- 1 What Makes a Good Kitchen Knife?
- 2 Reviews of the Best Kitchen Knives in 2021
- 2.1 1. WÜSTHOF 4582/20 Chef’s Knife – Best to Buy in 2021
- 2.2 2. Cubikook Santoku – Best New Kitchen Knife
- 2.3 3. Shun VG-MAX Classic— Runner-up for Best Chef’s Knife
- 2.4 4. DALSTRONG Santoku – Best Santoku Knife (Japanese Chef’s Knife)
- 2.5 5. Mercer Culinary Millennia – Best 8” Chef’s Knife for Value
- 2.6 6. Shun Classic – Best 6” Chef’s Knife for Small Hands
- 2.7 7. Mercer Culinary Genesis 5” – Best Utility Knife
- 2.8 8. Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro – Best Bread Knife
- 3 Top-rated Kitchen Knives Comparison Table
- 4 Best Kitchen Knife Brands
- 5 Best Kitchen Knives: The Bottom Line
A good knife can serve you well for decades and make food preparation a breeze. Most cooks, professional or amateur, want to invest in the best kitchen knives possible.
But what makes the best kitchen knife?
In this article, we will explore how to find quality kitchen knives that suit your physique, cooking needs, and level of commitment to knife care. We also will review some top picks to simplify your search.
What Makes a Good Kitchen Knife?
The size, weight, and balance of a knife affect how comfortable it is to use over time. The blade style, construction, and material, meanwhile, determine its uses, maintenance, and longevity.
To familiarize yourself with the terminology, take a look at this photo, which features the different parts of a knife.
1. Size, Weight, and Balance
We found that a chef’s knife measuring between 7 and 8 inches long, 0.12 inches thick on its spine, and weighing between 6.5 and 8.5 ounces works well for most people.
In metrics, that’s 18 – 20 centimeters long, 3 millimeters thick, and 184 – 241 grams heavy.
For people with particularly big, strong hands, longer and heavier knives will feel more adequate. If you have small hands or weak wrists, go for a reduction in length and weight, but not too thick. Blades that are too thin are less sturdy and will bend when cutting tough materials.
Also critical is the distribution of weight (i.e., the balance).
For most cooks, a chef’s knife should see its center of mass right about at the bolster— the point where the blade and handle meet. This is especially true for cooks who hold the knife at the bolster with their thumb and index finger resting on the blade. Cooks who grip a knife at the handle, however, may feel more comfortable holding a handle-heavy knife.
It’s worth noting that other kitchen knives may require different weight distribution. A cleaver, for example, should have most of its weight on the blade to support the chopping motion. A paring knife, meanwhile, typically has a blade much smaller and lighter than its handle to tackle intricate tasks.
Note also that the “item weight” seen on retail platforms don’t usually reflect the real weight of the knife, but rather its whole package weight.
2. The Blade: German vs. Japanese Style
The majority of chef’s knives 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, 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, precise slices. The metal itself is thinner than that of the German style, and the cutting edge has a sharper angle.
However, the thinner, harder blade of the Santoku knife is easier to chip than the German knife’s thicker, more ductile steel. You’ll want to be careful when cutting meat with bones or particularly tough items such as pumpkins.
For most situations, either style of knife will work just fine, so it comes down to personal preference.
3. Forged vs. Stamped Knives
A forged knife is made from a single bar of metal and is heat-treated, annealed, and case-hardened to a high level. A stamped knife comes from a prefabricated metal sheet that is cut with a die in the desired shape and then sharpened. The ways they’re constructed affect their uses and quality.
Because they’re thicker, harder, and more sturdy, forged knives dominate the high-quality (and high-price) end of the market. The best kitchen knives are usually forged.
Stamped knives are thinner, lighter, more flexible, and less expensive. They can’t take much punishment, but can still serve you well to cut soft, tender materials.
4. Edge Angle
A knife’s edge angle, sharpening angle, or bevel angle is the angle at which the blade is cut to form the sharp tip at the edge. Usually, a knife edge is ground at the same angle on both sides, making a flat 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.
Kitchen knives can come in a relatively wide range of angles, so you may see anywhere from 12 to 25 degrees.
Japanese blades tend to fall toward the lower end of this spectrum, allowing them to make precision cuts with less effort. Western blades come out more often on the wider end. Wider angles make the blade less resistant to damage, but also make them more likely to squish your food rather than cut it.
Occasionally, you can find a knife (especially among the Japanese selections) that is beveled on only one side, with the other side being vertical. Note that these are most often made with a right-handed cook in mind. If you cut with your left, you won’t get the exact performance you’re looking for.
The materials used to create a knife blade affect its overall hardness and lifespan. A way to measure a material’s resistance against indentation and deformation is with the Rockwell Scale, denoted by the acronym “HRC” (Hardness Rockwell type C).
Kitchen knives usually fall within the range of 54 to 63 HRC. A lower HRC value means the metal is softer, so the cutting edge will dull faster than that of a higher hardness value. This is a trade-off, though, because higher-HRC metals are more likely to chip and more difficult to sharpen once they wear down.
The desired hardness comes down to how 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 more often.
Carbon steel is iron mixed with carbon prior to being cast. Other steel alloys are made the same way but with different elements mixed in instead of carbon.
Basic carbon steel is extremely strong and easy to sharpen to a keen edge. The main drawback is that, like iron, it rusts.
A carbon steel knife must be carefully maintained to prevent oxidation. Wash and dry 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 a cast-iron skillet.
Stainless steel is carbon steel with a little chromium, nickel, and molybdenum added to help prevent rust. This type of steel is much more forgiving when it comes to moisture and corrosion.
The main downside is that it is slightly weaker than other steels and needs to be sharpened more often. For most cooks, it’s still a net positive and will treat you well.
That said, it is not impervious to oxidation. If you leave acidic materials or moisture on stainless steel, it will develop rust spots— they just take longer to form.
High-Carbon Stainless Steel
This material is an attempt to combine the best parts of carbon steel and stainless steel. The effectiveness of manufacturers’ high-carbon formulas vary, and are debated from chef to chef.
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 medieval weaponry as a superior metal with beautiful wavy patterns. The exact process and formula for making this steel has been lost to time, despite multiple replication attempts.
Most if not all blades that bear the name today are simply high-carbon steels with similar wavy patterns in the metal.
A quality Damascus knife will serve you well, but know that a significant part of that high price tag is for aesthetics.
Ceramics are far harder than any metal, which allows the blade to keep a very sharp edge for ages. But hardness comes at a cost: ceramic knives are easy to shatter. As such, you should avoid twisting, bending, or dropping a ceramic knife.
Until we can fabricate the perfect cutlery cermet material, ceramic blades will probably remain a niche item intended for precision work.
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, the most traditional material, works well and looks pretty. However, it is vulnerable to moisture, mold, and bacteria. Plus, wood is often more expensive than plastic and other synthetics.
Polymer and rubberized handles may not look as good, but they’re more sanitary than wood and often last longer as well. Plus, they’re easy to form into whatever shape the manufacturer desires, so ergonomics becomes less of an issue.
Some brands offer wood that has been treated or encased in a polymer resin. This gives it a traditional look without the vulnerabilities of bare wood. These are generally great options, though they may be a bit more expensive than pure synthetics.
Reviews of the Best Kitchen Knives in 2021
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.
Here are our picks for the best kitchen knives to buy in 2021:
- Wüsthof Classic Chef’s Knife— Best to Buy in 2021
- Cubikook Santoku— Best New Kitchen Knife
- 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 detailed reviews of the best kitchen knives:
1. WÜSTHOF 4582/20 Chef’s Knife – Best to Buy in 2021
The Wüsthof Classic Chef’s Knife is forged from high-carbon stainless steel, sharpened to a 14-degree angle, and has a riveted full tang. It’s robust, sharp, durable, and reliable, though without the bells and whistles one would expect to see at its price.
The knife is forged from one single piece of steel, sporting a thick, solid blade. Its tang runs all the way through the handle and is fastened with three rivets, giving it excellent balance and stability. The plastic grips, while not particularly pretty, fit in with the tang and bolster seamlessly, leaving no gaps for dirt or food particles.
The bolster and fingerguard means extra safety for the cook. It also adds some weight to the knife, bringing it to 8.5 ounces. Those with particularly small hands or delicate wrists may find it heavy (in which case, check out the Cubikook Santoku right below). For most, though, the Classic will be comfortable. The added weight may even aid in the cutting process.
At 58 HRC, its hardness is more than sufficient for most cutting tasks, though not impressive compared to other high-end knives. On the other hand, a lower HRC means the knife is more ductile and less likely to chip or break under concentrated pressure than its harder counterparts. Of course, you will have to run it through a rod more often to straighten the burrs.
With an extra narrow edge and reasonable size, weight, and hardness, the Wüsthof Classic will excel at pretty much every cutting task in the kitchen. It’s without doubts one of the best chef’s knives on the market. It’s expensive, but glowing reviews from chefs who have been using their Wüsthof Classic for decades suggest it’s an investment with good returns.
2. Cubikook Santoku – Best New Kitchen Knife
Cubikook is a new name in the cutlery world, but there’s an advantage to that: You don’t have to pay for the brand name. They offer quality knives on par with those of veteran brands, but at a fraction of the price. This santoku knife is a good example.
The Cubikook Santoku is forged out of a single piece of German stainless steel— the kind you will find in Wüsthof and Henckels knives. It’s hardened to 56-58 HRC, striking a balance between edge retention and ease of sharpening.
The santoku features a full tang that is securely fastened into the rosewood handle with three brass rivets. The knife feels solid, balanced, and weighted for its size of 7 inches, but still agile enough for smaller hands.
We loved that the bolster becomes thinner as it runs from the handle to the blade, making a smooth transition instead of an abrupt indentation. This makes it more comfortable for the blade-grippers as their fingers rest on the bolster. It’s a great design for sanitation, too: The absence of corners means there’s no space for grease or food particles to accumulate.
As typical of santokus, the Cubikook is sharpened to a 15-degree angle. This gives it a significant advantage with fine slicing and precision cuts. The dimples effectively prevent thin slices of meat or vegetables from sticking to the blade.
If you like to cut in a rocking motion, though, this knife is not a good choice due to its flat belly. Then again, that’s not how santokus are meant to be used.
The Cubikook Santoku is a pragmatic choice: It excels in both performance and aesthetics, and is offered at a reasonable price. Coming in a pretty magnetic box, the knife would make a nice housewarming gift.
3. Shun VG-MAX Classic— Runner-up for Best Chef’s Knife
Shun’s 8-inch VG-MAX Classic is a fantastic Japanese take on the common German style 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. But this is cosmetic, since the knife is made from 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 why it’s only a runner up— 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.
4. DALSTRONG Santoku – Best Santoku Knife (Japanese Chef’s Knife)
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 making those precision cuts.
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 62 HRC on the Rockwell scale, meaning it should keep that sharp edge well.
It’s important to remember that every knife will eventually need sharpening. 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 prefer something cheaper and simpler, 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.
5. Mercer Culinary Millennia – Best 8” Chef’s Knife for Value
The Mercer Millennia is stamped rather than forged—a major reason it’s so much cheaper than others 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.
Mercer Culinary makes some of the best chef’s knives on the market and they back them up with an excellent warranty. For this Millennia, commercial customers get 25 years, while private cooks are covered for life.
Not only are Mercer knives good quality for the price, they’re also 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 professionals.
6. Shun Classic – Best 6” Chef’s Knife for Small Hands
The critiques of the 8-inch Shun Classic also apply to this shorter option, and make it an ideal knife for 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. You don’t want to chip the tungsten-infused edge!
7. Mercer Culinary Genesis 5” – Best Utility Knife
Part of Mercer’s enormous line, this 5-inch utility blade is great when you need a little more precision than 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 is 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 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 other tasks.
This utility knife is perfect for slicing your sandwiches, fruits, 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 is covered by a limited lifetime warranty.
8. Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro – Best Bread Knife
Whereas meat often benefits from a stiff, forged blade, there’s no need to break the bank for a bread knife. This Victorinox, crafted in Switzerland and stamped from European steel, does the job just fine.
The knife’s sharp serrated edge is more than a match for tomatoes, pineapples, or, of course, bread loafs. It can deliver clean, smooth-cut surfaces through hard crusts with little difficulty. The plastic handle is nothing to write home about, but it’s comfortable to hold and easy to clean.
Note that the bread knife is beveled on only one side of the blade. This means it tends to create an angle as it goes through a loaf, making one end of the slice thicker than the other. This will not be obvious on thin, small breads. When cutting particularly thick loaves, though, you may have to apply a little pressure to keep the cut straight.
The balde is narrow, which makes it lightweight. It will cut a dozen breads without tiring your wrist. On the other hand, it may feel flimsy if you have thick and hard breads to cut. In which case, you may want to check out its Victorinox brethren with a wider blade.
The knife is dishwasher-safe, although Victorinox still recommends hand-washing.
Top-rated Kitchen Knives Comparison Table
|Product||Blade Length||Edge Angle||Material/ Hardness||Consider it if...|
|Wüsthof Classic Chef’s Knife||8 in||14 degrees||* High-carbon stainless steel|
* 58 HRC
|You want the most well-rounded knife and are willing to pay for it|
|Cubikook Santoku||7 in||15 degrees||*Stainless steel|
|You want good quality without the brand price tag|
|Shun VG-MAX Classic Chef’s Knife||8 in||16 degrees||* High-carbon stainless steel core, stainless cladding|
* 60-61 HRC
|Aesthetics and quality are equally important to you|
|Dalstrong Santoku||7 in||12 degrees||* High carbon stainless steel core and cladding|
* 62 HRC
|You need a sharp knife for cutting meat and fish|
|Mercer Culinary Millennia Chef’s Knife||8 in||15 degrees||* High carbon steel|
* 56 HRC
|You’re a starter and don’t want to spend too much|
|Shun Classic Chef’s Knife||6 in||16 degrees||* High carbon steel core, stainless cladding|
* 60-61 HRC
|You cook a lot, but your hands and wrists get tired quickly|
|Mercer Culinary Genesis Utility Knife||5 in||15 - 18 degrees||* High carbon no stain steel|
* 58 HRC
|There are random cutting tasks that don’t require a full chef’s knife|
|Victorinox Fibrox Pro Bread Knife||8 in||N/A||* European steel||You cut mostly medium-sized bread|
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 regarded as among the best in the stamped category.
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 inexpensive stamped and high-end forged blades. They also focus on specialty kitchen items using modern materials such as their high-temperature nylon “Hell’s Tools” line.
6. J.A. Henckels
With three centuries of experience in making blades, the Germany-based J.A. Henkels is one of the most trusted cutlery manufacturers 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 down among generations in a family as kitchen heirlooms.
Best Kitchen Knives: The Bottom 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.