I’ll admit; I used to use any old knife to slice my sourdough bread. And truthfully, I thought the mess I was making was purely down to my terrible slicing skills! I never knew that using the right knife was so important until I found an actual bread knife down the back of my kitchen drawer and tried it out. Wow. What a difference!
A bread knife that is well designed to cut into crusty sourdough bread should have the following properties:
|The Blade||The Handle|
|Thin but |
In this guide, I’ll go through each of the properties in the table above and explain in more detail what you need to be looking for in an effective bread knife, along with some of my top picks that tick all the boxes.
NOTE: I originally did this research for myself, as I wanted to purchase an effective bread knife for my crusty style homemade sourdough bread. I chose this one from Amazon, which is great, but have since purchased this one, which I love. But there are more recommendations below.
Why Use a Specific Type of Knife to Slice Sourdough Bread?
Using the wrong type of knife (or a badly designed one), not only makes it difficult to slice your bread, but it also ruins your crumb (the fluffiness on the inside of your bread).
The challenge with cutting into sourdough bread is that although the crust can be quite thick and hard, the inside can be soft, airy and fluffy, giving a unique challenge to the knife it is cut with. It has to be able to slice through both hard and soft simultaneously without damaging either.
Using a Regular Chef’s Knife for Slicing Sourdough
If you were to use a regular chef’s knife to slice your hard crusted sourdough bread (like I used to!), you’ll find at least some of these issues come up:
- The interior crumb would get squashed and compressed, which would ruin the texture of the bread.
- Slices would be uneven, or worse, won’t even resemble slices!
- The crust would shed a lot of crumbs and there would be more waste.
- There would be unnecessary strain put on your hands and wrists when slicing, and it would take much more effort to slice the bread.
- The knife would wear down and become blunt much quicker than it should.
The Benefits of Using a Properly Designed Bread Knife
A properly designed bread slicing knife will work far more efficiently, and give you slices that actually look like slices, and the integrity of the bread will stay intact. Here are some additional benefits:
- There’ll be less waste overall as there is less shedding.
- It will be easier, faster and more efficient to slice the bread.
- Less skill is required to cut neat slices.
- There’ll be no damage to the texture of the bread.
- The crust will remain intact when slicing, with less tearing and crumb waste.
- There is much less strain on your hands and wrists when slicing.
So you can see, especially if you are making your bread at home, all that time and effort put into making that gorgeous artisan loaf, with an open crumb, great texture, and beautiful crispy crust, can all be undone simply by using the wrong type of knife!
And if you have been using the wrong knife up until now, you can almost safely say that the reason those slices were so messy was because of the knife, NOT YOU!
==>Check out my online course to learn how to make great sourdough bread AND fit it into a busy lifestyle!
What to Look for in a Knife for Sourdough Bread
There are a lot of bread knives out there that don’t slice bread particularly well. Price doesn’t necessarily equal efficiency, so it’s useful to know what to look for before deciding on a purchase.
Let’s take a look at what specifically makes a bread knife great, and how it is designed in this way to make sure that your bread maintains its integrity even after being sliced.
Best Type of Blade for Slicing Sourdough
There are many different aspects of the blade of a knife, that affect how well it slices hard, artisan style crusty bread. Let’s take a look at some of them…
Serrated Knife Edge
A bread knife always has serrations along the cutting edge. Serrations are needed to be able to ‘saw’ through the hard, crispy crust and soft interior without too much friction (friction causes crumbs, shedding, tearing).
It means the bread can be cut into without too much downward pressure, hence protecting the texture of the bread. But not all serrations are the same. There are some that work better for artisan bread than others. Let’s take a look at the different types.
Bread knives normally have one of two types of serrations:
Scalloped serration – This type of serrated knife has rounded serrations, without any actual points on the edge. It tends to be more effective for softer breads like challah, and fruits such as kiwis or tomatoes.
Pointed serration – This type of knife has sharp points spaced evenly out across the edge. The pointed serrations are well suited to slicing sourdough bread.
Why is This Type of Serration Best for Sourdough Bread?
The pointed serration style performs far better for hard crusted sourdough bread than the scalloped serration. And here’s why…
Bread knives use a sawing action, where the sharp points dig into and grip the bread, cutting into it in a horizontal fashion. Meanwhile, the bits between the points help reduce the blade’s friction as it moves through. Less friction makes it easier and more efficient to cut through the bread without shredding or tearing, giving you nice clean slices.
In comparison, a knife with scalloped serrations doesn’t dig in and grab the crust as easily, even though it does cut horizontally. This makes it less suited to crusty bread than the pointed serration style.
In addition to this, having deeper and pointier serrations allows the bread to be gripped easier and have more force applied to the bread with less effort.
BUYER’S TIP: Look for pointier, deeper serrations rather than shallower ones. The more pointed and deeper the serration, the more efficient each serration is at slicing into your bread.
Number of Serrations
It would be easy to assume that having more serrations equals more slicing power, but it’s actually the opposite…
The fewer the serrations, the better the knife performs.
Imagine a floor full of spikes. If there are loads of spikes and they are all tightly packed together, you could probably get away with lying down on that surface without too much damage. But if the spikes were fewer in number with gaps in between, then lying down on it would be very painful!
That’s because the force coming from the spikes is spread out over less surface area, and so it is all concentrated on the fewer spikes, rather than spread out over many. This is the same concept when it comes to serrations on knives. Having fewer serrations creates more force into the slicing action, hence making it a more effective bread knife.
Also, having fewer serrations means there is a wider gap between each serration. Remember, the gaps between serrations provide a way to reduce friction. The wider the gap, the less friction there is, making for more efficient slicing.
BUYER’S TIP: Look for a bread knife with fewer serrations, and wider gaps between the serrations for more effective slicing.
Length of the Blade
Most bread knives will be between 7 and 10 inches long give or take a few. But in the case of a knife for slicing crusty bread; the longer the blade, the better.
The motion used to slice crusty bread is a ‘sawing’ action. Therefore, the longer the blade, the more efficient the slicing will be. In other words, you will get ‘more slice for less work’ because you can use the whole length of the blade before sawing in the opposite direction.
A longer length blade also allows you to slice into larger loaves without ‘running out’ of knife! However, it’s worth mentioning here, that if you only ever cut small bread sizes, then you don’t have to get a 10 inch knife. As long as the knife is wider than the loaf you are cutting into then you’re good to go. It just means your knife will be less versatile.
BUYER’S TIP: The longer the blade, the less effort it will take to slice your bread, and the more versatile the knife will be. A 10 inch blade is a good length to aim for when looking to purchase a good bread knife.
Thickness of the Blade and Bevel
A blade that is thin, with a narrow angled bevel performs better with crusty bread. The bevel is the angled edge of the blade that has been sharpened and angled towards the cutting surface. So in this case, we’re talking from the tip of the serration, to the dip/groove in between the serration.
A knife that is suited to crusty sourdough bread, will have one completely smooth straight side, and the other side will have the sharpened bevel. A bevel with a 16 degree angle or less is a good rule of thumb. And a blade that is a maximum of 2.2 mm thick will be pretty efficient. This set up would give minimal friction when slicing. A thicker blade with a wider angled bevel will feel more blunt when slicing through.
NOTE: Although the blade should be thin, it should also be sturdy and inflexible. Some serrated knives are flexible in nature, and they are useful when cutting into tomatoes, and other soft fruits. But for crusty bread, it is best to go for a knife that doesn’t flex, as this can be annoying if it gives way when you are in the middle of slicing!
Most bread knives are made out of stainless steel these days. This works well, but if you can find one that is made of high carbon stainless steel, then that would be even better. High carbon stainless steel is tougher and more durable than regular stainless steel, and will stay sharper for longer.
BUYER’S TIP: The higher the carbon content in a stainless steel knife, the more durable the blade will be.
Shape of the Blade
If you’ve ever tried to slice crusty bread with the wrong type of knife, you probably would have noticed how thick the bottom crust can be. After slicing all the way through, it’s usually an extra task to cut that last bit of crust at the bottom, which tends to be the hardest and thickest part of the crust.
If possible, look for a bread knife that has a slightly bowed/curved cutting edge. This will allow you to cut through the final part of the crust more easily. It doesn’t have to look completely curved. Only a very slight, hardly noticeable curve can make all the difference. This shape will help to slice through the crust just before your knife actually reaches the bottom of the chopping board.
The knife should also be shaped so that you have enough comfortable hand space when you get to the bottom of the slice. This can either be done through having the blade become wider as it draws toward the handle, or by the handle being placed at a higher position than the blade (known as ‘offset’).
BUYER’S TIP: Buying a knife with a slightly bowed/curved cutting edge will help slice the bottom crust easily.
Best Type of Handle for a Bread Knife
The handle of a bread knife is a very important part of the design. An uncomfortable handle will make the most well designed blade of a knife completely useless. There are 3 main areas to check in a bread knife handle:
- The surface of the handle – Try to make sure the handle is ‘grippy’ and doesn’t have a slippery or smooth surface. A good grip will make for confident slicing.
- The shape of the handle – is the handle comfortable for you to hold? This will vary from person to person. The best shape of a handle will have plenty of ‘affordance’, which means it will be comfortable even when held in different ways.
- The components of the handle – Be weary of fancy looking handles that have screws or other extra parts attached to it. These can eventually become loose and fall apart. The most durable handles will be made from one piece only.
BUYER’S TIP: Find a bread knife with a handle that is non-slip, and has ‘affordance’ i.e. shaped in a way which can be comfortably held in many different ways. The best handles are simple ones.
Checklist for an Effective Sourdough Bread Knife
Here’s a summary of all the aspects discussed above, which would make a ‘best case scenario’ bread knife:
Best Bread Knife for Sourdough Bread
- The BLADE should be:
- Serrated – pointed serrations that are fewer in number, and deeper and pointer in design.
- Durable material – high carbon stainless steel is best.
- Extra long – the longer the better; 10″ is a good length.
- Thin but inflexible – 2.2 mm maximum thickness, with no flexibility.
- Narrow angled bevel – The narrower the angle, the better the performance of the knife. 16 degrees or narrower is a good rule of thumb.
- Bowed cutting edge – A very slightly curved cutting edge will make slicing the bottom of a crusty loaf easy.
- The HANDLE should be:
- Non-slip – a surface that gives good grip and is not completely smooth.
- Ergonomic shape – should be comfortable to hold in a number of positions.
- A single piece – no added pieces that can become loose over time.
Sharpness of the Blade
It obviously goes without saying that a sharp bread knife is better than a blunt one. But it’s worth noting here, that serrated knives tend to stay sharp for a very long time. Especially if it’s made out of good quality high carbon steel.
Unlike regular straight edged knives, serrated blades naturally have less wear and tear (due to reduced friction during use). And so they stay sharp for much, much longer.
In fact, you will probably go years before the knife becomes blunt. And even then, because of the way a serrated bread knife is designed, it will continue to be effective at slicing crusty artisan bread even without being sharpened (albeit not quite as efficient). A blunt bread knife will produce extra crumbs on your chopping board, but it will still do the job quite well; far better than a regular knife would.
Having said that, eventually of course you may want to sharpen your knife. And the serrations on a bread knife will bring on an extra challenge.
Sharpening a Serrated Blade
Because bread knives have a serrated edge, they are unfortunately not as simple and easy to sharpen as their regular straight edged counterpart. Unlike regular knives, they require a different sharpening technique and different knife sharpening tools.
You may want to consider getting your bread knife sent off to get professionally sharpened. Especially considering how rarely it will need sharpening when compared to a regular chef’s knife.
If you did want to sharpen it yourself at home though, it can be done using a tapered sharpening rod like this one (link to Amazon). The rod is used to sharpen in between each point individually. And so, although not too difficult to do, it can be relatively time consuming and tedious. Here’s a useful video of a serrated bread knife being sharpened using this technique:
My Top Sourdough Bread Knife Pick
First of all, the knife I ended up buying after my research, was the Mercer 10″ long serrated bread knife (Amazon link). I chose it because it was within my budget and fit pretty much all of the criteria I’ve mentioned above. i.e.
- 10″ long
- made of high carbon steel
- non-slip handle with a comfortable grip and simple design
- pointed serrations that are not too packed together
- has a slightly bowed cutting edge
- thin blade and narrow bevel angle
I bought this knife guard along with it for extra protection of the blade too.
NOTE: For more information about the products I love and use to bake sourdough bread at home, check out my Baking Tools section!
I’ll be honest, because of the low price point I was expecting to be a little disappointed. But this knife works extremely effectively so I guess my research paid off!
Granted, a more expensive one will have a higher carbon content in the steel, so will stay sharper for longer. But for the price, the Mercer bread knife is definitely worth considering.
If you’re able to spend a little more though, this Challenger Breadware knife trumps the Mercer (I ended up buying this one later on and I love it!). It has everything the Mercer has, but in addition to this, it also has:
- A thinner blade than the Mercer
- Longer blade (12 inches)
- Serrations that are deeper
For this reason, my TOP PICK for a great bread knife for sourdough bread is the Challenger Breadware knife. It’s excellent value for what you get, as it will last a lifetime if looked after correctly.
So if you’re able to spend a little more, the Challenger Breadware knife is the way to go. It’ll also stay sharper for longer due to its extra durable blade, and will be very effective at making light of that artisan crispy crust on your sourdough bread.
If you do buy a more expensive knife, it’s worth getting a sharpening rod to keep your blade in tip top condition (here’s a link to one on Amazon).
QUICK TIP: Buying a decent bread knife goes a long way to getting nice even, clean slices. But if you want each slice to be equal in width every time, you may want to consider buying a bread guide like this one (Amazon link). It’s inexpensive and helps guide your slices to be all of equal width.
What Else Can I Use My Bread Knife For?
Your serrated bread knife can be used for other foods too. In fact, many items that your straight edged chef’s knife is NOT good for, is likely a good candidate for your serrated knife. Anything that is too hard or too soft (or both in the case of sourdough bread!) can be cut more efficiently using a serrated knife than with a chef’s knife. Here’s a list of foods that are better suited to a serrated knife than a chef’s knife:
- Every kind of bread, from crusty to soft
- Soft sponge cakes
- Soft fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes, kiwis, etc.
- Any type of melon with a tough skin, like watermelon, honey melon, etc.
- Winter squashes like pumpkin, butternut squash, etc.
- Carving tender meat slices
The serrations allow slicing through the food without putting pressure on the fruit. This is the same concept that makes it good for crusty bread, and also soft fluffy bread. It helps cut through both very soft and delicate foods, AND hard/crusty foods without squashing them.
Anything that can get squashed, like a tomato or some bread, will work well with a serrated knife. And will equally NOT work well with a regular chef’s knife. That’s why when you try to slice a tomato with a straight edged knife, it always gets squashed, even if the knife is sharp.
Alternatives to a Bread Knife
Using an ordinary chef’s knife is not recommended for slicing sourdough bread because the chef’s knife will become blunt, and you will make a mess of the slices. But sometimes, a bread knife is not suitable either. Many bakers have reasons why they can’t or won’t slice their own bread, such as:
- arthritic hands/wrists
- simply no desire to slice it by hand!
Thankfully there are alternatives to manually slicing your bread…
Electric Bread Knife
Electric Bread Knives (like this one) are designed to cut into crusty bread without physical effort. The serrations on the blade move forward and backward in a quick motion, relieving the need for you to saw the bread. You simply hold the knife in place and slowly push down as the bread is automatically sliced.
Electric Food Slicer
This awesome gadget slices bread completely effortlessly. You simply pass the bread through the machine and it slices the bread perfectly. And you can adjust how thick or thin you would like the slices to be. Something I aspire to buy one day when I have a kitchen with enough counter top space! Here’s a link to one on Amazon if you’re curious.
Correct Way to Slice Artisan Bread Using a Bread Knife
Once you have purchased a decent bread knife, it’s important to get the most out of it by using it in the correct way. Here are a few tips to give you the best chance of getting those beautiful even slices:
- Tip #1: Hold the knife parallel to the chopping board – do not hold it at an angle, as this will make it much harder to slice into it.
- Tip #3: Make a groove – For particularly tough crusts, it’s best to lightly make a groove in the crust first using the knife. This will help guide the knife in the right direction.
- Tip #3: Use the whole length of the knife – This will help make sure the knife is doing most of the work, not you!
- Tip #4: Saw forward and backward, not down – The knife is most effective if using in a horizontal direction. Be patient! Don’t push down, and let the knife do the work.
BONUS TIP: Use a wooden chopping board. This will protect your bread knife from losing its sharp edge.
Did you know that WHEN you slice your bread makes a difference to how neat your slices come out? Check out my article here to learn more (it also includes more detailed tips on how to slice your bread neatly.