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We Review the Best Kitchen Knives and Chef’s Knives for Home Cooks

choosing a chefs knife

After extensive research and much testing, in our own kitchen as well as professional test kitchens, I’ve found the Wüsthof Classic Ikon 8″ Chef’s knife to be the best knife for the experienced home chef. Forged from a single piece of high-carbon stainless steel, it offers a unique mix of heft, strength, and precision. It’s agile enough to quickly julienne carrots and strong enough to use on bone-in poultry. It has a thinner blade than most German-made knives which allows it to handle tasks that require more agility such as peeling.

Best Chef's Knife

wusthof ikon chef knife

With it’s solid durability and thinner blade this knife offers the ideal mix for the home chef. It easily cuts through vegetables (including butternut squash) without having to worry about chipping the blade.

It also handles rougher tasks such as cutting bone-in chicken. All-in-all it’s a solid and reliable tool for any kitchen.

The Classic Ikon is well-balanced with a full tang.  The sizeable bolster is designed to be used with a pinch grip.  For the price it can't be beat.

the ikon series chef knives from Wusthof

Our Top 5 Chef's Knives

Here's a quick comparison of the 5 best chef's knives on the market. Full reviews of each model are included below.

Wusthof Classic Ikon

Shun Classic

Wusthof Classic

Zelite Infinity

Messermeister San Moritz

wusthof classic ikon chefs knives
shun classic chef's knife
wusthof classic chefs knives with bolster
zelite infinity chefs knife review
messermeister san moritz chefs knives

9 ounces

6.6 Ounces

8.5 Ounces

8 Ounces

12 Ounces

$$$

$$$$

$$

$$$$

$$

9 out of 10

8 out of 10

8 out of 10

7 out of 10

7 out of 10

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Wusthof Classic Ikon Review

the ikon series chef knives from Wusthof

Wüsthof has been making high quality cutlery for hundreds of years. The Classic 8″ was the standard in our kitchen for quite some time, but was recently supplanted by the Ikon.

The two knives actually use the same blade, but he difference in the handle is substantial and was the reason the Ikon nudges out the Classic in our comparison. The Ikon has an ergonomic design that allows for a more comfortable grip and less fatigue during extended use. The tang extends to the back of the handle which gives it a comfortable balance when using a pinch-style grip with large hands.

While the blade isn’t as sharp as some of the other knives in this comparison it is thinner than tradition German blades. This makes it more useful in more delicate applications such as peeling.

When properly honed this blade will chiffonade basil with no problem, but after some use it might result in some bruising and oxidation. This is due to the slightly softer steel used in the blade. But this is also the reason why this knife is durable enough to work with bone-in poultry.

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Shun Classic Review

8 inch classic chefs knife from Shun

Shun is one of the top names in Japanese knives. The Classic is a hybrid (called a gyuto) of a traditional Japanese knife and a Western style chef’s knife. As such it brings many of the benefits of both styles together into one phenomenal product.

It is extremely sharp and can make short work of complex tasks requiring an agile blade. Techniques such as julienne and chiffonade are literally a breeze and involve very little effort. The D shaped handle is comfortable, though not as ergonomic as the Ikon.

The Shun Classic is forged in the traditional Japanese method but utilizes a curved blade very similar to Western knives. This allows those comfortable with a traditional chef’s knife to continue to use the rocker-style cutting motion. The extremely hard steel used in the Classic allows for a 16 degree blade angle which is significantly sharper than most German or Western style knives.

However, this harder steel comes with some drawbacks. It is much more brittle than the steel used in Wüsthof or Messermeister blades. Care must be taken when using, cleaning, and maintaining this blade to ensure that it doesn’t become chipped.

The primary reason the Shun took second place was that it’s not going to be as durable as the Ikon unless particular care is taken. Improper use such as on bone-in poultry or hard vegetables like acorn squash can damage the blade. That said, for the right chef this could be the perfect too. It took top honors in our Shun chef knife competition.

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Wüsthof Classic Chef’s Knife Review

As implied by it’s name, the Classic has been a mainstay in kitchens around the world for quite some time. It is a good all-around knife that offers exceptional durability, as well as being flexible enough to handle more delicate tasks such as julienne carrots and even peeling.

Like the Ikon it is made of softer steel that is less prone to chipping so it is a great knife for cooks ranging from beginners to more advanced. It’s forged from a single piece of stainless steel with a tang that extends all the way through the handle.

The Classic is designed to be used with the pinch-grip. This is accomplished by placing your thumb and index finger on either side of the bolster, then lightly gripping the handle with the rest of your fingers. This space forward of the bolster is the center of gravity of the knife and this makes for the most efficient usage.

wusthof cooks knives slicing

The Classic is slightly less expensive than the Ikon, and with the exception of the more basic handle is essentially the same knife. It’s a great value if you don’t want to spend the extra for the ergonomic handle.

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Tojiro DP Gyutou Review

Coming in significantly less expensive than the Wusthof’s and Global is the Tojiro DP Gyutou. The gyutou-style knife is the Japanese equivalent of a chef’s knife or French knife. While it’s less than half the price of the Ikon, it is still a high quality piece. It is made with a VG-10 steel core laminated with a softer layer of stainless.

This combination of steels means that it will keep it’s keen edge longer, and will be less brittle. That being said, those used to working with German knives or Western knives in general should know that this type of knife is prone to chipping when used improperly. Vegetables like raw beets and acorn squash can very easily damage the blade.

Where this knife really excels is on boneless proteins, and vegetables. It has a slight angle to accommodate those accustomed to cutting with a rocking motion, it’s very lightweight, and at less than $75 is easy on the checkbook as well.

The Tojiro also makes an excellent transitional knife for those looking to move into more traditional Japanese knives.

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Messermeister San Moritz Elite Review

Despite being a complete mouthful to pronounce, the Messermeister is a very capable tool for the home chef. The ergonomic handle is comfortable, though not quite up to the level of the Ikon.

The weight balance of this knife is a bit more forward. While some prefer more weight at the blade, those that are used to more equally balanced blades might have to adjust to the center of gravity on this knife. It is 3/4 tang, meaning the steel of the blade extends 3/4 of the way through the handle.

Like the Wüsthof products, the Elite is a very durable chef’s knife. The steel is softer than the Global or the Tojiro, but will stand up to a significant amount of abuse without chipping. The blade is sharpened to 15 degrees which makes it extremely sharp. But this also translates into more frequent honing since the steel is softer. This certainly shouldn’t be considered a negative though as it certainly makes up for this in overall durability.

The price point however is significantly higher than other knives of it’s caliber. In fact it’s one of the more expensive that I tested.

Using Your Chef’s Knife

You can spend as much money as you want on a chef’s knife, but if you’re not using it properly, you’ll never get the full potential out of this crucial tool. Spending a few minutes familiarizing yourself with the proper grip and cutting techniques can make working in the kitchen much less tiring and more enjoyable.

The Grip

The most popular way to grip a chef’s knife is with the pinch grip. Basically you pinch the blade of the knife just in front of the bolster with your index finger and thumb. Then lightly grip the handle with your remaining fingers. Here’s a great video demonstrating the technique.

The primary benefit of the pinch grip is that it gives you much more control of the blade. It’s less likely to slip or dance around as you cut through even hard foods.

The hammer grip is another method of gripping your knife. This is when all four fingers are behind the bolster of the knife, just like gripping a hammer. This is often the grip used by less experienced cooks as they are intimidated by holding the knife by the blade.

There’s nothing wrong with the hammer grip, but the pinch grip has a big advantage in terms of speed, control, and fatigue.

The Cutting Motion

Depending on the style of knife you select there are two different methods for cutting and slicing. Western knives have a rounded blade and intended to be used with a rocking motion. In most cases the tip of the knife should never leave the surface of the cutting board.

The blade of the knife should also move forward as your cutting. It’s not the downward pressure of the blade that does the cutting, but the edge of the blade sliding against the food. Try to imagine the knife moving in a circular motion with the tip always staying in contact with the surface of the board.

Japanese knives have very little to no curve at all. As a result the cutting motion is very different. Rather than a rocking motion you will need to use a sliding motion. This can be done while pushing the knife away from your body or drawing it towards. Either way, the entire knife is lifted off the board for each cut.

Here is a great video demonstrating the proper technique with a Japanese knife.

Types of Chefs Knives

While there is a wide variety of knives available, they all generally fall into two categories: Japanese and Western. They vary in blade shape, design, steel hardness, and required cutting technique. Let’s take a look at the important features of each as well as some of the pros and cons.

Western Style Chef’s Knives

Western style knives such as the Wüsthof Ikon have a rounded shape to the blade. They are generally heavier, wider, and made of softer steel than their Japanese counterparts. This might not sound like an advantage, but all of these features add up to sturdy and durable knives that are capable of cutting a wide variety of foods.

They can also handle a fair amount of abuse. Most chefs would think nothing of cutting up a whole chicken using a Western style knife. Because the blade is thicker and softer it can handle bone, sinew and other dense materials. Attempting to do the same with a Japanese knife could cause the thin edge to crack or chip.

Something as innocuous as dragging the side of the blade across the cutting board to scoop up food can put too much pressure on the edge of a Japanese knife with extremely hard steel.

The extra material used in a thicker blade of Western knives can cause them to be significantly heavier. If this additional weight isn’t properly balanced it can quickly lead to fatigue when using the knife over extended periods of time.

Pros:

  • Strong and durable
  • Easy to maintain
  • Require Infrequent sharpening

Cons:

  • Heavier
  • Less agile
  • Not as sharp

Maintenance

Western knives are generally pretty easy to maintain. You will want to hone them after heavy usage to ensure the edge of the blade is properly aligned. Sharpening should only have to be done on occasion.

Regardless of what the manufacturer recommends you should NEVER wash your knife in the dishwasher. This allows it to bump up against any number of things that can damage or dull the blade. Simply use hot soapy water and hand dry immediately.

Our preference for storage is on a magnetized wall strip. If your only option is a drawer then make sure to get a good knife guard to keep from damaging the blade. Knife blocks are convenient, but I don’t recommend them as any residual moisture on the knife can lead to a buildup of mold and you will never be able to see it.

Japanese (Eastern Style) Chef’s Knives

Traditional Japanese-style knives differ significantly from Western knives. The first thing you’ll notice is that the belly of the blade is nearly or completely flat. This is why the significant difference in cutting motion.

The forging technique is also quite different. Japanese knives are sharpened to a much steeper angle and so require a harder steel. Knives like the Shun Classic contain a hard steel core that is then clad with layers of Damascus stainless steel. This provides a balance of strength, flexibility, and helps prevent corrosion.

While all Western knives are sharpened on both sides of the blade, many Japanese knives are only sharpened on one side. When it’s time to sharpen your knives this is crucial to know so that you don’t ruin the knife.

Pros:

  • strong and lightweight
  • VERY sharp
  • great for speed and agility

Cons:

  • easily damaged if used improperly
  • cutting motion can take longer to master
  • require more frequent sharpening

Which Style is Right for You?

Both Japanese and Western knives have their own unique advantages. Deciding which is the best chef’s knife for you comes down to a few important factors.

  1. Intended Use – What sort of foods do you most frequently work with? If you’re looking for something to handle softer foods like proteins (no bones) and vegetables both styles will work, but Japanese knives, with their sharper edges, will have an advantage in terms of speed and efficiency. If you will be cutting up a whole chicken harder vegetables, a Western style knife should be your choice.
  2. Intended Owner – Will you be sharing this knife with a significant other? Will they handle your knife with the same care and respect that you do? This is especially important with a Japanese knife. Improper technique can cause damage to the blade. Even using the wrong cutting surface can dull or damage the blade.
  3. Maintenance – How will you hone and sharpen your knife? While Western knives can be run through a sharpener, Japanese knives are a bit more delicate and require more care. Are you willing to use a sharpening stone (or stone based system) rather than an electric sharpener?

Caring For Your Chef’s Knife

Regardless of which style or knife you choose there are some basic maintenance items that all knives require to keep them in good working order. They are an investment, and it is important to properly care for your chef’s knife to ensure it has a long, productive life.

Washing

DO NOT put your expensive knife in the dishwasher. Many manufacturers claim that their knives are dishwasher safe, but this is the fastest way to dull the blade and possibly ruin a wooden handle. Take a few minutes to wash the blade with hot soapy water.

Remember that steel can be damaged or scratched. Using a sponge is fine, but don’t use a brillo pad or the abrasive surface on the back of many kitchen sponges. This can lead to scratches on the surface of the blade. This in turn can lead to rust.

Once cleaned, immediately dry your knife with a towel. Then place it in it’s proper storage. Again, this should be somewhere it will not bump into anything else.

Honing & Sharpening Your Knife

It is very important to understand the difference between sharpening and honing. Even when used properly the fine cutting edge of your blade will become misaligned. This is due to the very thin surface with which you are cutting and is totally normal.

Using a honing rod or steel realigns the edge so that it is once again as sharp as new. It removes no material from the edge of the blade. Using a honing rod requires a bit of practice, but can and should be performed before any heavy usage of your knife. Proper honing should keep your blade sharp for many months.

Here’s a great video demonstrating what a misaligned blade looks like and how to fix it with honing.


Sharpening is a process that involves removing a small amount of material from the edge of the blade. This is required because the angle of the blade has changed due to use or damage.

There are literally hundreds of different knife sharpeners on the market. And to be honest, most of them are complete crap. If you’re going to invest in an expensive knife, it’s worth spending the time and money necessary to properly sharpen it.

If you’re not interested in learning how to do this yourself, find someone locally who can. Just be sure they aren’t using anything but sharpening stones on your blade.

A Word On Electric Sharpeners

While electric sharpeners will work both Japanese and Western knives, it’s generally better to use sharpening stones or a sharpening stone system. If you are going to use an electric sharpener, at least get one that allows you to set the angle at which the blade will be sharpened. If you’re interested you can read more about our thoughts on electric sharpeners.

If you’re using a Japanese knife it is crucial to know whether it is sharpened on both sides or only one. You can quickly ruin a very expensive knife by doing this improperly.

Again, our preference would be either a qualified professional knife sharpener, or a sharpening stone based system.

Kitchen Knife Set Reviews

Since many home cooks are inclined to buy knives in sets I figured I would review a few of those as well. To be totally transparent my preference would be to assemble a knife collection piecemeal rather than buying a prepackaged set. But if you’ve got your mind set on buying a package then we recommend the Wusthof Classic Ikon 7 piece set. It includes my top choice for the best chef’s knife as well as a few other important knives.

Here is a quick summary of our top 3 packages including a budget option. You’ll find full reviews of these knife sets below.

Best Kitchen Knife Set for the Money: Wüsthof Ikon 7 Piece Knife Set Review

The Classic Ikon 7 piece set from Wüsthof is a great value. The set contains a 3 1/2″ paring knife, an 8″ bread knife, the 8″ chef’s knife, a 6″ utility knife, and a honing steel.

All the knives are full tang and triple riveted for strength and control. It also comes with the wooden block (though I recommend a magnetic strip for sanitary reasons)

There’s no fluff, the only complaint is I’d like to see a longer bread knife for those extra large loaves.

wusthof ikon 7 piece kitchen knife set

I spoke to the quality of the Wüsthof Ikon line earlier when covering the chef’s knife that is included in this particular set. This same level of quality is built into each of the 6 knives included in this package.

The full tang and triple rivet construction of these knives provide a solid feel and and durability that is unmatched in this price range. The ergonomic handle provides a comfortable balance and safe grip even after hours of use.

The set comes with a paring knife, utility knife, bread knife, and of course the chef’s knife. Our only complaint is that the 8″ bread knife is a bit short when cutting through thicker loaves. A 10″ version would be a better fit with a set of this caliber.

Also included is a set of kitchen shears, a honing steel, and the knife block. I would forgo the block for a magnetic strip, but that isn’t in the cards as people love wooden blocks in packaged sets.

There are plenty of sets out there that contain more knives for less money, but for most cooks these are the only knives they’ll ever really use. Anything else can be added one at a time anyway.

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Best Affordable Kitchen Knives: Victorinox 8-Piece Knife Set

In terms of value this particular set is pretty tough to beat. You’re not going to get the same level of quality that you will with the Wüsthof or Henckels, but it’s a great choice for those on a budget.

The set includes a 4″ paring knife, 6″ boning knife, 8″ chef’s knife; 8″ serrated bread knife; 10″ slicing knife, honing steel, kitchen shears, and the hardwood storage block. Again I would’ve liked to have seen a 10″ bread knife, but this is a budget priced set and they have to make cuts somewhere.

victorinox 7 piece kitchen knife block

Since the chef’s knife is the most important of the set let’s take a quick look at it. Like all the other knives in the set it is full-tang (meaning the steel from the blade extends through the length of the handle) and pressed from pressed steel. As a result the knife is thinner and lighter than others in this comparison. It also means it does NOT have a bolster. The handle is comfortable and remains easy to grasp even when wet.

Overall it is well balanced and easy to work with for extended periods of time. My personal preference is for a bolster as I have large hands and this makes the pinch grip easier. If that is your preference as well, then you’ll have to look elsewhere.

But considering the price, this is a great set of knives.

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Review of the Henckels Twin Four Star Kitchen Knife Set

Henckel’s is another big name in German knife making. Like the Wüsthof this knife set made of forged rather than stamped steel.

As a result it has the same solid feel as the Ikon line. Also like the Wüsthof all of the knives in this set are full-tang. Rather than using rivets to attach the handle, the polypropylene is bonded.

One of the biggest differences in the design of these blades vs the Ikon is the bolster.

henckels kitchen knife set

Wüsthof utilizes a half-bolster that makes sharpening along the entire length of the blade easier. This is especially true if you’re using an electric sharpener. Henckels utilizes a full bolster. It does give the knives a very solid feel.

That being said, the feel and performance of the chef’s knife is second only to the Ikon in this comparison. It is solid but agile, and comfortable to grip. The handle is not as ergonomically pleasing, but I was unable to use this knife for an extended enough period of time to see if any hand or arm fatigue occurred.

Another thing worth mentioning is the complete lack of a bread knife. Instead a 5″ santoku is included. I would prefer a model like the Wusthof Classic 10-Inch Bread Knife or even the Victorinox 10-1/4-Inch Wavy Bread Knife anyway, so I don’t really see this as a shortcoming.

Overall the Henckel’s set is very capable and should last a lifetime with proper use and maintenance. In terms of quality it ranks above the Victorinox, but in overall value it places third.

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My Dream Team of Knives

As I’ve mentioned on several occasions in this post, my preference is to build a knife set piecemeal. In case you were wondering, this is what that would look like.

Since I’ve covered the Ikon Classic chef’s knife I’ll just go into detail on the others on the list.

Wüsthof Classic 10″ Bread Knife

For me one the most important features of a good bread knife is the length. At 10″ this one is just right. It offers lots of leverage for clean, easy cuts.

Next is the rigidity of the blade. While some prefer a flexible bread knife, working with harder, rustic loaves it’s nice to have something that doesn’t have a lot of play in the blade. In that regard the Classic is very solid.

I also tend to use serrated blades for cutting meats like roasts, or prime rib (yum) and this knife works admirably in that role as well.

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Shun Classic Paring Knife

While a paring knife isn’t something I use as often, it’s nice to have one that fit’s my hand well. Even for my large hands the D shaped handle on this particular Shun is a great size and allows for a very comfortable grip.

The blade itself is has a beautiful Damascus pattern and is as sharp as a razor. It’s perfect for tasks require a knife with plenty of agility.

In addition this limited addition allows you to get well-made and beautiful knife for significantly less than the regular priced Classic.

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Victorinox 6″ Flex Boning Knife

While not everyone needs a boning knife, I like this particular one because it is flexible and frankly because it is also cheap. I don’t do a great deal of kitchen work that requires a high performance model and so I don’t see the point in spending nearly twice as much for one of the more premium brands.

The Victorinox does everything I need it to do and the flexibility of the blade also makes it a great filleting knife.

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Maintenance of Your Kitchen Knives

Just like a chef’s knife your other kitchen knives will require care and maintenance.

When it comes time to clean your knives DO NOT put them in the dishwasher. Yes, most manufacturers state that they’re knives are dishwasher safe, but unless you want dull and damaged blades you should avoid this at all costs. Hot soapy water is all it takes. Then hand dry them so that rust never has a chance to set in.

Even though many knives are made of stainless steel, some, such as Japanese knives have a core of high carbon steel that will rust very quickly if not properly dried.

Honing and sharpening will also be required. You can refer to the maintenance section above for more information about these two tasks.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a note below in the comments section.