- Sharp knives of different shapes and sizes are essential tools for cooks.
- Having the right type of knife — a chef's, paring, or utility knife, for example — makes it easier to tackle specific culinary tasks.
- For excellent quality and performance, we recommend the sturdy German-made Wüsthof Classic 8-inch Cook's Knife. It makes light work of chopping, slicing, dicing, mincing, and more.
- See also: The best knife sets you can buy.
Although the assortment of knives on the market is overwhelming, there are really only four types of knives you absolutely need, tops. And a lot of chefs will tell you that a lone chef's knife will more than suffice.
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. Apart from a utility knife for carving and a bread knife for the obvious, they cover all of my food prep needs.
These are the 4 basic types of knives you might want in your kitchen:
- 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.
- 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 of knife was unnecessary until I tried slicing a fresh loaf without one … 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, or boning knife: I think of this knife as the "in-between" knife. With its 4-to-7-inch-long blade, the utility knife is really designed for carving, but it's still large enough to slice moderate volumes of ingredients and small enough to cut with 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.
Collectively, we at Insider Reviews have interviewed professionals ranging from Pat LaFrieda of LaFrieda Meat Purveyors and Mark Noguchi of Pili to gather input on what makes a good knife, and we've incorporated their sage advice below.
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: Henckels' International Classic 8-Inch Chef's Knife
- Best paring knife: Victorinox Fibrox Pro 3.25-Inch 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
Updated 8/26/20: We replaced our recommendation for best paring knife with a newer option from Victorinox's Fibrox line. We also added some longterm testing notes, included a few options that didn't make our top five but are worth checking out, and consulted multiple experts regarding our picks, including Pat LaFrieda of LaFrieda Meat Purveyors and Chef Mark Noguchi of Pili.
The best kitchen knife overall
A sturdy and dependable workhorse, the German-made Wüsthof Classic 8-Inch Cook's Knife is an ideal and efficient cutting tool.
I've used my Wüsthof Classic 8-Inch Cook's Knife almost daily for nearly two decades to prepare both Chinese and Western dishes. I've chopped, cut, sliced, and diced countless ingredients (vegetables, fruits, meats, tofu) of different thicknesses and textures with ease.
Constructed of high-carbon stainless steel, the knife's blade has a slightly rounded belly for efficiently rocking it back and forth while cutting. The honed, extremely hard metal creates a sharp cutting edge that retains its sharpness well. The 5-inch-long handle is made of very durable engineered thermoplastic. This forged knife has a full tang that's riveted to the handle in three places.
I find the handle very comfortable — even when I'm chopping thick, hard ingredients like melons and carrots for a long time — and balanced in weight with the blade. Also, I really like that this 11-ounce knife is not too heavy to cause fatigue, but hefty enough to help enormously with cutting. You get both force and control.
In my experience, the versatile Wüsthof Classic 8-Inch Cook's Knife is excellent for working on diverse ingredients. Good Housekeeping used it to slice tomatoes, chop onions, debone a chicken, and even shred basil into fine ribbons. For that last task, I admit that I employ a smaller, lighter utility knife, and like me, testers at Food & Wine found that "the delicate leaves get ever-so-slightly bruised on the edges" from this chef's knife.
Although advertised as dishwasher safe, I urge hand washing and drying the Wüsthof Classic 8-Inch Cook's Knife. Good Housekeeping named this knife "Best Overall Chef's Knife" and "Top Lab Pick." Food & Wine dubbed it a "Best Tough Workhorse," and former international culinary professional Daniel Gritzer of Serious Eats chose it as the "Favorite High-End Western Chef's Knife."
Pros: Sturdy, heavy-duty, versatile, well-constructed, sharp
Cons: Not inexpensive, less nimble than lighter knives
The best budget chef's knife
J.A. Henckels International Classic 8-inch Chef's Knife delivers excellent cutting performance and accommodates many different tasks — all at a reasonable price.
Made in Spain, Henckels International Classic 8-Inch Chef's Knife has a blade of stainless steel that's honed for sharpness and precise cutting. This forged knife has a full tang that is triple-riveted to a polymer handle. The 4.72-inch-long handle is well-balanced with the blade.
The cutting blade accommodates many different tasks, including chopping, dicing, slicing, and mincing vegetables, fruits, meat, and fish. Good Housekeeping noted that it performed an "ace job of blitzing parsley into dust, dicing onions, or deboning a chicken." Testers at Food & Wine found that like the Wüsthof Classic 8-inch Cook's Knife, Henckel's International Classic 8-Inch Chef's Knife slightly bruised basil leaves when slicing them, but successfully cubed butternut squash and cut through a chicken's breastbone.
Although advertised as dishwasher safe, J.A. Henckels International Classic 8-Inch Chef's Knife is best washed and dried by hand. The manufacturer Zwilling J.A. Henckels is very well known for delivering durable, high-quality knives at moderate prices.
Designating this model as the "Best Value Chef's Knife," Good Housekeeping noted that it has the "heft, shape, and performance of a splurge-worthy chef's knife but comes at a much nicer price point." Food & Wine called it a "Best Tough Workhorse." Sharon Franke, a professional culinary equipment tester formerly of Good Housekeeping, named it "Best Budget Knife for More Serious Cooks." She said, "Honestly, this knife is almost exactly the same as the Wüsthof. It's just a small step down in terms of materials."
As a runner up, and a slightly more affordable option, we also recommend Victorinox Fibrox knives. They're a little lighter in weight, which some people might not like, but they're every bit as good and found in commercial kitchens the world over. That's also why we included this four-piece set of the Fibrox in our guide to the best kitchen knife sets.
Pros: Great value, versatility, excellent cutting performance
Cons: Squared edges on handle uncomfortable for some
The best paring knife
The petite and nimble Victorinox Swiss Army 3.25-Inch Fibrox Paring Knife is perfect for close work on small, intricate, and/or delicate ingredients.
The Victorinox Fibrox 3.25-inch Straight Paring Knife is great for any culinary MacGyver, and it's part of why we recommend this four-piece Fibrox set to anyone looking for an affordable starter set.
With its 3.25-inch-long blade, this Swiss-made stamped knife can handle jobs ranging from peeling or seeding fruit to slicing onions to mincing garlic.
In terms of performance, though, the Victorinox Fibrox 3.25-inch Straight Paring Knife more than pulls its weight. Commending its control and versatility, Wirecutter reported that this knife excelled in hulling strawberries with one smooth, circular action as well slipping beneath a shrimp shell for efficient peeling and deveining.
I have to admit that I sometimes put my paring knife in the dishwasher since it's small and — unlike a large chef's knife — blends in with regular cutlery. The Victorinox Swiss Army 3.25-inch Straight Paring Knife is machine washable. Good Housekeeping ran it through repeated dishwashing cycles and found only one small speck of rust. Even if this paring knife gets a bit worn after going through the dishwasher many times, it's very inexpensive to replace.
This knife is Wirecutter's "Top Pick" for paring knives and the "Favorite Paring Knife" of Cook's Illustrated of America's Test Kitchen. Good Housekeeping rated this model 4 out of 5 for ease of use, 5 out of 5 for design, and 4 out of 5 for performance.
Pros: Inexpensive, sharp, very maneuverable, and easy to control
Cons: Feels flimsy (especially thin plastic handle) and too lightweight for some
The best utility kitchen knife
The Japanese Shun Classic 6-Inch Utility Knife is versatile and great for jobs ranging from small, precise cutting chores to larger chopping tasks.
Smaller than a chef's knife and larger than a paring knife, Shun Classic 6-inch Utility Knife can take care of most jobs that the other two perform. Handcrafted in Japan, this knife sports a blade that's thin but very strong. The blade's core is made of Shun's proprietary advanced steel that's hardened by additional carbon, cobalt, chromium, and tungsten. This core is wrapped with multiple layers of Damascus stainless steel clad to resist wear and corrosion as well as retain an extremely sharp edge.
Weighing 6.4 ounces, this Japanese knife is lighter than some Western utility knives. What makes it a little similar, though, is its very slightly curved belly. Instead of being completely straight like many Japanese knives, the Shun Classic 6-inch Utility Knife has a cutting edge conducive to rocking moderately when cutting.
The D-shaped handle is made of smooth PakkaWood, an engineered wood/plastic composite material that's dense, water-resistant, and warp-resistant. Many Amazon customers noted that this handle is comfortable and fits their hands well.
The Shun Classic 6-inch Utility Knife can be used like a large paring knife or small chef's knife. I use my utility knife for trimming broccoli, slicing onions, cutting sandwiches, and other "medium-size" jobs. But it's not good for bigger or more heavy-duty jobs like deboning a chicken.
Shun was the first brand recommended by the prep cook I interviewed, and Good Housekeeping also loved this company. Hotel sous chef Ivan of Knife Lover named this knife his top pick for 6-inch kitchen knives.
Pros: Very sharp, retains sharp edge well, versatile, lifetime warranty
Cons: Brittle blade prone to chipping
The best bread knife
The Mercer Culinary Millennia Wavy Edge 10-Inch Wide Bread Knife cuts through your bread "like butter" without crushing it.
Don't worry about flattening a fresh (or not-so-fresh) loaf of bread with the Mercer Culinary Millennia Wavy Edge 10-inch Wide Bread Knife. This stamped knife has a thin, flexible blade made of high-carbon, stain-free Japanese steel as well as durable, rubber-like plastic handles.
The blade's serrated edge is designed to cut through a tough and/or hard exterior layer (like the bread's crust) and not tear or crush a soft interior. The textured handle resists slipping, which you want to avoid with such a sharp knife.
Cook's Illustrated described this knife as "our go-to knife for slicing everything from bread to tomatoes to sandwiches. Its sharp points and grippy handle make it both powerful and comfortable." When Wirecutter tested it, the knife performed well overall, easily cutting sandwiches and cinnamon rolls. But it did shatter the bread crust a little and left teeth marks on roast beef slices.
Good Housekeeping noted that although this knife sliced foods without much added force, the blade's deep and wide serrations allowed a little less control, and it was challenging to cut wafer-thin slices and resulted in imperfect edges. Nonetheless, they said that they recommend this knife for people who aren't overly concerned about precision-cutting for some breads and meats.
We don't recommend washing the Mercer Culinary Millennia Wavy Edge 10-inch Wide Bread Knife in the dishwasher. Wash and dry it by hand before putting it away in order to protect the serrated cutting edge.
Pros: Good value, excellent serrated cutting edge, limited lifetime warranty
Cons: Doesn't cut wafer-thin slices with perfect, teeth-mark-free edges; not great for meats
Things to keep in mind 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.
- Hardness (measured based on the Rockwell scale): The hardness of metals is measured using what's called the Rockwell scale, which is determined by the penetration or indentation of a given metal under a heavy load. In the case of steel knives, you're looking for something between 52 and 62 HRC, generally. You'll often not find these ratings for more affordable knives, including those on our list, but if you start to look into higher-end blades, this becomes a concern. On the low end, you have softer, easier-to-sharpen blades. On the higher end, starting at around 58 HRC, you get a long-lasting blade, but one that requires more effort to sharpen when the time does inevitably arrive.
- 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.
Use and care of specialty kitchen knives
Treat your knives well, and you'll reap years of sharp service from them.
Here are some knife-care tips:
- Don't use a glass cutting board. Use one made of softer material, like wood that's easier on knife blades. End-grain wood is best.
- When storing knives, don't just toss them into a drawer where they'll clatter against each other, chip, and possibly cut someone reaching into the drawer. Protect the blades and store the knives on a magnetic strip or in a slotted drawer insert, a chef's knife roll, or freestanding block.
- When transporting and/or storing individual knives, a knife sheath or blade guard works well.
- Don't leave dirty knives sitting in the sink. They can bump against each other and other objects as well as corrode over time.
- Don't put them in the dishwasher. Good Housekeeping noted that, regardless of manufacturer directions, hand washing and drying maintains the sharpness of a knife blade longer than running it through the dishwasher.
- Keep your knives sharp. Through repeated use, knife blades become dull and dangerous because you have to use more force when trying to cut something.
How to test a knife's sharpness:
To determine if your knife is still sharp, try one of the following tests:
- Lightly run your fingertips over the blade's edge to feel for a sharp, not rounded, edge.
- Dangle a sheet of paper in front of you and try to slice it in half. A sharp knife cuts through the sheet; a dull knife slips off the edge or rips it unevenly.
- Slice a tomato and see if the blade cuts — not smashes — it.
- Place the knife on an onion. A sharp blade easily cuts through skin and layers; a dull blade slides off the skin.
- Gently skim the knife over your forearm. A sharp blade cuts straight through arm hair; a dull blade folds over hair.
- If your knife needs sharpening, use an electric sharpener or take it to a professional knife sharpener. Manual sharpeners don't work as well and whetstones required someone trained to use them (and not mess up your knife).
- Be aware that the steel rod that comes with knife sets doesn't actually sharpen knives. It can be used to hone a dull blade, but regular sharpening is still necessary.
Other knives to consider
Dexter-Russell and Victorinox Fibrox Pro: Both of these brands are some of the most popular basic stock items in commercial kitchens the world over. They're affordable, balanced (if lightweight), and almost indestructible. The weight is often the only thing holding them back when it comes to most people's concerns about performance, but you can't beat the price, and you can trust these brands and their knives as much as any. Deciding between the two is a matter of personal preference, though we will say that when it comes to seafood-handling tools, Dexter is tops.
Shun: If you're looking for a Japanese-style chef's knife, then Shun, the brand we recommend above for a utility knife, is a popular pick with its small handle and hard steel (60 HRC), offering up long-lasting edges. Just know that you will probably want to regularly sharpen a blade like this.
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