I’ve culled a list that covers a variety of styles and knife makers, but leans toward Japanese made. Which means many of these kitchen knives have thinner blades and are made of harder steel than their German counterparts. They will take a super-sharp edge and keep it longer—but you need to be more careful with them. You won’t get away with powering through a bone without cracking an edge. Capice?
Any one of these chef/santoku knives would make a wonderful gift for someone who loves to cook and loves beautifully designed things.
Global Ni Santoku, 7-Inch (rocking)
NOW ONLY $80–100 (Reg. $140) @ Sur La Table
Global kitchen knives are made in Japan and look like an artifact from the future. They are precision-machined, lightweight, and finished to perfection. (Celeb chef, Anthony Bourdain, swears by Global.)
The “rocking” santoku (above) is from Global’s newest line which has a slightly new look, but the same dependable quality. Because the blade is curved you can easily rock it back and forth when dicing herbs and onions and whatnot—thus “rocking.” (Very similar to the G-48 santoku on my Best Chef Knives. . . list which is an older style and currently sells for a similar bargain.)
Global Chef (G-2), 8-Inch
NOW ONLY $100–125 (Reg. $125) @ Sur La Table / Amazon
The G2 classic chef (above right) is one of Global’s most popular models. The shape of the blade is just about as close as Global gets to a traditional chef knife—which is very close. It has a slightly slimmer tip and belly than your average German chef’s, but, nonetheless, has the potential to be a serious cook’s go-to.
Zwilling Henckels Pro (Traditional) Chef, 8-Inch
NOW ONLY $100 (Reg. $130) @ Sur La Table / Amazon
The Henckels Pro line is a snazzy redesign of the German chef knife, comparable in quality to the Professional S, Henckel’s flagship line. The big difference is the lack of bolster and a slightly different shaped blade. If you’re accustomed to pinch-gripping, you might prefer this bolster-free design because it helps eliminate the rub and also makes it easier to sharpen. Plus, it looks pretty moderne, no? (Note: the blade width of the Pro “traditional” chef is slightly slimmer than the regular Pro chef.)
Shun Classic Santoku, 7-Inch
Shun, along with Global, has become one of the giants of the Japanese kitchen knife world. With its pakkawood handle, unassuming simplicity, and wavy Damascus blade pattern, the Classic line echoes traditional Japanese knives blended with a Western design. The construction of the blade riffs on Japanese swords—a core of harder steel (VG-10) sandwiched between layers of softer stainless. The core does the cutting while the outer layers protect and decorate. Elegant, but sharp! I’ve test-driven this santoku and I love the feel. Snug and balanced. It’s nimble. . .yet the broad blade has enough umph to handle hefty jobs.
Miyabi Kaizen II Chef, 8-Inch
NOW ONLY $100 (Reg. $170) @ Sur La Table
The Miyabi Kaizan II is one of the best bargains of the moment—a high-performance, beautifully-styled Japanese blade, matching the price of your standard German workhorse. Improvements have been made in the Kaizen II over the original Kaizen—which include a higher-quality steel (FC61) and a heftier handle and bolster. It’s easier to grip! And, like the Shun (above), it’s constructed of a hard core that’s been wrapped in layers of softer steel that protect and produce the Damascus patterns. Can a $100 kitchen knife really look this sexy? (Pssst: If you have a weakness for hammered steel, the Miyabi Artisan SG2 is on sale also.)
Miyabi Evolution Chef, 8-Inch
NOW ONLY $100 (Reg. $175)
@ Sur La Table
Miyabi’s Evolution chef knife is an alternate approach to East meets West. Although, like the Kaizan, the blade is Japanese-thin and razor-sharp, the handle is more Western and substantially slimmer. Also, the shape of the blade is a touch broader, and it’s one piece of steel (FC61) without any layers. So remember—though the Evolution is designed to look more like a traditional German chef knife, it will still perform more like a Japanese. What’s not to like about that?
(Please note: The FC61 steel the Miyabi knives are made of is a touch more wear resistant and ductile than the VG-10 steel of the Shun santoku.)
Wusthof Classic Ikon Chef, 8-InchThe Wusthof Classic Ikon is one of my favorite kitchen knife designs. I love the curved, ergonomic handle; it’s not only beautiful, but comfy as a handshake. This is German steel, so—unlike the Japanese knives in this post—it’s not as brittle and you don’t have to be quite as careful. It’s also a touch weightier, which some may prefer. Me, personally? I like both German and Japanese. (There’s a Classic Ikon 7-piece block set that’s also a bargain.)
• • • HIGH END JAPANESE • • •
Bob Kramer Meiji Chef, 8-Inch (Zwilling-Henckels)
NOW ONLY $250 (Reg. $300) @ Sur La Table
Designed by Bob Kramer—near legendary American bladesmith—the Meiji collection melds East and West at a whole new level of quality and style. Believe it or not, from start to finish, they are handcrafted. In Seiki City, Japan, home of the samurai sword. Similar in concept to the Shun and Miyabi—German blade meets Japanese handle, blade composed of a sandwiched core. But the blade is wider and the balance and feel different as well (more knuckle clearance for one thing). If you want to dip deeper into the Kramer/Henckels collection, click on over to Bob Kramer Knives — Why Spend $300 on a Chef Knife?
Miyabi Birchwood Chef, 8-inch
NOW ONLY $230 (Reg. $280) @ Sur La Table / Amazon
Simply said, the Miyabi Birchwood is a babe among kitchen knives. But, to continue the metaphor, it’s a babe with brains. For, it’s not only gorgeous, but comes from the factory probably sharper than any knife on this page (well, maybe the Meiji). And it will stay sharp longer because the steel it’s made of (SG2) has been heat-treated to a Rockwell hardness of 63 (two points higher than any knife on this page). I’ve felt the Birchwood handle in my grubby mitts and it feels like. . .well, like, unfinished wood—earthy and real. Gift this to a gourmet cook who has an appreciation for the finer things in life—they will never ever forget the moment they opened the box.
• • • KNIFE SETS ON SALE • • •
Global Prep Set, 3 piece Set
NOW ONLY $200 (Retail $300) @ Sur La Table
Set includes: 7-inch chef, 3-inch paring, 8-inch bread knife |
What’s most unusual about this 3-piece set is that it offers you an actual bread knife (most 3-piece kitchen knife sets do not). So you start off with the core three, the three most useful knives to have in your kitchen. A most excellent wedding gift. The only trade off is that the chef knife is a bit short—ideally, it should be 8-inches. If you do a lot of big jobs in your kitchen (chopping large onions, etc), then you may not be happy with this chef knife as your mainstay.
Henckels Pro, 7-Piece Set
NOW ONLY $265–300 (Reg $350) @ Amazon / Sur La Table
Set includes: 8-inch chef, 4-inch paring, 5.5-inch santoku, 5-inch serrated, shears, steel, block |
As mentioned above, the Henckels Pro line is a stylish retooling of the classic German kitchen knife. What’s nice about this set is that instead of the obligatory utility knife (which is rarely used), you get a santoku which is super-useful for smaller jobs. And by having two all-purpose knives—the chef and the santoku—it allows two cooks to be working at the same time in the same kitchen. The only negative, of course, is the missing bread knife. But you can pick up an inexpensive one for a song that will easily do the trick and fill out the set: OXO Good Grips, 8-Inch Bread Knife / Henckels International Fine Edge Pro, 8-Inch Bread Knife.