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2021-11-15T22: 30: 09Z
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- Putting your knife set together piecemeal is best, and a chef’s knife is the only real essential.
- Wusthof’s Classic Ikon 8″ Chef’s Knife is our favorite, but we also like Victorinox, Shun, and more.
- Read about how we test kitchen products at Insider Reviews.
There may be no more important tool in your kitchen than your chef’s knife. It is the one-stop-shop for all of your slicing, chopping, dicing, and trimming needs. Sure, there are other kitchen knives well worth their steel, but we can’t stress this enough: if you’re going to put your money into any one knife, or if you’re considering buying a knife set, think about a single, high-quality chef’s knife to start.
While we do offer a guide to the best knife sets — and recommend some budget-friendly options like the Victorinox Fibrox Pro set (a staple in many commercial kitchens) — you can end up with a lot of filler pieces if you go the pre-packaged route. Everyone we’ve spoken with on the matter, from famed butcher Pat LaFrieda to late gourmand and chef Anthony Bourdain, has been quick to the point: most knife sets are a waste of money. And having knocked around enough commercial bars and kitchens myself, I can’t agree more. Rarely do you see a chef, sous chef, or line cook, fiddling with anything but a chef’s knife.
For this guide, we focused on chef’s knives for the reasons above, but we also ran through dozens of paring, boning, utility, and bread knives to recommend one of each of those as well.
Here are the best kitchen knives of 2021
- Best kitchen knife overall: Wusthof Classic Ikon 8″ Chef’s Knife
- Best all-purpose kitchen knife: Benchmade Station
- Best budget kitchen knife: Victorinox Fibrox Pro 8″ Chef’s Knife
- Best paring knife: Victorinox 3.25″ Straight Paring Knife
- Best bread knife: Victorinox Fibrox Pro 10.25″ Serrated Curved Bread Knife
- Best utility knife: Shun Sora 6″
Best chef’s knife overall
Hefty but balanced, The traditional German design of Wüsthof’s Classic Ikon 8″ Chef’s Knife suits most hands and stands up to just about every kitchen task.
Pros: Great for chopping and dicing, agreeable handle for most, rust- and chip-resistant
Cons: Requires regular sharpening
The Wüsthof Classic Ikon Chef’s Knife is the most traditional western knife there is: It’s big, it’s heavy, and it’s made with relatively soft, rust-, and chip-resistant stainless steel.
As far as quality knives go, this is the knife we’ve found to handle the most difficult tasks while also still offering agility and precision.
Before we go further, we should mention one caveat: Ahead of investing in a chef’s knife, know that of all the kitchen knives you might purchase, it is the most personal choice you’re going to have to make.
No matter which knife you choose, your chef’s knife is the one you’ll rely upon most. It offers the most surface area for larger chopping and slicing jobs, and it also handles the most force for hardier root vegetables, meat, and poultry. Different designs might favor chopping and dicing over slicing (and vice-versa), but we like the only slightly rounded belly of the Wüsthof Classic Ikon, which strikes a happy medium for the two tasks.
We also like the modified handle of the Ikon series knives in general, which isn’t quite German, but not quite Japanese, either. It seems to be a hybrid of the two and fits most hands comfortably (we placed our top pick in several different palms).
All in all, this is a great knife for the average household in which kitchen knives aren’t generally taken care of, and no matter who gets a hold of this thing or what they do with or to it, you’ll be able to bring it back up to snuff. That and the fact that it’s a relatively thin and agile blade as far as German knives go make it the best all-around pick based on our testing.
Best all-purpose kitchen knife
If you want just one knife in your kitchen, Benchmade’s station knife is the perfect middle ground between a paring knife and a chef’s knife.
Pros: Great for everything from slicing and carving to chopping and dicing, guaranteed for life
Cons: Some might not like the handle (subjective)
Before testing Benchmade’s Station knife, we would have scoffed at the idea of anything other than a chef’s knife being considered all-purpose. The Station knife’s tip has the deftness of a paring knife, while its extremely wide heel chops and slices like a cleaver, and we haven’t found anything we can’t do well with it, apart from slice bread. We broke down whole chickens, chopped piles of potatoes, sliced a dozen tomatoes, minced garlic and shallots, and hulled strawberries with ease.
Made in the USA, these knives are customizable. You can get the basic, but highest-quality 440C stainless steel, or the upgraded CPM-154 (Benchmade’s take on 154CM, which is 440C stainless steel with added Molybendum to prevent chipping). You can also choose your handle, from an epoxy G10 (seven colors), a resin-infused paper called Richlite (three colors), and black carbon fiber. Plus, you can have the blade etched with laser-marking if you want something really one of a kind.
Finally, Benchmade will clean, oil, adjust, and resharpen your knife for life, free of charge through their Lifesharp service — you just have to pay postage.
Best budget chef’s knife
Popular in busy commercial kitchens and homes alike, Victorinox’s Fibrox has a highly ergonomic handle and stands up to rough use like few others.
Pros: Maneuverable, comfortable handle, decent edge retention
Cons: Not razor-sharp straight out of the factory, takes some work to sharpen, not perfectly balanced
Victorinox’s entire Fibrox line is a favorite in commercial kitchens because its knives are among the few that can pass through numerous line cooks’ hands and accidental trips through the dishwasher unscathed. The Fibrox Chef’s Knife is budget-friendly, but it’s also perfect for short-term rentals, first apartments, and more generally, people who don’t necessarily want to spend time taking care of their kitchen tools.
My kitchen sees a lot of “chefs,” and for that reason, I have my knives squirreled away separately from the communal kitchen knives, which are entirely from Victorinox. This way, I don’t have to worry about someone slicing a lemon and leaving an expensive knife on the counter, not only wet but coated in citric acid, or trying to pry open a lid via a Japanese blade, which is horrific to think about.
And even though the Fibrox Chef’s Knife has withstood the abuse mentioned above (and more), there’s neither a single stain nor chip on it. Sure, it’s a bit scratched (coarse sponges are terrible for stainless steel, but more on care below), but all I do is give it a sharpening every couple of months, which with diligence gets it sharper than it was from the factory, and it performs impressively.
We also find it to be a little on the safer side thanks to the ultra-grippy Fibrox handle, which is easy to hold even when wet or greasy.
Read more about the Fibrox line in our guide to the best knife sets (even though we generally don’t recommend sets, this one is an exception).
Best paring knife
A paring knife is a simple tool for lighter tasks, and Victorinox’s 3.25″ Straight Paring Knife offers everything you need of it and nothing you don’t.
Pros: Resilient, relatively rust-proof, dishwasher-safe
Cons: Very lightweight, requires regular sharpening
You really, really don’t need to spend a fortune on a paring knife. We think Victorinox’s 3.25″ Straight Paring Knife does the job about as well as anything because it’s not the blade you’re going to rely on for heavier-duty tasks.
Hulling strawberries, slicing a small bit of garlic, and peeling and seeding fruit is about all you’re going to use it for, and while they’re not the most demanding tasks, this knife handles them every bit as well as you’d hope anything would. Sure, you can spend a lot more and get a weightier paring knife, but it’s far from necessary.
And while, again, it’s about as cheap as any kitchen knife gets, it’s also much more resilient than pricier picks. Years ago, one of our testers admitted to running it through the dishwasher regularly, and has found only one small speck of rust since.
The only other issue that arises with this knife is that you’ll have to sharpen it as regularly as our budget pick for a chef’s knife. Depending upon how often you put it to work, that could range from every month to every few months.
Otherwise, keep this knife clean and dry like any other and it will work and last like any other.
Best bread knife
A long, thin blade with shallow serrations makes the surprisingly affordable Victorinox Fibrox 10″ Bread Knife a precise tool for slicing bread and more.
Pros: Nicely weighted (for a budget-friendly knife), great grip
Cons: Not as heavy as top-of-the-line bread knives, not as sharp out of the factory
It’s debatable whether you want to spend much on a bread knife depending on how often you’ll be using it, but Victorinox’s Fibrox Bread Knife is a quality tool at a reasonable price. It withstands the same amount of rough use as the rest of our recommendations from that line, but thanks to the larger handle and longer blade it carries a little more weight than the more budget-friendly options we considered.
In our tests, which involved slicing less-than-forgiving, homemade, no-knead bread, it fared as well as everything we tried until we reached the $200 range, which is an absurd price for a bread knife for most people. That pretty much settled it.
We also can’t lend enough praise to the Fibrox handles in general, which everyone seems to appreciate, and apart from their ergonomic qualities, instill a sense of security with their non-slip grips.
Because this blade is not only thin but also only shallowly serrated, you won’t have as much trouble sharpening it on your own as you would with, say, a deep-scalloped one that doesn’t take to a simple pull-through sharpener as well. It also turns out that this knife isn’t bad for slicing softer fruits and carving meat and poultry.
If you’re looking for something a little more on the affordable side, our previous pick (which we retested against this one) is the Mercer Culinary Millennia Wavy Edge 10-inch Wide Bread Knife. It has a slightly thicker blade and a deeper serration, so it’s not going to be as precise, but it’s got a similar handle and costs half the price.
Best utility knife
With VG Max steel wrapped in layered Damascus steel, Shun’s Classic 6″ Utility Knife is sharper and retains a better edge than most German-style knives, and is perfect for trimming and more precise cuts.
Pros: Extremely sharp, great edge retention, rust-resistant, very well-balanced
Cons: Slightly brittle and easier to chip than German steel, small, D-shaped handle favors right-handers
A utility knife needs to be extra sharp for more precise cuts and trimming without tearing foods, and Shun’s Classic 6″ Utility Knife uses VG-Max Damascus steel, effectively offering the best of both worlds between Japanese-style and German-style blades.
Damascus steel is made by forging and hammering carbon-rich steel (in this case, VG-Max) at a low temperature, cranking up the heat, and then cooling it abruptly. The material is known for its flexibility and corrosion resistance, not to mention its signature swirly “damask” pattern that tends to woo one and all. While its beauty is something to behold, the important takeaway is that you get a knife that holds a stronger edge than carbon steel but flexes better than stainless steel.
While we veered away from Japanese steel for our chef’s knife top pick, and didn’t recommend a Damascus or VG Max steel option because of the cost, a smaller utility knife from Shun makes that type of pricier steel more affordable.
Apart from being remarkably more rust-resistant than other Japanese and Japanese-style knives we tried, this knife isn’t so brittle that we’ve had trouble with chipping or dinging. Still, you’ll want to keep it away from harder foods and surfaces, and especially bones. Where this knife shines is with smaller, in-between tasks where a chef’s knife is overkill and a paring knife is painfully laborious. Think slicing tomatoes or dicing shallots. It’s not a necessary knife for everyone, but behind those two knives and a bread knife, it’s the next most important one for most kitchens. On that note, it did offer enough flexibility for me to not necessarily fillet, but skin and trim boneless meat.
Shun’s knives are made with a material known as Pakka wood, which is really a wood-and-plastic composite that looks an awful lot like walnut. Purists might cringe, but it gives the look without bringing along the worry of the handle splitting.
If you’re really averse to owning a Japanese knife for one reason or another (either the handle or the extra care required), look to the utility knife version of our top-recommended chef’s knife, the 6″ Wüsthof Ikon.
What else we tested
Each of the knives below did their job, and any of them will suit your kitchen well; they just weren’t our top choices for most people or budgets.
Shun: Probably the most popular Japanese knife in the US, Shun offers relatively affordable VG- and Damascus-steel knives. Apart from recommending the brand’s utility knife, one of my personal favorite knives is the 8″ Chef’s knife.
Korin: Another mid-range Japanese knife similar to Shun, Korin is a favorite of Pat LaFrieda and Andrew Zimmern, and is competitive with Mac.
J.A. Henckels: One of the veritable classics in German knives, J.A. Henckels’ knives were a little thicker in the blade than our other picks, but you really can’t go wrong here.
Dexter-Russell: Similar to Victorinox’s Fibrox series, Dexter-Russell offers a line of similarly iconic white-handled knives at a great price point, and which you’ll find in commercial kitchens all over. We just found that the handles on the Fibrox knives are much grippier.
Mac: This company makes an outstanding chef’s knife, especially for the price. The only reason we couldn’t recommend this as an overall pick was its delicacy. At the hands of most people, this knife isn’t going to stay in great shape for long. If you care for your knives, on the other hand, we can’t recommend it enough.
Made In: These, like many other DTC-brand knives, are made with X50CrMoV15 steel and are a great deal for the price. Like the others, they didn’t exactly wow us, but we found nothing really wrong with them, either. The rounded handle seems to work well with many hands.
Material: These knives are made with “high-carbon” steel, but we wouldn’t call it high-quality. They have a hybrid handle that should suit most hands, and they’re easy enough to sharpen and perfectly serviceable knives.
Misen: More X50CrMoV15 steel and a great deal for the price. These are extremely popular for a reason, and we like them plenty, too.
Our Place: Another DTC brand making X50CrMoV15 steel blades, Our Place’s knives are more than satisfactory. We liked the hybrid handle, but not as much as others. If the handle looks like it’ll suit you, these are nicely designed and balanced knives.
Steelport Knife Co.: This is a much fancier, carbon-steel option for someone who wants to invest in a gorgeous and impossibly sharp blade. We love it, but we also recognize that it requires care.
Our kitchen knife testing methodology
We finely sliced tomatoes and onions with chef’s knives, minced garlic and shallots with utility and paring knives, hulled strawberries with paring knives, and sliced hard-crusted no-knead bread with serrated slicing knives. We then dulled each blade by rapping them repeatedly on a glass cutting board (word to the wise, never use one of these) and returned to each knife’s respective task to note any dulling or chipping.
We also made sure to put each knife into as many different hands as possible, ranging from professional cooks to hobbyists.
A word on Japanese knives
We took Japanese knives out of the running for our top chef’s knife pick. While they’re a personal favorite, they’re notoriously difficult to maintain, and therefore not suited for most kitchens. Simply put, if you’re starting to invest in your kitchen knives, we don’t want to recommend a fine knife that will easily be misused.
“High-carbon stainless steel” is a bit of a buzzword in reaction to the popularity of Japanese-style knives, which can attain notoriously sharper edges than their German-style counterparts. The delicacy of Japanese knives has to do with the hardness of the standard high-carbon stainless steel, which allows for a finer and sharper but proportionally brittler edge.
Still, if you’re the type of person who takes particularly good care of your tools (and aren’t sharing a kitchen with someone who won’t), you may prefer a Japanese knife. But know that they require meticulous cleaning and drying, as well as careful storage, or they’ll end up with rusted and/or chipped blades.
Edge retention: Our knife-testing process involved slicing fresh tomatoes and taking note of the ease with which each chef’s knife handled the task. After we had sufficient data, we took each chef’s knife to a glass cutting board and ran it over the surface 200 times. Some knives held their edge, others not so much. We looked at the edges after running the knives and noted if there were any visible changes.
We then returned to the tomatoes, cutting a few more and seeing how much resistance we felt compared with the performance of the knives straight out of the packaging. Knives that held their edges passed on to further rounds of consideration.
Alloy, and the HRC (hardness rating): We consulted several experts in the field, but the most informative source we encountered was Michael J Tarkanian, a professor of metallurgy at MIT. With his help, we were able to cut through the marketing and the scientific terminology behind different alloys and what allows a knife to retain an edge.
We looked for a hardness rating of around 60 HRC, which offers great edge retention while still allowing for an edge of around 15 degrees (though up to 20 degrees, which is duller than 15, was still considered sufficient).
Ergonomics: For a knife to work well, you have to be able to hold it comfortably in your hand. We asked several people to pick up knives and decide which ones were the easiest to grip; across the board, they went for the ones with heavier, rounded, almost bulbous handles.
Balance: The weight of the handle and the blade is also somewhat critical. Pricier knives almost always offer better balance because that extra cost goes into using denser and often more desirable materials, like layered Damascus steel.
A well-balanced knife with a good blade will cut through vegetables with minimal pressure, like our top pick from Wusthof. A not-so-well-balanced knife will take a little force to get started.
Kitchen knife FAQs
How do I choose a kitchen knife?
The most important thing about a knife, and especially a chef’s knife, is how it fits in your hand. So long as you spend at least $50 on a chef’s knife, it’s going to be sharp (and sharpenable) enough to get most any job done, and most of popular DTC brands are selling great entry-level knives for fair prices. Decide what kind of handle you want first. German-style knives are generally more molded to the palm with a pronounced butt end, while Japanese-style knives are almost uniformly cylindrical and smaller. Both designs work for everyone; it just depends on the feel you prefer and, to some degree, how you hold the knife.
The type of steel you choose should be based on the kind of care you’re (realistically) going to give your knife. If you don’t envision yourself sharpening and perfectly drying and storing your knife after every use, German stainless steel (e.g., 440, 420) is going to be much more forgiving, though softer and quicker to dull.
If you are a tool fanatic and know that you’ll take good care of your knives and are also confident that they won’t find their way into the wrong hands, carbon steel is a great pick because it’s incredibly sharp. Just know that it’s likely to rust and chip more easily.
In between, you have VG-10 and VG-Max (proprietary to Shun, but about the same as VG-10), which have added alloys (tungsten, vanadium) that make them a little more stain-resistant and less brittle. They’re great for those who want a Japanese-style knife without having to care so devoutly for it.
Then there’s Damascus steel, which is made by forging and hammering carbon-rich steel at a low temperature, cranking up the heat, and then cooling it abruptly. Damascus steel is known for its flexibility and corrosion resistance, and we recommend it, but be wary of too-good-to-be-true deals. A lot of manufacturers will etch the mesmerizing swirls into a blade without performing the time-consuming and expensive hammering process.
Should I buy a knife set?
In general, things that come in sets tend to involve compromised quality, and often contain filler pieces. In the case of knife sets, you’re probably going to receive a bunch of knives and other gadgets (including a large woodblock) that you may never use.
A lot of newer (and older) DTC brands recognize that consumers are growing wiser and learning that sets are generally a ripoff. As a result, there are lots of two- to five-piece sets on the market. If you’re looking in the budget range, we’re all for them, and we’ve pretty much tried them all. The steel is almost always the same quality, so choose based on the handle style you like.
Otherwise, though, sets don’t make a lot of sense for most people. Invest in a chef’s knife, first and foremost, with which, by the way, you can tackle all of your kitchen tasks, minus maybe slicing bread. Next, a paring knife is probably the most sensible purchase, but since it’s not doing a lot of the heavy work, we say go cheap. That said, feel free to spend what you’d like; there is something to be said for a weightier, sharper blade in the case of every knife.
A slicing and/or bread knife may or may not be important to you depending upon whether or not you consume much bread or slice much meat. You can find one that does the job for as little as $20, or, again, the sky’s the limit. For most people, we like the $40-$60 range.
Beyond the above, you’re getting into specific tasks most people don’t really take on at home. Fillet knives, boning knives, santoku knives, and shears are all further considerations. Even if you want all of those knives, you’re still likely better off purchasing them piecemeal. It’ll be more affordable, and you’ll also be able to budget so that you can put your money where it counts.
Heal: The corner of the blade where the edge meets the bolster.
Edge: The sharpened, business side of the blade.
Tang: The part of the blade that runs to or through the handle. “Full-tang” is a common term, which means the blade steel is a single piece of steel that runs through the handle.
Rivets: The pins holding the handle together (more common in German handles).
Bolster: Above the heel, a spacer where the blade meets the handle, and an area to grab or choke up on when performing finer tasks.
Tip: The pointy, or front end of the knife opposite the handle.
High-carbon steel: Steel with at least 0.55% carbon content.
Stainless steel: An alloy of iron,
, and sometimes other metals. This is a very general term, but it’s the basic steel with which German knives are made.
VG10, VG-Max: A high-carbon steel blended with tungsten and vanadium, and sometimes other metals to lend flexibility and rust resistance.
Damascus Steel: A two-plus-millennia-old process, Damascus steel is made by forging and hammering carbon-rich steel at a low temperature, cranking up the heat, and then cooling it abruptly, repeatedly (generally dozens of times). Damascus steel is known for its flexibility and corrosion resistance while still retaining a superior edge, which is why it is traditionally (and famously) used for samurai swords.
Home and Kitchen Reporter
Owen Burke is a Senior Home and Kitchen Reporter at Insider, helping craft a brand new guides section for Insider Reviews. Ever in search of the perfect espresso, he focuses on espresso machines and equipment, juicers, kitchen knives, grills, meat and seafood, and the odd outdoors product.
Previously, he was a contributor at Wirecutter, Outside, Surfer Magazine, and The Atlantic. He’s also worked in raw bars, restaurants, and on fishing boats, holding a USCG Master Captain’s license.
He is a contributing author on The Ocean: The Ultimate Handbook of Nautical Knowledge.
Say hello at email@example.com.
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