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sharpening and caring for your kitchen knives

Best Chef Knives — Six Recommendations

Here are six recommendations that cover some of the best chef knives around, each produced by a different world-class knifemaker. This short list is designed not only to highlight quality knives, but to give you a sense of what’s out there (a lot!) and help you find the knife that’s right for you. (Please read my article How to Buy a Great Chef Knife to get more backstory.)

6 Best Chef Knives collage

 

This is not a Top Ten List (or Top Six). And it’s not comprehensive. (You’ll notice there aren’t any traditional Japanese knifemakers on the list. Sorry, can’t explain why now.) But it should aid you in making some sense of the kitchen knife world and give you some ideas!

. . .a chef knife, depending on how hard you use it, could easily last 30 years or more.
The brands covered are: Henckels, Wusthof, Messermeister, Global, MAC, and Shun. The first three are centered in Germany, the last three in Japan. Most of these manufacturers produce a range of sizes/lengths as well as slightly different models of the same caliber. For example, although I’ve chosen Global’s santoku knife for this list, Global also makes a number of regular chef knives that are comparable quality. So, if one of the models on this list doesn’t exactly work for you, poke around some, you may find what you’re looking for.

Also—before you bemoan the prices, remember that your best chef knives, depending on how hard you use them and how well you take care of them, can easily last 30 years or more. I’m not exaggerating. Plus, they’re the single most important tool in your entire kitchen. (What would compete, your large sauté pan?) If you dollar-cost average the price of the most expensive knife on this list (say, the Shun 10-inch for $170), over 30 years it would cost you a whopping $5.66 per year! So try to see the BIG picture.

Henckels Professional S 8-inch Chef Knife

BUY NOW @ SurLaTable: $130 / Amazon special: $110

Henkels Professional S chef knife
Henckels is one of the largest knifemakers in the world and has been around since the 1700s. They produce at least 11 different lines of knives, so it’s especially important to be clear what model you’re buying. The Pro S line is one of their finest and is manufactured in Solingen, Germany where their core factories are located. They also have factories in Spain and, as a newer development, in Japan as well. It’s in Japan where they produce their latest creation, a model designed by Bob Kramer, the American bladesmith who has set the bar high for kitchen-knife quality.

The Professional S is fully forged from one hunk of steel—and with a bolster, a full-tang, and a three-rivet handle, it’s as classic as it gets. Although the handle’s been made to look and feel like wood, it’s not. Wood handles are no longer the norm and most manufacturers assume customers would rather have the longevity offered by a synthetic material.

This chef knife is one of the mainstays of my kitchen and I loooove the feel—nicely balanced with a little heft, but nothing that tires my hand out (for the record, I don’t spend hours prepping). I got it sharpened well over a year ago, and with regular honing its kept it’s edge. It comes in two sizes, an 8-inch and 10. (There’s also a 6-inch, but that’s too small for an all-purpose blade.)

(If you prefer to buy Wusthof—which I discuss below—they make a very similar model.)
Wusthof Classic Chef’s @ Amazon: $130 / Sur La Table (6″ with paring knife): $100

Wusthof Classic Ikon 7-inch Santoku

BUY NOW @ SurLaTable: $150 / Amazon: $150

Wusthof Classic Ikon 7-inch Santoku
Wusthof is the other of the “Big Two” German knifemakers and some pros swear by it over Henckels because they feel the quality is higher. Not sure if this perception is justified, but it’s probably aided by the fact Wusthof has been family-owned and run for almost 200 years. Interesting enough, both Wusthof and Henckels are manufactured in the same German town (along with dozens of other blademakers) which is one of the knife-making capitals of the world. (What’s another capital? Seki City, Japan.)

Although Wusthof makes a terrific classic chef knife very similar to Henckels, as a contrast, I recommend looking at this model because:

1) it has a curved handle that might feel better to some people’s hands

2) it’s a santoku, Japanese-style blade, which some might prefer. It gives you the width of a longer knife without the more cumbersome length. And it should be noticeably thinner and lighter than your traditional 8-inch chef knife.

Whether or not you like a bolster is up to you, it is no measure of quality. . .
Like the regular high-quality chef knives made by Wusthof, it’s fully forged and has a full tang. But, unlike them, it does not host a full bolster. Whether or not you like a bolster is up to you, it is no measure of quality, but will make the knife easier to sharpen. This santoku also sports the scalloped edge that is all the rage to, theoretically, keep food from sticking. Because this model is in the Japanese-style, but made by a German knifemaker, I would call it a hybrid of sorts. (Henckels makes santokus as well.)

If you like the santoku style, but don’t care about the handle and would like to save some cash, check out the santoku Wusthof makes in the Classic line. But please note—while the Classic is an excellent knife, it is not at quite the same level as the Ikon. Here’s the link:

Wusthof Classic 7-inch Santoku – BUY NOW @ SurLaTable: $100 / Amazon: $80

Messermeister Meridian Elite 9-inch Chef Knife

BUY NOW @ Amazon: $125 / 8-inch: $100

Messermeister Meridian Elite 9-inch Chef Knife
 
Messermeister knives, like the name sounds, are rooted in Germany—the Meridian Elite line being forged in the very same German town as the preceding knives from the Big Two. While Messermeister is not as big an operation as Henckels and Wusthof, they’re no less revered for their quality. Maybe even more so.

This knife makes this list for three reasons:

1) it’s highly recommended by Chad Ward in his book An Edge in the Kitchen as being uber-sharp. It comes from the factory with a highly polished edge that Ward claims is superior to any of the “big-name knife brands” and will hold it for a substantial amount of time.

2) it has a partial bolster which makes it easier to sharpen (and is a nod to Japanese knives)

3) it comes in a 9-inch size that’s a perfect compromise between an 8- and a 10-inch—but doesn’t cost any more than your average 8-inch. Neat, huh?

There’s only one caveat—the blade width (of the 9-inch) is too wide for your average knife rack. You’ll have to make special provisions. If that concerns you, or, if you don’t care about the extra length, then buy an 8-inch. (See the link above.)

Kitchen Knife Basics

KitchenKnifeGuru eBook—Kitchen Knife Basics

For all you eBook junkies who would rather snuggle up with with an iPad than click and scroll on a computer. Kitchen Knife Basics ($7.95) has got all the core material from the KitchenKnifeGuru website, but in an easy-to-read format that only an eBook can offer. You’ll learn about the most common edge styles for kitchen knives, what a hone (or steel) is and exactly how to use it, how to find and choose a quality sharpening service that’s not expensive—and much much more. You can even download a sample if you just want to get a taste!

Global 7-inch Santoku (G-48)

BUY NOW @ Amazon: $106 / SurLaTable: $123

Global 7-inch Santoku Knife G-48
Global revolutionized the kitchen-knife world in the 1980s by creating a series of high-performance knives that were on the cutting edge of fashion (forgive the pun), yet still affordable. Like traditional Japanese knives, they’re extremely light with a thin, razor-sharp edge. Yet in blade design, they generally owe more to Western tradition than Japanese. That’s why I call them Japanese hybrids in that they graft one tradition of knifemaking onto another. Most of Global’s knives are not forged, but made of a high-quality steel that has been tempered and heat treated to new levels of sophistication.

While the shape of the blade on the G-48 is similar to the Wusthof santoku, the balance and feel should be quite different. To say nothing of the styling. No major knife brand stands out as so stunningly modern. (Interesting detail: Global injects the perfect amount of sand into the hollow handle to make it balance correctly.) As mentioned before, if you prefer a more Western-styled chef’s blade, Global has plenty of those also. Try a G-2 or a G-61.

I own this santoku and am embarrassed to admit I treasure the edge so much that I can’t bear to do much chopping with it, but save it mainly for slicing. Which it does amazingly! (Crazy, I know.)

MAC  MTH-80 – Professional Series 8″ Chef Knife with Dimples

BUY NOW @ Amazon: $145

MAC MTH-80 – Professional Series 8 Chef’s Knife with Dimples

 
MAC knives seem to be one of the best kept secrets of the consumer kitchen knife market. Professionals seem to know all about them with famous chefs like Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter unabashedly endorsing them as the ultimate cutting machine. But ask your average home gourmet, and odds are they’ve never heard of them.

Japanese designed and manufactured, like Global, they’re a new breed of knife, a hybrid—that incorporates the harder and thinner Japanese steel with a Western-shaped blade. They’re not as stylish as Global, but probably even sharper. And (like Global) they’re also not forged, but highly machined.

As the Messermeister above, Chad Ward (in An Edge in the Kitchen) raves about the pure cutting fury of the MTH-80. So for those who worship sharp, this one’s for you!

The MTH-80 Professional is the workhorse of MACs various product lines and I’m guessing it’s the most popular because it offers the maximum sharpitude for your dollar. Plus, the welded-on bolster creates an unusual combination of super-thin blade with added weight that keeps it balanced in your hand more like a German-style knife. According to Gourmet Magazine, a MAC knife is “the difference between a minivan and race car.” Care to take one out for a spin?

(Note: Please be careful not to confuse the MTH-80 Professional with the TH-80 – Chef Series 8″ Chef’s Knife with Dimples, a lower-level model that goes for $40 or more less.)

Shun Classic 8-Inch Chef Knife (DM0706)

BUY NOW @ SurLaTable: $140 / Amazon: $140

Shun DM0706 Classic 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
Shun, along with Global, is probably one of the most popular and well-known Japanese brands in the U.S. It’s no wonder—their flagship line, Shun Classic, is very attractive and very sharp. They’re manufactured in Seki City which, along with Solingen, is another knife-making capital.

Don’t let the beautiful wavy pattern on the blade fool you—it’s much more than a pretty face. Sandwiched between 32 layers of swirly-patterned softer steel (16 layers per side) lies a thin hard core that creates the edge. At Rockwell 61, it’s harder than half of the knives on this list. Which gives it the ability to hold a 16-degree edge for a very long time.

I have to admit when I first unpacked my new Shun 6-inch chef’s not so long ago, I was stunned at how light it was. For someone used to weightier German blades, the lightness felt almost chintzy. Silly me. Over the past year I’ve now come to fully appreciate the way the thin sharp blade can slice through denser foods with ease and less resistance than my thicker German knives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ready to abandon ship—but it’s great to have Shun as an option.

Another reason the Shun Classic is on this list is its distinctive Pakkawood handle. It’s similar to the nimble feel of a traditional Japanese knife, but different. The unique D-shaped contour might fit certain cook’s hands better than others. So, if a typical Western-style knife handle always feels too clunky, here’s another way to go.

 •     •     •

To briefly summarize:

If you like a knife with heft, then the Henckels or Messermeister will probably please you most. They’re forged German steel through and through and will feel the most solid.

If you want light and nimble, then the Global and Shun should be at the top of your list. The Wusthof and MAC could be back up.

If you have a smaller-sized hand and want your knife to fit snuggly in it, the Shun and Wusthof should be your fist picks. The handles on both are more streamlined and less bulky.

If you have a larger hand and don’t want it to feel squished on the cutting board, the Messermeister and the MAC should give you the most clearance. The handles are long and the width of the blades should keep your knuckles from banging the countertop. (Actually, the Global will work equally well in this regard, it’s pretty roomy.)

For pure beauty, the Global and Shun would be hard to beat. The Global is designed in high-tech modern, the Shun in classic contemporary. The Wusthof also, with it’s curved handle, has some extra swish. (And rest assured, there’s no sacrifice of looks for performance on any of these knives.)

If you love tradition, or know you want a knife with a classic look and feel that will never go out of style, the Henckels is your man. It is the closest to a vintage chef knife.

Finally, if you crave sharposity, if you’re aching to get your tired chef hands on one of the meanest slicing-and-dicing machines on the planet—go with the MAC. You will not be disappointed. (And, as a more elegant second, consider the Messermeister.)

Six up, six down! As you can see, there are a lot of wonderful knives out there. Hopefully this short list of best chef knives has given you a taste of the possibilities. Remember, stay with quality brands—there’s no free lunch—and stay with what feels and works best for you. It’s your body. It’s your kitchen. Have fun cooking! (And don’t forget to read my article How to Buy a Great Chef Knife for more background.)

27 Comments
  1. Your style is very unique compared to other folks I have read stuff from.
    Many thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this blog.

    • Thanks, Nasplastick! And don’t forget to sign up on my email list. It will guarantee you’ll get new blog entries. . .which I’m finally going to begin writing :)

  2. Any list that includes Global knives is the equivalent to listing Mcdonald’s big mac as the best hamburger, silly.

    • Thanks for chiming in Glenn! From my experience, I don’t think there’s anything particularly lowbrow about Global’s quality or sharpitude. My G-48 has been resharpened by a fantastic pro sharpening service, so that might make a difference—but I remember the factory edge as being pretty darn sharp as well. Certainly just as sharp as my Shun Classic chef’s.

      But it’s a big kitchen knife world out there and everybody’s welcome to their own opinion!

  3. Al Mar (thinner steel, but very affordable), Tojiro, Mac Pro (or Damascus), Shun, Masamoto or or Bu-Rei-Zen. These are real knives, but still not the best kitchen knives in the world.

  4. OK, I’ll bite. What, to you, are the “best kitchen knives” in the world? I’d love to hear :)

  5. food should be on the chopping board ;)

  6. Very helpful review. Lots of people out there looking to buy professional knives now that tv chef’s have made cooking “cool” again. I work professionally with a full set of globals and to anyone who wants comparative value with quality, I’m ahappy customer (who hates big mac’s)

  7. Neal, thanks for chiming in! What makes you such a fan of Global knives? I’d be curious to hear more specifics–especially from a pro. Have you shopped around a lot and compared?

  8. CUTCO IS THE BEST KITCHEN CUTLERY IN THE WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    -LOOK IT UP PEOPLE

  9. Thanks for your passionate comment, Jack!

    There is a dedicated core of Cutco devotees out there, but many of them are Cutco sales reps, so they are not exactly impartial customers. (For those who aren’t aware, Cutco does not sell through stores, but relies on individuals to sell their products one-on-one.)

    I have a Cutco hand-me-down butcher’s knife from my Mom which I love to use for slicing up unwieldy slabs of meat like sides of salmon or flank steak. But for regular, day-to-day use, I don’t think a Cutco chef’s knife would hold up as well as the brands and models I’ve recommended in this article.

    Best, KKG

    • You ever used a Cutco Petite Chef or French Chef before?

  10. Can’t say that I have, Nick. Why do you ask?

  11. Thanks for your time effort and advise. I learnt a lot from your site. I have been looking to buy myself a nice knive or two and appreciate your experiences

  12. You’re most welcome. . .and thanks for letting me know, Brendon :)

    • Hey, thought I would let you know I bought a couple of global sai knives and am enjoying them.
      I also bought the water wheel knife sharpener, should I be using this or a ceramic steel?

      • Congratulations, Brendon! And thanks for turning me on to a whole new line of knives from Global. Global Sai looks like a serious addition to the kitchen knife world — I will have to investigate further :)

        RE sharpening and honing: I don’t trust or recommend the water wheel sharpener (I think you’re talking about the Minosharp). Why not? 1) Who knows what the grits of the ceramic rollers are? Chances are you will over-sharpen your knives instead of simply honing them. 2) What’s the angle of the wheels? It may match the 12.5 degrees of your new Sai Global knives and it may not. Even if it does, it’s fixed and can’t adjust much. As the edge wears, it helps to be able to slightly adjust the honing angle. 3) This kind of sharpener will tempt you to use it as a replacement for quality sharpening. But it can never compete with a quality professional sharpening service.

        I recommend using a ceramic steel, and then, depending on the wear and tear and your taste for sharpitude, sending them to a sharpening service every year or so.

  13. Since I teach cooking history as a hobby I love vintage knives — F. Dick, Dexter, Sabatier, Henckels, Cutco’s — but for my everyday needs I do keep evolving. My new favorite toys are Shun Edo, love the feather weight feel. But for a hunk of meat, I still go back to either Wusthof or Dexter, for bread, it’s vintage Cutco.

  14. Here’s a link to the Shun Edo — if anyone’s interested in checking it out! It does look like a well-designed knife with great ergonomics. And judging from the specs, I’m pretty sure it will more than match the sharpitude of the Shun Classic recommended above :)

  15. My Henckels 6-in handle broke and I am looking to replace it. I’m happy to have found this review. I found it helpful in making my decision.

    • Thanks, Cindy, for the feedback! If there’s anything else I can help you with, please feel free to contact me. (I’ve also got a FB page that’s a perfect place to discuss.) BTW – what will your replacement knife be?

  16. Hi Nate,

    Thanks for the extensive review. Nice animation for the images as well.
    It’s a good starting point to get your bearings when buying kitchen knives.

    rgds
    Jason

  17. I have a 10-inch Henckels chef’s knife, an 8-inch Wusthof chef’s knife, and an 8-inch Wusthof vegetable knife, which I REALLY LOVE and which was a gift. I never would have bought a knife just for vegetables for myself, but man does it make chopping onions and potatoes fast. Now looking for a great boning knife and a cleaver, since my dad (a retired cook) is going to start teaching me butchering skills! Can’t wait! I also would love a santoku of some sort.

  18. Sounds like you’re pretty well equipped, GoodFav!

    All of the manufacturers and lines covered in this article make high quality boning knives, so that shouldn’t be too hard to find. A cleaver is another matter though. That’s something I’ve been wanting to research for quite a while–for a follow-up on this article. Happy shopping:)

  19. I’ve been looking to buy myself a decent chef’s knife for a while, but I had no idea where to start! I’m so glad I found your site. I think I’ll either go for a Wusthof or Henckels. I’ve used a Henckels serrated knife before, and I find the shape and feel perfect.

    Thanks for making things so easy!! Definitely will be coming back to this website to read up on more things!

    • You’re welcome, Ange, and it sounds like you’re on the right track! The main thing is to buy from a reputable manufacturer and avoid their lower-tier knives. For an 8-inch chef, that will run you $100 and up. Secondly, remember — it’s much more important how well you maintain your knife than how blisteringly sharp it is out of the box. See my post: Best Chef Knife — Don’t Overrate the Factory Edge.

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