Kitchen knives are frequently overlooked by knife enthusiasts; often, people with extensive collections of folders and traditional pocket knives will have just one or two kitchen knives. They are frequently viewed more as utilitarian items, more akin to a refrigerator than a Sebenza. This is ironic, of course, because in reality kitchen cutlery gets used far more frequently than a pocket knife. As satisfying as I find it to flick open a Manix and slice open my mail, the most actual use a knife in my house gets is – and this is by a factor of ten – our cheap Victorinox kitchen knife.
Why is that? Why don’t knife guys given kitchen knives more love? I don’t know; they definitely deserve it. When many people think of a kitchen knife, the image they’re picturing is likely the traditional European-style 8” Chef’s knife, but the truth is there is a wide variety of shapes and purposes for kitchen cutlery. Picking all the best kitchen knives is an incredibly wide task, so we’ve narrowed it down to a standout in each common knife category – as well as a sneaky bonus at the end.
When people think of a “kitchen knife,” what they’re actually picturing in their head most of the time is the classic 8” “Chef’s Knife.” This is far and away the most common shape for kitchen knives, in many way a jack of all trades but a master of none. In a lot of ways, it’s the kitchen cutlery equivalent of the modern drop-point hunter: its flexibility means it can be used for a wide variety of tasks, and it won’t be the best at any of them, but it’ll do just fine at all of them. Chef’s knives are designed to cut in a rocking motion (thus the curved cutting edge of the blade from tip to bolster) and are traditionally European-style, meaning the handle is in a straight line with the spine of the blade. They can be used for everything from chopping and mincing vegetables, slicing meat, and even disjointing larger cuts of meat.
There are a staggering array of Chef’s knives available today, in a large spread of sizes – 6” on the small side, and 10-12” being more common in commercial kitchens, but most people stick with the 8” size for home use to cover a large range of tasks. Among 8” Chef’s knives, the MAC Mighty Professional Series stands out as offering a well thought out design. The blade is relatively narrow – 2.5mm wide – and a dimpled blade (also called a granton edge) helps keep stickier foods from sticking to the sides. The MAC has a half bolster – meaning the transition from the handle into the blade terminates into a flat ricasso, leaving the entire edge of the blade sharpened and making resharpening easier. Some people prefer a full bolster (where the bolster sweeps down to form the ricasso) for safety, but it also throws off the balance of the blade. That’s another thing the MAC has going for it – balance. With the half bolster and the triple pinned handles the weight of the MAC is balanced right near where you pinch in a “chef’s grip” making the knife natural to handle.
A Santoku is perhaps the second most widely capable knife in a kitchen’s arsenal after the versatile European-style Chef’s knife. It’s somewhat analogous to the Chef’s knife both in size and use profile, but some users (your writer included) find the shape of the Santoku better suited to them. The word means “three virtues” – referring to its ability to chop, dice and mince. Compared with a Chef’s knife, the Santoku has a taller blade with a less pronounced belly and most do not have a bolster, leaving the entire blade’s edge sharpened. It can be used for rocking cuts to chop vegetables – like the Chef’s knife – but its shorter length limits how much you can do at a time. The taller blade makes the Santoku better for chopping than the comparatively narrow Chef’s knife as well.
Among the myriad Santoku knives on the market, the 7” Premier line Santoku from Shun stands out. Shun is the high-end kitchen knife subsidiary of KAI USA, the parent company of Kershaw and Zero Tolerance (ZT) knives, and their knives all have a distinct Japanese design flavor to them. The Premier line mixes exotic Damascus blades with stabilized Pakkawood handles. The blade is thin layered Damascus with a “VG-MAX” core and a hammered “tsuchime” finish that functions similar to a granton edge to prevent food from sticking to the sides. An embossed end cap on the handle helps to balance the blade. Equally at home chopping up food or posing on Instagram, this one.
A Utility knife is an under-utilized kitchen knife pattern, occupying the middle ground between the hefty Chef’s knife and the light, smaller paring knife. These knives typically range from 4 to 6 inches in length, and are sometimes criticizes as being “filler in a knife set” – but they do have their applications, where a huge Chef’s knife is dramatic overkill, but a paring knife is too short and light. They’re sometimes called “sandwich knives” (what a charming name, who doesn’t like a sandwich?) because they’re the ideal length for cutting up lunch meat and cheeses as well as bisecting a sandwich. They can also be used for chopping limes, splitting chillis, dicing garlic, etc.
Wusthof makes a wide range of utility knives including a large 6” model, but the 4.5” Utility makes the most sense for a kitchen knife collection, fitting between a smaller (3”) paring knife and a larger Chef’s knife. Wusthof is one of the biggest names in kitchen cutlery, and the Classic line uses full tang construction with the signature triple riveted handled scales for a robust build, with a traditional European style straight handle. Blade steel is described as “high carbon stainless,” X50Cr MoV 15 – which isn’t actually high carbon (at 0.5% carbon content) but is very much stainless, making it easy to take care of and resharpen. It also has a full bolster and a finger guard for safety, and the handle is made of POM (polyoxymethalene) that won’t warp or stain.
A Paring knife is another very common pattern in kitchen usage. These are typically the smallest of the commonly used knives, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes that fall under the “paring knife” umbrella, including European and Japanese inspired profiles. What do you use a paring knife for? Well, things that a Chef’s or Utility knife are too large to do as well as for peeling things. You can also use them to de-vein shrimp (if your local grocer fails to do so), segment fruit, score tomatoes, and clean and prep peppers. It’s supposed to be thin and nimble, so don’t ask it to de-bone a rib and you won’t be let down.
Henckels makes an absolutely beautiful line of kitchen knives called the Pro Line, and their 3” paring knife from this series is a ringer in this category. It’s really something to look at, with the handles blending smoothly with the bolster, in this case a half bolster that curves forward allowing a natural pinch grip on the blade. It has a full flat grind, very thin, with a mild drop point pattern and a continuous curve to the edge. Blade steel is described by Henckels as both high carbon and stainless – not much is known about the Friodur steel, other than that it’s “ice hardened” but it does the job of a kitchen knife well – hard to stain, easy to sharpen. The blade is full tang and the handle is triple riveted for stability and durability. Sure it’s pricey compared to your typical $5-$10 paring knife, but for something you use so frequently, a little extra investment to round out your kitchen knife arsenal is worth it.
A cleaver isn’t actually a tool that’s needed frequently, at least in a home kitchen, with the commonality today of pre-cut packaged meat from grocery stores. In fact, if your cooking routine consists of going to the grocery story, buying packaged chicken breasts and cooking them, you might as well skip a cleaver entirely – it’s big, heavy, and takes up a lot of space. However, when you need a cleaver another type of knife can’t really substitute. What do you use a cleaver for? Well, its primary purpose is to separate meat from bone. It can also be used to slice through especially thick, hard items, but it’s primarily mean to be set and driven through especially hard foods – like separating chicken from the bone, or cutting ribs apart. There are various techniques to properly use a cleaver, and surprisingly none of them involve winding the knife back up over your head like you’re in a horror movie. This video is a helpful demonstration.
Because of the irregular use of a cleaver, we went with a more affordable – but still very solid – cleaver for this list. Messermeister is a big name in kitchen cutlery, and the Four Seasons line is on the low end of their products, but it’s still a solid, functional cleaver. It’s available in 6” and 7” varieties – but why go smaller if you’re getting a cleaver? The 7” Four Seasons cleaver uses a full tang piece of German 1.4116 stainless steel (familiar to Victorinox Swiss Army users) with a molded polypropylene handle. There’s no “bolster” per se, but the leading and trailing edges of the handle curve inward to firmly secure your hand in a full grip. There’s a mild belly to the blade so you can still use this cleaver for rocking cuts – with your hand on the spine – and there’s also the traditional hole in the upper forward corner of the blade for hanging on a knife rack. You can spend more on a Cleaver, but the Four Seasons seems like a solid way to add a well-designed knife to your collection and save more for more frequently used knives.
A Nakiri knife may be unfamiliar to some American kitchen knife users, because it’s a traditional Japanese-style piece of cutlery that hasn’t made the same inroads into our kitchens that the more popular Santoku has. That doesn’t mean it’s less worth of attention, though: a Nakiri is a knife you should strongly consider if you do a lot of prep work with vegetables. Maybe one to skip if you’re on the Keto diet, but pick up in 6 months when you quit. Nakiris are designed primarily to cleanly chop vegetables – they have a flat cutting edge so there’s no rocking motion that might leave pieces still partially attached, the knife is designed to go clean through what you’re cutting and straight down into the cutting board. The straight cutting edge makes for more accurate slicing, allowing you to create super thin slices that will cook easier. The flat sides of the Nakiri also let you use it to transfer chopped food over to where you’re cooking easily.
For a Nakiri, we went with the affordable but highly-reviewed KAI Wasabi Black series 6.5” Nakiri. KAI should be familiar to our readers as the parent company of Kershaw and Zero Tolerance, as well as high end kitchen cutlery company Shun, and they make solid but affordable knives. The Wasabi Black series uses Daido 1K6 high carbon stainless steel, which at 0.6% Carbon and 13.5% Chromium is similar in composition to Sandvik 12C27 – meaning it will take a razor edge much better and hold it much longer than other more common German cutlery steels (like 1.4116) but still be highly stain resistant – it’s a surprising steel considering the price point. The handles are polypropylene blended with bamboo powder and an antibacterial agent, making for a solid grip that doesn’t retain smells – and makes food prep safer.
As self-explanatory as it sounds, a bread knife can actually be used for more than just cutting bread. Obviously that’s the primary purpose of this long, curved serrated blade knife – it allows you to cut through thick pieces of bread in a sawing motion without squishing and tearing it – remarkably hard to do even with the sharpest of chef’s knifes. But a bread knife can also be used for trimming and frosting a cake, or other tasks. Bread knives come in a variety of lengths and shapes – rounded tip, square tip, curved edge, straight edge, etc, each with their own advantages.
We’ve gone with a curved edge serrated bread knife/pastry knife from Victorinox for our choice on this list. The rounded tip and curved edge make it slightly more multi-purpose than a standard bread knife (with a blunt tip and a straight edge) but the serrated cutting edge will still make quick work of thick, hearty bread – especially with its long 10.25” reach. It can also be used to level cakes, cut sandwiches, or slice through delicate fruits that are easy to bruise and crush with other knives. Like most of the Fibrox line of knives, this bread knife has a molded polypropylene handle which is raised well above the cutting edge, allowing you plenty of knuckle room between the handle and the cutting board to get your work done.
The distinction between carving knives and slicing knives is nebulous – and they are frequently used interchangeably – but if you do preparations of large pieces of meat at home then a carving knife is a useful addition. They’re generally rather long, made from thin blade stock, and somewhat narrow (spine to cutting edge) allowing them to make long, thin, stable cuts of cooked meat. Think of slicing shawarma, or cutting off pieces of a beef roast. They can be rigid or flexible – usually rigid knifes have a pointed tip for slicing meat that has bone joints like chicken (as well as cutting the meat away from the bone), while flexible slicers have a blunt tip and can be used on ham joints or other cuts without bones.
For our pick of carving knives, we chose a rigid 10” carving knife from German manufacturer Genesis for its greater usability (you can use a rigid knife on boneless cuts – you can’t use a flexible knife on bone-in cuts, at least safely.) Mercer uses full tang construction on the Genesis line – nice piece of mind when you’re cutting a large piece of meat – and makes their blades out of X50CrMoV15 stainless steel like Wusthof mentioned above. There’s also a full bolster for safety and balance, and has a molded no-slip santoprene handle. (Santoprene is a thermoplastic vulcanizate, basically vulcanized rubber with a lot of the properties of a polymer like heat resistance and chemical resistance.) It represents a great value for money and is a solid purchase if you slice a lot of full cuts of meat.
We’re getting into some pretty specialized types of knives here, but a boning knife is also a helpful thing to have in your kitchen if you find yourself frequently prepping whole pieces of meat. As the name might have you guessing, a boning knife’s primary purpose is to separate meat from the bone. This explains the thin tip as well as the super-narrow body, which allows the knife to be more maneuverable when following the curvature of a bone. Boning knives (also called fillet knives) can either be rigid or flexible. A flexible boning knife allows you to get much more precise cuts relative to the bone but is less safe when used with meat which has large, rigid joints. These knives can also be used for tasks like skinning fish thanks to their thin size and narrow blades.
Since we’ve recommended a rigid carving knife, a flexible boning knife would be a nice balance to the theoretical cutlery collection we’re putting together, and in my eyes the higher performance for this specific task is worth the potential downside – just be careful with it, OK? We went with another knife from the Wusthof Classic line, the 6” flexible boning knife. It features full tang construction from X50CrMoV15 steel, an ergonomic curved full bolster for safety, and triple riveted handle scales for durability. The full bolster seems like a good choice for a flexible boning knife for the safety of the user, keeping your forefinger firmly anchored in place so it doesn’t slip forward.
We’ve reached the end of our list of kitchen knives here, and this is the last stop before the crazy train departs for things like cheese knives and other patterns so specialized you’ll use them once and they’ll collect dust for the rest of their lives. A tomato knife hardly requires explanation, but we’ll explain anyway: it’s very light, then, and serrated – allowing you to slice a tomato without crushing it and ruining the inside of the body. The forked tip lets you pick up the pieces of sliced tomato without making a mess or ruining the delicate insides and placing them directly on a sandwich or salad. If you’re looking to slice tomatoes or other small, delicate vegetables then a Tomato knife is a must have. As one Amazon reviewer said “if you’re looking to slice through a beer can, this is not your knife.”
Due to the narrow use profile of this knife, we went for a classic known commodity: the Polyoxymethylene-handled Wusthof Classic tomato knife. At around $60 on Amazon at the time of writing, it’s somewhat pricey but worth it for the quality you’re getting, matching up to the more frequently used kitchen knives in your collection.
What if you want a kitchen knife but something with a little more… Knife Informer flair? How about a high folding knife by Spyderco, designed by Marcin Slysz, that’s specifically designed for kitchen use?
Sure, a folding kitchen knife is a goofy idea, but no one ever did anything interesting by following the same old formula over and over. Slysz has done multiple folding knives for Spyderco, and the SpydieChef follows the same formula: titanium framelock, high end materials. It uses LC200N, a new nitrogen-based steel that has high end edge retention while being nearly completely stainless, like H1. The sheepsfoot blade has a thin full flat grind with a pronounced belly for precise rolling cuts. All the hardware on the revised SpydieChef is corrosion-resistant – including a ceramic detent ball. So if you want to do the high-end chef act even while camping, it’s worth thinking about.
Well, that’s our list: a well-rounded collection of kitchen knives that will take your gourmet cooking skills to the next level. (Note: you’ll still need to learn how to cook, though.)