- 1 How to Choose the Best Steak Knives
- 2 Best Steak Knives to Buy in 2020
- 3 How to Care for Your Steak Knives
We don’t typically focus on them much, but steak knives can make or break a meal. If you’ve spent the time and effort to cook a delicious meal, you want it to be enjoyed. You don’t want your guests to have to struggle with sawing through their meat. This article aims to help you find the best steak knives available and offers a list of recommendations from our Review Team.
It should come as no surprise that there’s a lot of variety out there. Like nearly every kitchen implement, it’s easy to delve deep into the complexities of these products. But don’t worry, you don’t need to be a professional metallurgist to know what’s good. With a little understanding of the basics, you’ll have no problem choosing the best steak knife set for your household.
How to Choose the Best Steak Knives
Type: Are Serrated or Straight-Edge Steak Knives Better?
To many of us, the term, “steak knife” conjures up the image of a serrated blade diving into a juicy steak. As you’ll quickly notice from our picks below, though, not all of them are serrated. So what’s the difference?
First and foremost, a serrated knife will act much like a mini saw, combining both slicing and tearing actions. That can be helpful with particularly tough meats, but can hash up more tender dishes like fish or lamb loin. Straight-edge knives, if properly sharpened, glide through the meat smoothly.
The other major differentiator is maintenance. Since steak knives are typically used on porcelain plates rather than cutting boards, the edges that come into contact with the plate dull quickly. Serrated blades volunteer only the tips of their serrations as tribute— their remaining surfaces will stay sharp much longer. The trade-off is that, when they finally do need sharpening, it takes a lot more work. Straight-edge steak knives, on the other hand, function with just about any sharpening system.
Neither style is necessarily better or worse. It’s mostly a matter of preference.
|Straight Edge Steak Knives||Serrated Edge Steak Knives|
|Dull faster||Stay sharp longer|
|Require frequent honing||No need to hone|
|Easy to hone/sharpen||Need professional sharpening|
|Clean cutting surface||May cause tears if the knife is not sharp enough|
|Easy to clean||More difficult to clean|
Occasionally you may find knives with tiny serrations spaced very close together. They may seem like they’d offer the best of both worlds, but that’s not the case. Such “micro serrations” are impossible to sharpen, so we recommend avoiding them.
The world of cutlery has its own language, much like any hobby or industry. We’re all familiar with the “edge” and “handle” of a knife, but there are a few more important terms to understand, such as “tang” and “bolster.”
“Tang” in this instance refers to the metal that extends from the blade through the handle. Most knives worth their salt have a “full tang”— one that extends all the way back to the butt of the handle. This gives you better leverage, makes the handle less likely to break, and balances the knife. Usually the metal of a full tang is visible on the spine of the handle.
Some cheaper knives use “half-tang” or “rat-tail” constructions. As the name implies, a half tang will only extend part way down the handle. The rivets and handles of these are always in greater danger of breaking off.
A rat tail, meanwhile, has only a thin bar of metal extending through the handle. You’ll get a little more leverage out of these than with half-tang designs. But the rivets are still more likely to break or come loose than on full-tang handles.
Some knives feature a bolster. Bolsters are enlarged portions of the metal where the blade meets the handle. Usually they are formed so that their shape flows into the shape of that handle. The bolster provides a little extra weight and grip, and helps protect your fingers from the blade’s edge.
Summary: We recommend looking for steak knives with a full-tang and bolster.
Forged vs Stamped
If you’ve ever read the description for a high-end knife, you’ve probably noticed how prominently the manufacturer touts its forging process. The issue of forged versus stamped construction is a constant back-and-forth struggle in the world of modern cutlery.
Traditionally, all blades had to be forged. The steel of a forged knife starts out as a block that is heated, hammered and folded over on itself many times. This process strengthens the molecular bonds inside the metal and makes for a strong, long-lasting blade. Nearly all forged blades have a full tang, and they often also sport a bolster.
The trouble is, forging is an expensive, time-consuming process. And those expenses show up in the price tag.
The cheaper option is stamped knives. These are cut (stamped) from sheet metal using industrial machinery, which reduces the cost. They used to be widely regarded as inferior to forged knives, however, recent decades have seen major improvements in extrusion and stamping techniques. Some stamped knives now come close to their forged brethren in terms of stiffness and edge-retention.
Many chef’s knives (especially the high-end ones) use some form of carbon steel that’s not inherently protected against oxidation (rust). Those knives must be washed and seasoned carefully to maintain their surface.
Steak knives, on the other hand, are nearly always made of stainless steel. This is because we tend to marinate meat in salty solutions. Salt accelerates the oxidation process in a big way— thus why oceangoing ships must focus more on rust-prevention than freshwater boats. A carbon steel steak knife would need very immediate cleaning, but a stainless one will survive until you’re done with drinks and dessert.
The hardness of a blade is expressed in the Rockwell Hardness Scale.
Different metallic formulations and different heat-treating techniques affect the metal’s hardness in various ways.
Nearly all culinary knives other than huge cleavers have a Rockwell rating between about 54 and 60. Anything in that range is usually good for normal kitchen use.
The basic rule of thumb is that harder blades (higher numbers) retain an edge longer but are more brittle. Brittle edges can chip more easily than ductile ones. The “softer” blades will need more honing to stay sharp, but they’re less likely to chip if they hit bone or other silverware.
Best Steak Knives to Buy in 2020
Now, with all that background out of the way, which knives meet our standards? Here are our picks for the best steak knives in 2020.
- Dalstrong Gladiator(Straight-Edge) – Best to Buy
- Wüsthof Classic Ikon – Best High-End Steak Knives
- Bellemain Premium – Best Value Steak Knives
- Dalstrong Gladiator – Best Serrated Steak Knives
- Zelancio Cutlery – Best Japanese Steak Knives
Read on for the detailed reviews.
1. Dalstrong Gladiator(Straight-Edge) – Best to Buy in 2020
If you’re tuned into the world of culinary supplies, you’re probably familiar with the Dalstrong brand. They’ve made a name for themselves by trying to combine the best aspects of Japanese and European knife-making traditions. They’re not the cheapest, but as long as you can afford them, it’s hard to go wrong with Dalstrong products.
This set of four knives is made of “ThyssenKrupp” steel, a German-designed high-carbon stainless steel formulation. It is intended to give the knife blade an increased hardness compared to the average stainless steel. The material itself comes in at a 56 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale. As such, the Dalstrong knives should be able to go longer between sharpenings than some.
That steel is matched with a narrow 14-16-degree edge. This stands in contrast to the more common 20-degree edges of most European knives. The narrow edge makes it capable of more precise cuts, but requires a bit more honing to keep it in peak condition.
Unfortunately, the unusual angle also creates a problem when it comes time to actually sharpen it. Honing can be done at any angle, but the options for actual abrasive sharpeners are more limited. We recommend you examine the sharpeners available at that angle before settling on these knives.
You may also notice that these knives have small concave divots along their flat surfaces. These reduce the metal’s apparent “stickiness”. Completely smooth surfaces can adhere to dense meats, making your cutting job a little more tedious. The divots help the meat fall away from the blade.
The Gladiator knives sport a full tang extending all the way to the butt of the handle. Full-tang knives are by far the best option because they’re well-balanced and offer the best control. These also feature a large bolster that separates the handle from the blade itself.
The grips are made of pakkawood— a wood-epoxy blend that is quickly becoming the industry standard. It lasts longer and is less absorbent than pure wood, but still looks elegant.
Additionally, like most Dalstrong products, the Gladiator steak knives are shipped with their own blade sheaths. Your drawer can be just as hazardous to knife edges as porcelain plates. The protective sheaths will keep your blades protected from impacts. Just be sure to let the blades dry before sheathing them.
2. Wüsthof Classic Ikon – Best High-End Steak Knives
As many a professional chef will tell you, if you truly want the best blade, Wüsthof is the way to go. That is, if you have the money for it. Wüsthof hails from Solingen, Germany’s infamous “City of Blades.” They’re renowned for making some of the world’s finest cutlery.
This is a set of four knives. Like our pick for Best to Buy, these Ikon steak knives are not serrated, but their precision grind will make short work of most meats. The edges are set at a 14-degree angle. The narrow angle helps them cut through tough material with less effort.
Again, it’s important to note that these knives must be honed regularly and sharpened more often than heavy-duty chef’s knives. Be careful when selecting a sharpener— 14 degrees is not the most common edge angle, so the proper sharpener may be hard to find.
Alternatively, you can send the knives in to Wüsthof periodically to restore that factory-sharp edge. The company boasts that its PEtech (Precision Edge Technology) gives the blade twice the edge retention of other techniques. We haven’t been able to evaluate that claim, but we can certainly say their laser-guided grinding techniques produce quality edges.
Like nearly all of Wüsthof’s knives, these use high-carbon stainless steel. It offers a bit more resiliency than cheaper stainless steels but keeps oxidation at bay. The steel is very hard, coming in at 58 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale. Don’t toss them around though— harder blades chip easier than softer ones.
Many steak knives are constructed of stamped steel, but Wüsthof forges theirs. In general, forged blades are stronger and retain an edge better than stamped ones.
The forging process also gives the designer a chance to include a strong metal half-bolster where the blade meets the handle. The extra material helps balance the knife while also protecting your fingers. Behind that, the tang extends all the way to the butt of the grip to ensure you have plenty of leverage.
In contrast to most expensive knives of today, Wüsthof makes their grip with polyoxymethylene or POM. Admittedly, it doesn’t look quite as beautiful as wood grain, but it’s hard to beat in terms of longevity. The POM won’t crack or expand the way wooden handles occasionally do.
Unfortunately, Wüsthof does not include sheaths with these knives. We recommend finding your own or using a knife block to protect the edges.
3. Bellemain Premium – Best Value Steak Knives
The best affordable steak knives we found on the market today were the Bellemain Premium set. They have some of the features of high-end knives, but at a much lower cost.
Most inexpensive steak knives use simple stamped blades, and sometimes forgo a full tang to cut costs. Bellemain offers not only a full tang for stability and leverage, but also gives you a full bolster. The bolster balances the knife like the more expensive ones above, and helps protect your fingers from the blade’s edge.
Usually when you see a metal bolster it means the knife was forged. Forged knives are typically tougher, but also more expensive. In Bellemain’s case, however, the blades appear to be stamped and ground to the proper thickness.
Stamping the blade enables them to meet the low price point. One shouldn’t expect a stamped blade to quite match the performance or lifetime of a forged blade. Nevertheless, stamping technology has come a long way, and the knives will serve you well if properly maintained. Also, since they’re stamped from thick sheets, these will be sturdier than most stamped blades.
Speaking of maintenance, it’s important to wash these Bellemain knives relatively quickly after use. They’re made of a less resilient stainless steel, so rust spots can appear quicker than on some other knives.
All caveats aside, the Bellemain Premium set is hard to beat at this price point. The serrations can go a long time before sharpening is needed, and if you decide to upgrade in the future, you aren’t out much money.
4. Dalstrong Gladiator – Best Serrated Steak Knives
There’s no rule that says high-quality steak knives must be straight-edged. These serrated versions of Dalstrong’s Gladiator line share a lot in common with our choice for Best to Buy.
Like all Dalstrong Gladiator products, these steak knives are made of ThyssenKrupp high-carbon stainless steel. Their edges are also set between 14 and 16 degrees. Fortunately, since they’re serrated, you won’t need to do much sharpening. If you’re able to find an electric sharpener with a flexible stropping wheel, that will probably cover your honing needs.
Aside from the serrations, the main distinguishing feature between these and the straight-edged Gladiators is the tip. These serrated knives sport a blunt tip rather than a traditional pointed one. That means you won’t be able to stab your meat like a medieval knight, but otherwise shouldn’t hurt their functionality.
5. Zelancio Cutlery – Best Japanese Steak Knives
Want to give your table settings an eastern touch? Zelancio Cutlery has created a lovely set of Japanese-style steak knives that may be just what you’re looking for.
The Zelancio Japanese knives are straight-edged, so you should expect to sharpen them regularly. The edge comes in between 15 and 17 degrees— a bit wider than the other straight-edge knives on this list. We were surprised when researching the knives on this list that the German ones had shallower angles than the Japanese ones. Perhaps that speaks to how cross-cultural knife smithery has become.
The blades are built around a Japanese VG-10 carbon steel core. Their tangs are rat-tail designs, but the tails fortunately extend all the way to the butt plate, giving them more stability than some rat tails.
The handle grips themselves are made of a very attractive pakkawood. Though pretty, their rounded cross section is less ergonomic than many modern knives.
They also have steel bolsters, but the depth of the blade makes them appear more delicate than most steak knives. They can hold their own against any steak, though, so don’t worry.
How to Care for Your Steak Knives
It’s good to wash knives in a timely manner. Always keep in mind that even stainless steel can accumulate rust spots if left uncleaned for too long.
Occasionally you will see steak knives advertised as dishwasher-safe, but those are few and far between. And even in those cases, we recommend washing by hand. In spite of their fearsome appearance, blades can be delicate things. Other silverware getting tossed in the basket beside them can chip and dull the blade’s edge.
In addition, any wood in the knife’s handle can absorb excess water during the dishwasher cycle. Absorption will cause the wood to expand and potentially crack or separate from the tang.
Instead, wash all knives by hand with soapy water, rinse, and dry them somewhere where they’re unlikely to be damaged. Some knife racks are even quite open to the air so the drying can be done there.