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A good-quality knife is an crucial part of any kitchen arsenal. But home cooks don’t need to shell out hundreds for professional chefs knives better suited for a five-star restaurant. What if you just want to chop some lettuce for your salad, or debone chicken thighs and get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour?
The best kitchen knives give you the versatility of chef’s knives—letting you cut into meat, chop veggies, and even slice bread—in a more accessible package. Sure, there are a variety of solid knife sets out there, but sometimes you don’t need all the extra steak knives and cooking shears (and every other variety that comes in a set). You need a do-it-all, workhorse tool you can reach for to make a meal without piling up the sink with dishes.
If you’re looking for that one special knife, we’ve got you covered. There’s still a lot to know if you’re going to invest in a kitchen knife, especially if you’re a novice cook. After all, the best knives can last for years with proper sharpening and maintenance, so here’s how to find your best culinary companion without having to break out an entire bulky set.
What to Know Before Buying a Kitchen Knife
You should really do your research thoroughly before getting a kitchen knife you know you’ll use daily. Everything from the origins of the knife’s materials, to the weight and grip of the handle can make a big impact when you get down to slicing and dicing. Since you won’t be able to test these knives out yourself, if you’re shopping online, here are the most important factors to look for in a new kitchen knife.
German vs. Japanese: When it comes to kitchen knives, the two main categories are German (otherwise known as ‘Western’) and Japanese-style knives, but it really comes down to cooking style and personal preference. German blades tend to be thicker, and their unique curve is better suited for rocking motions (think, mincing garlic). They’re also heavy and thick enough to cut through chicken bones, but their soft blades mean you’ll have to sharpen them more often. Japanese blades are harder, and therefore can tend to chip and crack, but they’re also incredibly lightweight, with a sharp blade that’s perfect for precision cutting.
Hardness: If you’re buying the knife online, see if the brand lists the blade’s hardness. The Rockwell hardness scale is used to calculate the texture of knives—low to mid 50s is generally softer, while mid-50s to low-60s is harder.
Materials: Look for knives that feature all, or mostly stainless steel blades, since those will last the longest. Knives with a full “tang” are actually made from high-quality steel that run the full length of the knife from tip to hilt. A full tang can help maintain balance, but if you’re a beginner it’s not necessary. Knife handles vary in quality, but it does make a difference in handling, so it’s up to personal preference. Depending on whether the handle is steel, wood, or plastic, the weight and durability can be different.
Grip: Speaking of handles, you may want to look for a specific ergonomic handle if you know you’ll be doing a lot of carving, or heavy-duty chopping. But a simple, solid handle can allow for more versatility with your knife cuts (you can hold it in more positions), so again, the choice is yours.
Length: Most kitchen knife handles range from five to nine inches long, although some go up to 12 inches. You should pick a length according to the size of your hand, since the knife should fit securely in your palm, with enough room for maneuvering.
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up our top picks for the best kitchen knives that anyone can use, regardless of culinary skill.
1. Misen Chef’s Knife
Wannabe chefs might spring for a Wüsthof—but in-the-know home cooks recognize that Misen Chef’s Knife performs just as well as the bigger players, all at a fraction of the cost.
The direct-to-consumer may be known for their affordable kitchen tools, but they make an almost legendary chef’s knife as well. Their knife is made from AICHI AUS-10 stainless steel (Japanese-style) that’s super sharp, and durable enough for you to de-bone meats like a pro. The company says it offers longer lasting sharpness than similar brands (about 30%-50% more), so won’t have to worry about sending it back too often for a tune-up.
Experienced chefs will appreciate that the blade is sharpened to a 15-degree angle, which is more than traditional Western-style knives, and delicate enough to slice thin ribbons of basil. But home cooks and casual beginners will also get a lot of milage from the unique sloped bolster, which helps you naturally master the “pinch grip” you’re supposed to use when cutting.
Although it’s Japanese-style, it’s on the heavier side at around half a pound. That being said, it truly is the best of both worlds, with enough heft to manage well, and a blade sharp enough for precision slicing. If you only buy one knife for your kitchen, this should be it.
2. Shun Classic 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
BEST FOR PRECISION
Shun’s elegant knife is used by professional chefs everywhere, with a precision blade that’s backed by more than 100 years of Japanese tradition. The knives themselves are handcrafted in Seki City, combining Japanese tradition with modern advancements to create a knife made for intricate cutting.
The blade is made from a stainless steel formula exclusive to Shun, which includes cobalt and carbon for extra durability, chromium to protect against corrosion, and tungsten for a sharper edge. Shun’s knife also features Damascus steel cladding to make cuts even sharper, and also adds an elegant marbled look to the sides. The metal is also heat-treated so your blade stays razor sharp, longer.
While the handle is less ergonomic than the other knives on our list, the pakkawood material makes it sturdy, with a D-shape that fits well in the palm (one drawback: it’s mainly made for right-handed users). This also gives you a lot of grip versatility to make smaller, more delicate cuts, like preparing fish for sushi, or fine dices.
3. Mercer Culinary Millennia 12-Inch Knife
Mercer’s 12-inch knife is one of the greatest knives for the most average cooks—and we mean that in the best way. This accessible knife is below the price point of most high-end kitchen knives, but it excels in comfort and durability, but its length makes it useful for kitchen newbies and hardcore chefs alike.
The knife’s blade is made from a high-carbon Japanese stainless steel, that gives it a razor-sharp edge (and also resists rust and discoloration). In fact, reviews say that the knife can stand up to years of daily home use without fading, or getting too dull from washing. The blade has quite the edge, and it stays that way even if you’re cutting into a pineapple, or digging into tough steaks.
What we like: when you have a knife as long as this, the grip on Mercer’s knife is what really makes it stand out. The handle is ergonomically-designed, with textured finger points that provide great slip resistance. A combination of Santoprene (almost like rubber) and polypropylene (plastic) gives you enough grip to make it through cutting pounds of onions, while remaining durable.
The knife is well-built for sure, but a little longer than most kitchen knives, at 12 inches, which some may find too bulky for finer work. That being said, Mercer’s knife is a great value for the home cook that wants a solid performance out of their knife every time.
4. Zwilling J.A. Henckels Kitchen Knife
A high-quality German option is this chef’s knife from Zwilling. As an old, established brand you expect their knives to pull some big punches—and they absolutely do. An all-around powerhouse, the weight and balance of this thoughtfully-designed knife are incredibly even.
Speaking of weight: at just 0.6 pounds, the Zwilling knife is definitely on the lighter side for a Western-style knife. Combined with its 15-degree edge, this just means you can utilize it for more precision tasks too, like chiffonade cuts. With a 57 Rockwell hardness, it’s tough enough to retain its edge in between honings.
The Zwilling blade is made from a specially-designed high-carbon steel, and the blade is hardened in ice for a rock-solid construction. The ergonomic handle is similar to Shun’s, with a D-shape for comfortable grip, welded to the single-steel piece full tang. At eight inches, the length is right in the sweet spot for most people.
This knife is a top-notch upgrade if you’re just getting into cooking, with enough heft for tougher jobs (think, cutting through a whole butternut squash) and versatility for a lighter finesse, regardless of skill level.