Last updated 10.01.19 — Here are six recommendations that cover some of the best chef knives around, each produced by a different world-class knifemaker. This short list is designed not only to highlight quality chef knifes, but to give you a sense of what’s out there (a lot!) and help you find the knife that’s right for you. (Please read my article How to Buy a Great Chef Knife to get more backstory.)
Best Chef Knives Overview
Henckels Pro S Chef Knife
Wusthof Classic Ikon Santoku
Messermeister Meridian Elite Stealth Chef Knife
Global Santoku (G-48)
MAC MTH-80 – Professional Series Chef Knife with Dimples
Shun Classic Chef Knife
Manufacturing quality kitchen knives, especially hundreds at a time, is no simple task. It takes high-grade steel, skilled tradesmen, rigorous quality-control systems, and, ideally, your own heat-treating facilities (a very expensive proposition). Not all knifemakers are up to the task, especially a lot of newbie companies springing up like wildflowers. The kitchen knife brands in the list above—Henckels, Wusthof, Messermeister, Global, MAC, and Shun—all have proven track records and lifetime warranties. Some have been making knives for hundreds of years.
The first three brands are centered in Germany, the last three in Japan. I have purposely contrasted German chef knives to Japanese in order to expose you to the two major approaches to kitchen knifemaking in the world today. Most chef knives you come across today are either from one tradition or the other, or are a blend. If you’re curious and want more on this, click on down the page.
The chef knives I’m sweet on for this article range from $100 to $160—though if you monitor the ever-fluctuating prices you may grab a deal. They are by no means the top of the heap—for price tags in kitchen knifedom can get pretty steep, quickly getting into hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars.
If you’re concerned about moola, please remember that your best chef knives, depending on how hard you use them and how well you take care of them, can easily last 25 years or more. I’m not exaggerating. Plus, they’re the single most important tool in your entire kitchen. (What would compete, your large sauté pan?) If you dollar-cost average the price of one of the most expensive knives on this list (say, the Shun Classic for $150), over 25 years it would cost you a whopping $6 per year! So try to see the BIG picture.
Best Chef Knives Testing — Malarky
Although I own all six chef knives on this best chef knives list and have used them to chop onions, quarter cantaloupes, slice tomatoes, and more—I have not officially “tested” them. Huh?
Yep. I have declined to put these knives through a series of, supposedly, quantifiable kitchenistic tasks and use their perceived performance as a basis of rating each knife. Why? Because I don’t think it’s accurate or, in the long-run, truly useful to the consumer. Because, in the end, the main thing you’re testing is just how sharp the factory edge is. And, while it is more than nice to buy a chef knife with a razor-sharp factory edge—on average, the factory sharpitude of your new knife, even if you hone it religiously, will probably only last a year or two max. Not 25 years. Not even five.
So why make the sharpness of the factory edge the end-all criteria for whether or not a chef knife works for you? Especially if there’s another blade you love in every other way except that it doesn’t happen to be quite as out-of-the-box sharp.
No matter where you live, you can ship your favorite chef knife off to a top-notch professional sharpener and they will give you an edge sharper than most factories. There, problem solved. But other, more permanent, characteristics can’t be so easily tweaked. Like the feel of the handle. The weight. The size of the blade. The look and style of the knife. These you can’t change. . .so why not be happy with them?
Don’t get me wrong, some kind of testing, including sharpness, can be useful. A quick perusal of Reviews of Professional Knife Sharpening Services will demonstrate I can be a manic tester. And don’t get me wrong again—you definitely want a chef knife that can take a fine edge and hold it. But in a review designed to help you choose a life-long kitchen partner (i.e. chef knife), absolute sharpitude from the factory shouldn’t be the only event, the prime criteria, for choosing one knife over another. Especially since razor sharpness can so easily be gained later on if necessary.
(Nevertheless, I do address the odds of maximum factory sharpitude near the bottom of this article under the heading Best Chef Knives Mostly Likely to Emerge from the Box Scary Sharp.)