A chef knife can be the most helpful tool you would have in your kitchen. Although the chef knife is extremely popular among professional cooks and even among families there are still a good number of homemakers and households do not have a chef knife in their kitchen. It is much more common for someone to buy one those cheaply made and sold 10 knife sets from a supermarket shelf than to take the plunge with a proper set of chef knives.
Before we consider what to look for in a good chef knife, let's make it clear immediately that such products may result in hefty investments from the off, but they will last you a lifetime and a chef knife can do the tasks in one fifth of the time than ordinary knives, even if you are an amateur cook.
Conventional wisdom suggests that there are three styles of chef knife - French, German and Japanese. All these styles are equally effective and none of them do anything else that the others cannot. You would notice that the German styled chef knife is more curved whereas the French style is straight and quickly curves at the tip. Both work equally well and it would be your personal preference making the choice. The Japanese styled chef knife is also great for cutting, chopping vegetables, fish and poultry meat. It may be a tad slower with beef.
Balance is extremely important when buying a good chef knife. Hold the knife at the strip where the handle meets the blade. You can use your index finger and middle finger together to check the balance. If the knife tilts either way, you are not holding a great professional knife.
There are four materials that are predominantly used - stainless steel, carbon steel, laminates and ceramic. The last two should not be touched because they are not the ideal materials for chef knives. Carbon steel is better in some ways than stainless steel because the edge remains sharp longer and it is easy to maintain. The problem with carbon steel is that it can rust and could get discolored due to stains. Stainless steel is by far the best option and if you manage to get high grade, hot forged stainless steel then it could be sharper than carbon steel.
Never opt for stamped method which involved cutting the blade from a larger sheet of stainless steel or carbon steel. You should opt for hot forged knife which is a single sheet of steel beaten down to form the shape of the knife.
How long you want it to be (6 inches or 14 inches, or the conventional 8 inches), how heavy and how thick would depend on your personal preferences. If all the above checkpoints are met with then this one shouldn't be a concern at all.