By Nicole Dieker

The Best Chef Knives

There’s a reason we call the best kitchen knives “chef knives.” A good chef is a multitasker, so a good chef knife is designed to handle multiple jobs. Think of all the slicing and chopping involved in a beef stir-fry or a chicken noodle soup. You want a single tool that can handle it all. But the best chef knife can’t be defined by a single set of features.

It’s all about hand-feel: The right knife should feel almost like an extension of your forearm. We talked to two chefs, a cooking instructor, and a knife expert, then chopped, diced, and peeled with 11 bestselling chef knives to see which stood out.

The 3 Best Chef Knives

The Best Chef Knives: Summed Up

MAC MTH-80
Shun Classic
Victorinox Fibrox
The best
For popularity
For experienced cooks
Starter knife
Price
$144.95
$164.95
$32.95
Weight
7.1 ounces
7.3 ounces
6.6 ounces
Inches wide
1.88
1.80
2.00
Bolster
Half-bolster
Half-bolster
N/A
Knife style
Japanese
Japanese
European

MAC MTH-80 Professional Series 8-Inch Chef Knife with Dimples

Best for
Experienced Chefs

Shun Classic 8

Shun
Gorgeous, but with a tougher learning curve
Pros
Functional, beautiful design
Unique D-shaped handle
Cons
Not for beginners
Requires high level of maintenance

Why we chose it

Functional, beautiful design

The Shun Classic 8" Chef Knife made a vivid impression when we started chopping. Testers had no trouble halving a butternut squash, and the knife was maneuverable enough to peel said squash in “nice long strips.” It was also the only knife we tested that made that satisfying “shwing” sound when we sliced.

The Shun, like the Mac, is a lightweight Japanese knife with a half bolster. “I love Shun knives,” Brownstein told us. “They’re beautiful — like a functional art piece — with great balance and good quality steel.” At 7.3 ounces, with a blade that’s 1.8 inches wide, it had a heft and balance similar to the MAC.

Unique D-shaped handle

The Shun got an overwhelmingly favorable response from experienced chefs for its grip and balanced weight — and even novices liked it better than the Japanese-style Miyabi knives we tested, which had blades and handles that felt stiff and clunky. In fact, the Shun’s handle was a standout feature. Rather than being totally round (like some traditional Japanese knives), it’s D-shaped: The curve of the D fits into the curve of your fingers as you grip the knife.

Shun Close-up for Chef Knife

Points to consider

Not for beginners

The Shun is clearly designed for people who already know their way around a kitchen. Several novice cooks in our group struggled to maintain a comfortable grip, with one lamenting, “It just doesn’t feel right.” The knife’s spine was also less forgiving, rubbing against index fingers that slid out of a proper pinch grip.

Because the handle is designed with a professional pinch grip in mind, if you’re not maintaining proper form, your mileage may vary. But if you master the right technique, your Shun can stay sharp for a long time. “My favorite brand of knife is Shun,” Chef Ariane Resnick told us. “Their Western-style Japanese knives can go ages without sharpening, even with serious use.”

Requires high level of maintenance

The trade-off for the Shun’s visual elegance is that the knife requires careful maintenance. The handle is made of a wood/plastic composite, which is more delicate. Brownstein noted that too much water exposure would be bad for it; you’ll need to dry both the knife and its handle thoroughly after use.

The knife is also Damascus-clad: The blade is made of steel, then coated with an outer layer of Damascus steel. While Damascus on its own is quite strong, when it’s only an outer layer, the knife edge is more likely to chip. In fact, Shun’s website includes this warning in its FAQ: “Chips can happen due to improper cutting technique. Shun Cutlery is designed to be used in a smooth, slicing motion — and never in a forceful, up-and-down ‘chopping’ manner.”

Victorinox Fibrox 8-Inch Chef's Knife


Best Starter Knife

Victorinox Fibrox 8-Inch Chef's Knife

Victorinox
Inexpensive and offers a solid performance
Pros
Budget-friendly
European-style knife
Cons
Plastic handle

Why we chose it

Budget-friendly

The Victorinox Fibrox 8-Inch Chef's Knife is an excellent option for people who want to start cooking regularly but aren’t yet ready to invest a lot of money, offering a solid performance for around $45. Tate agrees that the Victorinox is the best knife for people who are on a budget (although he, like our testers, prefers a wood handle to the Victorinox’s plastic). Brownstein told us that commercial kitchens often order this knife for their line cooks. If you’re looking for low cost but respectable quality, the Victorinox is a good place to start.

European-style knife

The Victorinox is a European-style knife, meaning the blade is both wider and slightly thicker than the Japanese-style MAC and Shun. It only weighs 6.6 ounces (lighter than both the MAC and Shun), but the blade measures 2 inches across at its widest point. Even though it didn’t feel quite as maneuverable as the Shun or the MAC — with one tester noting she “didn’t like the large handle for cutting small things” — she believed the Victorinox was “great for large things” like squash.

Points to consider

Plastic handle

The Victorinox’s handle was its most controversial feature. Made of Fibrox, with a slightly textured pattern, it offers a no-slip grip even if your hands are wet. Our fingers felt undeniably safe. But the handle also felt bulky to some testers, with several people noting the material seemed “cheap” or “flimsy.” One tester even told us, “Each time I use it, it’s more comfortable. But it feels cheap, so I have a mental block there.” If you’re on a budget and new to cooking, however, the Victorinox is your best option.

Plastic knife handle

How to Care for Your Chef Knife

Know which parts of your knife are which

No single feature makes a knife objectively better. Rather, they’re indicators of how the knife is designed to perform. But it’s good to know the names of each feature to understand your personal preferences.

Chef Knife Anatomy3 for Chef Knife

  • Butt: The back end of your handle.
  • Heel: The back end of the blade, closest to your fingers.
  • Tip: The front half of the blade. Not to be confused with the point.
  • Point: The literal pointy bit at the end of the knife.
  • Edge: The sharp side of the blade. Be careful.
  • Spine: The top of the blade. Some people place their index fingers along the length of the spine as they chop, but this is considered bad technique.
  • Tang: The steel that extends past your knife blade and into the handle. When a knife has a full tang, it means the steel goes all the way to the butt.
  • Bolster: The thick band of steel between the knife handle and the knife heel. A full bolster extends all the way into the heel; a half bolster stops before the heel. Some knives have no bolster at all.
  • Granton Edge: The dimples on the blade. Not all knives have them. In theory, these stop food from sticking as you chop.

Keep your chef knife properly sharpened

As Rachel Muse, private chef and founder of Talk Eat Laugh, puts it: “If you buy a professional knife, you need to keep an edge on it, otherwise it’s like owning a car and not putting fuel in it.” If there’s a professional knife sharpener in your area, you can outsource the task. If not, MAC and Shun both offer mail-in sharpening (Shun offers it for free). You can also learn to sharpen your knife yourself.

Hone your knife

A knife honing rod, or honing steel, is designed to keep your knife functioning well between sharpenings. Honing straightens the edge of a knife, while sharpening literally grinds away part of the steel to produce a sharper edge.

Brownstein recommends honing your knife each time you pick it up (the whole process should only take 10 to 20 seconds) or, if prepping a lot, whenever it starts to feel dull. She offers these tips:

  • Hold the steel upright and move the blade swiftly across and down the steel at a 25-degree angle, as if you were cutting slices of cheese.
  • After you hone, check your knife’s sharpness by gently sliding it across a soft tomato. The knife should bite into the fruit right away without pressure.

Not all of our experts recommend honing. “People often hone incorrectly,” Resnick told us, “so unless you know you’re doing it right, it’s not worthwhile.”

Learn the right way to chop

If you’re looking to improve your chopping game, Bob Tate offers these tips:

  • Imagine your cutting board is a clock. Most people point their knife toward noon, placing the food horizontally across the cutting board. But if you angle your knife so that it points toward 10 o’clock (and adjust your food to stay parallel), the knife becomes an extension of your forearm and is easier to handle.
  • Keep your knife in contact with your cutting board or work surface. There’s no need to lift it off the cutting board for each cut.

Only use your knife on food. When Brownstein teaches cooking classes, she’s astonished at how many students use their chef knives for tasks like cutting open boxes. “A chef's knife is your most important kitchen tool,” she says. “Buy a pair of kitchen shears for boxes and bags!”

Avoid the dishwasher

Regardless of manufacturer instructions, never put your chef knife in the dishwasher. And while you’re at it, never toss it into the sink. Every time the knife blade bangs against something — like the plastic spines of your dishwasher or the metal sides of your sink — it has the potential to dull, and you want to keep the blade as sharp as possible for as long as possible.

Instead, wash your knife by hand with standard dish soap, then use a clean dish towel or paper towel to rub it completely dry. (If you let it air-dry, it can develop water stains or rust spots.)

Chef Knives FAQ

Should I get a knife set?

All of our experts felt that knife sets were a waste of money. “Buy knives one at a time,” Muse told us. “Each chef will have their own mixture; a set is too constricted and too prescriptive.”

How many kitchen knives do I need?

After you’ve invested in a quality chef knife, you may want to expand your collection with any of the following:

  • A serrated bread knife for cutting loaves of bread
  • A paring knife — which has a very short blade — for tasks like paring apples or potatoes
  • A boning knife or filleting knife, depending on the cuts of meat and fish you typically cook

As a general rule, if the purpose of the knife is in its name (bread knife, filleting knife, even steak knife or grapefruit knife) it marks a task that will be difficult to accomplish with an all-purpose chef knife.

What's the best type of steel for a chef knife?

The best steel for chef knives typically lands between 55 and 60 on the Rockwell hardness scale — that’s hard enough to retain a sharp edge, but soft enough to avoid being overly brittle. (You want your knife to be able to take a beating without fracturing.) The harder a steel, the longer it will stay sharp but the more difficult it will be to re-sharpen on your own, often requiring professional service to get it back its factory condition. If you’d like to learn more about their specific properties, the guides at KnivesAndTools.com and The Manual are great places to start.

What's the best way to hold my chef knife?

According to Bob Tate, you should hold your kitchen knife in a pinch grip: Grip toward the front of the handle, with your thumb and your curled index finger pinching the base of the blade.

What's the difference between a chef knife and a Santoku knife?

At a glance, Santoku knives and chef knives look nearly identical. But each caters to a different cooking style. Santoku knives are shorter, lighter, and thinner, with a rounded tip and a flat edge. This means that cutting requires an up-and-down slicing motion. A chef knife’s blade is curved and allows you to cut by rocking the knife against the cutting board.

A Santoku excels at tasks that require agility, like mincing delicate herbs or making precise cuts. The trade-off is that it’s not as versatile as a chef knife and is likely to struggle against larger tasks, like cutting up a chicken or slicing through squash.

What are the differences between Japanese-style and European-style knives?

Traditionally, Japanese-style knives are inspired by katana swords, with sharper edges and better edge retention. Japanese-style knives are typically honed and refined by hand and fitted with a straighter edge than those of European-style knives. They’re thinner as well, usually consisting of a single bezel edge, and they are prone to rusting. They also usually contain more carbon steel or soft iron material than their European counterparts, which makes the knives harder, but not necessarily stronger.

European-style knives, by contrast, are thicker, heavier, and stronger. Consisting of a rounder blade and finished by a machine instead of human hands, European-style blades are known for being more durable and made with less carbon in their steel than their Japanese counterparts — this means they aren’t as “hard,” but they also won’t break or chip as easily.

When should I sharpen my chef knife?

The quickest way to determine whether or not your knife needs sharpening is to conduct what is known as the Paper Test. Hold a folded, but not creased, piece of paper in one hand, and lay the edge of the knife at an angle against the top of the paper with your other hand. Slice outwardly. If the knife fails to slice smoothly and cleanly, it needs to be sharpened.

How can I sharpen my chef knife?

Having a dull blade on your knife is potentially dangerous; the dullness of the edge will force you to apply more pressure when you’re cutting, which will result in a higher chance of slipping and/or missing your intended cuts. Here are some of the best ways to sharpen your chef knife:

  • Scrape the edge of your knife against a long steel rod tool called a sharpening steel
  • Send the knife in to the manufacturer for sharpening
  • Use an electric or manual sharpener, which requires you to simply hold your blade over the device and let the device do the work
  • Use a whetstone. Because of its difficulty, this option is only recommended for professional use.

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