A chef’s knife is arguably the single most important kitchen tool you’ll own, so it makes a lot of sense to invest in the best. But knives are intimidating to shop for: What’s full tang? What’s the difference between a Western-style knife and a Japanese-style knife? Do you want a thick blade or a thin blade? Should your knife be heavy or light? And of course, how much money should you spend? You can buy knives for as little as $9 and for more than $3,000.
We waded through all the nonsense and set out to find the best chef’s knives for home cooks at the best price. We tested twenty 8" options from leading knife brands ranging in price from $25 to $400. We named three winners: a Western-style chef’s knife, a Japanese-style chef’s knife, and an impressive budget knife. Read on to discover the best chef’s knives of 2020; for the specifics of how we tested and what to look for in a kitchen knife, scroll to the bottom of the page.
The Best Chef’s Knife Overall: Mac 8" Professional Hollow Edge Chef’s Knife
This is a well-priced and extremely sharp knife that at six ounces is pretty lightweight. It handles both tough and delicate slicing beautifully and cuts with even precision. Even though it’s light, it’s strong enough to get through tough vegetables—it sliced easily through a sweet potato and cut an onion into thin, even strips with ease. It was also sharp enough to razor through delicate herbs without smashing them. The agile blade is relatively straight and tapers at the end, giving it a curve reminiscent of a Western knife, but the same sharp edge of a Japanese model. The material is also a compromise between German and Japanese knives—it’s made of a hard steel like a Japanese knife, but isn’t quite as brittle, so it’s less prone to chipping.
We also found this knife to be lively and responsive in our hands. There’s a smooth transition between the handle and the blade, and the knife is comfortable to hold. Mac Knife is a company we trust to make quality knives at a variety of price points, and this affordable option performs reliably. We know from using them in the Epicurious Test Kitchen that they stay sharp for a long time and are easy to sharpen. It has a simple design and finish. It has a wooden handle, and the blade has dimples that keep food from sticking to the sides. This is a kitchen workhorse that will last a long time.
The Best Heavy Chef’s Knife: Misen Chef’s Knife
For people who are used to a heavier knife, the Misen chef’s knife is a nice compromise. It has a thinner blade than many German-style knives but a bit more weight behind it. It has a half bolster, which makes choking up on the blade and doing a pinch grip easy, but it’s not as bulky as a knife with a full bolster. Plus, at $60, it has a (nearly) unbeatable price tag. It was a little heavy for Bon Appétit test kitchen director and knife aficionado Chris Morocco’s taste—he found the finish quality to be a bit lacking and noticed that the blade wasn’t perfectly sharpened, but it feels nice in your hand and slices through hefty veggies with prowess. It doesn’t have the delicacy of the extra-sharp Mac Knife when slicing through herbs, but it handles the job just fine.
The Best Budget Chef’s Knife: Victorinox Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife
Sure, the finish quality on this Victorinox knife isn’t nearly as high as the Mac or the Misen, but at around $40, it’s significantly cheaper. And it’s super sharp. It glided through tough tomato skins with precision and delicacy—we were able to get super-thin slices without crushing the fruit at all. Ditto for onion. In fact, the blade on this knife has a nice nonstick finish that seemed to repel onions, which stuck to most of the other knife blades we tested. The rubber handle might not look like much, but it’s comfortable to hold and easy to grip. It isn’t full tang, meaning the metal of the stainless-steel blade doesn’t extend all the way to the base of the handle. While this is generally said to indicate a lower-quality, less-sturdy knife, Chris assured us that it wasn’t a cause for concern. For such an inexpensive tool, it produces precise and beautiful knife work on everything from sweet potatoes to tender herbs. It’s smart to have an inexpensive chef’s knife around—one that's low-maintenance and can take a trip through the dishwasher. As Chris told us, “It’s probably the best chef’s knife out there for the money. And you can buy it almost anywhere. It’s the standard knife we keep around the test kitchen and it sharpens nicely.” Sold.
How We Tested the Chef’s Knives
My colleague Joe Sevier and I evaluated the larger group of 20 chef’s knives first by holding them in our hands and observing the quality of the metal and sharpened edge, the feel of the handle, and the overall weight of the knife. We then used the knives to chop raw sweet potatoes and onions, mince a pile of herbs, and tear through the delicate flesh of a tomato. Once we narrowed them down to our top four or five picks, Epicurious senior food editor Anna Stockwell and Bon Appétit's Chris Morocco further narrowed down our winners based on feel, look, and some additional light testing. We also evaluated the following factors:
1. How heavy is the knife?
To a certain extent the ideal weight of a chef’s knife is a matter of personal preference. If you tend to use a rocking motion while cutting, a heavier knife with a curved blade will keep your hand stable in one place; if you prefer a slicing motion, a light, thin-bladed knife will be easier to maneuver back and forth. As a team, we preferred a lightweight knife. At first the heft of the knife was a point of contention between Anna and Chris. Anna is used to a heavier German-style knife, like a classic Wüsthof, while Chris likes a thin, lightweight knife. Anna ultimately joined the light knife camp after Chris pointed out that the force cutting through something is coming from your hand, not from the heft of the knife itself.
2. How thin is the blade? What shape is it?
From the start we were looking for a thin, sharp blade. “I like thinner knives because they’re lighter for people,” Chris said. We also preferred the flatter belly that typically accompanies a thin blade on a Japanese or French knife because it makes for more precise, clean slicing. German-style knives, on the other hand, have a more pronounced curve and thicker blade that’s more conducive to rocking than slicing. Thinner blades also make slicing easier and smoother, but there’s a catch: “Chips are going to happen to any knife after a while, especially to ones that are thinner and have less metal behind the edge when you’re slicing through tough vegetables like butternut squash,” Chris said. You can combat this by taking extra care of your knife and having it sharpened regularly.
3. How does the handle feel? How responsive is the knife?
Naturally, we wanted a knife with a comfortable handle, which we interpreted as lightweight and smooth rather than heavy and long. When it comes to responsiveness, Chris explains that you want a knife that feels “alive in your hand.” You can determine the responsiveness by tapping the blade against the cutting board or counter—a responsive knife will vibrate back in your hand. When you chop something, you’ll feel like you have greater control over the cutting and more of a connection with the knife.
4. How sharp is it? How effectively does it slice through tough vegetables?
We sliced through tough sweet potatoes to test each knife’s sharpness and smoothness. We didn’t want blades that would catch on the vegetables—we wanted clean, easy slicing. We also tested onions to examine the knives’ precision when slicing and dicing. Certain knives yielded thinner, even, and more precise slices than others.
5. How does the knife handle delicate herbs?
In addition to handling the heft and toughness of something like a potato, we wanted a knife that could slice through herbs without crushing them. A good chef’s knife shouldn’t muddle or mush a pile of parsley.
6. What’s the finish quality like?
How nice is the steel? How are the transitions between blade and handle? Is the handle made of high-quality material? Is the blade smooth and even? Again, understanding the difference between a German-style knife and a Japanese one is important here: German knives tend to have a thick cuff, or bolster, that runs between the knife blade and the handle. This makes the knife heavier and better for rocking motions. We ultimately liked a smoother transition without the cuff, as it resulted in a lighter knife that made for an easy and comfortable slicing motion.
Other Chef’s Knives We Tested
We also liked the Miyabi Kaizen chef’s knife. It’s a Japanese-style knife, and though the blade is super thin and precise, the handle has some width and bulk to make it feel steady. It’s ultra-sharp, has high-quality finishes, and compared to similar knives on the market, isn’t too expensive.
If you’re looking for a luxe gift (or just want to splurge on yourself), the Aura Two Chef’s Knife is a notable knife. The steel is extremely high-quality, the transitions are beautiful, and the grinding on the blade is perfect. It had the long, straight shape that Chris loves and glided through our test with ease and precision. It’s a great knife that has an unconventional (some might say artsy) handle, but it comes with a hefty price tag of $499.
We tested the direct-to-consumer company Made In’s chef's knife. While it was extremely sharp out of the box and sliced through a sweet potato with more ease than some of our winners, it dulled quickly with each subsequent use. It also couldn’t handle the more delicate jobs of slicing onion, tender herbs, or tomato nearly as well as our winning knives. Similarly, the direct-to-consumer knife Bulat sliced through tough sweet potato with force, but it was too heavy and bulky to handle delicate knife jobs well—it resisted cutting through the skin of the tomato and crushed the interior of the fruit a bit. The Wüsthof Gourmet and Classic models were both pleasantly lighter than the knives we’re accustomed to from the company. They’re sharp and effective for delicate knife work but had a bit of trouble handling the tough sweet potato. The $8 Brandless knife felt slippery in our hand and did a lackluster job with both sweet potatoes and tender herbs. Finally, the Mercer knife felt clunky and choppy, especially compared to the winning Mac and Victorinox, both of which glided as they chopped.
Chef’s Knives Sizes
Chef’s knives range in size from five to 14 inches, and the ideal size for you depends on the length of your forearm. Generally, the best chef’s knife will be a similar length as your forearm from your wrist to your elbow. That being said, 8" chef’s knives are a standard size that comfortably fit most people—which is why we compared 8" chef’s knives across brands. Our budget pick, the Victorinox Fibrox Professional Knife, is available not only in an 8" length, but also in 5", 6", and 10" lengths.
What’s the difference between a German chef’s knife and a Japanese chef’s knife?
German chef’s knives, specifically, feature a rounded belly that makes the knife ideal for cutting with rocking technique, while Japanese chef’s knives feature a straight edge that best suits up-and-down slicing.
German chef’s knives and other Western chef’s knives tend to be far thicker than a Japanese chef’s knife. Thinner knives are preferable for fine slicing, but they aren’t as adept at slicing through tough material or bone. Thin knives are, of course, lighter. If you plan on doing a lot of slicing and chopping, that lightness can be a real advantage.
What Do You Use a Chef’s Knife For?
A chef’s knife is the most versatile of all kitchen knives. If you are going to invest in only one knife, this is the type you want. A chef’s knife is your go-to for cutting meat and herbs, as well as chopping nuts and dicing vegetables.
You can also flip your chef’s knife over and use the back side for a variety of kitchen tasks, including bruising lemongrass, cracking a coconut, scaling a fish, crushing cucumbers, and milking an ear of corn. The back side is also meant, specifically, for scraping chopped ingredients from your cutting board (given that using the sharp side will dull the knife).
For an extremely sharp, relatively lightweight Japanese-style knife that will last and sharpen easily, choose the Mac Knife. For a heftier and less expensive knife that’s more in line with a standard Western design, choose the Misen Chef’s knife. For an inexpensive workhorse knife, the Victorinox Fibrox Pro is our top pick.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious