The Best Chef Knives and Kitchen Knives for the Home Cook

The Best Chef Knives and Kitchen Knives for the Home Cook

In this guide, we’re going to discuss the best kitchen knives for the home chef.

Types of knives and how they work

Types of knives and how they work

Types of Knives

The top cutlery is produced in Europe and Japan. Specifically, in Solingen, Germany; Thiers, France; and Seki City in Japan.

The primary difference between European and Japanese knives is the weight and size of the steel. The knives from France and Germany are heavier and for chefs trained in their use, they rely on the weight of the knife to do the cutting. The Japanese made knives are significantly lighter and use the traditional craftsmanship found in the samurai swords used throughout history. These knives are incredibly sharp but quite thin; influenced by its culture and history.

European vs. Japanese Knives

The knives produced in Germany and France are known for their versatility and, for the most part, are designed with versatility in mind. The Japanese knives, on the other hand, are designed with an express purpose in mind and are intended to be used for very specific tasks. This is why you’ll often find a French-trained chef using the same chef’s knife for multiple proteins, whereas a trained sushi chef may use a selection of different knives for each ingredient.

For the home chef or culinarian, both styles of knives have their benefits and their drawbacks. In the end, however, it comes down to personal preference.

Four examples of chefs knives from Europe and Japan

Four examples of chefs knives from Europe and Japan

German and French Made Knives Are Ideal For:

  • Those still honing their knife skills or those with limited knife skills.
  • Multiple cooks of varying skill level and abilities.
  • Classically trained chefs.
  • Those who rely on a single knife in the kitchen.

Japanese Made Knives Are Ideal For:

  • Those who cook a lot of raw fish and seafood
  • Those for whom a heavier Western knife is uncomfortable to hold
  • Cooks with a larger collection of knives
  • Cooks who don’t want to maintain their own knives or who send their knives away for sharpening.

The Blade’s Steel

Japanese knives are known for their sharpness just as the samurai sword was once known for its slicing abilities. Well made Japanese cutlery can easily slice through an ingredient with a slight graze. The reason for this is because the steel used in the Japanese knives is usually much harder than the steel used in the blade’s core of a German or French made knife. The reason the steel is harder is because Japanese knives are made from steel with a higher carbon content. Because of this, they will remain sharp longer and hold their edge better. The drawback is that they are far more prone to rust and therefore require quick cleaning and drying immediately after each use.

German knives, on the other hand, are known for their ability to take a beating. This is why many of the world’s top chefs prefer them. Not only are they sharp, but they are very strong and easy to maintain. The softer steel used in the blade makes them less prone to chipping, breaking and rusting. The issue is, they do require regular honing and sharpening to hold their edge since they lose their edge far quicker than Japanese knives. The benefit is that you can sharpen them easily at home, and you don’t need a lot of practice to learn basic techniques.

Bevel of Japanese vs German Knives

Bevel of Japanese vs German Knives

The Cutting Edge

When we’re talking about the cutting edge, we mean the angle of the knife itself. This is known as the “bevel.”

Most knives, regardless of where they’re made, will have a bevel on both sides, although there are some Japanese knives with only a single bevel. When we talk about a German bevel, we usually mean that the knife has a 10-degree angle on each side which makes the total angle of the bevel 20-degrees.

On Japanese knives, the bevel is usually smaller which makes the blade sharper. Japanese knives can be found in the double bevel, a single bevel or a double bevel with varying sides. The vast majority of the Japanese knives have a bevel between 7 and 8-degrees which means 14 and 16-degrees when we see it in advertising. The reason we recommend these knives for people who cook a lot of raw fish is because the knife can easily slide through the protein without damaging the cell walls which helps to preserve the flavor and the texture of the ingredients. It’s because of the hardness of the steel that’s used that allows Japanese knives to maintain this bevel.

The Weight

Some argue that Japanese knives are lighter because of the stature of their people, but that’s simply not true. At least not today. The reason they forge steel this way is that – like the Samurai’s of the past – they rely on technique and skill rather than brute strength. The knives made today are crafted with the same principles as the samurai swords of the past. In fact, a Japanese Shun knife (pronounced “Shoon”), undergoes the same traditional craftsmanship as Seki’s sword smiths once used, using 100 handcrafted steps to complete each knife.

When we look at the knives made in Germany and France, we note that they are usually far heavier. Although they cannot maintain the same sharpness that Japanese knives are renowned for, they use the weight of the knife to cut the ingredients. This gives them an added longevity for professional use, allowing the knife to take a beating and handle a variety of ingredients and knife techniques.

In the end, European knives are versatile and great for cutting harder ingredients and proteins like frozen foods, bone-in meats, and stalk vegetables. The Japanese knives are a little more specific and ideal for softer ingredients and proteins like raw fish, leaf vegetables, and boneless cuts of fresh meat.

Materials Used

Today, there are many materials used to craft knives. The two that we recommend for serious home cooks is steel and ceramic.

Steel

We often hear about how strong a knife is or how to sharp a knife is, but the two terms are not mutually exclusive. In the end, they are often used as different terms, the strong knives describing German cutlery, and the sharper ones describing Japanese. However, just because the knives you’re considering say they’re made in Germany, France or Japan, doesn’t necessarily mean they are worth your attention. Like many products, cutlery brands will use those terms as marketing trickery to suggest it is superior to other brands. What it comes down to, is the quality of the material used and the construction of the knife itself.

Steel, in general, is an alloy of iron and carbon. There are many varying forms and differences in quality. It depends on how the steel has been forged, what other materials the iron and carbon are combined with and what kind of deoxidization process is used.

There are three main categories of steel that are used for forging knives: high carbon steel, stainless steel, and semi-stainless steel.

High Carbon Steel

High carbon steel is defined as steel that has 0.6% to 1.7% carbon by weight. The more carbon introduced to the steel, the stronger and harder the steel will be. Hard knives will have a sharper edge and require less maintenance. However, it also makes them more prone to corrosion and less durable.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is simply steel that contains at least 12% chromium, which is an element that creates a protective layer on the blade, making it more resistant to corrosion and rust. They are easy to clean and maintain and work especially well on acidic foods. Often, these knives will be called Inox steel knives which is a term we often see German cutlery companies using and a mark of resolute craftsmanship.

Semi-Stainless Steel

These knives are generally advertised as “stain resistant” or “rust resistant.” Often, these knives get a bad rap from consumers since they don’t contain as much chromium as stainless steel knives (usually between 3-12%). However, this isn’t always a bad thing. Because of the lower levels of chromium, it allows the maker to use higher carbon content which results in a sharper edge. These knives are kind of the best of both worlds.

Kyocera ceramic knives

Kyocera ceramic knives

Ceramic Knives

Ceramic knives are very different from steel knives, and in many cases, more expensive. There are pros and cons to using ceramic knives, and although they make a good addition to your knife collection, they should rarely be used exclusively.

Pros

  • Ceramic is the second hardest material, next to diamonds. This means that it’s very hard, and therefore, extremely sharp. Ceramic knives can keep a razor sharp edge with very little maintenance.
  • Since ceramic is not metal, you don’t have to worry about rust.
  • Since ceramic knives are very light, they cause less strain. For long periods of knife work, they are excellent.
  • Ceramic knives aren’t very porous which means that it is less likely to transfer odor from one ingredient to the other. This means you can slice a chile pepper and then cut something else without transferring the heat to the next ingredient.
  • Since ceramic is dense and not porous, they are far more sanitary than steel knives. They often need just a quick rinse, whereas a low-quality steel may require some vigorous scrubbing.

Cons

  • Almost all ceramic knives are expensive in comparison to most knives used in home kitchens. However, they are fairly on par with higher quality steel knives used by professional chefs and serious home cooks. The fact is, you won’t find them for under $20, but you can easily find them starting at about $50.
  • These knives aren’t overly versatile. They slice softer ingredients well but don’t do a great job on anything that isn’t easy to slice without some pressure.
  • They are brittle. They won’t shatter, but they can bend, and since they are so thin, it’s easy to chip them if you’re not careful. Dropping them once is often enough to chip the blade.
Different types of high quality steak knives

Different types of high quality steak knives

Knife Edges

There are three main styles of knife edges used for kitchen cutlery.

Serrated

A serrated edge (sometimes called a wavy edge), is excellent for soft ingredients with a harder shell such as bread, sausages, and tomatoes. The teeth allow a sawing technique which prevents the ingredient from losing its shape and texture.

Straight Edge

Great for raw meats, fish and vegetables, a straight edge can easily be maintained with a sharpening steel. These knives made clean and precise cuts like a surgeon’s scalpel but need to be sharp to do the best possible job.

Granton Edge

Also known as the kullenschiff edge, these knives have indented grooves on the sides of the blade, usually in an oval or tear drop shape. Ideal for cutting cooked meats, the grooves are intended for capturing fat and juices as you slice, which allows you to cut meat evenly and thinly without causing the meat to tear. Like Damascus steel, it also allows the knife to move cleanly through the ingredient without it sticking. This is very useful for proteins with marinades or sauces.

The types of knives

The types of knives

Types of Kitchen Knives

Most department stores and retail outlets will stock knife blocks and sets that are comprised of a number of the knives listed below. Like cookware such as pots and pans, it is often of lower quality. Just because the brand is J.A. Henckels, does not mean it’s the same quality of knife used by professional chefs. Therefore, it’s very important that you take the time to research the knives you’re considering. A good set of knives will last a lifetime. An inferior set may only last a few years before it needs replacing.

We recommend buying knives individually, in the following order:

Must Have Knives

  • Chef’s Knife: Arguably your most versatile knife, for most chef’s this is the most-used knife in the kitchen. It is something you’ll use every day for chopping, dicing, slicing and mincing a variety of ingredients.
  • Paring Knife: Ideal for peeling fruits and vegetables, it’s precise and perfect for trimming smaller ingredients.
  • Serrated Knife: Although it’s called a bread knife, it can also be used for cutting lemons, limes, and tomatoes thanks to its serrated edge that allows you to cut ingredients without ripping or squishing them.
  • Honing Steel:  The honing steel is what keeps your knives sharp longer between professional sharpening. It smoothes the blade and realigns it to give it a noticeably sharper edge, immediately after use. To learn how to use a honing steel, watch this short video below from legendary bladesmith, Bob Kramer.
  • Utility Knife: It’s the middle child between the larger chef’s knife and smaller paring knife. It’s versatile and another everyday knife that can be used for an endless array of tasks.
  • Steak Knife: Steak knives are designed specifically to be used with steak and hearty cuts of meat. They come in serrated, straight-edge and mixed blades. It is the only sharp kitchen knife that is part of a place setting, but should only be included when hearty meats are on the menu. You can often find them for just $1 or upwards of hundreds of dollars for a single steak knife. We recommend European knives as they tend to last longer and hold their own better than the Japanese-made steak knives.
Most steak knives come in smaller sets making them ideal as gifts

Most steak knives come in smaller sets making them ideal as gifts

Should Have Knives

  • Santoku Knife: It’s kind of the perfect blend of the cleaver and chef’s knife, it can be used for just about everything either of the two individual knives can tackle.
  • Carving Knife: Its long and thin blade is intended for slicing large cuts of meat into even, thin slices. It works well on cooked beef, pork, fish and poultry.
  • Boning Knife: Often misconstrued as a carving knife, the blade curves inward to allow precision and control while removing meat from the bone.
  • Meat Cleaver: The weight of the cleaver is used to cut through bones and cartilage with a single, downward stroke. It can also be used to cut firm vegetables and fruit, such as coconuts, melons, and root vegetables.

Nice to Have Knives

Recommended kitchen knivesBrandPrice
Epicure 8" Chef's KnifeWusthof$$
Shun Preimier Chef's KnifeShun$$
Global G-2Global$$
Evercut Furtif Chef's knifeEvercut$$
KeywordZwilling J.A. Henckels$$$
Ikea Stainless Steel Magnetic Knife Rack IKEA$
John Boos Au Jus Maple Cutting/Carving BoardJohn Boos$
Black Pakka Wood 6 pc Steak Knife SetViking Culinary$

Vegetable Cleaver

Similar to the meat cleaver, it has a finer blade which makes it lighter and easier to chop or slice produce. It is also ideal for transferring large quantities of produce into a bowl.

Nakiri Knife

Slimmer than a cleaver, it’s a Japanese knife used for vegetables that is excellent for slicing in up-and-down motions. It is a nice knife to have, but not

Honesuki Knife

With its triangle shaped blade and pointy tip, this Japanese boning knife is awesome for taking the meat off small bones and joints.

Tomato Knife

It has a serrated blade with very small serrations which prevents the skin on a soft tomato from tearing, but it’s useful for almost all skinned fruits and veggies.

Recommended Products

Knives

When you’re buying a set, you can’t go wrong with the following brands. However, your best bet is to look at the chef’s knife included in the set, as that knife will give you the best indicator of the quality of each knife you’re going to get.

Here are some of our recommended knives from reputable brands worthy of the most discerning chef’s attention:

Shun Premier Chef’s Knife

A quintessential Japanese knife, the Shun brand is known for their time-honoured and traditional craftsmanship. Each knife is crafted by hand to make it lightweight, agile, comfortable to use for extended periods of time. This particular model uses Shun’s proprietary VG-MAX “super steel” with layered Damascus cladding for support and a hammered tsuchime finish which makes ingredients less likely to stick and increases its aesthetic appeal. Buy the Shun knife here.

Global Chef’s Knife

Many classically trained chef’s love the Global line of knives because it gives them the sharpness and weight of a Japanese-made knife, with the comfort of having a lifetime warranty in the event of defects or breakage. For those used to European knives, this is a great transition or introduction to the lighter and sharper Japanese knives. Made from high-tech molybdenum/vanadium stainless steel Edge retains razor sharpness exceptionally well Stainless-steel handle molded for comfort, dimpled for safe grip. Lifetime warranty against defects and breakage. Get the Global knife here.

Wusthof Chefs Knife from Germany

Wusthof Chefs Knife from Germany

Wusthof Epicure Chef’s Knife

The Epicure line is our top recommended knife for home cooks who are still working to improve their knife skills. It is well regarded by professional chefs, yet is more forgiving then many of the other high quality knives. Extremely versatile, this heavy German-made knife can be used for chopping, mincing, slicing and dicing. Due to the weight and balance of the knife, it is also perfect for heavy duty work such as cutting thicker vegetables and meats. It is just as good in terms of quality as any other knife recommended in this article, but it gives home cooks a better opportunity to perfect their technique, without having to worry about damaging an expensive knife. Buy the Epicure knife here.

EverCut Furtif Chef’s Knife

Made in France, it looks like a stealth bomber, and at first glance, appears to be terribly awkward to handle. However, rest assured, it’s not. It’s actually very comfortable to hold for extended use and holds up well under oily hands without slipping. The Evercut Furtif series feature a steel blade with a laser-bonded titanium carbide surface that is designed to last much longer between sharpenings than conventional knives. I’ve been using this knife daily for the last six months without any honing or sharpening and it has remained as sharp as the day it was sent for review from MyToque.

Bloodroot Blades Custom Knives

We first heard of this brand from celebrity chef Hugh Acheson. We haven’t had the chance to actually use one of their knives, but from everything we’ve heard, they are expertly crafted. Made in Georgia, they are primarily bespoke knives and the price is reflective of that. Order a Bloodroot chef’s knife here.

Zwilling J.A. Henckels S Professional 8” Chef’s Knife

Henckles knives can be found in retail shops ranging from boutique cutlery stores to hardware stores. This is arguably, the most well known professional cutlery brand, however, not all of their knives are considered equal. Some of the lines are actually fairly inferior compared to others. Because of this, you want to do your research and understand, that with Henckels, you often get what you pay for. Don’t expect that the $100 set of 8-knives from Home Hardware is going to be the same quality as the single Bob Kramer designed Henckel chef’s knife that costs $350. There are many different models, so to make things easy, we recommend the base professional line designed for the professional chef: the S Series Professional line. Buy a set of Pro S knives here.

Steak Knives

Unlike the other knives, not every brand we recommended produces steak knives. Certainly, some of the lower end models will include a set of steak knives with their sets, however, if you’re looking for a restaurant-quality steak knife, here are our top recommendations:

Viking Steak Knives

Viking is well regarded for their appliances such as their gas ranges. Many chefs swear by them and use them at home. Viking also makes very high-quality steak knives and we recommend them. Buy Viking steak knives here.

Schmidt Brothers Steak Knives

Schmidt Bros. is known for their cutlery, but it’s the steak knives that really stand out. Schmidt Brothers is the maker of the steak knives used at Strip House – a renowned steakhouse in Las Vegas and New York – which can be purchased for use at home. You can get your own set of Strip House knives here.

Capital Grille Steak Knives

Another restaurant known for their steak knives is the Capital Grille which is a chain of steakhouses that’s known for their food and their distinguished guests. The steak knives – to the best of our knowledge – are not available for sale to everyone, but become available for purchase when you spend $1000 or more at one of their restaurants. We’re not suggesting that you should spend this much just for a set of steak knives, but they are noticeably superior than the steak knives you’ll find at most restaurants around the world. For the gentleman who likes the rarity of being able to acquire an item not available to the average consumer, this might be a good pick. Our tip: Buy a gift card and you can go for a few nice dinners instead of just one over-the-top meal.

Knife Accessories

Honing Steel

A honing steel is a must have. We recommend buying yours from either Zwilling J.A. Henckels or Wusthof. They aren’t very expensive and often come in starter sets.

They may look nice but some knives are pure junk

They may look nice but some knives are pure junk

The Ikea knife rack

The Ikea knife rack

Knife Rack

A knife block is great if you have a single set of knives, but for the home chef or culinarian with a number of regularly used knives from different brands, a magnetic knife rack can be an indispensable accessory that is perfect for small kitchens and keeps your knives easily accessible. You can buy a magnetic rack from almost any major knife maker like J.A. Henckels, but we recommend a less expensive magnetic strip that works just as well from Ikea.

Buy the Ikea Knife Rack here.

A Wooden Cutting Board

A Wooden Cutting Board

Cutting Boards

The wrong board will cause the knife to chip or dull and can greatly impact the quality of your cut. The other issue is sanitation and the prevention of bacteria growth and cross contamination. Sure, your kitchen store will claim the granite counter tops you bought for the remodel can be used to cut on. It’s true; but what they didn’t tell you is that granite will cause your knives to wear down, chip and dull faster than even the cheapest cutting boards. And forget using Japanese knives. You might as well just light your money on fire.

There are many types and brands of cutting boards on the market, the most common being plastic and wood. We only recommend one brand: Boos Boards.

Boos boards are made from wood and used in the top professional kitchens around the world. Tune into any cooking show and chances are the chef is using a Boos board. It has its critics, but we haven’t found any cutting board that works as well or maintains the longevity of your knives.

You can buy a Boos Board here.

Recommended Reading

Recommended ReadingPrice
Mastering Knife Skills$
The Zwilling J. A. Henckels Complete Book of Knife Skills$
An Edge in the Kitchen$
Kitchen Knife Skills$
Knives Cooks Love$

 

Mastering Knife Skills by Norman Weinstein

Norman Weinstein is a renowned knife skills instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. The book is clear, concise and easy to read. However, it’s intended for the professional chef or student, so there may be some terms the home cook might need to look up.

The Zwilling J. A. Henckels Complete Book of Knife Skills: The Essential Guide to Use, Techniques and Care by Jeffrey Elliot and James DeWan

Probably the most well-known knives used by professional chefs, this book is actually intended for the home cook. It begins with a discussion on how to choose the proper knife, how to maintain it and finally, how to use it. The focus is less on speed, and more on technique. Key chapters you should read cover how to cut ingredients uniformly and why it’s so important. Hint: it’s not just for looks.

An Edge in the Kitchen by Chad Ward

Chad Ward is a well-regarded food writer and the former knife instructor on egullet. This book takes his online classes and condenses it into an easy-to-read guide for the home chef. What separates this book from the others in this list, is that it feels less like you’re being taught in a classroom and more like your best friend is cooking with you and just happens to be a chef. It’s that difference between the guy in the store showing you how to use a fishing rod and your dad teaching you as he sits beside you on the dock.

Kitchen Knife Skills: Techniques for Carving, Boning, Slicing, Chopping, Dicing, Mincing, Filleting by Marianne Lumb

This book is kind of a perfect mix of basic and expert techniques. It isn’t necessarily geared towards the home cook, but it’s also not intended for the professional chef. In other words, it’s ideal for that first year student who is still honing their skills. Focused on safety and speed, it covers the basic skills used by chefs around the world. It focuses on fine-tuning those skills and figuring out how to improve your knife skills to get the most out of each knife in your kitchen.

Knives Cooks Love by Sur La Table with Sarah Jay

Sarah Jay is the former executive editor of Fine Cooking and her clear and concise writing style is what makes this book worthy of your library. If you’re a serious home cook and hell-bent on finding the right knives, this book will walk you through the makes and models of every popular knife used by professional chefs. Since it’s Sur La Table, there are of course, some recipes. However, the entire purpose of the book is to help buyers find the right knives for their kitchen and cooking style.

Conclusion

There are many different kinds of knives, at various price ranges. In the end, so long as it’s sharp and safe to use, you can’t go wrong. What knives do you use at home?

Summary
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The Best Chef Knives and Kitchen Knives for the Home Cook
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9 replies
  1. Eric Nupp says:

    Great article with lots of good info on knives.
    I tended to shy away from the magnetic knife racks, because I didn’t want my knife edges constantly knocking into another piece of metal. Then I found out about the Mag-Blok by BenchCrafted. It’s a wooden magnetic knife rack. Always want my nice knives’ edges to contact something that’s softer than the edge to keep it as sharp as possible for as long as possible.

    Reply
    • J.A. Shapira says:

      That’s a really good point Eric and the wood rack is an excellent idea. The metal magnetic racks do work well, but you have to be careful to always place the spine of the knife down first and then roll it gently onto the rack so – as you said – the blade doesn’t knock against the metal. Some may find that this type of system is not worth using if other people in the home are using the knives and don’t treat them with the same level of respect as you do. I’ll tell you, nothing drives me more nuts than when someone just slaps one of my knives against the rack or hits another knife on the rack as they put it on.

      Thanks for reading,

      J.A. Shapira | EDITOR
      Gentleman’s Gazette, LLC.

      Reply
  2. Simon says:

    I seem to remember Jamie Oliver saying that for 99% of his cooking he only uses a big knife, a small knife and a bread knife. He said it was nice to have a big rack full of knives but you don’t really need them.

    Reply
    • J.A. Shapira says:

      Hi Simon,

      I wouldn’t be surprised. Although I own a wide selection of knives, I typically only use a few on a regular basis, the most-used knife being a chef’s knife. That’s why we separated the must-have, should-have, and nice-to-have in recommended knives. You’ll also notice that in the pictures, I only keep my chef knives on my knife rack. My other knives are kept in an organizer.

      Thanks for reading,

      J.A. Shapira | EDITOR
      Gentleman’s Gazette, LLC.

      Reply
    • J.A. Shapira says:

      Hi Robert,

      Unfortunately, the quality of the knives was not up to par in comparison with some of the others. We had a number of knives on our short list, but we only included the ones we determined were the very best. If you enjoy the Laguiole knives, that’s all that matters.

      Thanks for reading,

      J.A. Shapira | EDITOR
      Gentleman’s Gazette, LLC

      Reply

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