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 best out of the box, hold up the longest and generally offer more value for your dollar. We also and hope it helps you remove overpriced, unnecessarily bulky knife block sets from the pool of options. But first, our top recs for the most useful kitchen knives available in 2021. Weighing balance, price, materials, craftsmanship and necessity, we've narrowed your choice down to 13 chef's knives — here's where the chips fell.
- Best Overall Chef's Knife: Tojiro DP Gyutou
- Best Splurge Chef's Knife: Mac Mighty Professional Hollow Edge Knife
- Best Budget Chef's Knife: Mercer Culinary Genesis 8-Inch Chef's Knife
- Best Value Chef's Knife: Misen Chef's Knife
- Best Direct-to-Consumer Chef's Knife: Made In Chef's Knife
- Best Entry-Level Japanese-Style Chef's Knife: Mercer Culinary MX3 Knife
- Best-Designed Chef's Knife: Global G-2
- Best German Chef's Knife: Zwilling Pro 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
- Best Japanese Chef's Knife: Shun Classic Chef's Knife
- Best Giftable Chef's Knife: Korin Mahogany Royal Blue Inox Gyuto
- Best Bob Kramer Alternative: Artisan Revere Chef's Knife
- Best Made-in-USA Kitchen Knife: Steelport Chef Knife
- Best Lightweight Chef's Knife: Hast 8-Inch Chef Knife
Kitchen Knives 101
What is the best steel for a kitchen knife?
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 is 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, but a nicer blade makes quicker work of mise en place. 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, but many professional cooks use dirt-cheap knives. The point: you can get the job done with cheap or expensive knives, just focus on quality.
What is 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.
The Best Kitchen Knives of 2021
The ideal balance of price, performance and materials. 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 2 millimeters 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.
- Super sharp out of the box
- Stain- and rust-resistant
- Balanced weight
- Narrow width; those with larger hands may wish for more knuckle clearance
- Ultra-thin blade isn't suited to cutting hard vegetables
Mac makes a number of more affordable blades, but its Pro series is when the brand starts to become superlative (it's about $50 more than the more popular Mac chef's knife, but it's worth it). The full-tang construction feels solid in the hand without being needlessly heavy, and the laminated steel used in the Pro version is miles better for edge retention and general sharpness.
This knife's base thickness is 2.5 millimeters, which is more than 20 percent thicker than our top pick, the Tojiro Gyutou. This makes it more of an all purpose knife (starches and hardy vegetables are not an issue), but also means it doesn't glide through softer fruits and vegetables as gracefully. The higher carbon content in the blade makes small rust spots commonplace if you don't wash and immediately dry the knife after use (unlike true carbon steel knives, though, highly acidic items like lemons or limes don't immediately stain the knife). After using this knife for more than a year, it's the best higher-end knife we recommend. We also like Mac's 25-year warranty against material and construction defects
- Perfect balance and weight
- Easy to sharpen
- Will rust if not dried quickly after washing
- Dimples don't help sticky foods slide off
When we first tested this knife, we thought the price was a mistake. The feel and look is that of a more premium knife, and given Mercer's track record with making strong-value chef's knives, that's not a huge surprise. The edge is taper-ground, meaning it's thicker at the base than it is near the tip. This makes for easier honing and a more stable blade (which is of enhanced importance when dealing with budget materials). We also appreciate that the bend of the heel on the knife, which creates ample room for a pinch grip.
Many of the best knives we tested fold attributes from Japanese knife design into Western knife design, and Misen's budget-friendly blade is no exception. The bolsters at the base of the blade slope and allow for an easy pinch grip. Most traditional Japanese knives will not come with this, opting instead for the handle of the knife to move directly into the blade, which can be awkward for cooks used to having a designated spot to grip. Curving down from the top and up from the bottom, the blade shape itself is also Western in origin and makes rocking the blade up-and-down on the cutting board easier.
The shape and handle are rooted in Western design, but the thinness of the blade is Japanese, and what makes the Misen knife one of our top recommendations. Thicker, clunkier knives at this price point can, after a month or two of use, start to feel more like a chisel than a knife; tools to break vegetables open with. The extremely thin build of the Misen knife makes for an experience more akin to surgery than brute force.
The blade did eventually dull to the point that it needed sharpening (about three months of everyday use, for us). Thankfully, the brand guarantees free sharpening for life. Mail it back to them and you'll have it back within a week.
- Well-designed bolster makes for an easy pinch grip
- Thin blade for precise cuts
- Misen offers free sharpening for life
- Difficult to break down harder foods
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.
- Angle of knife heel prevents blisters on finger
- Fair price
- Difficult to sharpen
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.
- Extremely sharp out of the box
- Classic Japanese blade shape
- Pricier than the comparable Tojiro DP Gyutou, our best overall pick
- Vertical heel drop after the bolster can be jarring if you're unfamiliar with Japanese knives
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 ($94) and a few other more premium options, but only Tojiro’s Good Design Award-winning knife ($85) balanced the features of a typical Japanese knife with lower maintenance, reasonable prices, edge retention and smart design quite like Global’s G-2.
- Virtually indestructible
- Lightweight and extremely thin
- Often on sale
- All-metal, one-piece design is more for aesthetic reasons than practical
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.
- Classic knife brand with a history of excellence
- Designed to be used with a pinch grip
- End of handle has a weird curve; awkward for big hands
Along with Mac and Global, Shun completes the triumvirate of widely popular Japanese kitchen knives, and while the brand makes dozens of chef's knives, it's the Classic that's most worth your money.
Manufactured in Seiki City, one of Japan's knifemaking capitals, it's equal parts brawn and beauty. The blade reaches 61 on the Rockwell hardness scale, which is well above average and is a reasonably consistent measure of the general quality of a knife. It's thin and extremely light in the hand, but the blade shape is familiar. The Damascus blade finish is nice to look at, but it's the 32 layers (16 a side) of stainless steel that's more noteworthy. The height and length of the knife is also a little bigger than most in this range, which makes scooping up chopped veggies a touch easier.
- Stupid sharp
- Light as a feather
- Easier to sharpen than most stainless steel knives
- Bolster should be angled towards the knife to be more useful
It’s hard to put into words how great this knife is. It is impeccably balanced, gorgeous to look at and scores a high 58 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-8 steel, which has good edge retention and is also easy to sharpen. Its biggest fault is a penchant for staining, but staining only occurs when not properly cleaned and dried after use. This is a knife you give as a gift to someone who you know will maintain it — maybe yourself.
- Excellent craftsmanship
- Razor thin, and strong as hell
- Fairly expensive
David Olkovetsky’s Artisan Revere chef’s knife borrows design traits from some of America's best knifemakers and, despite an eye-watering $445 price tag, makes them more accessible than their ultra-luxe progenitors. It's got a tall, thin profile and swooping ergonomic heel that a lot like lauded American knifemaker Bob Kramer. Its curvy handle pays homage to Murray Carter’s “International Pro” style grip. Before considering materials or other specs, the shape and fit is a joy to cook with. The out-curving heel creates a perfect spot for the inside of your middle finger to press against while your pointer finger and thumb are pinching the blade. But the materials are great, too.
A former metals analyst, Olkovetsky knife is made with a high-carbon, high-hardness, high-alloy stainless steel called Elmax in lieu of a true carbon steel or layered stainless-carbon hybrid. Through a full year of testing, it's only been sharpened once.
- Feels like an extension of your hand
- No performance weaknesses
- Extremely pricey
Eytan Zias has been running The Knife House in Portland, Oregon, since 2007, selling and servicing knifes. In 2021, Zias got into the business of manufacturing knives with his new brand Steelport. As of now, Zias is only manufacturing an 8-inch chef's knife, made, of course, in Portland, and it's a doozy.
The high-carbon, full-tang knife is crazy sharp to the point that we made extra care when washing so we didn't end up cutting off our finger, a big fear after we found just how easily this cuts through basically anything. The bolster encourages a pinch grip, so constant chopping wasn't much of a strain on the hand. The very-generous 2-inch height provides ample space, even for those with extra-large hands, and the handle is made of Oregon bigleaf maple, paying homage to the great state it's made in.
- Crazy sharp
- Excellent balance
- Bolster encourages pinch grip
- Will rust if not dried immediately after washing
The Hast Chef Knife looks a lot like the Global knife on this list — it's made from a solid piece of steel that makes it easy to clean and wield. The knife won the 2021 Red Dot Design Award for design, and its design directly correlates with how well this knife performs. It's made to encourage a pinch grip, and the steel is Matrix powder steel, which is scary sharp out of the box, but also surprisingly lightweight. Going to pick up the knife, you'd expect it to be quite heavy, but holding it in your hands — and using it to cut — is a breeze and easy on the wrist.
- Balanced feel makes marathon chopping a breeze
- Sharp out of the box
- Attractive design
- Noticeable dulling after constant use
- Leans on the expensive side
Heads up: those heavy wooden blocks you’re putting kitchen knives in is a breeding ground for gnarly bacteria (and more!).