Tired of cheap, dull kitchen knives?

Choosing your kitchen knives can be quite a task.  If you’ve read my article/video on cutting techniques for the kitchen, then you might be considering new knives so your hardware is up to par with your new cutting skills.  The good news is that I’m here to help you narrow down those choices.  The bad news is that there are still a LOT of choices. 

While there are a ton of options out there, and it can be intimidating, I’m going to simplify things for you in this article.   We’ll look at various knife types, steels used, styles and focus on those knives that you will be using the most. By the time we’re done talking you’ll be confident in going out to make your purchase.  Let’s wade in …

Knife types and what’s in your knife block

So how many knives do you need to get?  A big set can be really expensive – do you really need all those knives?  NO! ..you don’t!  Three of four knife types are all you need, depending on the variety of cooking that you do.  As a bare minimum, I suggest a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated utility blade. 

If you want to add more knives, there are options out there for nearly every task.  For the purposes of getting started however, we’ll focus on the knife you will use most often in your kitchen …the Chef knife.  OR …you may opt for the Santoku.   Let’s take a closer look. 

The Chef’s Knife vs. The Santoku: 

Both of these knives are general cooking knives that you will use a great deal.  Both can be used to accomplish most of your tasks.  Most often, they can be used interchangeably.   The main difference between the two knife types is the method by which you use them.  With the Western style Chef’s knife you will employ a “rocking” technique when slicing – it excels at the “Fan chop”.  The Santoku is better at a more abrupt, straight up and down, chopping style.

Wusthof classic
A 6 inch Wusthof Chef Knife

I have both knife types in my kitchen.  Most often, you will find Chef’s knives in lengths of 8 inches to 12 inches.  I think it’s important to note here that they are available in shorter lengths – like a 5 or 6 inch.  If you have limited space, are on a budget, or prefer more control with a shorter blade, then a short chef’s knife it a great solution.  Often they are a bit cheaper than the full sized chef knife, but you still get the same quality of manufacture and steel. 

Chef’s Knife: 

This is the basic chef’s knife made in the Western style.   

  • Length: The knife is typically 8 to 10 inches long.  Some come in smaller 5 or 6 inch sizes. 
  • Blade Profile:  The German style has a blade that is curved with a fair degree of belly or roundness.  The French style has a blade that is flatter and has less belly to it.
  • Bevel angle:  The bevel is the angle that the cutting edge is sharpened.  For Western style knives, often they are beveled at an angle of 20 to 22 degrees.   This is important to know when attempting to sharpen your knives. 

Santoku: 

This Japanese blade style is, generally, thinner. 

Global Santoku
7 inch Santoku by Global
  • Length:  This knife is typically between 5 and 8 inches in length.
  • Blade Profile:  The blade has a much flatter cutting edge than the Chef knife with the blade spine turning town towards the tip in what is known as a “Sheep’s Foot” profile.  Additionally, often the blade can have a “Granton” edge where there are dimples or scallops on the blade designed to prevent food from sticking to the blade. 
  • Bevel angle: 12 to 15 degrees. 

Chef Knife/Santoku uses:

  • Ideal for:  Cutting meat, dicing vegetables, slicing herbs, chopping nuts, etc.
  • Not ideal for cleaving meat bones, carving dense meats, slicing bread or small precision tasks such as peeling or mincing.

Additional Knife Types: 

If you wanted to add an additional knife to your kitchen collection, what should you get?  Let’s take a look at some additional knife types and their uses. 

Utility
Utility and Slicing Knives

Utility knives:

These are longer than a paring knife, but shorter than a chef’s knife.  They are sometimes referred to as a “sandwich knife”. One of my favorite utility knives is a Wusfthof 5 inch serrated knife.  I use it for tomato and softer items.  

  • Length:  usually these are around 4 to 7 inches long. 
  • Blade Profile:  They are available in straight blade styles (not nearly as tall as a chef’s knife) or in serrated blade styles. 
  • Bevel angle: depends on point of manufacture – western made knives often are 20-22 degrees, whereas Japanese made knives are often 12-15 degrees. 
  • Ideal for:  slicing meat, slicing bagels and buns, cutting sasndiwches, chopping vegetables, slicing herbs or a variety of other kitchen tasks which don’t require as much knife as a chef knife. 
  • Not ideal for:  Cleaving meat bones, slicing loaves of bread, precision tasks such as peeling or mincing.

Slicing Knives:  

These longer, thinner and more flexible blades that are often used for thin slicing tasks. 

  • Length: Usually around 8 to 14 inches.
  • Blade Profile:  Very thin and flexible.  The blades do not have much height, and sometimes will have rounded tips. 
  • Bevel angle: depends on point of manufacture – western made knives often are 20-22 degrees, whereas Japanese made knives are often 12-15 degrees. 
  • Ideal for:  slicing and carving thin cuts of meat such as chicken, pork, beef, venison or fish. Preparing fruits or vegetables. 
  • Not Ideal for: Cleaving, or small precision tasks such as peeling or mincing.
paring
Paring Knives

Paring Knives: 

These are small, short bladed knives used for intricate cutting and peeling, mincing or dicing.  The blades are short, simple, sharp and exceedingly useful. 

  • Length: from 2 to 4 inches. 
  • Blade Profile:  Straight blade, almost never serrated, with approximately 0.75 to 1 inch in blade height.
  • Bevel angle: depends on point of manufacture – western made knives often are 20-22 degrees, whereas Japanese made knives are often 12-15 degrees.
  • Ideal for: Peeling and cutting small fruits. Deseeding, deveining prawns, cutting vegetables and herbs such as garlic. 
  • Not ideal for:  Preparing or slicing meat, including carving and deboning. Cutting larger and tougher vegetables such as pumpkin or squash or slicing bread. 

Additional Characteristics:

Thicker Vs. Thinner: 

Should I look for a thick heavy knife or a thinner light knife?   The answer is a personal choice.  Here’s the difference:  A thinner knife is better for most cutting tasks.  With less cross-sectional size, it has a tendency to slice through food a bit easier as you aren’t displacing the food as much as you need to with a thicker knife.  Think about it …when a knife goes through food, the food has to move to accommodate the knife going through it.  Naturally, it resists and presses back against the blade of the knife …the degree to which is presses back against the blade is in direct relation to the thickness of the blade. 

A thinner knife is also a little lighter and perhaps a bit easier for those who aren’t daily cooks and have put in significant time using the muscle groups employed in kitchen cutting tasks. 

A thicker knife, on the other hand is better for heavy work, lending more weight for sturdier foods.  Also, the greater weight of the knife lends itself to stability and requires less downforce in some cutting tasks.

What does a thick and thin chef knife look like?   Thickenss around the sharpened side of the blade should be around 0.35-0.45mm.  The thickness on the spine side can be up to 3.5mm 

Knife Steels:

The steel with which kitchen knives are made, generally, falls into two categories:  Carbon Steel or Stainless Steel.   To be certain, knife steel is rabbit hole with which we could dedicate an entire book.  So what I am going to do is provide you with the general qualities of each type of steel and some examples …then move on to the knives themselves.

High Carbon steel: 

High carbon steel is a basic mix of iron and carbon to create a very strong steel.  It contains a small percentage of carbon (generally around 0.8%-1.2%) and is very durable and above-all, provides the user with the sharpest edge possible.  The strength and hardness of high carbon steel make it ideal for edge retention.  It’s also easier to achieve a sharp edge and reshape a carbon steel blade. I know this doesn’t sound intuitive, but carbon steel is both harder than stainless and easier to get it very sharp.

However, all is not rosy with high carbon steel. For starters, it is much more fragile and brittle than stainless steel. Which means it can get chipped if you drop it, or toss it in the dishwasher.  Also, high carbon steel will rust quite easily.  Cutting certain types of acidic food, like onion, will darken the blade as well.  The carbon blade will take on a patina and it requires more maintenance.  The knives should be cleaned by hand and dried immediately.  Never let them sit in water in your sink.  It should be said that some people like the character that a carbon steel knife takes on over time. 

High carbon steel knives should be perfect for my friends Wahbon and Mike, whose kitchens have never seen an onion…ever.

Stainless Steel: 

Stainless steel is different from carbon steel with the addition of chrome, vanadium and/or molybdenum.  The percentages of these alloys, generally, approach 12-20%.  Stainless blades will resist rusting, chipping and staining.  Stainless steel is softer than high carbon steel, so this means you may have to sharpen them more often.  Stainless is more durable than carbon steel…this gets confusing, so let me clarify. While carbon steel is harder than stainless steel, stainless is tougher ..less brittle, less prone to breakage. In other words, stainless steel tends to weather day-to-day usage a bit better than high carbon steel. 

Stainless steels also do not require any protective oils or non-stick coatings so there is less chance of contaminating food.  Some discerning palates can tell if food has been prepared with a carbon knife.  Personally, I don’t experience that, but I have heard others profess this.  So while edge retention and sharpening is a bit more difficult with stainless, it sports a host of durability and usability advantages.  Personally, most of my knives are stainless. 

Laminated steel:

This steel has been used more recently.  I think Helle knives of Norway makes some of the best examples.   It is a high carbon core that is clad in stainless outer layers.   This gives you the benefits of the carbon cutting edge with rust resistance, and strength of stainless.  You still do need to clean and keep the cutting edge dry.  While this is a great steel, it’s also expensive and not nearly as predominant as stainless. 

Damascus steel
Damascus steel patterns

Damascus Steel: 

Historically, Damascus steel was only made in the city of Damascus.  For centuries the blades made there were prized for their beautiful, water-like patterning as much as for their performance. The method of manufacture was a closely guarded secret, and when the blade trade died out in Damascus in the 18th century, the secret went with it.   Today, manufacturers utilize a technique that involves folding the steel over and over again to create “layers” and thus imitate the original look of Damascus steel.  It is likely the modern manufacturing techniques are quite similar to the lost arts, but in most cases it is for visual effect only as performance doesn’t differ greatly from other steels. 

Always beware when shopping for Damascus steel knives as sometimes the patterning is merely acid etched into the blade rather than manufactured of genuinely folded steel. A good Damascus style maker will be able to tell you how many layers of steel are present in their fold. In the case of my Damascus knives by Seto, they are 33 layers of steel.    

Recommended Chef Knives

Wusthof
My Wusthofs – an 8 inch chef knife and a 4.5 inch chef knife

Wusthof Classic Chef Knife $120

  • Length: 8 inches
  • Bevel Angle: 20 degrees
  • Blade Profile: classic German chef’s knife with plenty of belly and good profile curve.
  • Blade Steel:   X50CrMoV15 stainless steel 

This knife is the best, in my opinion.  I like all the knives on this list, but this one has been the heavyweight champ for decades.  This is not for the faint of heart or weak of wrist.  This is one of the heaviest of the chef’s knives in this list (9.2 ounces compared to the Misano at 5.6 ounces). It’s also one of the best made. 

My 4.5″ Wusthof mini chef knife

The steel is fantastic and performance-oriented.  It keeps an edge well, sharpens well, and is strong, durable and hard.  It features full tang construction, is balanced perfectly and can accomplish nearly every cutting task you put in front of it.  This thing will even cut directly through a chicken breast bone without slowing down.  I would hesitate to try that with many knives. Not this one.  In fact, I like this one so much, I even have a 4.5” version.   

JA Henckels
Henckels Chef Knife

JA Henckels International Classic $41

  • Length: 8 inches
  • Bevel Angle: 20 degrees
  • Blade Profile: classic German chef’s knife with plenty of belly and good profile curve.
  • Blade Steel:   German stainless steel 

The JA Henckels International Classis an amazing bargain at $41.  It’s a fully forged blade made in Germany, with the knife assembled in Spain. That’s become the way of manufacturing over the last 30 years, so don’t let it deter you. I can’t stress enough how nice it is to have a forged blade at this price point.  That’s where this knife really shines …the bang for the buck.  It’s a comfortable knife and exhibits good balance.  This is a great choice for a classic styled Chef’s knife on a budget. 

global
Gobal G-2 Chef Knife

Global G-2 $100

  • Length: 8 inches
  • Bevel Angle: 12 degrees
  • Blade Profile: Classic chef’s knife profile with a bit more of a drop from the spin to tip.
  • Blade Steel: Cromova 18 Stainless Steel. It’s a very nice stainless made just for Global. 

The Global is an amazing knife.  It is constructed of a single piece of steel with a unique convex edge.  The handles are made hollow, then filled with sand to achieve the perfect weight and balance.  The results of all this careful design work is one of the lightest knives available.  For a new chef, stepping up to better quality knives, this is a joy to work with.  This knife is also easy to care for and incredibly resilient.  It IS a departure from the traditional German styles, however. You will find it deft, light and airy by comparison.  Some like that, some don’t.  Get one in your hands before you buy …but like me, I’m sure you’ll be pleased.  

Misono
Misono UX10 Chef Knife

Misono UX10 Gyutou $170

  • Length: 8.2”
  • Bevel Angle: One side is 12 degrees, the other side is 20 degrees. 
  • Blade Profile: This has a very slight belly …much closer to a French style. 
  • Blade Steel: Swedish Stainless Steel

The Misono is a really interesting and high quality knife.  The steel itself is a very good Swedish alloy, and is an amazingly light knife.  It’s actually just a shade lighter than the Global.  The important thing to note is that because of the asymmetric blade bevels, there is a “handedness” to this knife.  You’ll have to make sure you are buying the correct hand.  I cut left handed, so I would need the left hand version.  They do that to make the slicing performance better.  Correspondingly, in the Japanese style, these knives are also a bit thinner than their western counterparts. 

The height of this blade is also fairly short…so if you have big hands or big knuckles you may find your knuckles tapping the cutting board with this knife. Additionally, the spine edge isn’t really rounded, so if you use the blade grip, it can get a bit uncomfortable. You would be better off with the hammer grip or fender’s grip.  That said, the slicing performance of this knife is just fantastic.  Slicing, dicing, or any number of cutting tasks that don’t require a heavy knife are performed to perfection.  

Messermeister
Messermeister Meridian Elite Chef Knife

Messermeister Meridian Elite $116

  • Length: 8 inches
  • Bevel Angle: 15 degrees
  • Blade Profile: classic German chef’s knife with plenty of belly and good profile curve.
  • Blade Steel: X50CrMov15 German stainless steel

The Messermeister is a workhorse in the kitchen on the level of the Wusthof.  The blade is one piece, hot-drop hammer forged stainless steel.  Unlike the Wusthof, this knife has no bolster on the heel of the blade.  For some, this means flexibility and more usable surface.  I admit, I am not one of those …I do most of my cutting much farther up the blade.   However, the utility of this arrangement is unquestioned.

The handle is comfortable with a balance point just a bit farther forward than what you find on the Wusthof, although not as nose-heavy as the Henckels.  The handle, like the wusthof and henckels is riveted polymer material …which makes for a very secure and clean grip.  Like most kitchen knives, this should be handwashed and dried immediately.  I would not put nearly any of the knives on this list in the dishwasher.   

There are two versions of the Meridian Elite …the Traditional and the Stealth.  The Stealth version is a bit thinner and lighter (10%) as a nod to Japanese styles.  If you like the idea of a traditional western chef knife, but wish they were just a bit lighter, take a look at the Stealth version of the Meridian Elite.     

MAC
MAC MTH-80 Chef Knife

MAC MTH-80 Professional Series $144

  • Length: 8 inches
  • Bevel Angle: 15 degrees
  • Blade Profile: This is another knife with a blended profile that is part German and part French.  Whereas the Misono leans to the French side, this leans to the German side, displaying a bit more belly to the knife. 
  • Blade Steel:  VG-5 Stainless Steel, high carbon chrome molybdenum with vanadium.  

The MAC is rapidly becoming a favorite in kitchens and restaurants across the world.  This knife features many stylistic elements consistent with a Western chef’s knife, but also retains the slightly thinner blade (2.5mm at the spine) typical of many Japanese knives.  The blade also features dimples to help if glide smoothly through sticky foods.  The weight of this knife is just a touch lighter than the Wusthof, but heavier than the Misono and the Global. 

The MAC also features a pakkawood handle, full tang construction and I have to say I am intrigued with the style of the blade.  Having it be somewhat of a blend between French and German chef knife styles, it has enough roundness to fan chop, but also the straightness to effectively chop in the style common with Japanese knives.  Since it’s a Japanese company, that stands to reason. 

Shun Premier
Shun Premier Chef’s Knife

Shun Premier Chef’s Knife  $170

  • Length: 8 inches
  • Bevel Angle: 16 degrees
  • Blade Profile: Classic german chef knife with plenty of belly.
  • Blade Steel:  Laminated: the core of the blade is Shun’s Proprietary VG-Max steel, and it is clad in 34 layer Damascus stainless steel  

This knife is quite possibly the most stunning blade of the group.  The blade not only features a fully-forged laminated steel, but it provides Shun’s excellent VG-Max (an improvement on Japanese VG-10) with the beauty of a stainless Damascus finish.  As if that wasn’t enough, they execute the finished product with a hand-hammered tsuchime technique.  This tsuchime finish helps release food easily while cutting.  The handle is a beautifully contoured pakkawood that is both very comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. 

The performance of this knife is a great blend of what you get from something thinner like the Misono and the steadiness of the Wusthof.  The blade profile allows you to use the traditional techniques popular with the Chef knife, but also it’s just a touch lighter and more deft.  It results in an excellent choice for experienced cooks who enjoy a bit of beauty and flash. 

Victorinox Fibrox Pro
Victorinox Fibrox Pro Chef Knife

Victorinox Fibrox Pro Chef’s knife  ($40) 

  • Length: 7.9 inches
  • Bevel Angle:  15 degree
  • Blade Profile: It’s actually a bit of a blend between German and French styles, with the French propensity to have less curve in the midsection of the blade.  Compare it to the Wusthof for illustration. 
  • Blade Steel: X50CrMov15 Stainless Steel.

This knife is my budget conscious pick!  The Victorinox is a knife you will find in a lot of homes AND in a lot of restaurants. The thermoplastic elastomer handle is sealed to prevent the ingress of food under the handle.  It is National Sanitary Foundation approved, which makes it a great choice for restaurants, and it’s dishwasher safe.  I find the handle very comfortable, and the quality of steel and it’s resistance to dulling is surprisingly good for a $40 knife! This knife uses the same X50CrMov15 steel you will find in a plethora of other, more expensive brands, however the blade is stamped rather than forged.  There has to be some concession to affordability. Additionally the balance is pleasing and works very well with the blade profile.  If you want to just start with a small investment, or don’t want to be afraid of potentially damaging an expensive knife, then this is the knife for you! 

Santoku
A Wusthof and Seto Santoku Knife

A Word About Santoku Knives.

Most of the knife manufacturers we have reviewed here also produce Santoku knives.  All of them will provide a quality Santoku.  I also own the Wusthof Santoku…and it is excellent.  A Santoku review would likely be redundant to this list of Chef’s knives.  So instead I will provide just a brief list of Santokus that I like – and they do include some traditional Japanese makers.  When you wade into the world of traditional Japanese knife makers, that becomes a much deeper discussion about steel, and a subject deserving of dedicated study at a different time.   

  • Wusthof Classic Series
  • Misono UX10 Series
  • Shun Premier series
  • MAC Professional series
  • Global G-48
  • Tojiro DP series
  • Miyabi Kaizen
  • Masahiro
  • Masamoto

Conclusion: 

There are a lot of options out there. You can populate your kitchen with nearly endless varieties.  But my best advice is now that you are armed with a modicum of knowledge, work within the brands identified and find something that fits your hand and accommodates your cutting style.  At the end of the day it is important that whatever you are using, it be comfortable and something you enjoy coming back to the next day.  

A Parting Shot

I will leave you with an amusing anecdote about my set of knives.  As many of you will note, Wusthof is the brand that dominates my knife block.  However, I didn’t populate that block after lengthy study and years of collecting.  I simply got lucky.  Although, there is some uncertainty in this story…

Many years ago, after my parents got married, this Wusthof knife set fell into their possession.  Granted, there is some disagreement as to whether this was a wedding gift or if this was something they obtained through Gold Bond Stamp Company. Gold Bond was one of the subsidiaries of Carlson Companies, which was where my father worked at the time.   Regardless of how they came into my parent’s possession, what is funny is that they never used them!   Yes, you read that correctly. They never used them, but instead put them away in a box in the garage.

Cooking Healthy Easy Meals
a portion of the contents of my knife block, including the venerable kukri.

You see, my parents had obtained a couple sets of kitchen knives from Amway.  These were big, clunky, knives made by Marblehead Cutlery.   And …inexplicably, for the next 25 years, they used these Amway knives instead of this absolutely perfect set of 60’s vintage Wusthofs. Today, that same model is called the Wusthof Classic.  Back then, there was only one model …the Wusthof.  That’s my set …salvaged from the attic in pristine shape.  Thanks mom and dad! 

Amway Knives
Amway Marblehead Knives

For more information on kitchen knife safety and techniques, refer to to my article here.

3 Responses

  • wow. nice post and enjoy it so much… Carry on your work. Love it

    Reply
    • Hey thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post.

      Reply
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