roll reaching from tip to hilt, you don’t get that traditional flat section that makes Chinese chef knives so versatile.
- Single-piece stamped steel blade offers durability and reduces weight
- Laser sharpened, hand-finished edge
- Dishwasher-friendly (but please don’t)
- Classic triple-riveted handle
- Ergonomic handle
- Amazing price
- Friodur tempering process gives blade both strength and flexibility
- Well balanced
- No flat belly
We’re not finished with German steels just yet, but if you were to judge this blade by it’s edge, you wouldn’t guess it was European.
Deviating from the Euro-tradition of sharpening knives to 22°, Wusthof has opted for a 14° grind.
It’s another one-piece construction with X50CrMoV15 alloy steel offering a light feel and excellent blade articulation, and thanks to the triple riveting, it’s sturdy enough to last a lifetime.
The handle is made of polypropylene which is lightweight and hard-wearing. With a gentle rolling shape to fit the natural flow of your grip.
Thankfully, this blade has the correct curving at the tip for slicing all those fresh herbs into microscopic particles, as well as the flat belly for chopping veggies into ribbons.
It comes sharp out the box, but to make the most of it, we recommend giving it a once over. After that, pass-through should feel buttery smooth.
Wusthof aren’t exactly giving these monsters away for a song, so you have to be pretty dedicated to your kitchen craft to fork out for it.
That said, for a top-quality blade forged in the heart of Solingen, the knife capital of Germany, you’d expect to pay a pretty penny.
- Triple-riveted, polypropylene handle
- Fully forged one-piece blade
- Perfectly contoured edge
- Ground to 14°
- X50CrMoV15 steel is 58 HRC
- Produced in Solingen
- Reputable company
- Quite expensive
With a Japanese VG-10 steel core and three swaddlings of stainless steel, you’d be hard pressed to find a stronger blade.
VG-10 Japanese steel is a formidable cocktail of chromium (15%), cobalt (1.5%), molybdenum (1.2%), vanadium (2%), and carbon (1%) amounting in a 62 HRC blade.
Of all the fantastic knives on this list, this one probably has the most comfortable handle to touch. It’s made of a fully sealed, soft TPR rubber cover.
It’s not shaped as well as our second and third pick, but the wide butt separates your pinky from the heel of your palm to prevent strain.
With a symmetrical 16° bevel, this thing really flies through those winter veg, and thanks to the frosted sides, you can say goodbye to all those troublesome clingers.
The edge is delicately contoured to provide you with that front end rock, but the belly never truly flattens out (nearly though).
This blade comes scarily sharp straight out of the box, which is fantastic, and Japanese steel guarantees it’s not dissipating any time soon.
When it does need a bit of TLC, you’ll need a proper whetstone to get that professional-grade edge back.
- V-10 Japanese steel is incredibly hard
- Soft-grip handle with wide butt
- Frosted sides stop food sticking after a each chop
- 16° symmetrical bevel for ambidextrous chopping
- 3 stainless steel coatings
- Sharp straight out the box
- Great price
- You’ll need a whetstone for sharpening
- No true flat belly
Our final fantastic edge comes in the most traditional format of any knife so far, aesthetically speaking.
The short rosewood handle with carved recesses for grip wouldn’t look out of place in a period Chinese production.
Wood handles aren’t exactly the longest living, but it serves as an extra reminder never to throw your good knives in the wood-splitting-edge-destroyer (dishwasher).
What’s more, it’s actually a really comfortable handle, and the grainy finish provides extra grip. Brass compression rivets hold everything together, adding to this blade’s antiquated charm.
The blade is a blend of High carbon and cutlery steel, making it pretty strong overall.
It’s quite a thin blade compared to some of the others which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you should take extra care with it to avoid chipping. This kind of steel holds an edge really well, but it wasn’t primed out the box.
The Dexter-Russel also has the roundest edge, providing a severe rock from tip to heel. It’s a little bit disappointing, but still a great knife for the price.
- Durable high carbon/cutlery steel blade
- Holds edge really well
- Beautiful heritage-style rosewood handle
- Brass compression rivets add to the folky charm
- Great price
- Dual beveled for ambidextrous use
- Not as sharp out the box
- Wooden handle needs to be kept away from moisture
Best Chinese Chef Knife Buying Guide
Needless to say, a top-quality Chinese chef knife can cost an arm and a leg, but before you remortgage your house for a single blade then consider this...
There are Chinese kitchen knifes for most budgets and in this post I've covered what I believe to be the "best" as well as a budget friendly option that's good for the price.
So check out the recommendations at the top of this page to see which suits you best.
Although the Caidao resembles a European cleaver and is oftentimes called a Chinese cleaver, they absolutely are not built for cleaving. If you’re after some intensive, bone splitting instruments, you’re barking up the wrong tree here.
Chinese chef knives are for cutting vegetables, and boneless meat and fish.
Right, Left, or Ambidextrous
There are two aspects of a knife that make it suitable for one hand, the other, or both, and they are the shaping of the handle and the beveling (the angle of the edge). Although many lefties find right-handed handles quite comfortable, an asymmetric edge will definitely hinder precision.
If you’re a left-handed slicer, you should be particularly wary of Japanese made knives as they’re traditionally single-edged utensils for right-handed folk.
Ambidextrous knives are the most common. They’re double-beveled, meaning the edge lies at the base of a V shape. Each side is exactly the same, leading to a fine central point.
Single or Double Beveled
For most everyday tasks, you’ll use an ambidextrous, double-beveled blade, and as the Caidao is a multipurpose tool, they’re typically double beveled.
Single-edged blades do have their purposes though. They are great for filleting and detailed, decorative fruit or vegetable cuts.
Core Vs Coreless
Knives can be built around a core (San-Mai) or have a completely coreless construction. If a Chinese chef knife is described as being ‘one piece’, it means it’s core-less. Coreless knives are much lighter than their heart bearing counterparts, but generally speaking, they’re not as durable or sharp.
Knives with cores are clad with stainless steel. The actual cutting edge is the core, while the cladding starts a little beyond and surrounds the core. Think of those wavy lines on samurai swords. They’re known as cladding lines, and if you look at a San-Mai knife, you’ll notice a similar mark.
Cores and cladding are always made of different substances as they serve different purposes. Cores require high levels of carbon, chromium, tungsten, and cobalt for optimal strength.
Good cladding alloys are made up of softer substances that prevent oxidization, staining, and offer shatter resistant-qualities. They contain metals such as valadium and molybdenum.
A good balance is essential for comfortable use and quality performance. If the blade is too heavy, it’s going to be clumsy in your hand.
If the handle is overweight, chopping becomes a chore. Typically speaking, a good knife should have a center of gravity halfway down the blade.
A Chinese chef knife is famous for its intricately contoured edge, making it a great choice at any number of kitchen tasks. If you want a true Caidao design, look for a blade that has a gently curved tip for roll-cutting leafy greens.
That curve should round delicately into a flat belly section perfect for push-chopping.
Rather less exciting than the blade, but equally as important is the handle. It shouldn’t only be comfortable, but incredibly hard-wearing as well. While wood handles look great, they don’t deal with moisture too well, so it’s best to avoid them.
Pakkawood is a term you might run into. These handles are made from a mix of hardwood and plastic resins. They look like wood, but they’re far more durable and water-resistant.
Polymers such as polypropylene are the most common handle material. Due to its light weight, it’s often used for single-piece Chinese chef knives to maintain balance.
It’s also much cheaper to produce than other materials so if you’re looking for a bargain, there’s nothing wrong with a polymer handle. Polymer handles also tend to be ergonomically shaped which means they’ll remain comfortable as you prepare those big eats.
As you might have guessed, grind angle refers to the angle of the bevel.
It’s measured in degrees running from the central point of the edge to the end of the bevel. If it’s an ambidextrous knife, it measures just one side, and of course, the opposing side will be equal.
The European standard is 22° on both sides, but if you’re looking for something a little more true to tradition, aim for something between 15 and 17°.
Hardness of knives is measured via the Rockwell test, though it can also be used to assess materials other than metal. Simply put, it measures the amount of force a metal can withstand before an indentation is created, and it’s expressed as a number followed by the abbreviation HRC.
The absolute minimum strength requirement for kitchen knives is 52 HRC, but even that’s not ideal; 54 HRC would be a noticeable improvement. Better still, knives with a hardness level between 59 and 64 are of the highest quality, but there’s a catch…
The harder a metal is, the more brittle it is. That’s why San-Mai blades are coated in weaker metals. The softer metals absorb shock and protect the brittle core from shattering. So, if you’re buying a hard blade, treat it with care.
Different steels require different sharpening techniques. For example, if you have a knife made of Japanese steel, you’ll need to use a quality whetstone exclusively.
It’s the only way to grind it into that razor edge you’re looking for in a kitchen knife. Other kinds of steal will prefer diamond plates or even ceramic. Always take into account manufacturer recommendations for blade care.
Caidao or no, you should never throw your chef knives in the dishwasher with the rest of your cutlery. It’s a surefire way to blunt them, wear the handle down, and accelerate oxidization.
They should be treated like a cast iron pan. Wash them with hot water with a soft sponge; never use soap! Don’t soak them or leave them to air dry.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are J.A. Henckels made in China?
Zwilling J.A. Henckels is a German company and almost every single knife they make is produced in Solingen.
Can a Chinese cleaver cut through bone?
If you’re referring to the Caidao (Chinese chef knife), then no. Their edge, designed for use on vegetables, herbs, spices, and boneless meat and fish, is too brittle and thin for cutting bones.
As you’ve seen from our list, there are plenty of awesome Chinese chef knives doing the rounds at the minute, and at various price points too. No matter how proficient you are as a chef, there’s one out there that will suit you to a tee.
If none of the knives on our list really sparked any inspiration, continue your search using our buyer’s guide to keep you on track. You’ll be slicing and dicing in no time!