The best kitchen knives you can buy
- Sharp knives of different shapes and sizes are essential tools for cooks.
- Having the right type of knife - chef's, paring, knife, utility, for example - makes life easier for tackling many culinary tasks.
- For excellent quality and performance, use the sturdy German-made Wüsthof Classic 8-inch Cook's Knife for making light work of chopping, slicing, dicing, mincing, and more.
As ghoulish as this sounds, I can't live without knives. Each day in the kitchen, I wield my two favorites: a chef's knife for chopping vegetables and slicing meat and a paring knife for peeling fruit. I also often halve bagels with a bread knife and use my utility knife for tasks smaller than those requiring a chef's knife. Although the assortment of knives on the market is overwhelming, most home cooks only need these four kinds.
These are the 4 types of knives every home cook needs:
- A chef's knife (aka cook's knife): This versatile knife has an 8-to-12-inch blade. It's used for chopping, cubing, slicing, and dicing vegetables, meats, and other ingredients, especially in volume. I also use the flat, broad side of my chef's knife to crush garlic.
- A paring knife: Small but mighty, this knife is great for precision-cutting tasks, like peeling and coring fruits, deveining shrimp, slicing garlic, and scoring pastries, for example. I like the fine control I have over a paring knife with its typically 3-to-4-inch-long blade.
- A bread knife: I used to think this type knife was unnecessary until I tried slicing a fresh loaf … and squashed it. With its long (about 10 inches), narrow serrated blade, the bread knife cuts through soft foods like bread and tomatoes without crushing them.
- A utility knife: I think of this knife as the "in-between" knife. With its 4-to-7-inch-long blade, the utility knife is large enough to slice moderate volumes of ingredients and small enough to cut with moderate precision. It's convenient to use for medium-sized tasks - like cutting sandwiches - that are too big for a paring knife but don't need the big guns of a chef's knife. When your chef's knife or paring knife is dirty or unavailable, the utility knife often can serve as a handy substitute.
Don't automatically purchase a block set of knives. It may include more pieces than you need. A pro I spoke with advised against buying specialty knives in a block. Instead, he suggested thinking about what culinary tasks you do and then focusing on high-quality models that address those specific needs.
What to consider when shopping for knives:
- Blade material: In order to cut well and remain sharp, a blade must be made of strong, hard, corrosion-resistant material. Stainless steel has those qualities but also needs to be sharpened regularly. Carbon steel blades are favored by chefs because their higher carbon content means the cutting edge stays sharp longer, but they're more expensive. Damascus blades have a carbon steel core topped with alternating layers of hard and soft stainless steel; they're very hard and can be ground to be extremely sharp. Ceramic blades are very light, very hard (comparable to diamonds), and hold their sharp edges well. Titanium, in combination with something like ceramic, makes for a durable and extremely lightweight knife.
- Style (German or Japanese): You can't go wrong with either German or Japanese engineering, and both types of knives have their benefits. German knives are heavier and have blades with curved bellies. The curved cutting edge accommodates rocking the blade from tip to heel for versatile tasks, including chopping, cutting, and slicing. Japanese knives are more lightweight with thinner but extremely sharp blades. Made from harder steel, their blades tend to stay sharp longer. The blade's slightly straighter cutting edge is best suited for precise slicing.
- Construction (forged versus stamped): A forged knife is made of a single piece of steel that's then tempered and hammered into shape. The resulting blade is sturdy and stiff. A stamped knife has a blade that's been cut cookie-cutter style from a sheet of steel before being tempered and hardened. The resulting blade is thinner, lighter, and more flexible. Forged knives are usually more expensive than stamped knives. Although forged knives generally are recommended over stamped knives, not all stamped knives are inferior to forged knives - it depends on the materials used and the manufacturer.
- Tang: If you have a bird's eye view of the knife's handle, look for a line of metal extending from the blade through the handles, sandwiched between both halves. This is the tang. A full tang continues the length of the handle to the end; a partial tang goes halfway or so down the handle. A tang offers balance and strength. While knives with full tangs are preferable (and often costlier), a knife with a partial tang can still perform well. In fact, some of the top Japanese knives have partial tangs.
- Weight: Although many cooks prefer heavier knives because they offer more heft and require less force when cutting, some like that lighter knives offer more control and create less fatigue. And as mentioned, Japanese knives are lighter by design but not inferior to their heavier Western counterparts.
- Handle: Look for a comfortable, easy-to-grip-without-slipping handle made of plastic or composite; wood tends to warp. The blade must be securely riveted to the handle.
- Balance: You want the blade and handle to be fairly even in weight and not overly heavy in one direction or the other.
I've tested and employed all different types and brands of knives over more than 20 years of cooking. To supplement my research, I interviewed a former prep cook and read a breadth of reviews by experts who have tested these knives.
Here are the best kitchen knives you can buy:
- Best chef's knife overall: Wüsthof Classic 8-Inch Cook's Knife
- Best budget chef's knife: Henckel's International Classic 8-Inch Chef's Knife
- Best paring knife: Victorinox Swiss Army 3.25-Inch Straight Paring Knife
- Best utility kitchen knife: Shun Classic 6-Inch Utility Knife
- Best bread knife: Mercer Culinary Millennia Wavy Edge 10-Inch Wide Bread Knife
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