Chef's Knives for Kids
When kids help in the kitchen, they need real tools—not toys. Which knives are safe, effective, and comfortable for children?
How We Tested
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 (about $45.00) was still the best. To find out, we tested it alongside five other knives ranging in price from about $8.00 to $60.00: 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.
Cutting Down the Lineup
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 (see “Even For Kids, Sharper Knives Are Safer Knives”). 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—½ 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.
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.
The 8- and 9-year-olds all preferred our old winner, the Opinel Le Petit Chef Cutlery Set (2 Pieces) (about $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 (about $20.00) 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.
We tested six knives: five marketed specifically for children and the 6-inch version of our favorite chef's knife, the Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 8” Chef's Knife. Before giving the knives to kids, we tested the blades' sharpness and evaluated their performance with six different slicing, chopping, and mincing tests. We eliminated two knives that we deemed unsafe and ineffective. Next, 12 children, aged 8 to 13, used the remaining four knives to chop celery. We asked the kids to rank the knives and averaged the scores across all tests, giving extra weight to the kids' opinions. Products appear below in order of preference. We measured the blade length and thickness (at the top of the spine and just above the cutting edge) as well as the handle length. Information on blade material was obtained from manufacturers. Prices were paid online.
Performance: We evaluated the knives on their out-of-the-box sharpness and ability to dice vegetables, mince herbs, and slice cheese and tomatoes. Knives fared best if they had sharp, thin blades that sliced smoothly and didn't require lots of force.
Ease of Use: Users rated the knives on how comfortable they were to hold and use, considering the weight, balance of blade and handle, and handle shape. We preferred knives that were comfortable in a variety of grips and easy to use.