Let’s cut to the chase: The best chef’s knife doesn’t exist. Well, the best chef’s knife for YOU exists—but the best chef’s knife for everyone is impossible to name. Whether you’re a home cook or a professional chef, choosing the best cutlery comes down to your needs and personal preferences. In fact, when I pressed a few knife experts to recommend one knife for the title of Best Chef’s Knife in All the Land, no one would do it. “What works for you is not necessarily going to work for someone else,” said Mari Sugai of Korin in New York City. “You don’t have to go with whatever the internet says—find something you like that will work for you.”
What should you look for in a chef’s knife?
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to chef’s knives. Before you shop, give a bit of thought to what kind of cook you are (rather than the kind of cook you want to be). “The most important thing I can tell people is to be introspective about how you cut,” explained Jon Broida of Japanese Knife Imports in LA. Are you an aggressive cook who loves to speed through tasks (as in, there’s always a bit of garlic peel in the pile of not-so-finely chopped garlic on your cutting board)? Or are you meticulous and careful, plucking each tiny thyme leaf from the littlest stalks? Even if the difference isn’t that dramatic, think: Do you value speed or precision?
Once you’ve taken a beat to self-reflect, consider the two major categories of knives available in the US—Western- and Japanese-style—and figure out which one best matches your personal style.
What are the characteristics of a Western-style knife?
Also called German-style knives, these double-bevel knives (meaning both sides are angled inward, meeting at the blade’s edge) originated in Western Europe. The blades are thicker than those of Japanese knives, with more of a curved shape to facilitate a rocking motion in which the tip of the blade does not leave the cutting board. Most have the same angle on both sides, which makes them easier to sharpen (and that’s advantageous because you’ll need to sharpen them often given the type of steel they’re made of).
Are Western-style knives right for you?
If you’re Team Speed, these are what Broida refers to as “get shit done” knives. They’re made of a softer steel than Japanese knives, which makes them less brittle and more durable—so you’ll be able to accomplish nearly any kitchen task, from halving a kabocha to scoring pork belly to cracking open a watermelon.
Western-style knives are heavier and less sharp than Japanese knives, and, because the steel is softer, they need to be sharpened more often.
What are the characteristics of a Japanese knife?
Traditional Japanese knives are mostly single bevel (one side is straight while the other is angled), feature thinner blades made of carbon steel, and are often used by professional restaurant chefs. But the knives I’ll be discussing here are Western-style Japanese knives, and yes, I understand that is confusing. These are double bevel, made of material that’s simpler to maintain, and versatile. Many have an asymmetrical edge (the edge is at a steeper angle on one side of the blade, e.g., 60:40 or 70:30), which contributes to the knife’s sharpness. Two common shapes in the U.S. are the gyuto (which means “beef sword”) and the shorter santoku knife.
Are Japanese knives right for you?
If you value sharpness and precision and often spend hours chopping and slicing, you might gravitate toward a light Japanese-made knife. Compared to heavy-duty Western knives, the blades are thin, super sharp, and hard, meaning they hold their edge for longer (so you won’t have to sharpen them as often). They excel at precision slicing. You’ll find you’ll have more luck using a pulling motion than the rock-and-chop method that suits the more curved blade of a Western-style knife.
The hardness of Japanese blades also makes them brittle, meaning they’re more prone to chipping or snapping when used improperly. And because their edges can be asymmetrical, these knives can also take a bit more finesse to sharpen well.
Other Factors to Consider
We’re talking here about the balance between the weight of the blade and that of the handle and how the knife ultimately feels in your hand given those two things. Your Platonic ideal here will likely be different than your brother’s or your next door neighbor’s or mine, which is why your best bet when choosing a knife is to (literally) get your hands on a range of options.
Chef’s knives can range anywhere from around 5 to 14 inches, but 8 inches is considered pretty standard. We’ve focused on 8-inch knives in our roundup here, but many of the models we’ve listed come in multiple sizes if you prefer a shorter or longer blade.
Sharpness and Durability
If you’re anything like me, you’re not looking to pull out the whetstone every week. The best knives will maintain their edges for a decent amount of time before requiring a good sharpening session, but a blade’s edge retention is largely a product of its material, thickness, and bevel angle. You may compromise on sharpness in favor of durability.
So which style knife do I buy?
The choice between Japanese and Western knives isn’t always so cut and dry. Many of the knives we love blur the line between the categories—sharp like Japanese, durable like Western. As Joanna Rosenberg of Zwilling told me, the advent of higher-quality steel, better finish, and innovative heat treatments means that knife makers are able to produce sharper knives that are more durable and stay sharp longer. “The good German knives are coming out sharper and the good Japanese knives are coming out with more durability, but they haven’t met in the middle yet.”
The easiest way to decide what you prefer is to take a trip to a store where they’ll let you hold several different knives to see which feels best in your hand. If that isn’t possible, order from a site with a generous return policy and a big selection. The best chef’s knife for everyone might not exist, but the best chef’s knife for you is somewhere out there—you’ve just got to find it. To help point you in the right direction, I polled Bon Appétit’s editors on their favorite chef’s knives to use at home and in the test kitchen. See our top picks below.
“Pound for pound, Mac knives (such as this 8″ scalloped chef’s knife) are the best out there,” says food director Chris Morocco. “I’ve used mine for years, and they hit the sweet spot in terms of being heavy and durable enough to take some kitchen abuse, but refined and precise enough that you will never need another kitchen knife again.” Made with hard-but-not-brittle alloy steel, this one’s a hybrid of Western- and Japanese-style knives, which means it’s strong but won’t easily chip. It’s got good heft and it’s among the sharpest you’ll find. Notice those little dimples across the knife’s blade? They help the knife glide through sticky foods like potatoes, onions, and apples.
Associate food editor Kendra Vaculin loves her collection of Global knives—and you can find the chef’s knife in both 8″ and 6″ variations. “They’re lightweight and really do feel like an extension of your arm when you use them,” she says. That’s, in part, because they’re so well-balanced: The hollow handle is full of an exact amount of sand added to offset the weight of the blade. If you want supreme stability while cutting and the ability to make super thin, delicate slices—this is the knife for you.
A great chef’s knife doesn’t have to be an expensive knife. BA editors are big fans of the Swiss-made 8″ Victorinox Fibrox Pro, which costs around $50. It’s the one that’s stocked in the test kitchen—and it’s also associate food editor Zaynab Issa’s favorite chef’s knife of all time. It’s a sharp knife with a stainless-steel blade, and although it isn’t full tang—a.k.a. the blade doesn’t extend all the way into the handle—it’s a solid knife that’s easy to use, comfortable to hold, and sharpens nicely. It’s a good chef’s knife for both beginners and professionals, and Morocco says that it’s one of the best knives for your money.
Associate food editor Rachel Gurjar favors this stunner from Miyabi. The blade is composed of 132 layers of MicroCarbide powdered steel, resulting in a Damascus pattern, in which the blade is etched with various light- and dark-colored waves. “I love that the wooden handle is straight as opposed to curved,” she says. “And my hands are small, so I appreciate how light this knife is.” If you want an 8″ chef’s knife with peak precision (that’s also a gorgeous work of art), this one is hard to beat.
If you’re looking for Miyabi quality at a gentler price point, this is the knife I personally reach for when I’m planning on doing a lot of prep work and want to make very precise, clean slices. It merges Japanese craftsmanship with German engineering for a knife that’s razor-sharp, long-lasting, and corrosion resistant.
A Wallet-Friendly Workhorse That Holds Its Edge: Five Two Chef’s Knife
This affordable, classic 8″ chef’s knife is made with carbon-infused Japanese steel and comes out of the box with a super sharp blade. As someone who is not the most diligent about knife-sharpening (even though I do know it’s important), I appreciate how this knife holds its cutting edge. It’s lightweight enough that I buzz through piles of herbs without tiring out my wrists, but it’s also sturdy enough that I don’t fear hacking into a butternut squash or watermelon. With brass rivets and multiple color options for the handle, it’s a pretty knife but not a precious one.
Composed of 66 layers of “soft” stainless steel wrapped around a tougher, higher carbon core, the Bulat chef knife also boasts a beautiful Damascus finish. It’s a high-quality knife that works wonders for everything, from dicing veggies to cutting meat. Cooking and SEO editor Joe Sevier says, “The ergonomic olive wood handle is super comfortable (not to mention gorgeous), and the bolster is also ergonomic and makes detail work easier. Plus, the Damascus steel blade is well balanced and looks, ahem, sharp.” Add this one to your knife set and you won’t regret it.
How do you sharpen a chef’s knife?
Once you’ve found your perfect chef’s knife, show it the respect worthy of a prized kitchen tool. You can get your knives professionally sharpened, of course, but we’re of the opinion that you should only do so once a year, max—think of a professional sharpening as a haircut, whereas sharpening at home is more of a trim. A professional sharpener will remove more steel from the cutting edge than you would at home, which can affect the longevity of your knife. What tools do you need to maintain that new knife’s sharp edge at home, you might ask? Two things: A honing rod and a knife sharpener.
What is a honing rod?
A honing rod is used to keep an already-sharp knife in tip top shape by aligning the existing edge of your blade. Step right this way for more about honing rods.
What is a knife sharpener?
A knife sharpener—ideally a whetstone—is used to remove some of the blade’s steel through friction to create a new, sharper cutting edge.
Looking for the best bread knife? We’ve got you covered:
This article was originally published in 2020 and was updated by Tiffany Hopkins and Alaina Chou.