This definitive guide to the best kitchen knives of 2021 explores everything you need to know to buy your next favorite tool. It covers options at every price point, and it also clarifies which knives are essential and which ones you can cook without.
Other Great Chef’s Knives
Other Essential Knives
- Best Bread Knife: Hoffritz Commercial Bread Knife
- Best Paring Knife: Victorinox Spear Point Paring Knife
- Best Serrated Utility Knife: Wüsthof Classic Serrated Knife
- Best Slicer/Carver Knife: Victorinox Fibrox Slicer
- Best Cheese Knife: Swissmar Cheese Plane
- Best Oyster Knife: OXO Good Grips Oyster Knife
There is no absolute best kitchen knife for every person. Different budgets, grip styles and aesthetic tastes, not to mention a dozen other micro-decisions, all determine which knife is best for the task at hand.
This guide aims to identify which kitchen knives are most useful, and hopefully, it helps you divorce from overpriced, unnecessarily bulky knife block sets. It also answers age-old questions haunting the kitchen: Do I really need a utility knife? When should I use paring knife? What in the hell does X50CrMoV15 mean? But first, our top recs for the most useful kitchen knives available in 2021.
The Short List
Best Overall Chef’s Knife: Tojiro DP Gyuto
Knife emporium ChefsKnivestoGo describes Tojiro’s DP series as “the gateway into the world of high end Japanese cutlery.” Simply put, you will be hard-pressed to find a blade that’s made better than this one for under $100. The Tojiro DP Gyuto is a full-tang VG10 stainless steel knife. At just under 2mm wide, the blade is thin like a Japanese knife, but the knife is heavier than most Japanese knives, solving the common issue many new Japanese knife owners have with their blades (traditional Western knives are beefy in comparison). The steel type is fairly common for a mid-priced knife, but because the core of the knife is laminated with a softer steel, it’s much easier to sharpen than most. Altogether, there isn’t a knife — Japanese or otherwise — that offers as much performance for the money.
Best Upgraded Chef's Knife: Mac Professional Hollow Edge Knife
Mac makes a number of more affordable blades, but its Pro series is when the brand starts to become superlative. Made with a proprietary very high carbon stainless steel, the blade is thin, ultra-sharp, dimpled and, oddly enough, quite heavy. It also has dimples to support food release, a sturdy bolster and it’s stain- and rust-resistant (we still wouldn’t put it in the dishwasher). It’s one of very few Japanese knives that successfully implements these kinds of Western design cues. A 25-year warranty against material and construction defects proves how much Mac believes in this knife.
Best Cheap Chef’s Knife: Victorinox Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife
The trick to buying a truly affordable chef’s knife is basically just finding a product with the least number of negatives.
In testing, we compared affordable options from Victorinox ($31), Wüsthof ($30), Hoffritz ($13) and Potluck, a direct-to-consumer brand that sells a chef’s knife as part of a set (it’s $60 for three knives). Frankly, all affordable chef’s knives handle onions, tomatoes and the breaking down of chickens pretty much the same — they are reasonably sharp out of the box but they will chip with consistent use.
Ultimately, Victorinox’s ultra-cheap 8-inch chef’s knife won out, though it is liable to blade chipping and isn’t the most comfortable to use. But for the price of two movie tickets, there isn’t a knife that performs this well or is as widely available (you can find them in most home goods sections). Also, the handle isn’t as aggressively “ergonomic” as many others in this category, making it a bit easier to switch between knife grips.
On a tight budget? We haven't tested all of them, but these knives are on sale right now.
Other Great Chef’s Knives
Zwilling Pro 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
A Western-style knife (sometimes called a German-style knife) is typically going to be heavier and have a thicker blade than a Japanese-style knife. Most Western-style knives sport more defined handle ergonomics as well (more details here). The category of Western-style chef’s knife is very, very large, but after testing two dozen of them, Zwilling’s 8-inch takes the cake. It is a stainless steel knife (the exact properties of the steel are proprietary) that’s stain- and corrosion-resistant. After months of testing, the blade didn’t chip or show signs of dulling in any way.
The largest differentiating factor between Zwilling’s 8-inch and Wüsthof’s highly-recommended forged 8-inch ($150) was the bolster. The Zwilling knife’s bolster fades into the blade less dramatically than the Wüsthof which, when using a pinch grip, was a lot more comfortable. That said, both got on sale fairly frequently and are solid buys.
Price: (Zwilling): $150 | Price (Amazon): $150
Mercer Culinary MX3 Knife
Very, very similar to our Best Overall pick, the Tojiro knife, Mercer Culinary's MX3 is a thin Japanese-style knife with a hardwearing stainless steel core and a sharp (and sharpenable) high-carbon steel exterior. It's also full-tang and comes with a limited lifetime warranty. A strong backup option if the Tojiro knife is sold out, which happens every now and then.
Price: (Amazon) $100
Global’s kitchen knives are really weird. Here’s why that’s a good thing.
The design is both Japanese (the blade is very light and very thin) and anti-Japanese (its balance isn’t pushed toward the cutting end and the whole thing is one piece; most Japanese-style knives taper into a wooden handle). This means it has the nice slicing properties you’d expect from a great Japanese knife, but in a much more durable, familiar package. Its stainless steel makeup (exact properties are proprietary) resists staining or corrosion and remains wicked sharp during use.
In testing, we tried comparably-priced MAC knives ($95) and a few other more premium options, but only Tojiro’s Good Design Award-winning knife ($68) balanced the features of a typical Japanese knife with lower maintenance, reasonable prices, edge retention and smart design quite like Global’s G-2.
Price (Amazon): $90 | Price (Food52): $125
Made In Chef’s Knife
Direct-to-consumer brand Made In started with cookware, which remains its bread and butter, but the brand’s debut chef’s knife (released in 2018) is stellar. The blade is quite big and made with X50CrMoV15 steel (a mixture of carbon, chromium, molybdenum, vanadium, manganese and silicon), which is a staple for high-end Western blades. It is best described as a high-carbon stainless steel, meaning it carries some traits from carbon and stainless steel knives.
On top of this, Made In’s knife rocks a more straight-lined, Japanese-style handle and is finished in nitrogen. A better explanation is available courtesy of Knife Steel Nerds, but this essentially makes the blade far less susceptible to chipping. Finally, it easily worked through any and all cutting tasks we put it through.
We were also impressed with Material Kitchen’s knife ($75). Its blade is a bit smaller and it’s thinner and lighter than Made In’s, but it was a bit more prone to staining.
Korin Special Inox Gyuto
It’s hard to put into words how great this knife is. It is impeccably balanced, gorgeous to look at and scores a high 60 on the Rockwell scale. It slices, chops and glides through anything gracefully and is somehow also fairly corrosion-resistant. It’s made of a slightly altered AUS-10 steel, which is technically a high carbon stainless mix (it carries properties of stainless and carbon steels). Its biggest fault is a penchant for staining, but staining only occurs when not properly cleaned and dried after use.
As nice as it is, though, we don’t recommend everyone runs out and spends $209 on a single knife (for what it’s worth, MAC’s more premium 8-inch chef’s knife is excellent and $60 more affordable than the Korin option). This is a knife you give as a gift to someone who you know will maintain it — maybe yourself.
Best Kitchen Knife Brands
Victorinox Swiss Army makes a lot of stuff — an actual mountain of utility and pocket knives, fragrances, watches of all sorts, luggage and travel gear and, yes, plenty of kitchen knives. What makes its kitchen knives great is a combination of simple design choices (the handles are never too aggressive on the ergonomics end), solid materials and a level of mass availability that’s absent from other companies making good knives (you can find Victorinox in loads of brick-and-mortar stores and everywhere online). It’s become famous for its uber-affordable Fibrox line, and rightfully so, but its more premium collections of rosewood-handled blades and Grand Maitre line are worth a look as well.
Wüsthof’s classic 8-inch chef’s knife is probably the most frequently recommended premium knife on the internet, and the rest of its kitchen knives are right up there with it. The German company is easily one of the most consistent makers of high-quality knives, and it does so at pretty much every price point. If you want a German-style knife, Wüsthof is a good place to start looking.
Awarded the prestigious Good Design Award in 1990 and the even more rare Good Design Long Life Award years later, Global’s kitchen knives are atypical but pretty awesome. Made of Cromova 18 steel — a semi-mysterious mixture of chromium, molybdenum and vanadium that belongs to Global’s parent company, Yoshikin — its knives buck convention and are one solid piece of hardwearing, edge-holding stainless steel. The handle feels a bit like the outside of a golf ball and, though you might doubt its usefulness at first, it does feel nice in the hand. Of all Global’s attributes, its greatest is maneuverability — its knives are so, so light and super balanced.
Mac knives are recommended all over the place — see: Wirecutter, Epicurious and Buzzfeed — as an ideal entry point into knives that aren’t going to chip and widdle away. After testing a number of Mac Knives, we recommend steering clear of its sub-$100 options — there’s better value elsewhere. That said, the company uses good steel and more accessible bolster and handle designs than most at its price range.
Zwilling J.A. Henckels International
With solid materials, classic designs, widespread availability and a very long legacy, the knives from Zwilling Group’s biggest cutlery line, J.A. Henckels International, are some of the best you can buy. Period. Also, the company’s good frequently go on sale, meaning with a little patience, you can get a knife (like the recommendation for best Western-style chef’s knife) for way under the listed price.
Kitchen Knife Glossary
Bevel: The edge of the knife that is ground to angle for cutting. Can either be single bevel, as in only one edge is angled and primed to cut, or double bevel, in which both edges are angled for cutting. Single bevel knifes must be purchased in either right- or left-hand orientation
Blade: The main body of the knife.
Bolster: The thick end of the blade where it comes into contact with the handle. It provides a balance to the knife and also acts as a place to grip for greater control.
Butt: The end of the knife handle.
Cutting Edge: The sharp side of the knife. Literally the edge you use to cut.
Forged: The process in which a bladesmith, or machine, pounds a block of steel into the shape of a knife.
Handle: The part of the knife you grip. Can be constructed from a variety of materials from wood to plastic.
Heel: The back end of the knife blade. This is the thickest part of the knife, and it's primarily used to hack into hard-to-cut foods. The leverage also provides greater control when cutting.
Stamped: The knife process in which a knife is cut out of a sheet of steel.
Spine: The top of the knife blade.
Tang: The portion of the knife blade that extends into the handle. Knives can be partial tang, in which the blade stops partway into the handle, or full tang in which the blade fully encompasses the handle.
Tip: The front end of the knife. Different shapes, like rounded or flat, can be desired for specific cutting tasks.
Kitchen Knives FAQ
Stainless steel or carbon steel?
All steel has carbon in it. Stainless steel just happens to have less carbon in it than carbon steel. What makes stainless steel different is the addition of chromium, which gives the material its signature "stainless" status. Carbon steel, on the other hand, contains much more carbon. The more carbon in the knife, the harder it is. Hardness is measured on the Rockwell scale. The harder the knife, the stronger it is. Carbon steel knives are notoriously sharp because of their strength, but also hard to sharpen. They are also more prone to corroding and rust. Stainless steel knives may not be as sharp as carbon steel knives, but if you sharpen it properly, you may not even notice a difference. And while stainless steel is easier to maintain, especially when it comes to rust-resistance, it's stain-less and not stain-free.
Do I need a full tang knife?
Tang refers to the the blade that extends into the knife handle and can either stop partway, making it partial tang knife, or extend fully throughout the handle, making it a full tang knife. Full tang knives are more properly balanced because there is metal throughout the blade. Partial knives tend to be cheaper because the entire knife isn't made of metal. Then there's the exception of Japanese knives, which often feature a partial tang. Japanese knives use a wooden wa handle, which emphasize the blade-forward balance. These are better for those who are more comfortable with their knife skills.
What's the difference between honing and sharpening?
Honing essentially pushes back the cutting edge into shape after being bent out of wack from constant use. Honing steels will maintain the sharpness of the knife and ensure that the cutting edge is as it should be. Sharpening a knife actually strips steel off the knife, bringing it to a finer edge.
What's the difference between cheap and expensive knives?
Knife prices can vary from dirt cheap to outrageously expensive. It comes down to construction — like if it's forged or stamped — and what kind of materials it's made out of. If you're an amateur home cook, a cheap knife is a great place to start for learning basic and essential knife skills. If you're already adept at using a kitchen knife, it's worth the extra cost to get a knife that can further your skills in the kitchen.
What's the difference between Japanese and German knives?
In general terms, kitchen knifes fall into Japanese knife styles or German knife styles. Japanese knives tend to be thinner, sharper and harder to maintain than their German counterparts. German knives, more often than not, are more user-friendly and have a more universal appeal because of their multi-purpose nature. Japanese knives can be singular in their uses, and at the cost of having a sharper blade is the greater attention required for maintenance and care.
Other Essential Kitchen Knives
Best Bread Knife: Hoffritz Commercial Bread Knife
The long serrated bread knife is essential, and anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t tried to cut even slices of bread with a chef’s knife. But, unlike chef’s knives, bread knives don’t really gain much value when made with better materials — fact is, sharpening a bread knife is next to impossible. These two things combined make for an easy purchasing decision: buy cheap. This knife from Hoffritz, an old name in knifemaking that’s recently released a line of products aimed at the commercial kitchen, makes for an ideal bread butchering tool. Tojiro also makes a decent enough bread knife ($30) that looks a bit better and is slightly longer as well.
Price (Walmart): $13 | Price (Amazon): $13
Best Paring Knife: Victorinox 3.25-Inch Spear Point Paring Knife
The simple truth is that, though a paring knife is probably the second most useful knife in the cook’s arsenal, it still lags way behind a do-it-all chef’s knife. So, like the bread knife, the paring knife should follow the cheaper-is-better idea.
Victorinox’s little paring knife pieces apart cherry tomatoes, shallots, garlic cloves (if you don’t like the big knife, small object dynamic), pulling some rind off a lemon and whatever else you need it for. If you want something nicer, Mac’s 4-inch forged blade paring knife ($44) feels a bit more solid in the hand and is made with steel that will likely last a fair bit longer. Both come with recommendations from the gear testing team at Serious Eats, too.
Best Serrated Utility Knife: Wüsthof Classic Serrated Utility Knife
There are a dozen names for this knife — tomato knife, citrus knife, sausage knife and so on — affirming its place in the “essentials” category. Knives like these, which are predominantly used for foods with firm exteriors and reasonably soft interiors, need to carve through foods without destroying what lies on the inside (a la tomatoes or oranges), so better steel and engineering is the better long-run choice. Wüsthof’s is a good size, a hefty weight (relative to its size) and does the trick perfectly. We also tried Zwilling’s ($70) similarly priced option but found the added weight and slightly lower cost of Wüsthof’s to better it in most ways.
Nonessential Kitchen Knives
Best Slicer (Carving Knife): Victorinox Fibrox 12-Inch Slicer
There are a lot of great slicers out there (also called carving knives), and unless you frequently cook whole birds, roasts or other large cuts of meat, you can get away with using your chef’s knife on the off-chance you do go that route one night. The slicer is a long, narrow blade that’s slightly flexible, meant for penetrating and divvying up those larger pieces of meat and separating them from bone and other tendons. Our pick, Victorinox’s 12-inch slicer is just that, and it provides a nice, no BS grip for putting some muscle to get through tougher meats.
Best Cheese Knife: Swissmar Cheese Plane
A cheese knife is really more for show than it is actual use. Unless you’re buying your cheese by the wheel, and bless you for that, you really don’t need one (just use a paring knife to break down blocks). But, if you must have one, you may as well get something your other knives would have a hard time accomplishing, like creating a slice of cheese with some degree of uniformity and elegance. Hence, Swissmar’s cheese plane, which pulls delightful bites of cheese off blocks and ensures every slice is roughly the same size.
Best Oyster Knife: OXO Good Grips Oyster Knife
Oyster knives are almost all the same in that most have a bent tip blade for prying the creature open and some stubby handle to apply force. You could buy pretty much any decent oyster knife under $10 and be happy, but we prefer OXO’s version with the company’s Good Grip handle.