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 Chef (G-2), 8-Inch
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, used to swear by Global.)
The G2 classic chef (above) 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.
Shun Classic Santoku, 7-Inch
NOW ONLY $100 (Reg. $140)
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 $100–130 (Reg. $170) @ Sur La Table
Miyabi knives, manufactured in Seiki City, Japan, are a boutique brand acquired by Henckels a few years back. The Kaizen line is a hybrid of Japanese and German knifemaking (originally) custom-designed for Sur La Table. The Kaizen II uses a newly-engineered, fine-grain stainless steel (FC61)—the same steel Bob Kramer uses in his Essential chef’s—which allows it to take a super-fine edge. 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 love the Kaizen Damascus pattern, but prefer a more compact blade, the original Miyabi Kaizen santoku [VG-10 steel] is on sale also.)
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. (If you want to make more of a splash, there’s a Classic Ikon 7-piece block set. It’s not on sale, but still $120 less than buying all the pieces separately.)
Henckels Pro Bread knife, 8-Inch
There’s nothing more annoying than, instead of slicing, smooshing French baguettes down into your cutting board. Here’s the perfect fix at the perfect price. Henckels’ Pro line is a snazzy redesign of their signature Professional S by Italian architect, Matteo Thun. The quality remains, but with a modern flair.
• • • 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 kitchen knives collection, click on over to Bob Kramer Knives — Why Spend $300 on a Chef Knife?
Miyabi Birchwood Chef Knife, 8-Inch
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. (Unlike the Meiji, the Birchwood comes in a full line of knives, including multiple-sized chefs.)
• • • KNIFE SETS ON SALE • • •
Henckels Four Star 2-Piece Chef’s Set
NOW ONLY $100 (Reg. $130) @ Amazon
Next to Wusthof, Henckels is the other major German knife manufacturer who’s been pounding out kitchen knives for a couple of centuries. Their “newer” Four Star line is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary and the quality of the blade is still tops. This sale gives you two knives—an 8-inch chef and a 4-inch paring knife—for the price you’d normally pay for one. The ergonomics of the paring knife make it one of my very favorites for peeling fruit—the knob at the base of the handle keeps it firmly in my palm.
Global 3-piece Prep Set
NOW ONLY $160 (Reg. $200) @ Sur La Table
What’s most unusual about this Global 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
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.