Knives are generally the most important tool you can wield in the kitchen — but to take it one step further, a chef’s knife is king among them. There is little slicing, chopping, cutting, and carving you can do without it, so finding one you feel comfortable holding and using meal in and meal out is vital to your efficiency and success as a cook. This is quite a subjective task, though. Beyond considering the price, of course, chef’s knives are made of different materials, are different sizes, have different-feeling handles, and are different weights — and in none of those categories is there an absolute correct way to go. Also, it’s worth saying, more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. It’s like a white T-shirt: What’s the ultimate one to somebody else may not be the ultimate one to you. That being said, I spoke to a handful of experts to determine some outstanding options and did my best to categorize and describe them to help you find yours.
What we’re looking for
Blade length: Chef’s knives have blades that are most commonly eight inches long, sometimes seven, sometimes six. Though you don’t see it very often, they can go up to 10 or 12 and down to 5. What length you want comes down to personal preference. How large are your hands? How practiced are you in knife control? I’d also argue that it’s helpful to have different sizes for different tasks. I use my eight-inch blade for specific heavier-duty and larger-volume tasks like cutting through a squash or chopping up a huge amount of herbs, but I use my six-and-a-half-inch blade (which feels like a Goldilocks size for my hands) for most everything else.
European- or Japanese-style: Not every chef’s knife falls distinctly into one of these categories or the other (and some knives don’t fall into either at all). But the terms are commonly used and the distinctions notable enough that it’s good to have a sense of the main characteristics of each. European-style knives (which include German-style, French-style, and western-style) tend to be heavier with a thicker, more curved blade — the shape of which assists in rocking back and forth with the tip down on your cutting board. Japanese-style knives are usually lighter with a thinner blade and straighter edge, ideal when you’re after extreme precision. To make the landscape more complicated, though, some Japanese companies make European-style knives, and some European and American companies make Japanese-style knives. But here I’ve denoted the style of each to the best of my ability and then gone into more detail in the descriptions.
Weight: Yes, I just mentioned that, in general, European-style knives tend to be heavier and Japanese-style knives lighter, but that’s not always the case. That’s why knowing the exact weight can be a helpful determiner of which you’ll personally find most comfortable.
Best overall chef’s knife
8 inches | Japanese-style with some European influence | 5.5 ounces
In 2018, Strategist contributor Nick Marino wrote this heavily researched and vetted guide to the best knives and ultimately found the ultralight stainless-steel Global G-2 to be “the only knife you really need.” He consulted 25 experts, and though of course not every single one said Global was their favorite (remember, it’s personal, so some preferred heavier, shorter, or handcrafted models), it was mentioned enough that it went on the shortlist of ones he tested himself. And when Marino did handle it, he found that it cut through a whole chicken just as well as it sliced up fruits and vegetables.
Beyond the weight making it super easy to maneuver, Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman named another standout feature of her favorite knife: “It holds a sharp edge very well,” she told Marino, and she confirmed it for me all these years later. Strategist editor Maxine Builder has also been a fan of Global for a long time. “I’ve had my Global chef’s knife since … 2013? Maybe even before then,” she says. “A decade and several new knives later, it’s still my most-used tool in the kitchen. Comfortable to hold, enough arc to the blade that you can really get into a rhythm with chopping and dicing, but the tip is sharp enough for some scoring and more delicate knifework.” Jeff Strauss, owner and chef of Jeff’s Table in Los Angeles, reaches for his Global often, too. “It has a blade that is Japanese in design,” he explains, “but influenced by the French-style knives. It has a bit more curve to the blade, a little more lift to the tip, and it can kind of work in both ways.” One note: You can also choose to buy this knife with a six-inch blade or a ten-inch blade.
Best less expensive chef’s knife
8 inches | Japanese-style | 5 ounces
Matt Rodbard, food writer, editor, and co-author of the recently released Food IQ, loves his Seki Magoroku chef’s knife (and vegetable cleaver) that he found digging through Tokyu Hands in Shibuya. To start, it’s an affordable $55 — the cheapest on this list. Its blade is on the softer side, meaning it won’t hold its super-acute edge for ages but will be much easier to sharpen when it dulls down. That can be totally fine — even better — for the home cook, Rodbard explains, since they’re more likely to use a sharpening gadget than a stone that takes a lot of finesse and practice. The plastic handle, which makes it even lighter weight than the Global, should not be feared either. “A heavy handle helps balance, for sure,” Rodbard says, “but I really like the feel of this one. It feels like a high-quality knife for the price.”
Best chef’s knife for beginners
8 inches | Combination Japanese- and European-style | 8.3 ounces
Strauss is also a fan of Misen. He laid out the main reason why when recommending their knife set: “One of the things knife nerds talk about is steel hardness,” he says (see above). “This is on the hard end of bendy, which means it sharpens really well but isn’t so rigid that if you move it funky you can feel it and even break it.” That level of firmness, in his mind, is a perfect sweet spot, and because of that, he recommends this knife to pretty much anyone looking to take a step up from whatever big-box-store version they owned previously. Not only are they fit for beginners, but “I know a bunch of pro chefs who use them,” he says. At only $75, it’s a great value for someone who wants to invest in their first good knife without going overboard as well as someone who is hard on their blades. “You don’t have to be overly precious with them, but they’re still well made,” he says. “I own six.”
Best balanced chef’s knife
8 inches | Japanese-style | 9 ounces
Material, another DTC company, makes a chef’s knife beloved by Food52 editor and recipe developer Rebecca Firkser, who has been using hers practically every day for the past three years. “I love everything about it,” she says. “I got it in the neutral color, which is just plain pleasing to me in a sea of black-handled knives. I have small hands, but still prefer to do most of my chopping with a larger chef’s knife: I find that this one fits really nicely in my hand and feels balanced when I chop. It’s not heavy, but also not too light.” In fact, it’s on the heavier side for a Japanese-style knife (and on the heavier side of ones on this list), but that balance Firkser feels was specifically and thoughtfully engineered. “Straight from the package (and when regularly maintained — I sharpen mine at home every couple months), the blade can easily handle thin tomato slices,” she says, “which is my benchmark for a ‘good’ chef’s knife.”
Best super-small chef’s knife
5 inches | Japanese-style | 3.8 ounces
Even though Wüsthof is a German company that specializes in German knives, they make a Japanese-style santoku knife that is the choice pick from Amanda Cohen, chef of New York City’s Dirt Candy. In general, they’re a much-beloved brand (I found them to be the best overall pick if you’re investing in a knife set) — and this small-but-mighty blade fits right in. “I’m a serial monogamist when it comes to knives, and right now, I’m in a long-term relationship with this one,” Cohen told me. “A shorter knife gives you more control, so I’m through with six-inch knives for the moment. This one holds its edge for a ridiculously long time. It’s also really light — the lightest on this list, in fact — which Cohen says means she can use it for hours, “switching between really precise knife work and hacking away at tougher vegetables.”
Best chef’s knife for utility
10 inches | European-style | 5.6 ounces
Cara Nicoletti, founder of the sausage company Seemore Meats & Veggie, wrote a piece for the Strategist a couple of years ago about her favorite knives. As a fourth-generation butcher who grew up using utilitarian knives that could break down countless carcasses before needing to be resharpened, she eventually found herself in New York City kitchens where professional chefs revered their knives, treating them with a care and pride previously unfamiliar to Nicoletti. Now, she says, “the knives I use most at home land squarely in between those beloved by my butcher relatives and those worshiped by my chef colleagues” — and chief among them are her Vicorinox knives. (This is still the case since she originally wrote her article — I checked.) “For my beater knives — the ones I use regularly and roughly — I really love Victorinox,” she says. “They tend to last the longest and keep a sharp edge, even when being used daily on heavy projects. The blades are stainless steel, which makes them easy to maintain, and I love the rosewood handle for grip comfort. You may not be breaking down full beef carcasses in your home kitchen (Or maybe you are? What do I know!), but you still want knives that don’t need to be sharpened every time you break a chicken.” Nicoletti’s size of choice is ten inches, but that’s definitely on the larger end for most people. Victorinox makes the same knife in eight inches, too.
Best high-end chef’s knife
8 inches | European-style | 9.5 ounces
“A dear friend gifted me this knife,” Rodbard says. “Would I ever buy myself a $400 knife? No. Was I afraid to use it for over three years? Yes. Have I now fallen so hard for it that a day doesn’t pass that I don’t pull it out just to feel the grip in my hand? Absolutely.” Kramer, a real artist and artisan, crafts handmade knives that he auctions off to eager fans and serious professionals. They regularly go for tens of thousands of dollars (or even, in the case of the one he made special for Anthony Bourdain, a quarter of a million dollars). This particular knife, however, is not a one-off and comes from a collaboration with tried-and-true kitchen company Zwilling, which of course makes well-known knives of their own. It’s still very expensive, yes, but a much more accessible model of Kramer’s work, relatively speaking. I actually own one, too (also a gift from a friend), and it’s a real prize on my knife rack — always sharp with such a comfortable handle and Kramer’s signature Damascus-steel design on the flat surface of the blade (he combines two different types of steel to create the effect).