- 1 How to Choose a Kitchen Knife?
- 2 Reviews of the Best Kitchen Knives 2020
- 2.1 1. WÜSTHOF 4582/20 Classic 8 Inch Chef’s Knife
- 2.2 2. Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife
- 2.3 3. DALSTRONG Santoku Kitchen Knife
- 2.4 4. Mercer Culinary Millennia 8” Chef’s Knife
- 2.5 5. Shun Classic 6” Chef’s Knife
- 2.6 6. Mercer Culinary Genesis Forged Utility Knife
- 2.7 7. Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro Bread Knife
- 3 Top-rated Kitchen Knives Comparison
- 4 Best Kitchen Knife Brands
- 5 Bottom Line
The knife is one of the most basic kitchen implements in existence— a chef simply can’t function without one. Since it’s so fundamental, it’s worth spending the extra time and energy to find the best kitchen knives.
Knives have indeed been in kitchens the world over for thousands of years, so naturally during that time their users have made some advancements. They’ve also diversified quite a bit, evolving into the many forms we see in cutlery sets today. Each type has its purpose, and a good chef will learn how to exploit their various strengths.
In this article, we will primarily examine the chef’s knife— the primary workhorse in most kitchens. We’ll wrap things up by listing our top picks for other styles as well.
How to Choose a Kitchen Knife?
Looking for the best kitchen knife isn’t as trivial as picking up the first pointy hunk of metal you find. Similar as they may appear to the layperson’s eyes, they can be different in many subtle ways.
1. The Blade: German vs Japanese Style
A chef’s knife (also known as a cook’s knife) features a large, curved blade and acts as the general-purpose knife in most kitchens. A good chef’s knife should be able to take some punishment, so the blade shouldn’t be too thin or overly flexible.
The majority you see in stores today are of the German style, with edges featuring a continuous and relatively consistent curvature. This allows the knife to rock back and forth quickly to mince or chop your food. A variation, known as the French style of chef’s knife, has less curvature along most of its length, but a stronger curve near the tip.
The Japanese-style Santoku knife has a much straighter blade and terminates in a sheep’s-foot point. The Santoku’s blade is designed to make thin, precision slices. The metal itself is much thinner than that of the German style, and the cutting edge has a sharper angle. Many Asian meals feature very thin slices of fish or meat, making the Japanese blade the unsurprising champion for those dishes.
Its thinner, more hardened blade is, however, easier to chip than the German knife’s thicker, more ductile steel. You’d want to be more careful with it when you’re cutting meat with bones or particularly tough items such as pumpkin.
For most situations either style of knife will work just fine, so it really comes down to personal preference.
2. Forged vs Stamped Knives
There was a time, not so long ago, when this question was a no-brainer: forged blades were always superior to stamped ones. Technology marches ever onward, though, so now things are slightly more convoluted.
Forging is the process of folding and hammering heated metal until it has the shape and properties you want out of it. It’s what you picture from the movies: the strapping blacksmith beating the metal into submission with a hammer…at least occasionally.
The modern reality, of course, is that machines almost always do the heavy labor. Regardless, the core principles of the process remain the same. Forging allows the metal to be heat-treated, annealed, case-hardened, and all those other fancy materials-science terms— to the level the designer wants. That’s great for your cutlery, and the long, well-studied history of forging means the designers can tailor it to their liking. As a result, the best kitchen knives are usually forged.
Stamped knives come from prefabricated metal sheets that are cut with a die in the desired shape and then sharpened. They tend to be cheaper than forged knives since they’re quicker to mass-produce. But they also often wind up being weaker, both in terms of bending-resistance and edge-retention.
The gap between them and forged blades is diminishing, however, as fabrication techniques improve. Forged knives still dominate the high-quality end of the market– they make the best kitchen knives (a fact that’s reflected in our picks below), but the right stamped blade can serve you very well.
Chef’s knives can be found in various sizes with blades ranging from 6 – 14 inches (15 – 36 centimeters) in length. The most common examples come in around the 8-inch (20-cm) mark. Like many other things in your kitchen, the best size will depend on your preference. A large knife may be awkward for a cook with small hands and vice-versa. The best thing to do is get your hands on the knife (literally) before you buy it and see how it feels.
4. Weight & Balance
This may sound like a strange thing to focus on— we’re not buying a Samurai sword, after all. But the weight and balance of a knife can play a big role in how comfortable it is to use for long periods of time. Usually the overall weight of the knife is not the problem, though it’s good to get your hands on it and see how comfortable it feels.
More critical is the distribution of weight (i.e. the balance). A large kitchen knife should see its center of mass right about at the bolster— the point where the blade meets the handle. Too much weight in the handle or the blade will make your cutting motion less fluid, and put added stress on your wrist when you use it for extended periods of time.
As you might expect, this is where the rubber meets the road. Nearly all kitchen blades are constructed of some sort of steel, but the specific alloy and the production method can have a big impact on the knife’s effectiveness and lifespan.
In materials science circles, the hardness of a material is measured using the Rockwell Scale, and denoted with the value and the acronym “HRC” (Hardness Rockwell type C). This is a measure of how resistant a material is to indentation and deformation.
Kitchen knives usually fall in the range of 57 to 63 HRC. A lower HRC value means the metal is softer, so the cutting edge will dull faster than that with a higher hardness value. This is a trade-off, though, because higher-HRC metals are more likely to chip and are also more difficult to sharpen when they do eventually wear down.
Like so many factors, the desired hardness comes down to personal preference and the ways in which you intend to use the knife. A hard blade is great for precision work. If you’re likely to be cutting hard materials, or using big chopping motions like a butcher, go for the softer material. Just realize you’ll have to sharpen your blade a bit more often.
The basis for any type of steel, this material is simply iron mixed with a bit of carbon before being cast. Other steel alloys will simply have other elements added in.
Basic carbon steel is extremely strong, but easy to maintain a sharp edge. The main drawback is that, like pure iron, it rusts. A carbon steel knife must be carefully maintained to prevent this oxidation. Wash the knife (by hand!) immediately after use, and store it in a dry place. It’s also a good idea to season it occasionally with mineral oil, much like you would with a cast-iron skillet.
Chemically speaking, stainless steel is a carbon steel with a little chromium, nickel, and molybdenum added to help prevent rust. In practical terms, it is much more forgiving when it comes to moisture and corrosive foods.
The main downside is that it is slightly weaker than most other steels, meaning it may need to be sharpened a bit more often. For most cooks, it’s still a net positive, and will treat you well.
Do note, it’s not impervious to oxidation. If you leave acidic materials and moisture on stainless steel, it will still develop rust spots— they just take longer to form.
High-Carbon Stainless Steel
Most if not all of the items in our recommended list of the best kitchen knives are made with high-carbon stainless steel. As you might guess from the name, this material is an attempt to marry the best advantages of plain carbon steel with those of stainless steel. The effectiveness of manufacturers’ high-carbon formulas vary and are debated from chef to chef. Some swear by them while others say they’re just pricey gimmicks.
These high-carbon stainless options are becoming more and more common among professional brands, so the selection is growing fast.
Damascus steel was legendary in the annals Medieval weaponry as a superior metal with beautiful wavy patterns. The exact process and formula for making this steel have been lost to time. While there have been multiple replication attempts, it is still not widely available commercially.
Most if not all blades that bear the name today are simply high-carbon steels with similar wavy patterns in the metal. Modern knives labeled “Damascus” are mainly just prettier versions of high-carbon steel. A quality Damascus knife will serve you well, but know that a significant part of that high price tag is for aesthetics.
A relatively new trend among knife manufacturers is the use of ceramics. Ceramics are far harder than any metal, a fact that allows the blade to keep a very sharp edge for ages. But hardness comes at a cost: the harder a material is, the less it can bend, and thus the easier it is to shatter. As such, you should avoid twisting, bending, or dropping a ceramic knife.
Until we can fabridate the perfect cutlery cermet material, ceramic blades will probably remain a niche item intended for precision work.
In many ways, this is a secondary concern as compared to the blade itself, but it’s still worth taking into consideration. A good kitchen knife can last a lifetime, so you want a handle that is both comfortable in your hand and easy to maintain. Make sure it’s not too slippery even when it gets wet, and that both its width and length are a good match for the size of your hand.
Wood is the oldest and most traditional material. It works well, of course, but can be prone to moisture absorption and mold or bacteria growth after years of use. Plus, the knifemaking industry is at the point these days that wood is more expensive to use than plastic and other synthetics.
Polymer and rubberized handles have become the modern standard, and for good reason. They’re much more sanitary than wood, and often longer lasting as well. Plus they’re easy to form into whatever shape the manufacturer desires, so ergonomics should be less of an issue.
Note that some brands offer wood that has been treated or encased in a polymer resin. That gives it the traditional look but without most of the disadvantages of bare wood. These are generally great options, though they may be a bit more expensive than pure synthetics.
6. Edge Angle
This is a topic that people tend not to think about, but different knives have very different cutting edges. The edge angle not only affects your cutting experience— it also decides the way and what sharpening devices you can use when your knives become dull.
The sharpening angle or bevel angle is the angle at which the edge is set as compared to the vertical. Usually, a knife edge is ground at the same angle on both sides, making a V-shape. When we say the knife has a 20-degree edge angle, we usually mean a 20-degree angle on each side of that V. Occasionally you can find a knife (especially among the Japanese selections) that is beveled on only one side, with the other being vertical.
A razor will have an angle of about eight degrees and a machete might top 30 degrees. Kitchen knives can come in a relatively wide range of angles, so you may see them anywhere from 12-22 degrees.
Japanese blades tend to fall to the lower end of this spectrum, allowing them to make those precision cuts with less effort. Western blades more often come out on the wider end. Wider angles will make the blade more resistant to damage, but also make them more likely to squish your food rather than cut.
A note of caution if you do find a single-side beveled knife: they’re most often made with a right-handed cook in mind, so if you cut with your left, you won’t get exactly the performance you’re looking for.
The NSF International is a US government agency that certifies certain products as safe to use for culinary purposes. As such you’ll sometimes see an “NSF” badge on kitchenware packaging.
The NSF primarily concerns itself with commercial operations like restaurants. When it comes to cutlery, the same products tend to be offered to both individual and commercial chefs. An NSF certification for your knife is not as important as for, say, your bread-maker, but it can be an extra comfort if you’re concerned about the quality of the steel.
A few online retailers also promote their cutlery as “FDA Approved.” Unfortunately, this is either a misinterpretation of the FDA’s guidelines or possibly a bit of dishonest sales craft. The FDA does not approve or certify home cookware, and the fact that the knife is made of an alloy the FDA deems appropriate for food-related use does not constitute a certification. When it comes to cutlery, a fancy-sounding “FDA” badge on the packaging is not the best basis for your buying decision.
Reviews of the Best Kitchen Knives 2020
The process of finding a quality kitchen knife can be very time-consuming. We’ve spent weeks doing the research so you don’t have to.
- Wüsthof Classic Chef’s Knife – Best Kitchen Knife to Buy 2020
- Shun DM0706 Classic – Best Chef’s Knife Runner-up
- Dalstrong Santoku – Best Santoku Knife (Japanese Chef’s Knife)
- Mercer Culinary Millennia – Best Chef’s Knife for Value
- Shun Classic 6” – Best Chef’s Knife for Small Hands
- Mercer Culinary Genesis 5” – Best Utility Knife
- Victorinox Swiss Army – Best Bread Knife
Here are our picks for the best kitchen knives.
Sometimes when the word “classic” shows up on a product, it’s an appeal to people’s love of antiquity. Other times, it’s an indication that there simply hasn’t been much room for improvement for quite some time. A good argument can be made that Wüsthof’s Classic is an example of the latter.
Wüsthof makes no intimation that this is more than a simple chef’s knife, but it’s this simplicity that’s arguably its greatest strength. It’s robust, forged from high-carbon stainless steel, and comes in at 58 HRC on the Rockwell Hardness scale. This means it will require more frequent honing, but is likely to take a beating longer than some of its harder counterparts. It’s not unusual to see glowing reviews from chefs who have been using their Wüsthof Classic for multiple decades.
There is one notable way in which Wüsthof has improved on previous designs: the sharpening method. In a process called PEtech, they measure every Wüsthof Classic using lasers before robotically sharpening it to an extremely precise tolerance. This computer-aided manufacturing technique gives it a sharper edge that lasts longer than previous sharpening methods.
It’s important to note that the Wüsthof Classic is a German design through and through. Though it’s narrower than some, it still won’t serve as well as a Japanese style knife for precision work on sashimi or soft vegetables. Where it excels is in cutting harder foods and all types of meat.
It’s weighty, so cooks with particularly dainty hands may get tired quickly. For most though, the Classic will be comfortable. The added weight may even aid in the cutting process. With that weight comes a certain toughness, so you’re less likely to break the Wüsthof’s tip than others if you drop it. Just don’t drop it on your foot!
Shun’s 8-inch VG-MAX Classic is a fantastic Japanese take on the common German style of chef’s knife. Like our first pick, the basics of this knife match the “classic” Western design, and so will be familiar to most cooks. Unlike the Wüsthof, though, Shun has experimented on this knife with a few new features.
The most obvious difference is the “Damascus” style patterning on the blade. This is mostly cosmetic, since the knife is constructed of stainless steel. Included in the metal’s formula, though, is a bit of added tungsten, carbon, and cobalt. The latter two help toughen the blade while the tungsten keeps the edge sharp. The increased hardness of the blade makes it slightly easier to chip than simpler steels.
The grip of the VG-MAX Classic features a resin-impregnated wood finish known as PakkaWood. It’s gorgeous and pairs well with the ornately stylized blade to make this one of the most elegant functional knives on the market.
The main shortcoming of this design, and one of the biggest reasons it’s only second on this list, is the narrow bolster (the section where the blade meets the handle). For chefs who like to grip around the bolster, this Shun will offer a bit less comfort than the German design.
When fat, heavy Western knives won’t cut it (*snicker*), turn to Dalstrong’s Shogun Santoku-style knife. With a blade forged from high-carbon Japanese stainless steel and ground to a 12-degree edge, you’ll have no problem getting those precision cuts done right. The knife is also very elegant, with a Damascus-style finish and a hefty bolster that both looks and feels right.
Dalstrong has hardened their Shogun knife to a 62 HRC on the Rockwell scale, meaning it should keep that sharp edge quite well. It’s important to remember that every knife will eventually need sharpening, though. Perhaps even more critical is the fact that you must take care around bones to avoid chipping the hard edge. This is a precision instrument, not a hammer.
If all else fails, don’t forget that Dalstrong has a 100% satisfaction guarantee, and a lifetime warranty.
If you’re not quite sold on Santoku knives, and want to give a simpler one a try before dropping this sort of coin, have a look at the Victorinox Fibrox Pro Santoku. Though stamped rather than forged, the Victorinox is great for the chef who wants to start exploring the Asian side of cutlery.
Not only are Mercer’s knives a good quality for the price, but they’re used by restaurants everywhere. Mercer has a wide line of kitchen products aimed largely at commercial operations, so you can be sure you’re using the same quality equipment as the professionals.
The Mercer Millennia is stamped rather than forged— a major reason that it’s so much cheaper than most on this list. The high-carbon Japanese steel they use, however, sets it apart from your average cheap stamped knife. The grip is made of santoprene and polypropylene, making it a bit more forgiving on your hand than some. Though it looks a bit less refined than wood or other polymers, the give of the santoprene may be what you need if you find yourself with tender pressure points after cutting.
A useful thing to remember if you worry about buying a “value” knife is Mercer’s lifetime limited warranty. Commercial customers get only 25 years, but private cooks are covered for life.
The critiques of the 8-inch Shun Classic also apply to this shorter option, and make it an ideal knife for those cooks with small hands or those who simply want a shorter blade. Plus, less knife means less price (relatively speaking).
The smaller lever arm created by this blade’s cutting action makes the narrow bolster less of an issue. Some chefs find that a shorter blade offers a certain versatility they don’t get out of the more standard long ones. It’s still important to be careful around bony foods, though, so that the tungsten-infused edge doesn’t chip.
Part of Mercer’s enormous line, this 5-inch utility blade is great when you need a little more precision than you get out of a chef’s knife, but don’t want to chip away with a paring knife.
Though smaller and cheaper than its cousins, the 5” Genesis is still fully forged from German high-carbon stainless steel. It also comes with a bolster and a tang that runs all the way through the handle and fastened with a rivet. These features, which are usually only seen on high-end knives, significantly enhance its balance and durability. This is one of the rare cheaper knives that can last decades with proper maintenance.
Though we didn’t discuss utility knives above, it shouldn’t surprise you that they are versatile, but serve a different function than the larger chef’s knife. You’ll notice that the blade is no wider than the handle, making them far less convenient when chopping on a cutting board. On the other hand, this makes it easier to maneuver the knife for certain other tasks. This utility knife is perfect for slicing your sandwiches, fruit, cheeses, and many other small items. If you don’t have a boning knife, it can serve as a stand-in there as well.
Like nearly all of Mercer’s offerings, the Genesis qualifies for an NSF certification, and is also covered by a limited lifetime warranty.
The term “Swiss Army Knife” is probably not the first that springs to mind when you think about a bread knife, but you’re not hallucinating. Victorinox, the makers of those famous little folding knives also have a wide line of kitchen cutlery that previously sold under the name Forschner. Their culinary offerings are also surprisingly affordable, considering they’re manufactured in Switzerland.
Whereas meat often benefits from a stiff, forged blade, there’s no need to break the bank for a bread knife. This serrated blade is stamped from European steel and available in 7- 8- or 10.25-inch lengths. It’s more than a match for any tomato, pineapple, or of course, bread loaf.
As a bonus, it’s NSF-certified and is even dishwasher-safe (although Victorinox still recommends hand-washing).
Top-rated Kitchen Knives Comparison
|Product||Blade Length||Edge Angle||Material/ Hardness||Certifications|
|Wüsthof Classic Chef’s Knife||8 in||14 degrees||* High-carbon stainless steel|
* 58 HRC
|Shun VG-MAX Classic Chef’s Knife||8 in||16 degrees||* High-carbon stainless steel core, stainless cladding||N/A|
|Dalstrong Santoku||7 in||12 degrees||* High carbon stainless steel core and cladding|
* 62 HRC
|Mercer Culinary Millennia Chef’s Knife||8 in||15 degrees||* High carbon steel|
* 56 HRC
|Shun Classic Chef’s Knife||6 in||16 degrees||* High carbon steel core, stainless cladding||N/A|
|Mercer Culinary Genesis Utility Knife||5 in||15 - 18 degrees||* High carbon no stain steel|
* 58 HRC
|Victorinox Fibrox Pro Bread Knife||8 in||N/A||* European steel||NSF|
Best Kitchen Knife Brands
The top seven brands of cutlery products on the US market.
1. Shun Cutlery
Shun (pronounced, “shoon”) is a Japanese company that draws inspiration from the storied history of Samurai sword-making techniques. They hail from Seki City, a place viewed as the heart of Japanese blade-making for centuries.
Like the blacksmiths of old, Shun views the personal connection to the blade as crucial. Each knife receives individual, hands-on attention during the forging process. Their fusion of high-tech materials with both modern and classical production techniques results in fantastic blades that are famous all over the world.
Dalstrong is a Toronto-based company that draws on Japanese techniques. They source high-quality steel from various places like Germany, Japan, and elsewhere, and then manufacture it all in Yangjiang, the home of China’s own blade-making tradition.
Though a relatively young company, Dalstrong has become known for quality at a reasonable price. Few will dispute the fact that their steel comes out looking beautiful, though some may argue they focus more on aesthetics than they should. They do back their products up, though. On the off chance there is a problem, Dalstrong offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee and lifetime warranty.
Wüsthof is a famous German brand, but has expanded to include some Japanese styles in their product line as well. The company has been owned and operated by the same family for seven generations out of Solingen, Germany’s “City of Blades.”
Wüsthof uses modern forging technologies and the latest inspection techniques to maintain their renowned level of German engineering. That said, they don’t let automation take over the process fully. Every blade gets personal attention to ensure they can consider it worthy of the brand’s storied history. Wüsthof makes some of the best kitchen knives on the market nowadays.
4. Zelite Infinity
Zelite Infinity is a family-operated manufacturer with a small footprint but a big reputation. Like many of the world’s best smiths, Zelite specializes only in knives, and so has honed their craft well. Their products are made from imported Japanese VG-10 “Super Steel” and crafted over the course of 60 days using German standard operating procedures.
Unlike many, Zelite only sells online, meaning you won’t be able to go to the store and try the knife on for size. However, they set customers’ minds at ease with a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Victorinox is probably most famous for their Swiss Army Knives, beloved by scouts and handymen the world over. But since their founding in 1884 they’ve had plenty of time to expand. Unlike most of the knives on this list, Victorinox’s kitchen cutlery is stamped rather than forged. However, it is generally still one of the higher echelons of such blades. They make some of the best kitchen knives for home cooks.
6. J.A. Henckels
With three centuries of experience in making blades, the Germany-based J.A. Henkels is one of the most well-trusted manufacturers of cutlery products in the world. J.A. Henckels maintains several different knife brands and produces multiple product lines, tapping both the high-end and budget cutlery markets.
J.A. Henckels knives, most of which are hand-honed by the company’s master bladesmiths, are famous for their sharpness. They’re also known to be very durable— it’s not unusual to see Henckels knives passed among generations in a family as kitchen heirlooms.
7. Mercer Culinary
Based out of New York City, Mercer Culinary is famous for their barware and wide line of restaurant-oriented kitchenware. Their immense cutlery line covers all uses and features offerings in inexpensive stamped and high-end forged versions. They also focus on specialty kitchen items using modern materials such as their high-temperature nylon “Hell’s Tools” line.
Picking the best kitchen knives can be a little tricky, and we recommend sticking with well-established brands for guaranteed quality. You don’t always have to splurge on the most expensive items— sometimes the improvements are minimal and barely detectable by a non-professional cook. That said, don’t hesitate to invest in a quality knife when you find one— with proper maintenance, it can serve you for decades.