Some of the best kitchen tools only cost a few bucks. But if you want a great chef’s knife, you’ll have to be willing to spend a little more. I’ve invested hundreds of dollars in chef’s knives, but I use them every day to slice, dice, cube, mince or, if I’m feeling fancy, chiffonade. A good knife can feel like a dream — and it can make holiday cooking even more fun than usual — but a poorly balanced or dull one can be a pain to use, and can even lead to more cut fingers and other accidents. So before hitting “buy” on Amazon or tossing the cheapest knife in the cart on your next outing, it’s important to ask yourself two questions: What does a chef’s knife offer, and what do you need it for in the kitchen?
High-quality chefs’ knives offer versatility above all. Unless you spend considerable time deboning fish or peeling pears, you don’t need a special boning knife, paring knife, slicing knife, carving knife, serrated knife or other specialty knives because a chef’s knife should be able to accomplish 95% of your needs. And let’s not even get started on the counter space consumed by a knife set in a giant block.
Since you’re going to be using it a lot, a chef’s knife should be a pleasure to use — properly weighted, but not heavy enough to make using it tiring. You might even want an ergonomic handle. A good knife has a durable blade — it gets a lot of use — and that blade should be consistently sharp. There’s nothing worse than a dull knife when cutting, chopping and slicing, so edge retention should be a priority. Chef’s knives also come in a variety of materials. You could get a stainless steel knife, a carbon steel knife or a ceramic knife.
The second question — which one you need — is harder to answer. Luckily, I’ve tested some of the most popular chef’s knives on the market, and below are the best chef knife picks for every kind of home cook. We’ll update this list periodically. Grab your cutting board and tomatoes — we’re diving in!
Global’s popular chef’s knife is a Japanese-style blade, which means it boasts a scary-sharp edge and a nimble-feeling lightweight body. Global’s design is also unique: the handle and blade are made of a single piece of high-carbon steel, and the handle is filled with sand to weight it. Global’s 8-inch option is well-balanced and meets all your usual mise en place needs. Slicing, mincing, chopping and even breaking down a chicken are all easy with the Global.
While the edge isn’t quite as sharp as Mac’s 8-inch blade out of the box, I’ve grown to prefer it over my old standby, the Wusthof, and my first Japanese-style knife, the Mac. Its blade is more durable than the easy-to-chip Mac, and it just feels perfect in your hand. Plus, if you find it on sale for a cool $80, like I did, then you should absolutely snap up this lightweight kitchen knife.
This Japanese-style chef’s knife lies at the higher end of the spectrum when it comes to price, but it rests at the top of most best lists online for a reason: it’s a fantastic product. In fact, it was my top pick for a few months before being unseated by Global’s knife.
Not only is the Mac super sharp (it slides through tomatoes without any tearing whatsoever), but its blade is thinner than heavier knives like Wusthof’s, which makes slicing snappier veggies like carrots feel like cutting a ripe banana with a butter knife. No, I’m not exaggerating — this is a super sharp knife.
Mac’s most popular chef knife is perfectly balanced, so you never feel at risk of losing control of the blade. Its belly is also comfortably rounded, which makes the rocking motion while mincing feel natural.
The one disappointing feature of the Mac is how easy it is to chip the super-thin blade. Within a couple of months of regular use, I chipped off the tip of my Mac: I was holding the knife and turning when the tip nicked an open cupboard and simply broke off. I’m fairly fastidious with my knives, but this, along with my growing fondness of the Global chef’s knife, have resulted in Mac’s slight drop in the ranking. That said, it’s still firmly in the best three knives you can get for a reasonable price.
Wusthof’s 8-inch classic chef’s knife is a workhorse in the kitchen. It’s one of the weightiest knives I tested, which helps it slice more delicate foods such as tomatoes as effortlessly as warm butter and cut through more robust foods like butternut squash without much exertion. The heavier knife weight helps guide the blade in consistent movements as you use it, but the Wusthof isn’t so heavy that you ever feel controlled by the blade.
The Wusthof was my original favorite knife until I got my hands on the Mac and Global Japanese-style knives, and it still stands up as a top-of-the-line option. The only shortcoming of the Wusthof is the slightly softer steel used for its blade, which makes it not quite so razor-sharp as the Mac.
That said, the Wusthof classic is perfectly balanced between the handle and blade, and it has a heel to protect your fingers, which makes it feel all the safer to wield. One of the best measures of how comfortable a knife feels in your hand is breaking down a chicken — as it requires many types of cuts across skin, meat, fat and cartilage. When I used the Wusthof to break down a bird, it felt as though I’d been using the knife for years. I didn’t make a single errant cut or awkward motion.
This knife is top-to-bottom one of the best available at a reasonable price. It’s versatile and comfortable, and its high-carbon steel forged blade will keep a sharp edge as well as nearly any other knife — Mac and Global excluded — in this price range.
For $50, J.A. Henckels’ Zwilling Gourmet 8-inch Chef’s knife is a great budget option. It doesn’t have the heel of a heavier-duty knife like the Wusthof or J.A. Henckels Classic, but it’s well-balanced and makes clean cuts on tomatoes and herbs, makes quick work of dicing onions and breaks down a chicken with relative ease.
The Zwilling Gourmet is a stamped blade, rather than a forged one, which means it likely won’t hold its edge as long as the Wusthof. It’s also lighter, which means your hand won’t be guided quite as well through a tomato or similarly delicate food.
All that said, the Zwilling’s cuts were consistently clean, it felt comfortable in my hand, and for $50, I’d be more than happy to add this knife to my kitchen.
Hands-down, the biggest surprise of my testing was the performance of Mercer’s $16 Culinary Millennia 8-inch chef’s knife. It’s not as well made as the Zwilling or Wusthof blades — both of which feature long-lasting full-tang design (the knife’s metal travels all the way from the tip of the blade to the butt of the handle in a single piece). But the handle design is perfect for teaching beginners how to hold and use a chef’s knife, guiding your thumb and index finger to the base of the blade. It’s well-balanced and honestly felt the most like an extension of my arm as I prepped various veggies, fruits and meats in my tests.
The light weight and cheap design mean you don’t get the long life or the full versatility you’d get from a workhorse like the Wusthof, but if you’re wanting a starter chef’s knife to learn for six months while you save for a bigger investment, the Mercer really is a great cook’s knife.
How we tested
Our procedures blended five tests — slicing tomatoes, dicing onions, mincing leafy herbs, chopping carrots and breaking down chickens — each with a 1-to-10 rating, with more general use and observation. I wanted to approach the procedures as the average home cook would, focusing on general use and experience. I also avoided overemphasizing sharpness, as factory sharpness doesn’t really tell you much about a blade beyond its first few weeks or months of use.
In fact, you’ll likely want to invest in a knife sharpener to get a sharp edge once you buy a chef’s knife. I wrote about knife sharpeners in a separate story. We’ve also written about how to sharpen a knife correctly. Taking sharpening seriously is key to a knife blade’s edge retention.
I took into account the type of steel used in the knife’s construction (most are high-carbon steel), the method (whether it was forged or stamped) and the general design (full-tang knives, for instance, last longer than blades attached to a distinct handle).
Beyond its measurable performance with various foods, I approached each knife as a package — experiencing how its weight and balance came together to create an experience that either felt intuitive or awkward.
The rest of the field
Overall, we tested a dozen of the most popular chef’s knives for home cooks, including Mac, Global, Artisan Revere, Victorinox, Kitchenaid, Cuisinart, Homefavor, Farberware, Zwilling, J.A. Henckels, Wusthof and Mercer. Of these knives, three were the clear leaders, most others were solidly designed and only one stood out as really bad.
Mac, Wusthof and Global were my stand-out favorites for quality and performance, and if you’re really serious about adopting a high-quality chef’s knife, any of these three will do the trick. While I gave my assessments above, everyone will have their own slight preferences — Global feels best to me, but if I ate more meat and denser veggies, I would probably lean toward Wusthof as the more robust blade. And if perfectly minced herbs and delicately sliced fish were more common cuts in my kitchen, Mac might take the crown.
I also more recently tested the $445 Chef’s Knife from American company Artisan Revere. That knife performed as well as any of the top three. It’s well-balanced, and feels closest in profile to Global: it’s not heavy and thick-spined like the Wusthof, and so had more trouble with the butternut squash and pineapple; and it’s not quite as razor-sharp as the Mac. But it’s a really well-designed middle child that will feel incredibly comfortable to many home cooks.
Artisan Revere’s main problem? That price tag. I just can’t recommend that home cooks buy a chef’s knife that costs $300 more than comparable products, except as a luxury item. David Olkovetsky, founder and CEO of Artisan Revere, told me over email that the reasons for the price tag are manifold: most importantly, the high-quality steel is made with more environmentally friendly methods, and the so-called “super steel” will retain its edge better than competitors. I’ve used the knife daily for a few weeks, along with subjecting it to the same tests as the other knives on this list, and the blade, though certainly dulling over time, has maintained its edge more effectively than other blades. That said, the Artisan Revere will likely need sharpening fairly often, just like any other knife, if you want it to keep its edge.
I will keep using the Artisan Revere alongside my top picks for this list, and I’ll update the Artisan Revere’s standing if it really does perform significantly better than the competition after six months of heavy use. For now, it seems to be a well-designed knife for customers comfortable dropping over $400 on a kitchen tool.
Mercer, Zwilling and to a lesser degree, offered solid performance and well-balanced products for beginners looking for a bargain (Victorinox gets a lot of love online for its price tag and balance, but it’s more expensive than the $16 Mercer and not quite as well balanced).
‘s and s knives were sturdier than the cheaper competitors, but they didn’t stand out in any single category.
The $50 , which seems like a natural winner given its reasonable price tag and similar design to the more expensive Wusthof classic, really disappointed me. It’s another workhorse of a knife, but its butt is heavier than it should be, so heavy prep gets tiring, and mincing feels awkward.
Finally, ‘s knife was the worst of the bunch: It is so poorly balanced, in fact, that I stopped the chicken test midway through for fear of cutting myself. The handle is extremely light, which leaves the center of balance for the knife an inch or two down the blade. That makes almost every type of prep, from slicing and dicing to mincing and chicken boning, feel awkward at best and dangerous at worst. In short, don’t buy this knife.
A chef’s knife can be your best friend in the kitchen — if you find the right fit. So take your time, figure out exactly what you need from your chef’s knife, and make an investment. You could keep buying those generic $10 knives from the store every time your knife gets dull, but if you’re really serious about upping your kitchen game, a high-quality chef’s knife is one of the best investments you can make.