November 30

Top 5 Bread Knives for Sourdough – A Restaurants Bread Knife Secret Revealed

Written by: Savannah

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There is a secret amongst chefs and bakers regarding their bread knives.

While a line cook might start their shift by unrolling their case of impressive-looking, and expensive chef’s knives, you’re unlikely to find a bread knife in their collection for one simple reason:

The cheap, serrated knife that the restaurant bought for around $20 dollars, always does a better job than the most expensive bread knife you could find.

A bread knife is simply a long, serrated knife. As a chef, baker, and knife collector, who’s made thousands of loaves of sourdough bread, and sliced quite a few of those by hand, I can say with certainty:

You will not be sorry if you invest your time in finding a good bread knife, and your wallet might actually thank you.

Let’s dive in.

Our #1 Pick:
Best Bread Knife for Sourdough

mercer-knife

This bread knife is not only used in restaurants, but was named the best bread knife by America’s Test Kitchen as well.

As a chef and baker myself, I heartily endorse this knife. It is affordable, lightweight, easy to grip, and has a great blade material. It will cut cleanly through everything from sourdough bread to a juicy tomato.

However, this knife may not be everyone’s first choice.

In this article, I’ll cover the qualities to look for in a good bread knife, and provide four alternative options to the Mercer.

Qualities to Look For in a Bread Knife

knife-cutting-bread

A good bread knife should be able to tackle everything from the crustiest loaf of sourdough to the softest dinner roll.

If you’ve picked the right knife, you will never need another serrated knife for any job in the kitchen again.

When buying a bread knife, particularly one that you want to use for slicing sourdough, there are several features I would recommend you look for:

Blade Material

 Stainless steel or similar, thin blade

Blade Length

 Approx 10 inches

Handle Type

 Non-slip, fits well in your hand

Serration Type

 Pointed scallop

Scallop Quantity

 40 or less



Blade Material:

Stainless steel is a workhorse for everyday use, and is the most common type of knife blade used in professional kitchens. Blades made of stainless steel are thin, which allows for a clean cut of your sourdough. They’re also very easy to clean and care for.

While some blade materials like carbon steel or ceramic will hold an edge (stay sharper) for longer, ceramic snaps easily and carbon steel will rust within minutes.

Both blades are high-maintenance and not ideal unless you’re a collector, or have a lot of time to dedicate to the care of your knife.


Blade Length:

For a sourdough bread knife, you want a long blade. Ten inches is ideal, so that your knife can saw back and forth over a large boule and not get stuck in the middle.

This keeps your cut clean and doesn’t let the bread turn into a pile of crumbs.

The only exception to this is if you have very small hands and find a 10-inch knife hard to manage. You might try an 8 or 9-inch bread knife in this case.


Handle Type:

Above all else, the handle of your knife should fit comfortably in your hand.

Wooden or polypropylene (a rough type of plastic) are my top two choices for bread knife handles.

They’re easy to grip and they don’t slip around during the sawing process.


Serration Type:

There are two types of serrated blades:

  1. The pointed scallop
  2. The rounded scallop

The rounded scallop does alright for soft breads like challah, but you want the pointed scallop to really be able to grab and cut through a crusty loaf of sourdough bread.


Scallop Quantity:

The fewer scallops you have, the more force behind each scallop. This means less scallops are more effective.

Shoot for a blade with no more than 30-40 scallops for best results.


Do You Really Need a Separate Knife For Sourdough?

knife-cutting-bread

The only time you need a separate knife for sourdough, is if you don’t have a good serrated knife in the house already.

If you buy a serrated (bread) knife that is around 10 inches long and has pointed scallops, you should not ever need another bread/serrated knife again for any project.


Alternative Knives that Get The Job Done

While it's possible to cut sourdough bread with just about any kind of knife, it is rarely effective, and often dangerous.

A flat or non-serrated blade is a terrible tool when facing down a crusty loaf of bread. While you can get the bread into pieces with a knife like this, the final product won't be pretty, and the blade is likely to bounce off the tough crust and cut you.

If you don’t have a bread knife on hand and must cut the bread anyway, try to find any blade with a serrated side. A steak knife, a small serrated knife, etc.

Honestly, a large serrated pocket knife would be a better choice than attacking the bread with a chef’s knife. If the blade is shorter than the loaf, make small cuts and keep rotating the loaf until you get through it.

If you just don’t have a serrated blade around, find the sharpest chef’s knife you can find. Run it over the honing wand a few times to bring that edge back. Proceed with caution.


Best Knives for Sourdough Bread

Starting with the best knife, here are five knives to consider when choosing a bread knife.


1) Mercer Culinary Millennia 10" Wide Bread Knife (M23210)

mercer-knife

Why? It’s affordable, effective, easy to use, and cuts cleanly with no issues. The blade is durable and easy to take care of. While this knife might live in the bakers area in a restaurant, it will be stolen daily by the line cooks.

Who It’s For? Anyone who wants to get regular use out of a bread knife and not have to baby the blade afterwards.

Who It’s Not For? A collector or someone who is opposed to owning a cheap knife with a plastic handle.



2) Fujiro Slicer Cutter, Stainless and Wood, 10"

hand-holding-knife

Why? While also affordable, this knife is made in Japan and is more pleasing to the eye than the Mercer. The Japanese have a long history of knife making and their work is often superior to many other knife makers.

Boasting a 10 inch blade with a pretty, wooden handle, this knife still has less than 40 scallops and would be a fantastic tool to have in your kitchen.

Who It’s For? Anyone who wants to get regular use out of a bread knife and not have to baby the blade afterwards.

Who It’s Not For? Someone with small hands, or someone who does not have the space to store a knife this long (Total length is 15 inches).



3) Miyabi Kaizen II Bread Knife, 9.5"

japanese-knife

Why? A stunning knife, also of Japanese make - This knife is an investment, but still comes in under $200. A bargain where some collectors are concerned.

This knife also occasionally goes on sale so you might be able to get a deal on it. With a slightly smaller blade of 9.5 inches, it is a great choice for anyone who wants to show off a beautiful knife, while also being able to put it to hard work in the kitchen.

Who It’s For? Anyone who wants to get regular use out of a bread knife and have a beautiful, collectors piece to display as well. Ideal for smaller hands.

Who It’s Not For? Someone on a budget.



4) Challenger Bread Knife, 12"

bread-knife

Why? A beautiful knife made of damascus steel (similar to stainless steel but prettier). The Challenger knife is more affordable than the Miyabi, while still a gorgeous piece to display.

A 12-inch blade with pointed scallops, this knife was designed for sourdough, but can also be used for fruits and vegetables. This knife can be used just like stainless steel but will still be a fantastic addition for a collector.

Who It’s For? Anyone who wants to get regular use out of a bread knife and have a beautiful, collectors piece to display as well.

Who It’s Not For? Someone on a budget, someone with small hands.



5) Fiddle Bow Bread Knife 15"

bread-knife

Why? While surprisingly affordable, this unique style of bread knife is closer to a saw than a traditional knife. Hand-made, and designed for sourdough bread, this style of knife is very popular amongst sourdough fanatics.

With a 15-inch carbon steel blade, this knife will cut beautifully through any bread, though the blade will need extra care and cannot be left wet. The ergonomics of this knife do most of the work for you.

This knife requires very little pressure when cutting. An extra bonus is that you get to pick the type of wood for the handle and the knife will be custom-made for you.

Who It’s For? Collectors, avid sourdough bakers, people who have trouble pressing down hard due to arm or hand problems.

Who It’s Not For? Someone who wants heavy, every-day use out of their knife and easy cleaning. Someone who does not have space to safely store a knife this large. Not ideal for small projects like slicing a Roma tomato.


Best Electric Knife For Sourdough


When I was slicing 40 loaves of sourdough bread a day for my food truck, I tried an electric knife, seeing as commercial bread slicers are about $3K on the cheap end.

While it was not fast enough and did not produce even enough results to use for that many loaves, if you’re just slicing a loaf once a week for personal use, an electric knife could be just the thing. Especially if you need something that’s easy on the hands and arms.

Initially, we purchased an expensive electric knife with multiple blades that was designed for fishing. I wouldn’t recommend that knife, as the blade points are too grabby and tore the bread.

If I were to purchase an electric knife again for cutting sourdough, the trusted Hamilton Beach would be my first choice.


Hamilton Beach Electric Knife, 10"

hamilton-beach-electric-knife

Why? This knife is affordable and got a lot of rave reviews from customers using it on multiple kinds of food, including crusty bread.

Reportedly easy on the hands and joints, at 2 lbs, this knife weighs less than a lot of electric knives. At 10 inches, its blade is long enough to handle sourdough bread, unlike many of the other highly-rated electric knives on the market.

Who It’s For? Anyone who has trouble using a regular bread knife, or that just wants a knife to do the work for them.

Who It’s Not For? Someone who is opposed to an electric knife, or does not have the space to store one.


How to Properly Cut Sourdough

slices-of-sourdough-bread

This was a question I often got from my sourdough customers. Lots of sourdough breads are very crusty on the outside, and extremely soft in the middle. Which is delicious, but difficult to slice.

Sourdough bread that is 1-2 days old will be much easier to cut than fresh bread, as the crumb will firm up.

However, the method will be the same whether you’re cutting fresh bread, or day-old bread.

To cut sourdough bread, make sure you have a wet cloth or a mat under your cutting board so it doesn't slip around on you.

Grip the loaf firmly with your non-dominant hand, and make a few gentle passes where you want the first slice to be, until the knife bites in.

Then continue back and forth in a sawing motion, exerting light downward pressure until you’ve cut all the way through the loaf.

Take care that your blade doesn’t begin to travel inward or outward as you cut. If your loaf is particularly crusty, you will likely need to exert additional pressure to get through the very bottom bit of crust.


Proper Knife For Scoring Sourdough

Known as a lame (lah-mb), you actually don’t want a serrated knife when scoring your bread dough. What you want is a cheap, sharp, disposable razor blade.

There are many handles to choose from when selecting a lame, but the blade should be small and sharp. You typically get 100 loaves per razor blade before it needs to be replaced.


This is the type of blade best suited for scoring sourdough.

blade

The handle can be anything from a cheap coffee stirrer like the ones used in coffee shops, to an artisan wooden handle. The choice is yours. Some people prefer to simply use the blade by itself, but in this case you’ll want to be cautious of the sharp edges.


Conclusion

While a good bread knife is a must for projects like a crusty sourdough, you don’t need an expensive knife to do the job.

Most professional cooks and bakers will tell you to buy something like the Mercer, rather than spend an arm and a leg on an artisan bread knife.

Avoid using a non-serrated knife for slicing crusty bread whenever possible.

The qualities of a good bread knife include: A long, thin blade, ideally made out of stainless steel or a similar material.

The handle should fit well in your hand and be non-slip. Look for a knife with pointed serrations, rather than rounded, and a knife that has 40 or fewer scallops.

There are some great bread knives out there if you want something fancier than a cheap blade with a plastic handle. And you can rarely go wrong with a Japanese-made knife.

While I don’t generally recommend an electric knife for any job in the kitchen aside from slicing a large roasted bird, the Hamilton Beach electric knife would be my first choice if you need one for slicing bread, or any other job a serrated knife would normally do.

Use a lame for scoring sourdough. Replace the blade every 100 loaves or so, or when it becomes dull.

Happy slicing!

Savannah


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About the author

Savannah grew up in Kansas City, where she learned to cook brisket and ribs from her Mom and Grandmother. She's spent the last 10 years in the restaurant industry where she worked her way up from prep cook to Chef instructor. In 2017, Savannah and her partner sold everything that wouldn't fit in their suburban and traveled the US where she got a job cooking in each city they stayed in. Savannah has trained under more than 50 chefs and done everything from running a food truck to making chocolate. She currently runs her own cottage bakery and teaches cooking classes in Northern Colorado.

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