Shopping Guide

The Best Kitchen Knives? Let’s Cut to the Chase

The finest blades of the bunch, according to an expert.

October 13, 2020
Photo by Ty Mecham

There comes a time in every home cook’s life when they realize they can no longer survive on a single dull, hand-me-down knife alone: It’s time to upgrade, toss that old workhorse of a blade, or invest in a decent sharpener. If you’ve recently come upon this realization in your own cooking, you’ve come to the right place.

While a single chef’s knife can tackle plenty of cutting and chopping on its own, a few additional (and some would argue: just as essential) knives will round out your collection and make you feel all the better prepared to tackle whatever task a recipe may call for. So, in addition to the ever-versatile chef’s blade, a paring knife, serrated knife, and carving knife, to name a few, deserve a spot in your arsenal as well.

Settling on which kinds of knives you need is one thing, but finding the very best of the bunch is another matter altogether. Here, we’ve cut through the (online shopping) weeds and rounded up our top picks for seven types of essential kitchen knives—vetted by Sur La Table’s Cutlery Buyer, Kelly Smith, and online reviewers.

Chef’s Knives

1. Miyabi Birchwood 6” Chef Knife
“For both performance and beauty, I reach for the Miyabi Birchwood 6” Chef Knife,” Smith says, and it’s easy to see why: Where its light wood handle and mirror-polished blade provide touches of elegance, its hand-honed Katana edge and high-performance steel construction remind the user that it’s built for a lifetime of precision and strength.

2. Made In 8 Inch Chef Knife
For a knife as all-purpose as a chef’s knife, you want one that’s well-balanced, enduringly sharp, and made from a single piece of steel. Made In’s model, made in Thiers, France, checks all of those boxes at a cost that won’t break the bank. Indeed, many reviewers praised this knife’s sticker price, while others kept things simple and wrote that this, in short, was the best knife they’ve ever used.

Paring Knives

3. Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Professional "S" Paring Knife
A simple, streamlined design that comes with a lifetime warranty, this paring knife enables precise cutting, slicing, and trimming on a small scale. Reviewers write that, even with daily use, this Zwilling paring knife holds its edge and resists dulling, suggesting that it’s absolutely a worthy investment.

4. Shun Classic Paring Knife
Smith calls this paring knife a key component to her knife collection—and it deserves a place in yours, too. The moisture-resistant handle makes even extended use comfortable and the pointed blade lets the user transition from peeling to trimming to slicing to carving without a second thought. One reviewer wrote they were “pleasantly surprised” by this knife’s efficacy. Turns out good things really do come in small packages.

Carving Knives

5. Zwilling J.A. Henckels Pro Carving Knife
Sturdy yet slim, this carving knife is available with a 6 or 8-inch blade, but regardless of your choice of length, you can expect swift, ultra-smooth slicing. Thanks to its unique angled bolster, this knife helps you get a comfortable, controlled grip while making use of the entirety of the blade. One reviewer noted that this knife could make anyone feel more confident about carving up the holiday roast.

6. Shun Classic Hollow-Ground Slicer
Although this 9-inch blade was designed with slicing roasts, fish, and other meats in mind, it can just as deftly cut up produce, if that’s more your thing. Oval-shaped indentations along the blade prevent undue friction when cutting and help every piece stay separate from (rather than stick to) the next.

Boning Knives

7. Global Flexible Boning Knife
Another pick from Smith, this boning knife from Global is lightweight and flexible, yet hard enough to slice meat from bone with ease. The handle is meticulously weighted during construction to ensure well-balanced maneuvering and its molded, dimpled design cuts hand cramps and fatigue off before they can start.

8. Wüsthof Classic 8" Artisan Hollow Ground Butcher Knife
For those willing to splurge on a specialty blade, you don’t get much better than this butcher’s knife, which can debone, slice, joint, and trim, just about any meat or poultry that would find its way into your kitchen. The distinctive, curved blade is actually a scaled-down version of the kind found in professional butcher’s shops and kitchens, striking the perfect balance between approachable and top-quality.

Bread Knives

9. Wüsthof Ikon Double Serrated Bread Knife
“With the increase in home baking, it’s more important than ever to have a great bread knife,” Smith says, adding that her go-to is this 9-inch option from Wüstof. Its double-serrated edge leaves a clean cut while keeping crumbs and tears to a minimum, and will stay sharp after repeated, even years’ worth, of use.

10. Knives Etcetera 9" Serrated Bread Knife
Not only is this knife gorgeous to look at, it’s a pleasure to use: The serrated edge deftly cuts through even the crustiest loaves, leaving the interior intact. This also makes it a great choice if you need to cut up large fruits like melons or pineapple — their tough rinds are no match for this durable steel blade.

Santoku Knives

11. Miyabi Hibana 7” Santoku
“Similar to a chef’s knife, but made more for chopping than rocking, the Santoku is an essential for slicing, dicing and mincing,” Smith explains. This striking 7-inch blade is her number-one pick for this variety, but it’s so much more than its looks. Its construction allows for a safe and comfortable pinch grip and a steady, weighted handling experience which makes that chopping motion Smith described all the more accessible.

12. Schmidt Brothers Bonded Teak 7" Santoku Knife
A slightly more budget-friendly option in this arena comes from the Schmidt Brothers, boasting a seamless, curved handle for ease of use and a rust-resistant, hand-ground blade. One reviewer described how easy cutting felt with this knife, perhaps a nod to the brand’s claim that it combines the best that chef’s knife and cleaver have to offer, all in one tidy package.

Steak Knives

13. Opinel Steak Knives This set of stainless steel steak knives lends a stylish flair to everyday dining thanks to its heat-resistant handles, available in an array of cool, understated colors. These knives have tiny serrated teeth that make slicing through dinner a breeze and they require little to no upkeep in order to stay sharp. Perhaps best of all, as several reviewers noted, is the fact that they’re dishwasher safe.

14. Kai Luna 4-Piece Steak Knife Set From Japanese manufacturer Kai’s more budget-friendly Kai Luna line comes this set of steak knives, complete with hammered detailing on the blades for easier release while cutting. While the blades might catch your eye at first (and back up their appearance with smooth handling), it’s the handles with comfy rubberized inserts that will make you want these knives in your home.

Or, save yourself some time…

...and grab a complete set of essential Five Two knives. Designed by the Food52 community and vetted by home cooks, this set pretty much covers all your essential cutlery needs. As one reviewer wrote: "So sharp and functional—they are beautiful and ergonomically comfortable."

What's the one knife in your collection that you can't do without? Tell us in the comments.

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Sara Coughlin is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Although she writes about food, health, wellness, lifestyle trends, skin-care, and astrology, she’d much rather talk to you about professional wrestling, rock climbing, and her personal favorite true crime theories. You can find her in her studio apartment doing yoga while a pan of veggies gently burns in the oven.

1 Comment

Steven W. October 18, 2020
I went to Johnson And Wales Culinary school back in 1979-ish and we were given a set of Dexter-Russel Sani-Safe knives. The chef knife, the bread slicer and the paring knife, and the boning knife are my go to knifes to this day.