The chef’s knife is an essential item in a kitchen. In some cases, it’s the only one you need. We all long for one that offers solid performance, ease of use, and endurance.
Yet, picking the best chef’s knife truly is a matter of personal preference. Your aesthetic taste, the size and shape of your hands, your cutting style, and the preferred level of sharpness all affect how a knife feels to you.
Our goal in this article is not to find the perfect knife for everyone, but the most well-rounded knives for specific needs. We studied the knives’ technical features and testaments from hundreds of cooks who have experience with them, and put together a final list.
How to Find the Best Chef’s Knife
The quality and ease of use of a chef’s knife depend on many different factors. At a basic level, you need to pay attention to the size, material, tang, edge shape, and handle.
A chef’s knife blade can be anywhere between 5 and 10.5 inches. The average person operates well with an 8-inch blade— thus the popularity of this length.
If you have smaller, more delicate hands, a shorter blade will be easier to maneuver and less likely to cause wrist fatigue. Note, however, that shorter knives also have narrower blades, which makes them less ideal to scoop diced food off the cutting board.
At the basic level, the material options are ceramic and metal.
Ceramic knives can be sharp and keep their edge for a while; however, when they do become dull, there are few, if any, practical ways to sharpen them. Most end up in the trash, which is wasteful. The blades themselves are also more prone to breaking.
If you plan to use one chef’s knife for years, it’s better to get one made of a steel alloy, as they are sharpenable and more durable.
The most popular alloys are carbon steel and stainless steel.
Carbon steel knives are made of alloys consisting of iron, up to 2.1 percent carbon, and 10.5 percent or less alloy content. They are harder and can maintain their edge for longer than their stainless steel counterparts, but they’re also more prone to rust and snapping under pressure.
The chromium (at least 10.5 percent) and other elements added to steel alloys to fight off rust also make stainless steel knives a bit softer. As such, they lose their edges faster than traditional carbon steel ones.
You may also see high-carbon stainless steel knives that supposedly make the best of both worlds.
We would argue the difference between alloys is not significant in terms of their performance in the kitchen. You won’t notice much disparity between a stainless and carbon steel knife when you’re chopping carrots, chicken, or parsley.
High-carbon steel knives require better care. They must be carefully washed and immediately dried before storage. It’s also a good idea to wipe the metal surface with food-grade mineral oil after drying.
Other than that, most metal chef’s knives will last decades with proper use and basic maintenance, regardless of the alloy.
We always think of metal as being hard, but there are varying degrees of hardness. This is most commonly measured on the Rockwell hardness scale as the HRC figure. A higher number on the scale indicates harder material.
Hardness can be a double-edged sword when it comes to blades. Harder materials retain their sharp edge longer and thus need less sharpening and honing. But they are also more brittle than softer materials. If your knife is too hard, you run the risk of chipping the edge.
Most kitchen knives rate at around 56-58 on the Rockwell scale. Occasionally, you’ll see something harder, and if you’re after a cleaver, you may want something softer. Take special care around bones and frozen foods if you have a hard blade, and keep a honing rod handy if you have a soft one.
The chef’s knife is the most frequently used knife, so it’s a good idea to have one with a full tang (the extension of the blade that runs all the way through the handle). Full-tang knives offer greater balance, stability, and durability.
Knives with partial tangs weigh less, but unless you’re only cutting tofu and soft greens, the imbalance in weight and pressure will break the handle apart in no time.
While concave or chisel edges have their own advantages, we recommend you stick to the traditional V-shaped edge, also called a flat-ground edge. This edge is ambidextrous and works for every cutting task in the kitchen while also being easy to sharpen. Most pull-through sharpeners, which are a common choice among home cooks, are designed to work on a V-edge.
The edge of a typical German knife has an angle of 18 to 22 degrees on each side, allowing it to cut through harder material with minimal damage to the blade. A Japanese knife, meanwhile, is ground to 12 to 15 degrees, offering better precision and cleanness when cutting soft, but tough material.
A natural wood handle looks and feels luxurious, but they’re more prone to wear and tear as well as shrinking due to heat fluctuations. Plain plastic feels cheap and has poor resistance to heat.
Stainless steel can be cold to the touch, but it’s durable and easy to clean. Mixed synthetic materials such as fiberglass-resin laminate, engineered wood/resin composite, or fiberglass-reinforced nylon offer a better balance between aesthetics and durability. These are materials we look for in the handle of a chef’s knife.
Note that not all knife handles are made to be ambidextrous. If you’re left-handed, make sure you get a knife that’s southpaw-friendly.
SUMMARY: For general cooking purposes, we recommend buying a chef’s knife that’s made of stainless or carbon steel, with a hardness level between 54 and 61 HRC, a full tang, and a V-shaped edge. Choose a blade length that’s relative to the size of your hands.
Reviews of Best Chef’s Knives to Buy in 2020
Here are our picks for the best chef’s knives to buy in 2020
- Wusthof Classic— Best to Buy in 2020
- Mercer Culinary Genesis— Best Value Chef’s Knife
- Shun Classic Santoku— Best Japanese Chef’s Knife
- J.A. Henckels Classic— Best Chef’s Knife for Beginners
- Global SAI-M03 Santoku— Best for Small Hands
- ZHEN— Best Chinese Chef’s Knife
- Dalstrong Shogun— Best Damascus Chef’s Knife
- Sabatier Vintage Au Carbone— Best Carbon Steel Chef’s Knife
- Global Classic— Best 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
- Shun Premier— Best 10-Inch Chef’s Knife
Before diving into the review, let’s discuss what to pay attention to when choosing a chef’s knife.
1. Wusthof Classic — Best to Buy in 2020
Wüsthof is one of the top names in cutlery today, and for good reason. Their Classic 8-inch model isn’t flashy— you won’t find any gimmicks here— but it’s focused on simplicity and functionality. And when it comes down to it, that’s what a good chef truly needs.
This knife is forged from high-carbon stainless steel. The increased carbon content helps it retain its edge longer compared to traditional stainless formulas. High-carbon formulas also respond well to whetstones or other sharpeners.
Wüsthof lists the steel hardness at a Rockwell rating of 58 HRC. Hard steel retains an edge for a long time. The downside is that it’s slightly more brittle than softer metals, so there is a risk the edge may get chipped if it is dropped or used for chopping bone.
Unlike most European-style chef’s knives, Wüsthof sharpens theirs at a 14-degree angle. This makes them very sharp, but also more susceptible to damage. It can also be a bit tricky to find the right sharpener.
The company boasts that it sharpens its knives using a computer-guided PEtec process and finishes the final polishing by hand. You’ll notice from photos that the tang of this knife runs all the way to the butt, giving you plenty of leverage.
Additionally, it has a sizable bolster and finger guard. The bulk of the bolster helps balance the knife and also gives you a bit more space for a comfortable handle length.
The Classic chef’s knife sports a polymer handle. The polymer can be formed to match the tang’s contours and is quite comfortable. Plus, it won’t absorb water or meat juices, so it can last a lifetime. It’s fastened to the tang with three rivets, giving it a stable feel. Admittedly, it’s less elegant to look at than wood-grain handles.
Wüsthof knives cost a pretty penny. We highly recommend storing them in a quality knife block so the edge is protected. Dropping your chef’s knife in a drawer with other kitchenware runs the risk of chipping the edge.
Though the model listed in the link above has an 8-inch blade, Wüsthof produces the knife in several different lengths. Look for the one that fits you best.
This knife (like most other Wüsthof offerings) comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
2. Mercer Culinary Genesis— Best Value Chef’s Knife
Not everyone can afford to drop hundreds of dollars on a single knife. This Mercer Culinary chef’s knife is much more affordable but still possesses the features you need.
The blades of the Genesis-series knives are made of German high-carbon stainless steel. It is a good middle ground between corrosion resistance and toughness.
This particular alloy measures 56±1 HRC on the Rockwell scale. That makes it slightly softer than some and thus less likely to chip. The downside is you’ll probably have to sharpen it more often.
Unlike the Wüsthof detailed above, it is manufactured in Taiwan.
The Mercer Culinary Genesis is a forged knife that features a full tang hidden within the grip. Generally, we prefer knife tangs that are visible down the length of the handle so all your leverage is applied directly to the knife’s metal body. But you can’t get everything at a low price point.
Mercer grinds their chef’s knife to a 15-degree angle. Again, that’s rather narrow for this type of blade. Take care of this knife and get the right type of sharpener— it will serve you well if you do.
The bolster of the Genesis chef’s knife helps balance it, but isn’t quite as substantial as we’d like. It doesn’t extend down to the finger guard area.
In a departure from the other knives on this list, Mercer’s grip is made of Santoprene. Santoprene is similar to thermoset rubber; it is relatively pliable but does not absorb moisture. Some users like the grip it gives them even while their hands are wet. Other chefs aren’t fans of the texture. You’ll have to decide for yourself how well you like it.
The Mercer Culinary Genesis line of knives are all NSF-certified. This means the materials and manufacturing techniques used are tested and demonstrated to be safe for culinary purposes.
The link listed with this review is for the 8-inch blade. However, Mercer Culinary does offer other sizes of chef’s knives. A short search should turn up the one that fits your needs.
The Genesis chef’s knife comes with a manufacturer’s limited lifetime warranty.
3. Shun Classic Santoku— Best Japanese Chef’s Knife
Traditional Japanese-style knives (also known as Santoku knives) are a bit different from the others we’ve listed here. You’ll notice the edge has a shallower curve, lending itself to a slightly different slicing motion.
Since Shun is a Japanese company, it should come as no surprise that they make an excellent Santoku.
This Japanese chef’s knife retains the features Shun is known for. It is forged using a proprietary stainless steel formula and has an attractive Damascus-style finish. The edge is ground to a bevel of 16 degrees. The tang runs through the handle to the butt of the knife, and the handle is constructed of pakkawood, which won’t absorb moisture or scents.
One of the features that makes this knife stand out visually from others are the hollow-ground indentations in the metal. These are common on Santoku knives. The changing contour reduces the tendency for meat and fish to stick to the blade.
The Classic line is not quite as expensive as Shun’s Premier knives, but that doesn’t mean it comes cheap. Fortunately, this knife is also covered by Shun’s limited lifetime warranty and free sharpening service. Take good care of this Japanese knife and it will return the favor.
4. J.A. Henckels Classic— Best Chef’s Knife for Beginners
J.A. Henckels International is a well-known cutlery brand, so it should surprise no one that it wound up on our list. This particular chef’s knife sports a 6-inch blade. The smaller size is great for cooks with small hands or those who still need practice.
It also comes in the 8-inch blade version, though.
This line of J.A Henckels cutlery gets the name “Classic,” which is easy to confuse with the Wüsthof knife on this list. It’s even made of German stainless steel (though not, as Wüsthof will point out, Solingen steel). However, you’ll probably note the massive difference in price.
Each full-tang blade is forged from a single billet at the company’s factory in Spain. Unlike the Mercer knife, the full tang is exposed and the bolster is quite substantial. It all works together to give you good leverage exactly where you need it.
The edge of this blade is reported to be 15 degrees, and its hardness falls within the range of 56-58 HRC.
Like the others listed above, this is a no-frills knife. The grips are made of black polymer that’s fitted to the shape of the tang, and are triple-riveted, giving the knife extra stability. The polymer isn’t particularly pretty, but it’s functional and won’t absorb water or food smells.
We were surprised to see the note “dishwasher-safe” on J.A. Henckels’ website. While the materials should be fine in the dishwashing machine, we still don’t recommend it. Silverware and cutlery are rattled around by the water jets. There’s a chance something will jostle against your blade just right and put a chip in the edge. So, it’s always best to wash knives by hand.
Again, it’s a good idea to store this knife in a knife block to protect the edge. Many knife blocks are designed with 8- or 10-inch blades in mind, but there’s nothing to prevent you from placing a shorter one in that space. Barring a block, you may be able to find a sheath for it. The manufacturer does not produce one themselves, though.
J.A. Henckels offers a limited lifetime warranty on their knives.
5. Global SAI-M03 Santoku— Best for Small Hands
Like most reviewers, we’re guilty of focusing mostly on 8-inch knives. But not everyone does well with such a large blade. If you have small hands, you may need a knife with both a smaller grip and a shorter blade. Enter the Global Sai-M03.
This one is notably different from the others on this list. Not only is the blade just 5 inches long, but the tip is a sheep’s foot shape, and the handle is entirely metal. The edge also features a narrow 12.5-degree bevel, with a hardness of 56-58 HRC. Be very careful not to chip this edge!
Since the edge is at such an unusual bevel angle, you’ll probably be stuck either using a whetstone or buying one of Global’s purpose-made sharpeners. Most pull-through sharpeners aren’t the right angle.
Like the Shun Premier, the upper portion of the Global Sai-M03 is hand-hammered and dimpled to reduce stickiness. It’s a good option for slicing vegetables and plain meat, but should not be used on cuts with bones in them.
The single-piece construction gave Global the opportunity to make the handle unique. Its ergonomic shape is a bit different than most knives, which may sit well with some chefs, but not others.
It bears repeating that although this is an entirely stainless-steel knife, it should be hand washed. Placing it in the dishwasher risks chipping the edge.
Global offers a limited lifetime warranty on their Sai line of knives.
6. ZHEN— Best Chinese Chef’s Knife
As John Cleese would say, “And now for something completely different.” This Zhen Chinese chef’s knife deviates from the others on this list.
Chinese chef’s knives look a great deal like cleavers. They are big, rectangular things you might expect to see Tom and Jerry pick up. However, there’s a critical difference between a Chinese chef’s knife and a stereotypical meat cleaver. Appearances aside, the Chinese versions are intended for detailed work.
Zhen is a Japanese company that makes their knives in Taiwan using Japanese steel. In Japan, this style of knife is called chukabocho, but it’s the same basic tool as the Chinese version.
Zhen has constructed their knife out of VC-10 steel heat treated to have a hardness between 60 and 62 HRC. The edge is also ground to a 15-degree angle. The shallow angle and hard metal make the edge easier to chip than most. This knife should never be used in close proximity to bone, or even frozen meat!
What this Chinese chef’s knife is good for is effortless precision cuts. It’s heavier than most chef’s knives— about three-quarters of a pound— and that weight can do some of the work for you. Make use of the ergonomic pakkawood handle and bolster to give you good leverage, and let gravity help you out.
Many wooden knife blocks do not have a slot large enough for this knife. It’s still important to protect the edge during storage, though, so we recommend exploring your options thoroughly.
Zhen offers a limited lifetime warranty on defects.
7. Dalstrong Shogun— Best Damascus Chef’s Knife
German, Japanese, and Chinese chef’s knives are each defined by their unique shapes. The term “Damascus knife,” however, refers to the metal and finish. The word is often used for blades with the swirly/wavy patterns you see on this Dalstrong Shogun Series chef’s knife.
In some cases, the pattern is merely printed on for show, but true high-end Damascus blades get it from the forging process.
Dalstrong is a popular company that uses Japanese steel and forging techniques. These days premium Japanese blades are often made with a Damascus flare to them.
This particular knife clocks in at 62+ on the Rockwell scale. We were also surprised to see them advertise a bevel angle of 8-12 degrees. That’s not far off the angle of a razor blade.
Naturally, with an angle that fine, you need to protect the edge. Dalstrong clearly recognizes this fact because they include a sheath with the knife. So, even if you don’t have a knife block for it, you can keep it safe. When using the knife, keep it away from bones or frozen meat; it’s not worth chipping your high-end blade.
The handle’s fiberglass-composite grips are fitted to a thick, exposed tang. That and the hefty bolster will give you the leverage you need for nearly any cooking task.
Dalstrong offers a money-back guarantee and lifetime warranty on all their knives.
8. Sabatier Vintage Au Carbone— Best Carbon Steel Chef’s Knife
This K. Sabatier 10-inch carbon steel chef’s knife is about as classical as it gets. The company has been producing knives out of the same factory in Thiers, France for over 150 years.
The knife is large and hefty, and features a burly bolster and finger-guard. Its tang runs all the way through the handle, and is hand-fastened in between the POM grips with three brass rivets, ensuring excellent balance and stability. The steel itself is forged and tempered to a rating of between 54 and 56 on the Rockwell scale.
We don’t recommend swinging it like a butcher knife, but this Sabatier will make short work of just about any other cutting task.
We have to reiterate that with a carbon blade, this knife requires more care than others. Don’t let it sit long with water or food particles on the surface.
This is one instance where a wooden knife block is not the best idea. Sometimes moisture finds its way into the knife slots, so an open-air storage option like a wall-mounted magnet would be better. Fortunately, carbon steel is more magnetic than stainless.
9. Global Classic — Best 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
We wanted to round out this list with one more great option. Many of the knives detailed above come in 8-inch varieties, but it may be worth your time to look also at this Global Classic Chef’s Knife.
Like the 5-inch Global knife we mentioned, this one is all stainless steel to include the grip. No need to worry about a bolster and tang— you simply have a single-piece kitchen tool. And as a bonus, it’s a bit cheaper than many other high-end chef’s knives.
The handle of this Global item is dimpled to improve your grip (smooth steel is not the ‘grippiest’ of materials, after all). Each dimple is painted black so the handle looks hollow from a distance. It’s an attractive bit of modern flair that can go great with a contemporary-styled kitchen. Just be sure to wash the dimples carefully— you don’t want food particles hanging out there.
The handle is partially hollowed out, but rather than having holes that go all the way through, it’s filled with sand. This is done to achieve a proper balance.
This 8-inch chef’s knife is ground with a narrow, but slightly convex bevel to give it a little added strength. That’s helpful since the whole blade is relatively narrow.
The Classic is meant to be one of Global’s lightweight designs. That’s great if you’re uneasy using a particularly hefty knife. Nevertheless, we do wish it had a more substantial bolster. The web of your hand is likely to ride up on the knife’s spine sometimes.
This knife is stamped rather than forged like most on this list. It’s great for a stamped design, but it may not live up to its premium forged contemporaries.
Global offers a limited lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects.
10. Shun Premier— Best 10-Inch Chef’s Knife
We’ve looked at affordable options, now we move to the opposite end of the spectrum. Shun creates high-end cutlery, but it doesn’t come cheap. This Shun chef’s knife, called the Premier, definitely has a look to match the name.
The Shun Premier is forged using a proprietary steel alloy and heat-treated to give it a very hard edge. It’s sharpened at a bevel angle of 16 degrees (again, relatively narrow). If you page through their reviews, you’ll find many customers ecstatic about the sharpness, but also some who chipped their blades. Be very careful with the edge of your Shun knife.
The remarkable surface of the knife is achieved by creating a Damascus-style pattern and then hammer-finishing the blade. The rippled surface is meant to reduce food’s tendency to stick to the metal.
As you’d expect from a premium chef’s knife, this one is forged and features a full tang. The tang is encased in a gorgeous pakkawood handle. Pakkawood is a type of resin-infused wood. The resin seals the wood against moisture and scent infiltration, so the handle shouldn’t warp or expand. The D-shaped cross section is a little unusual, but most cooks don’t find it to be a problem.
A side benefit of Shun’s premium pricing is its sharpening service. They will sharpen your knives for free throughout the life of the blade (although you still have to pay shipping). Shun also offers a limited lifetime warranty.
If an 8-inch blade is not your jam, other lengths are available in the same style.
Best Chef’s Knife Brands
Wüsthof is a family-owned knife-maker based in Solingen, Germany, with 200 years of experience forging knives.
Most Wüsthoff knives belong to the higher end of the spectrum, although they also offer affordable stamped options. Among their best-selling knives are the Classic line, which are forged using high carbon stainless steel and have a black plastic handle. These provide excellent cutting experience and durability while staying in a reasonable price range.
Mercer Culinary is an American knife brand. Geared towards both home cooks and professional chefs alike, their blades are certified to meet strict NSF standards for culinary tools.
Mercer Culinary makes both forged and stamped knives, and is a relatively budget-friendly brand. Some of the most beloved Mercer Culinary knives include the MX3, the ZüM, Renaissance, and the Genesis.
Shun is a culinary tool brand from Tokyo, owned and operated by the KAI Group.
The brand offers a wide selection of knives. Apart from Japanese blades, they also make those resembling the western style, but with thinner blades, sharper edges, and lighter weight.
Shun combines old Japanese blacksmithing with modern manufacturing techniques to create knives that maintain their sharpness for a long time. Each of their knives goes through 100 handcrafted steps, which enhances their durability, but also comes with a high price.
Zwilling J.A. Henckels
Zwilling J. A. Henckels is an accredited company based in Solingen, Germany. With almost 300 years of experience, they now run several brands of kitchenware, including Zwilling J. A. Henckels, J. A. Henckels International, and BSF.
The brand has a large collection of knives made in different countries, which include the full spectrum of prices. Their most popular pieces are from the Four-Star line, which features forged knives with full tangs and molded polypropylene handles.
Dalstrong is a newer company compared to its older competitors. Beginning in 2012, they’re shaking up the industry with their modern knives.
Dalstrong knives feature very hard blades (58 to 66+ HRC) with sharp edges (8- to 18-degree angles). They maintain their edge for longer, but are extra sensitive to hard materials.
The knife ranges they offer include the Shogun, Phantom, Gladiator, Shadow Black, Omega, and Crusader series, each designed and priced to answer a different cooking level and budget.
Global is a brand of kitchen knives manufactured in Japan, and has been operating since 1954 under the name of the Yoshida Metal Industry Co. Ltd.
What differentiates Global from its competitors, such as J.A. Henckels or Wüsthof, is that the blades are thinner and made of a harder steel alloy, allowing the blade to hold its edge for longer.
One of the series of knives offered by Global is the Global Ni (“two” in Japanese), which is the second in the new generation of Global Knives.
MAC is a Japanese brand of knives manufactured in Japan, and has been operating since 1964. They offer a variety of different knives and knife sets. Some notable ones are the Original, Superior, and Japanese series.
The typical MAC knife stands out with its hybrid edge that utilizes the best of both worlds. It combines the traditional Japanese single-beveled chisel edge with the Western V edge, making an off-center edge that is sharp enough for thin slicing, but also stable enough for straight cuts.
Victorinox is a knife manufacturer based in Switzerland with more than a century of experience making blades. They are most famous for their Swiss Army knives, but also offer several lines of kitchen knives.
Victorinox knives offer great value for the price. They’re mostly stamped out of stainless steel sheets, although forged and ceramic knives are also available.
Messermeister (Messer meaning “knife” and meister meaning “master”) is a knife maker from Germany. Though rather new to the game compared to other brands on this list, they offer more than a dozen lines of kitchen knives and cutlery tools.
Messermeister knives are affordable and a popular choice among aspiring chefs. In fact, they even make a line specifically for culinary students.