Best Chef Shoes – Expert Advice & Popular Brands Survey
Finding a good pair of kitchen shoes seems like a straightforward task, given the multitude of brands and options chefs and their crews have to choose from.
Birkenstock, Crocs, Dansko, Skechers, Shoes for Crews, just to mention a few, have created dedicated lines catering to professional chefs. Then online stores like Amazon and eBay have made buying kitchen footwear easy as a click, even if you live out in the sticks, where specialty stores are hard to come by.
So why are professional chef Facebook groups flooded with requests for help in finding the best shoes? There are so many chefs seeking advice on buying kitchen footwear, and many of them can share real horror stories about long-term injuries and chronic pain from choosing the wrong pair.
At Chef’s Pencil we thought it is time to cut through the noise and amateur advice and ask the experts – what makes a great shoe for Chefs?
We went to the best – a select group of physicians from some of the best hospitals in the US and asked them to weigh in on the great kitchen footwear debate, and to advise on injury prevention for professional chefs.
Why injury prevention advice? Because prevention should be the number one focus of any professional kitchen shoe – that and all day comfort. More on this later.
But we did not stop there. We also surveyed hundreds of Chefs around the globe and asked them about their favorite kitchen shoes and what makes them special. We believe in customer feedback, and where can we get that if not from you?
Tips on Injury Prevention and Kitchen Shoes from Top Doctors
Chef’s Pencil has interviewed a select group of doctors who specialize in foot and/or back injuries to learn about injury prevention and tips for buying proper kitchen footwear.
We talked to:
- Christopher W. DiGiovanni, MD, Associate Professor and Vice Chairman (Acad Affairs) of Orthopedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Foot and Ankle Service at the famed Massachusetts General Hospital.
- Nirav Pandya, MD, Associate Professor, Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco.
- David Pedowitz, MD, Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University and physician at Rothman Institute
- Miguel Cunha, MD, foot and ankle surgeon, founder of Gotham Footcare.
- Courtney Grimsrud, MD, Orthopaedic Surgeon, UCHealth Foot and Ankle Center Stapleton in Denver, Colorado
How important are proper shoes for preventing foot and/or back injuries?
Buying proper professional shoewear represents money well spent says Christopher DiGiovanni. A number of studies have documented the ill effects of wearing high heeled or pointy shoes on a regular basis that are not specifically form fitting. These patients, most often female, are known to have a higher incidence of bunion deformity, hammertoe problems, or pain on the bottom of the foot (metatarsalgia) which can occur when load transfers abnormally and chronically to the front half of the foot. Over time, these external pressures can take a toll.
Wearing shoes with an elevated back (i.e. two or three inch heels) for a long period of time can also shorten the calf muscle-tendon unit, resulting in Achilles contracture. Over time, this muscle group takes up the daily slack it is given and eventually these patients can end up also suffering from things like Achilles tendonitis, limited upward motion, metatarsalgia, or other gait derangements.
Your health should come first. Don’t let your fashion choices affect your health. Christopher W. DiGiovanni, MD
How serious are these injuries?
Chronic use of ill fitting shoewear, or even prolonged standing and walking on one’s feet can result in repetitive overuse issues such as metatarsalgia, Morton’s neuroma (nerve irritation), stress fracture, or progressive foot deformity. Any of these disorders can be problematic. When people shop for shoewear, therefore, they need to ensure that what they purchase is of appropriate width, length, cushioning, and height, so as to make the shoe or sneaker properly fit the foot rather than the other way around.
Ideally, any of these choices would have a well-cushioned sole and be relatively flat. It is important to note, however, that there are lots of different shoes and sneakers that meet these criteria—yet it’s still remarkable how often people come in to see me with foot complaints while wearing clearly inappropriate shoewear.
Chefs surely spend a lot of time on their feet and should therefore be particularly attentive to shoewear choice—although this environment is by no means unique to chefs. Many other professions also expect such function and performance from their feet on a day in day out basis, and take foot function for granted until there is a problem.
Although over trauma/injury of the foot/ankle can occur for any of these groups, repetitive stress as a result of chronic overload is a far more common way to creating low grade stress to the foot. Moreover, it is not just about shoe wear choice but also about the time spent one’s feet and the kind of floors people work on; Sometimes it is a hard floor and others are more fortunate in that they have matting or rubber mats.
What characteristics should proper kitchen footwear have?
Given the environment chefs must operate in each day, they should also be wearing shoes that are low based, stable, and cover their feet completely. Working near heavy equipment, hot liquids/foods, and constantly pivoting and running around risks things dropping or spilling on one’s foot, so they need shoewear that certainly protects the foot against hot liquids or heavy objects, that is wide and stable to avoid ankle or foot sprains during quick rotation and movement, that is well cushioned enough to tolerate potentially hard flooring, and has anti-skid soles to avoid slipping on wet or oily floors. These shoe or sneaker characteristics will minimize the chance of injury to the feet/ankles.
They should also be wearing shoes made of materials that can be easily cleaned. As surgeons, we also stand a lot on our feet all day and when in the operating room we similarly have to worry about heavy instrumentation landing on our feet, wet floors, liquid spillage, etc, and so similar to the needs of chefs we are best off pursuing specific shoewear choices that are comfortable but also minimize injury risk.
When chefs are looking for shoe wear, they should be focusing on fit, fill, stability, protection, ability to clean, and comfort. There will never be one particular shoe or sneaker for everyone. These goals must thus derive from paying attention to size, shape, sole, and material.
Nirav Pandya, MD
Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco
Dr. Nirav Pandya has earned a medical degree at the University of Chicago and completed a residency in orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and a founding member of the Pediatric Research in Sports Medicine Society.
Read below on Dr. Nirav’s take on kitchen footwear and injury prevention.
Health Risks Associated with Prolonged Standing
There is new research to suggest that standing for prolonged periods of time (greater than 5 hours) places a significant amount of stress on the lumbar spine, hips, knees and ankles. This largely stems from muscle fatigue. When the muscles of the lower extremity are fatigued, they are less likely to be able to support the joints and joint pain develops.
Standing for prolonged periods of time (greater than 5 hours) places a significant amount of stress on the lumbar spine, hips, knees and ankles. Nirav Pandya, MD
Individuals who are standing for prolonged periods of times are more likely to get low back pain (muscular strains), Achilles/calf pain, plantar fascitis, and patellofemoral pain (pain in the front of the knee near the knee cap).
The number one way to treat this (besides not standing for prolonged periods of time) is to ensure that chef’s have strong core muscles, wear supportive shoes, and work on their overall cardiovascular health by working out frequently.
Injury prevention advice: chef’s should have strong core muscles, wear supportive shoes, and work on their overall cardiovascular health by working out frequently. Nirav Pandya, MD
A good pair of shoes should be athletically based – not designed for fashion or casual wear. The shoe should have good support, shock-absorbing cushions, and fit well. The shoes should not be flat, have very high heels, or be extremely tight fitting. In addition, having rubber floor mats can help to reduce the stress on the feet and knees.
Foot and Ankle injuries are more common in the kitchen than one might think. Chefs in particular have unique risks when it comes to these types of injuries.
The most common injuries I see in the professional kitchen are by the chef who is overseeing the day’s operations, and those chefs standing at workstations. The head chef tends to be moving quickly around narrow galleys and squeezing by busy sous chefs throughout the day.
Slips and falls are common in professional kitchens. Ankle sprains and even ankle fractures are seen in this setting. Dr. David Pedowitz
In doing so, slips and falls are common. Ankle sprains and even ankle fractures are seen in this setting, often requiring cast/boot immobilization, periods of non-weight bearing, and even surgery.
A second risk is particularly to the sous chef at the workstations, where I often see sharp objects dropped or hot liquids which spill onto the foot. This can result in lacerations to skin and tendons, which require cleaning and repair, or burning of the sensitive skin on the top of the foot.
Regardless of the type of injury, when injured, a particular challenge for these patients is the use of crutches or a knee scooter to allow them to stay off their injured extremity, as the spaces in kitchens are usually quite tight.
Proper Footwear & Injury Prevention
To mitigate these risks, proper shoe-wear, in both of these injury types, can literally make or “break” the difference between an emergency room visit, and another successful day for a restaurant.
Open-toed shoes should be avoided at all costs. Dr. David Pedowitz
Open-toed shoes should be avoided at all costs. Preferably, shoes should have a solid toe-box, meaning that no mesh exists on top of the toes. This prevents sharp objects or scalding hot fluids from initially penetrating into the foot.
Kitchen shoes should have some stability, and should extend up to and even go above the ankle. Dr. David Pedowitz
Secondly, shoes should have some stability, and should extend up to and even go above the ankle. For this reason, we generally tend to keep away from clogs, a type of shoe that many who work in the kitchen prefer. Yes, clogs are often a comfortable choice for those who are standing for many hours at a time. Due to the open, or low nature of the heel cup and elevated heel, however, they are inherently less stable. For this reason, we recommend a more stable shoe or work boot, combined with a soft standing surface placed at the workstation. This allows us to balance safety with comfort.
For general foot soreness, I recommend a soft, over-the-counter insert combined with a shoe that is appropriately sized. While custom orthotics can be helpful in specific circumstances, they are expensive and are not always needed.
It is important to get your foot measured again later in life so that you have an appropriately fitting shoe. David Pedowitz, MD
Lastly, as foot and ankle surgeons, we often find that the last time patients had their foot measured was as teenagers. Unfortunately, like your waist size, as we age, foot sizes often change and arches can fall. For this reason, it is important to get your foot measured again later in life so that you have an appropriately fitting shoe. Hopefully, following these recommendations means that you can be stable, safe and comfortable in the kitchen.
Dr. Miguel Cunha
Foot and ankle surgeon, founder of Gotham Footcare.
What are some of the key things a Chef should want in their shoe choice?
- APPROPRIATE SIZE: I recommend always buying shoes at the end of the day when your feet are most swollen. If they feel comfortable at the end of the day most likely they will feel comfortable throughout the day. Make sure the toe box is wide to enough to accommodate your toes; make sure there is enough room to slightly wiggle your toes. If you can’t move your toes at all then the shoes are too tight and will eventually become painful.
I recommend always buying shoes at the end of the day when your feet are most swollen. If they feel comfortable at the end of the day most likely they will feel comfortable throughout the day. Dr. Miguel Cunha
- COMFORTABLE FOOTBED: To support the arch with memory foam or EVA (ethyl vinyl acetate) anti-compression insole.
- SHOCK ABSORBANT: An outsole made of rubber will help alleviate the impact of each step far greater than a shoe with a hard sole.
- SUPPORTIVE & DURABLE: It important to pick a shoe that offers as much durability and protection as possible without sacrificing comfort or flexibility. Look for a shoe designed with smooth, solid leather uppers that are not only highly durable but also flexible and comfortable.
- SLIP RESISTANT: Traction slip resistant rubber out-soles to avoid slips and falls which result in ankle sprains and other injuries.
- WATER RESISTANT: Shoes with black leather or polyurethane uppers that are waterproof to keep water, stew, soups or liquids away from your feet.
- BREATHABLE OR ODOR RESISTANT: Working as a chef involves standing and walking for prolonged periods of time which can lead to one’s feet getting hot and sweaty. Having a breathable leather lining will let your feet breath. Some shoes have antimicrobial insoles to help keep sweaty odors under control and keep one’s feet feeling fresh.
- EASY TO CLEAN: Shoes with black leather or polyurethane uppers are not only waterproof but can also be cleaned easily and quickly.
- FABRIC TYPE. Having a breathable leather lining will let your feet breath. Some shoes have antimicrobial insoles to help keep sweaty odors under control and keeping one’s feet feeling fresh.
What are some injuries that Chefs are prone to? Could these be avoided by choosing the right shoes?
- A chef is often on their feet. One of the most common injuries is sore feet. This is usually caused by wearing unsupportive shoes at work. It is important to select shoes that are appropriately sized and comfortable, supportive, shock absorbent, and slip resistant.
It’s important to select a shoe that is wide enough to accommodate your toes; make sure there is enough room to slightly wiggle your toes. Dr. Miguel Cunha
- It’s important to select a shoe that is wide enough to accommodate your toes; make sure there is enough room to slightly wiggle your toes. If you can’t move your toes at all then the shoes are too tight and will eventually become painful. It’s important to pick a shoe that has a comfortably arched footbed to help support the midfoot and prevent excessive pronation.
Walking for prolonged periods of time without adequate arch support allows our feet to collapse affecting our gait and posture, which can lead to a tremendous amount of stress to the feet.
Our feet naturally pronate during the gait cycle, however, when we wear unsupportive shoes we pronate for a longer period of time which then alters the biomechanics and distribution of pressure and weight across the foot. This imbalance increases the progression of underlying foot deformities such as bunions and hammertoes leading to soreness of the feet and painful conditions such as arch/ heel pain, shin splints/ posterior tibial tendonitis, and Achilles tendonitis.
- This imbalance can then translate upward affecting other parts of the body such as our knees and back. Being on your feet for prolonged periods of time while repeatedly carrying plates and trays can lead to painful back aches.
- Ankle sprains and leg injuries are also common in chefs. A slip can easily result in a severe ankle and/or leg sprain, fractures, and other serious injuries. It’s important to wear slip-resistant work shoes to significantly reduce the chance of injury.
What types of shoes should they avoid?
- Avoid shoes that lack all of the qualities in question one.
- You should also avoid clogs because although they may feel comfortable, they lack support and people often trip when wearing them because the rubber often sticks to certain floors. Make sure the shoe doesn’t slip on your heel to avoid blisters.
- Avoid high heels as they increase probability of slipping and injury.
- Avoid running shoes unless they are slip-resistance.
- Avoid sandals because your feet are exposed and prone to injuries, and it violates the health code.
- Also, like flip flops, they often cause plantar-fasciitis.
- Avoid flats as they offer very little to support your feet.
Dr. Courtney Grimsrud
Orthopaedic Surgeon, UCHealth Foot and Ankle Center Stapleton in Denver, Colorado
Chefs and other kitchen staff should always wear comfortable well-fitting shoes, which will help in preventing these injuries.
A good shoe should have a stiff sole that cannot be bent in half.
A good shoe is one that fits well and is not too small or too narrow. It should have a stiff sole that cannot be bent in half. A comfortable shoe has a well-cushioned insole and flexible upper. If the insole is not cushioned or supportive enough, a person may purchase an over-the-counter insert designed for his or her foot type (flatfoot vs. high arch).
The good shoe may also have a slight rocker bottom, which helps a person to roll through his or her step. Stretching is also important. Low back, hamstring and calf stretches are important in keeping pain and soreness at bay.
If foot or back pain becomes difficult to deal with despite good shoes and regular stretching, chefs should be encouraged to seek help from an Orthopaedic surgeon nearby.
Chefs’ Favorite Kitchen Shoes Brands
Next to our doctors’ opinions, we also wanted to find out what Chefs think about kitchen footwear. Therefore we surveyed short of a couple hundred chefs from all over the world and asked them about their favorite shoes. We also asked them what makes their favorite pair so special. Some even shared their not-so-great experiences of mishaps in the kitchen.
Our chefs mentioned no less than 47 different brands of kitchen footwear, and if some agreed on a brand, they opted for different models. So the good news for the culinary industry is that there is a lot to choose from, maybe more than chefs even knew.
The competition is stiff, which always benefits the end-consumer. So let’s take a look at the top 15 favorite shoe brands among professional chefs. Drum roll please…
11. (Tie) Troentorp
Seven brands scored the same number of votes, ranking just outside the top ten. Troentorp is a Swedish brand with a history of more than one century under its belt. Troentorp has shipped more than 15 million shoes since its inception and in 2002 it launched a footwear line dedicated to professional chefs.
The Chef clogs or 4 Star Proffesional has been a popular clog among chefs for years, according to the company.
11 (Tie). Ariat
Best known as premium apparel and footwear brand for equestrian sports, Ariat has a very comprehensive line work & safety footwear line. There are lots of models to choose from, and a great choice for the many chefs who love to wear cowboy boots.
11 (Tie). Red Wing Shoes
Headquartered in Red Wing, Minnesota, Red Wing Shoes has been producing working shoes for 110 years. Red Wing Shoes are best known for producing high quality footwear for the mining, logging and farming industries.
Chefs have started to appreciate Red Wing Shoes as working in professional kitchens can be sometimes be as hard and strenuous as working in the field.
11 (Tie). Bragard
Bragard is a French clothing retailer specializing in chef uniforms and chef wear. The company was started in 1933 and is famous for its luxury line.
11 (Tie). Chefskillshk
Chefs Skill Hong Kong is a highly fashionable brand for chefs and kitchen crews. Its clothing and footwear lines are influenced by Haute couture and street wear and the brand calls itself a work-wear fashion brand. The shoes are very beautiful and trendy indeed, and their prices are also very affordable.
11 (Tie). Blundstone
Blundstone is an Australian footwear brand based in Hobart, Tasmania. The company is over 170 years old and its boots are famous for their iconic, rugged look.
Blundstone has created a line of work & safety boots, which is a great option for chefs. The boots are resistant to heat, electrical hazard, oil, fat or acid, and are slip resistant.
Ah! The infamous clog. Sika clogs slip in a comfy Birchwood insole to keep your feet springing all day. And it’s a family-run Danish firm with a long history, keen to listen to the users when they develop new products. You could give them a call and ask for a custom pair!
But seriously, while these clogs might take a little getting used to, one of our chef’s absolutely swears by them.
A clever piece of branding that – Klogs, for people looking for… clogs. Slip-resistant, durable and easy to clean, the polyurethane shoe is light and easy to wear. Though light isn’t always good; without support for your arches, years of kitchen wear could lead to joint and back problems. But as one chef points out, “you don’t have to break them in”.
Having set up back in 2003, Keen is a new-comer to the business, yet it came in at a healthy 8th. And not only does this American brand give you state-of-the art, bounce-back technology to keep that spring in your step, it comes with a mission to do good and “make a better world”.
Supporting local, grassroots causes, keeping an eye on their environmental impact, and even donating well needed boots to refugees in Greece and Serbia, what’s not to like?
The antithesis of Keen, Skechers is all that is great about corporate America, and is not afraid to say so. While also a new-comer to the scene, Skechers has been quick to build its line-up of work-wear products.
They boast enhanced grip technology to “keep you on your feet”, and water and stain resistance that keeps them easy to clean. But while the memory foam insole will keep you snug, you wouldn’t want to drop a frozen pork shoulder on that cushioned, sporty knit upper.
The Skechers Work collection offers safety features workers expect, including our slip-resistant outsoles that help protect against costly slips and falls in the workplace. But what really differentiates the line are the legendary comfort features that Skechers is known for, Harold Surabian, National Sales Manager for Skechers told Chef’s Pencil.
This includes breathable Skechers Air-Cooled Memory Foam insoles that keep you comfortable during a long shift on your feet, as well as Classic, Wide and Relaxed Fit options so it’s easy to find the perfect fit.
Every pair is extremely durable and easy-to-clean, so you can expect them to last shift after shift.
Skechers Work is available in a wide variety of trend-right styles, making it effortless to find a look you will love and that will keep you safe and comfortable in the kitchen.
You can’t go wrong with a Mozo. Or can you? Being a dedicated chef shoe, the Mozo gets it right for grip, cleanability, and style. Could you ask for more from a shoe designed specifically with the chef in mind? Going by the celebrity chef sponsorship they have cultivated, you’d have to say no.
But for Philip Stanton, once they went mainstream the quality suffered. Still, sitting in 6th place they must be doing something right.
5. Dr. Martens
They might be the iconic symbol of counterculture, the choice of skins, punks, and grunge, but Dr. Martens are first and foremost the boot of the British working class. A marriage between a north of England bootmaker and a German doctor nursing a broken foot, saw the birth of the classic air sole Dr. Marten 1460.
Selling at 2quid a piece, the boot quickly became a favorite of the factory worker, happy to replace the traditional hard leather sole with air cushioning. For Shannon B. Cheevers, they are the “best for being on your feet for hours upon hours.”
Dansko’s distinctive clog design is a firm favorite with chefs – particularly the XP2, with its removable leather footbed and a natural arch technology for extra arch support. But they aren’t for everyone and as one of our chefs says “the first week sucks while they retrain the way you walk”. And just like Keen, this is a company that just loves giving, supporting community projects and committed to sustainability, and so it should, being 100% employee owned.
Our Professional clog is our flagship product. It features a roomy toe box, is easy to slip on and off, has a contoured midsole that is firm and supportive, and an anti-fatigue rocker bottom, which promotes forward foot motion for shock absorption and energy return.
Many culinary professionals select our Dansko XP 2.0, which features the same look as the Professional, and has the added benefit of a removable leather foot bed, providing additional arch support, a slip-resistant rubber outsole suitable for wet, dry, and oily wet surfaces, patent-pending stapled construction, and a variety of leather options, including a new waterproof leather.
Our Professional clogs and our XP 2.0 are APMA accepted (i.e. American Podiatric Medical Association), and, we offer a full line of footwear beyond clogs as well that are known for both comfort and style.
We hear a lot of feedback from people who wear our shoes and clogs that they can spend twelve hours on their feet and feel great at the end of the day.
3. Shoes for Crews
This lot started out making shoes for nurses, so you’re in good company when you slip out in a Shoes for Crews shoe. But slip is one thing you won’t do as safety is their number one focus. These shoes have legendary slip-resistance, and with Tripguard, Spillguard and joint-protecting Hoverlite, you’ll feel as safe as a baby in a blanket.
Nice cost-effective alternative to Birkenstock, according to one of the interviewed Chefs.
They might be colorful and casual but Crocs has a wicked work reputation too. Their Crocs at Work shoes feature Croc Lock anti-slip technology, keeping you upright, plenty of support, for keeping you upright for a long time, and they are so comfortable they even have a certificate to prove it. They are so popular they scored a full 13% of our chef’s votes.
Our Crocs at Work products are designed with food service, hospitality and healthcare workers in mind. They’re light and supportive enough to get you through those long shifts, and the Crocs Lock™ slip-resistant treads, which are both ISO & CE certified, provide traction on even the slipperiest surfaces. Combined with a wide variety of bold colors & graphics, our Crocs at Work products are designed to help you serve your best!” told Chef’s Pencil Molly Wilhelm, Senior Product Line Manager at Crocs.
With a whopping 30% of the votes, Birkenstock are the clear chef’s favorite. It’s the oldest of the bunch too, having started up back in the 1700s, so plenty of experience and knowhow when it comes to producing a comfy work shoe; it’s that cork bedding, of course, moulding to the shape of your feet. But as Oskars Kastolaizin advises “just keep in mind that in the first week your feet will scream”. Worth it? Carol Young thinks so. “I have always worn Birkenstock. My back, legs, and feet are still working and I am 75!” It just goes to show – German cobblers know best. For Shane Whittaker, Birks’ Boston clog is “the comfiest shoe on the market.”
For me the Birkenstocks are my champions… have had to change them twice in the past ten years. Just swap out the inserts and good as new.
Best Kitchen Shoes – Summary
If you don’t have time to read through our extensive research, below is a quick snapshot of the things to look for when shopping for kitchen shoes:
- Shop for kitchen shoes at the end of your shift, when your feet are swollen. If shops are closed at the end of your shift, buy online and try them on at the end of your working day.
- Look for comfort, arch support and safety. Don’t buy kitchen shoes (just) for design.
- Avoid high heels at all cost. High heels substantially increase the likelihood of accidents and can cause serious injuries over the long run.
- Avoid running shoes or any type of regular shoes. Safety should be one of your top priorities. Moreover, in many countries it’s illegal to wear regular shoes in professional kitchens, regardless of how comfortable they are.
- Arch support is super important for preventing foot injuries. Your beloved clogs may be comfortable, but some physicians advise against wearing clogs in professional kitchens.
- Avoid flip-flops and sandals.
Disclaimer. No paid advertisement by any brands mentioned in this article. This article is for informational purpose only.