Best Chef Kitchen Knives (December – 2020)
So you’ve watched every season of Top Chef, started up your Blue Apron subscription, and now it’s time to get cooking…but you’re still missing one key ingredient in the mix: the best chef knife of 2020. When it comes to blades in the kitchen, no two hunks of highly-tuned metal are exactly alike, which is why you need to do plenty of research on the various different factors that can separate a $20 CutCo knife from a $400 Shun.
But where could you possibly find all this information in one place? By reading our guide on the top chef knifes out this year, of course!
Top Chef Knife Comparison Chart
How We Choose the Best Chef Knife
Prior to my time as a tech journalist and editor, I spent seven years working as a line cook and sous chef in several of the most popular and highest-regarded restaurants around the Bay Area food scene. After graduating from the Le Cordon Bleu-accredited California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, I went on to work under chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Peter Armenillo in Michelin-rated restaurants, while hoarding a slew of various slicers, dicers, and chef’s knives along the way.
My research for this post extends both into my years behind a cutting board in a professional setting, as well as my own personal affinity for all things that go “chop” in the night. If there’s one thing line cooks like to do when it’s slow at the restaurant, it’s compare their knives and talk kit for hours on end while we endlessly sharpen, hone, and polish our blades to a crisp, clean edge.
These five picks for the best chef knife are an amalgamation of many of the choices I saw my fellow cooks make for their top picks, paired with research collected from sites like Amazon on what works as the top-rated choices for the average home cook. We’ve included a healthy mix of different types of knives (German and Japanese), as well as knives made from different materials and manufacturing processes.
No matter which knife you inevitably choose there are plenty of options here for the best chef’s knife that caters to every level of cook, whether you’re just starting out as an apprentice or have been slinging flank steak from a professional wood-fired oven for years.
Why You Should Buy a New Chef Knife
“A sharp knife is a safe knife” is a saying one of my old chefs was particularly fond of, and he would trot it out anytime one of the newbies on the line slipped and cut their hand open on a worn down, dulled-out blade. Although it sounds counter-intuitive; the sharper a knife is, the more control you’ll have over what it does, whether you’re slicing tomatoes or filleting a full-sized Sockeye salmon. If you’re trying to up your cooking game to the next level, a solid chef’s knife should be the number one item that makes it into your cart ahead of everything else (along with a proper sharpening stone, of course).
Cheaper knives or “utility” knives are fine for what they are, but no matter if you’re trying to get an apple cut into a rose like you saw on that YouTube video or just make sure that your steak doesn’t bleed out all its juices after being mangled by a less-than-honed knife that’s in your silverware drawer, it’s always a good time to invest in a real chef’s knife that will last you five years or more at a time.
An oldie but a goodie, the Shun is a great start for star chefs in the making
Award: Best Professional Chef Knife
Price: $145.98 | Features: 33-layer forged build, double-beveled edge, Pakkawood handle | Read Full Review: Shun Classic 10-inch knife
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The Shun Classic 10″ is the best all-around pick for aspiring home chefs everywhere.
If any of my old chefs are reading this: I know, and I apologize…but the Shun Classic 10″ was my first real knife outside of what I got in my college kit, and despite its muddled reputation, it’s still easily one of the best chef knives for the masses.
For all the hate that Shun gets for being a “corporate sell out” knife maker that “used to be good” from chefs and line cooks alike, there’s no denying that for the home cook, it pretty much doesn’t get any better than the Shun Classic 10″. Shun has gotten a bad rap in the food industry over the past several years, with many lifelong devotees trodding out the old “they don’t make em like they used to” line anytime the company is brought up in a conversation about what makes a good knife. But aside from that stigma imposed upon them by a bunch of grizzled hash-slingers, it’s impossible to deny that the Shun Classic 10″ is a beautifully crafted, acutely-balanced knife that has a nearly one-size-fits-all grip which feels natural in almost anyone’s hands.
Forged with 33 layers of high-carbon VG10 steel at a 16-degree angle, the Shun Classic is the perfect beginner’s knife for anyone who’s looking to upgrade their cutlery game and want a knife that will last them for the long haul. A Rockwell hardness rating of 61 means you’ll rarely have to re-sharpen it on your own, while its resin-impregnated Pakkawood handle fits comfortably in any size hand. If you want a knife that will make you look good in front of your dinner guests and get the job done quickly and accurately, the Shun Classic 10″ is the best chef knife for 2020. A good knife is as essential as the best blender is for drinks.
View on Amazon – $145.98
#2 Pick Wusthof Ikon 8″ Chef Knife
The Ikon innovates on decades-old design with a new and improved handle
Award: Best German Chef Knife
Price: $120.99 | Features: Double-bolster design, high-carbon stainless steel, improved handle comfort | Read Full Review: Wusthof Ikon 8-inch
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The Wusthof Ikon 8″ is a comfortable upgrade from the company’s classic line of slicers and dicers.
Speaking of reputations, it’s hard to find one that has a longer and stronger history in the cooking world than that of Wusthof. Proudly German from the start, the level of craftsmanship and expertise that goes into every Wusthof knife is truly something to marvel at, and this is no more apparent than in the latest Ikon release of their classic chef’s knife lineup. That’s why we have the Wusthof Ikon 8” as our second best overall knife.
Wusthof is notorious for being the stick-in-the-mud of the bunch, barely making even the slightest changes to their design over the past 50 years and counting. Champions of the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mantra, the Ikon takes many of its design elements from older Wusthof favorites while incorporating new improvements to the grip on the handle as well as a new double bolster which adds increased weight to the back of the knife for increased stability.
If the Global G-2 is a Ferrari and the Victorinox is a Honda Civic, the Wusthof sits comfortably in the middle as a reliable German-made Audi that suits all shapes and sizes of an aspiring cook. The only fault of this kitchen knife is the slightly softer steel construction of its blade which makes it not as razor-sharp as the Mac, although its still one of the most recommended quality knives. Use this along with the best stainless steel cookware to make great meals.
View on Amazon – $120.99
#3 Pick Mac Knife Hollow Edge 10″
The Mac Hollow Edge is perfect for chopping vegetables or breaking down meat quickly
Award: Best Japanese Chef Knife
Price: $119.95 | Features: 2mm tapered blade, Pakkawood handle, dimpled stick-resistant design | Read Full Review: Mac Knife
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The Mac Hollow Edge will slice through vegetables and protein like nobody’s business.
The Mac Hollow Edge 10″ chef’s knife doesn’t look like any of the other selections we have on this list, but it’s built that way for a very specific reason. Thanks to its hollow edge and dimpled imprints along the base of the knife, you can cut almost any vegetable with rapid-fire speed and accuracy, without worrying about everything piling up on your cutting board in a disorganized mess. The Mac Hollow Edge 10’’ is actually a Japanese knife, but it’s one of the very few that has implemented western designs.
And thanks to its a fine-angled tip and hyper-thin 2.5mm profile, the Mac is also just as good at quickly breaking down meat, and digging around in the sensitive bits so you always get the cleanest cuts possible. At 7.7 ounces it falls in the middle of the spectrum when it comes to heaviness, while the 50/50 weight distribution will help more seasoned users really start to hone in their knife skills and bring them to the next level. You may also want to read about the best slow cooker for your kitchen.
View on Amazon – $119.95
#4 Pick Victorinox Fibrox Straight Edge Chef Knife
Sturdy and sharp, the Victorinox is a beater that’s built to last
Award: Best Chef Knife for the Money
Price: $44.95 | Features: Slip-resistant handle, stainless steel, 8″ blade | Read Full Review: Victorinox Fibrox
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Used by professional prep cooks the world over, the Victorinox Fibrox is a budget workhorse for the rest of us.
Before you immediately scroll onto the next pick upon looking at the price and (deceptively) cheap build quality of the Victorinox Fibrox Straight Edge 8-inch chef’s knife – hear me out. During my time as both a line cook and sous chef bouncing around from kitchen to kitchen, whether I was working at a hole-in-the-wall trattoria or a Michelin-rated fine dining establishment, I couldn’t go anywhere without finding a healthy stash of these on the cutting boards of some of the top chefs in the world, and for good reason.
The Victorinox line of knives are hands-down the best value you can get for the money in the world of cooking cutlery, built to stand the test of time in professional and home kitchens alike. Though aesthetically they leave a lot to be desired (you won’t be pulling this thing out to impress your friends at a dinner party anytime soon), from a pure utility standpoint they’re nearly impossible to beat.
When properly sharpened and taken care of over time, Victorinox knives can stand edge-to-edge with other knives ten times the cost, and will put up with any punishment you throw their way. Whether you’re lightly slicing through some spring onions or hacking away at the bone inside a 5lb pork shoulder, the Victorinox Fibrox is the perfect backup knife if you need it in a pinch, or can even stand on its own hilt as the star of the show if you don’t care as much about its plastic-machined handle or limited color options. For a great budget option, the Victorinox Fibrox is similar in price as the Zwilling J A Henckels’ Gourmet 8-inch chef’s knife, although the J A Henckels is lighter so your hand won’t be guided as well when slicing
Dollar-for-dollar, the Victorinox Fibrox Straight Edge 8-inch chef’s knife is the best value in the business. It’s great for chopping things up to put them in the best air fryer. It is one of the coolest kitchen gadgets.
View on Amazon – $44.95
#5 Pick Global G-2 8″ Chef Knife
Made for precision cuts and slender hands, the Global G-2 understands the finer things in life
Award: Best Ultra Light Chef Knife
Price: $103.00 | Features: Single-stamp design, ultra-light profile, Cromova 18 stainless steel | Read Full Review: Global Chef Knife
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: If you know how to handle a knife in the kitchen, the Global G-2 won’t steer you wrong.
While my Shun Classic 10″ will always hold a special place in my heart for being one of the first and most durable knives I ever owned, throughout my time in culinary school and working in kitchens after I always pined for a Global G-2.
Ultra-light, ultra-thin, and highly maneuverable, Global knives are known for their deceptively simple design and craftsmanship. Stamped from a single plate of Cromova 18 stainless steel and strengthened with 18 percent chromium, the Global G-2 isn’t a knife for the faint of heart (or hand). If you know what you’re doing and are confident enough in your knife skills to know you won’t be dropping it every few seconds, the G-2 is the perfect knife for once you’ve gotten the basics down and want to step it up to the next level.
The one drawback of the single-stamp design of this Japanese knife is that the Global G-2 is extremely fragile, and can easily lose its tip or edge if you even look at it the wrong way. That said, many chefs prefer ultra-light knives for the sake of raw precision, which the G-2 has to give out in spades. Chop up those veggies and make a dish in the best toaster oven.
Buy Now $103.00
Key Factors and Features to a Best Chef Knife
- Most of the knives on this list fall into one of two bevel categories: Japanese or German.
- Japanese knives are almost “single-beveled”, which means one edge of the knife slopes inward at about a 15° angle while the other side is straight down. This promotes precision but can also make the blade weaker in heavy-use scenarios.
- In general (but not always), German knives are built more durably than Japanese blades with a 22° double-beveled design, and can take more punishment between sharpening sessions. Japanese knives, by comparison, are softer, but also allow for more precision cuts overall.
- Of the two knife styles, there are four main categories of materials that knives can be forged from: carbon steel, stainless steel, Damascus steel, and ceramic.
- Within these groups there are about another 20 sub-groups of different types of steel, which various knife makers will use in different combinations depending on their own recipes and style of blade they’re trying to produce.
- All you need to know in this category is don’t ever buy a ceramic knife, that is unless you like the idea of re-buying your kit once every six months when the ceramic inevitably cracks or contorts under heat/usage stress.
- Both the weight and the balance of your chef’s knife are important factors to think about when making a final decision on which blade is right for you.
- In general, German knives tend to be heavier than Japanese knives and are balanced with a skew toward the front of the blade, while Japanese knives are lighter, more nimble and balanced toward the handle or on a 50/50 basis.
Stamped vs. Forged
- Of the two different regional variations and four different metals to consider, you also need to keep a close eye on how your knife was actually manufactured.
- In general this falls into two camps: “stamped”, or forged. Stamped knives are just what the name implies, i.e. – stamped out of a larger sheet of metal and then sharpened.
- Forged on the other hand means the knife was made the old fashioned way, by either folding the metal in on top of itself in layers, or at the very least hammering out one solid piece into the desired shape. Forged knives can be significantly stronger than stamped, but also come at a much higher price as a result.
- An often overlooked feature of any good chef’s knife is the size of the blade itself, which usually comes in three lengths: 8″, 10″, or 12″.
- For the average home cook we recommend either an 8″ or 10″ as those are most comfortable in the hands of novice users. However, if you’re more confident with your skills and want something that can double as a filet knife in a pinch, a 12″ will get the job done just fine. If you’re looking for a specific, small, knife, you may want to take a look at the best oyster knife instead.
- The handle of your blade can say a lot about its overall quality, including how the grip is formed and what material it’s made out of. This is also where the “tang” of the knife is, or part of the knife that extends into the handle itself for added strength and stability.
- Some people are perfectly fine with plastic, while others like myself fall more into the camp of “wood or bust”. There’s no technical advantage of one material or the other, and ultimately this feature comes down to personal/aesthetic preference.
- Find the handle you think would fit your grip style best, and remember that Japanese knives come in either left or right-handed styles, and depending on which hand you’re dominant with, you’ll need to buy accordingly.
- When referencing how durable the material of your knife is, you’ll hear a lot about its “hardness” rating, measured on what’s known as the Rockwell scale, seen as “HRc”.
- These vary depending on the steel used, but go anywhere from 58-62. The harder a knife is the longer it will hold its edge, but it also makes it quite a bit more difficult to re-sharpen in less skilled hands.
- Yes, technically this isn’t a feature of the actual knife, but for how many people don’t own a proper knife holder, it should be.
- While plain old woodblock knife holders are all well and good, we don’t recommend using one if you can afford a magnetic strip instead.
- This is because if there is any excess moisture left on the knife when you store it (even though there shouldn’t be), the surrounding wood will absorb it and start to rot/breed mildew. This then transfers to your supposedly “clean” knife the next time you use it, resulting in bacteria spreading to the cutting board and beyond.
- Magnetic strips remove all pretense of moisture wicking, and more to the point, look pretty cool when you have your knives displayed up on the wall for everyone to see!
Mistakes to Avoid
Buying the wrong knife for the job: Of all the mistakes I see people make when buying their first chef knife, shopping for a blade that does what they “want” to do and what they actually do on a daily basis has to be the biggest slip up of them all. If you eat a lot of meat and buy your cows by the half-rack then sure, that $250 meat cleaver is a good investment. If not, you should be more than fine with a simple utility chef’s knife, one that stays sharp over long periods of time and doesn’t require a ton of upkeep to maintain in tip top shape. Of all the knife types out there, the average cook won’t ever need more than three: a filet knife, paring knife, and chef’s knife.
Use “sharpeners” to hone your edge: Another rookie mistake that will out a first-time knife owner in an instant is if they use those preset knife “sharpeners”, electric or otherwise. Make no mistake: these machines are designed to do the most minimal job possible, and more often than not cause more trouble than they’re worth. Some sharpening tools can crack your knife’s blade especially if it’s a Japanese knife so make sure you use a good quality sharpening stone. Korin Knives located in the heart of New York City offer some of the best quality sharpening stones. So do yourself a favor and invest in a proper sharpening whetstone, and check out this tutorial on YouTube to learn how you can sharpen your knives at home for a fraction of what professional stores offer for the same service.
Invest in a proper cutting board: If there’s one thing that can bring you back to the sharpener again and again, though, it’s cutting on a crappy surface. Beyond the horror stories I’ve seen of people cutting directly on their marble countertops because they “thought that’s what they were for” (*shudder*), you should always have a good cutting board to match your new knife to keep it alive for as long as possible. Acceptable materials include bamboo or regular wood, and while plastic is fine for what it is, it can also leech shavings into your food over time, and who wants their brussel sprouts roasted with a side of melted polyethylene, right?
Which Best Chef Knife is Right For You?
Perhaps one of my favorite things about the best chef knife is that no matter who you ask, the answer is always a little bit different. Whether you’re a lefty or a righty, chop by leading with your hand or your wrist, grip tight or loose – every knife on the market has its own specific attributes that can make it the best in the hands of some people, and the absolute worst in others.
Personally I love the Mac Hollow Edge 10″ from a purely “feel”-based standpoint, but will have no problem running 50lbs of potatoes under the blade of a Victorinox if push comes to peel-and-quarter. Which knife is ultimately right for you will depend on everything from your current skill level to what you plan to cook that night, so be sure you take all these factors into consideration before choosing the best chef knife in 2020.