After putting in 120 hours of research, talking with experts and chefs, and chopping more than 70 pounds of produce with 21 chef’s knives, we think the Mac MTH-80 is the best for most people. For the fourth year running, the Mac has proven that it can stay sharp through regular use. It’s universally comfortable, and it’s our favorite knife to use in our test kitchen.
Though selecting a chef’s knife has a lot to do with personal preference, we’re confident that the Mac MTH-80 is one of the most universally appealing knives out there. Its razor-sharp edge, comfortable handle, and agile blade make chopping tasks much easier, which in turn cuts down on meal-prep time. And its excellent edge retention means the Mac will stay sharp for a long time with proper care.
If our main pick sells out, the Tojiro DP F-808 is an excellent choice. Thanks to Tojiro’s extremely sharp edge, super-hard steel, quality construction, and affordable price, this model is one of the best values in Japanese-made knives. The flat belly curve makes this chef’s knife ideal if you use a push-pull cutting motion, and it’s excellent for fine cuts and paper-thin slices of vegetables and meat. The Tojiro DP F-808 is thinner and more brittle than our top pick, so its edge is more vulnerable to microscopic chips when you use it on dense vegetables like butternut squash. Although we think the Tojiro DP F-808 is a great knife, it needs a little more TLC than the Mac MTH-80.
If you’re accustomed to the feel of a heavier German knife, the 8-inch Wüsthof Classic Ikon 4596/20 is sharp and sturdy, and it fits our criteria for a good knife. Compared with the other forged German knives we tested, the Classic Ikon’s thinner blade cut more smoothly through butternut squash and carrots. We liked how easily it maneuvered around curves when cutting away butternut squash skin and citrus rinds. The Classic Ikon 4596/20’s blade is made of softer steel than that of our top pick, the Mac MTH-80, which means it will dull faster. Like all the German knives we tested, this Wüsthof is also heavier than our top pick, weighing 9 ounces—2.5 ounces more than the Mac.
If you’re simply looking for something cheap, durable, and crazy sharp, we like the 8-inch Wüsthof Pro 4862-7/20. In precision, sharpness, and price, it’s the best-performing budget knife we tested. Just like our top pick and runner-up, the Pro 4862-7/20 has a stamped blade, but the slicing action isn’t as smooth. Its cushy handle is comfortable for both larger and smaller hands, but its bulkiness and position make getting a proper pinch grip on the blade difficult. Even so, we think this affordable chef’s knife is your best bet if you’re on a budget.
Over the course of my two-decade (and counting) culinary career, I’ve cooked in fine-dining restaurants, brewpubs, small cafés, private homes, and test kitchens. I’ve also covered knives for this site for more than two years, racking up over 120 hours of research and testing. Tens of thousands of pounds of vegetables, fruit, meat, and fish have crossed my cutting board over the years. I’ve either owned or used every major brand of chef’s knife, and also a good number of artisanal blades.
Before we halved our first onion, we consulted Chad Ward’s book An Edge in the Kitchen, and reputable editorial sources such as Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required), Good Housekeeping, Consumer Reports (subscription required), and Cooking For Engineers. Since this is an update, we also took into consideration the research of the original writer, Wirecutter senior editor Michael Zhao.
We also gathered a testing panel of seasoned cooking pros and curious home cooks in our test kitchen to chop, slice, dice, julienne, chiffonade, and mince with the 15 knives we collected for the 2017 update. Our testing panel included staff members as well as Sam Sifton, food editor at The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter and The Sweethome).
To get the opinions of some professional chefs, we sent the top-performing chef’s knives from our in-house test to the kitchen at Le Coucou (recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s 2017 award for Best New Restaurant) in New York City. The chefs and line cooks there used the knives during prep and service for a week.
For this guide, I interviewed:
Whether you cook seven nights a week or hardly at all, every kitchen should have a chef’s knife. Of all the pieces in a cutlery set, the chef’s knife is the most versatile and gets the most use.
Most people already have knives in their kitchen. But if you have an old knife set or a hodge-podge of hand-me-downs that aren’t cutting it anymore, it’s probably time for an upgrade. Likewise, if your once-nice knife has been used and abused and never sharpened, or sharpened improperly, it’s time for a new one. Dull kitchen knives aren’t only a bummer to use, they’re also more dangerous than a razor-sharp edge. A sharp knife is more precise, and you run less of a chance of the blade slipping off your food and into your finger.
Maybe you’re on a budget and outfitting your first kitchen. Since an 8-inch chef’s knife can tackle 90 percent of cutting jobs, you can sidestep the sticker shock of an entire knife set by getting one good chef’s knife to use until you generate more funds to build out your cutlery collection.
If you’ve only ever used a German-style stainless steel knife, you may want a model—like our main and runner-up picks—made in Japan from high-carbon steel that will stay sharp longer.
Most chef’s knives you’ll find come in two styles: German and Western-style, double-edged Japanese (also called gyuto). What works for you comes down to a combination of personal preference, cutting style, and comfort.
Western-style Japanese (gyuto)
In our four years of covering chef’s knives, we’ve racked up 120 hours researching and comparing 90 knives. For this update we looked at new releases since 2014, more knives from the producers of our top pick and runner-up pick, and the 8-inch chef’s knife from one of our knife set recommendations.
We immediately ruled out any small-batch blade crafters, since forging a knife by hand is time consuming, costly, and usually a custom-order affair. You also won’t see santoku knives in this guide; santokus have shorter blades, generally 6 or 7 inches, that limit their ability to cut through large vegetables with one cut. And since a chef’s knife is an essential piece of kitchen equipment, we wanted to keep our picks accessible for most budgets, so knives with price tags above $200 didn’t make the cut.
Determining the “ideal” knife for any one person is both objective and subjective. A chef’s knife is the main workhorse in your kitchen-cutlery arsenal, tackling 80 to 90 percent of cutting tasks. It’s an extension of your hand that can slice and dice most vegetables, chop a mound of herbs, and handle simple meat cuts like cubing beef or slicing chicken into strips. So factors such as sharpness, edge retention, durability, versatility, and easy maintenance are key to the performance of any good chef’s knife. But things like comfort, weight, balance, and price are mostly personal preference. As New York Times food editor Sam Sifton told us during testing, “[A good knife] is the balance of utility and the thing that moves your heart.”
What to look for in a chef’s knife
A brand-new knife comes with what’s called a “factory edge,” which is usually very sharp. The edge should be keen enough to slice through paper straight out of the box. Your knife should remain sharp through moderate use for six to 12 months as long as you hone it regularly, wash and dry it by hand after each use, and store it so the edge doesn’t get dinged up. (For more on knife care, see our care and maintenance discussion.) You don’t have as much control with a dull edge, which increases both your prep time and your chances of cutting yourself.
Edge retention, steel hardness, and durability
A crazy-sharp factory edge isn’t worth much if it dulls quickly. Good edge retention relies on a combination of steel composition and hardness, blade thickness, and bevel angle. (Also microstructure, but that’s super-technical stuff that we won’t get into here.) When a blade is thin and made from a hard steel, the edge can take and hold a tight angle. Read more in About blade steel.
Chef’s knife blades range from 6 to 14 inches long. We think 8 inches is the perfect length for most people because it’s enough to halve large vegetables but still manageable for most home cooks. Brendan McDermott, chef instructor of knife skills at Kendall College, said, “I tend to always tell people to go bigger rather than smaller, but I think an 8-inch chef knife is a happy medium and perfect for almost anybody.”
Bolsters are metal cuffs that can help balance knives with a heavy blade—such as the Wüsthof Classic Ikon—where you want more weight in the handle. A full bolster extends to the heel of the blade, while a half bolster doesn’t. For lighter knives such as gyutos, a bolster isn’t necessary. For this guide, we chose to exclude full-bolstered knives from our tests. Full bolsters make sharpening your knife more difficult, because eventually you’ll need to find a professional sharpening service to grind away the extra steel at the heel of the blade and maintain a flat edge.
Forged or stamped blade
Blades are either forged or stamped, and both methods can produce high- or low-quality knives.
Most mass-produced Western-forged knives are drop-forged, meaning the manufacturer heats a blank of steel to an extremely high temperature and then pounds it into the shape of a blade with a high-pressure hammer. Stamped blades, as the name suggests, are punched out of sheet metal before further refinement and sharpening. The quality of stamped blades varies widely, from the flimsy knives found at grocery stores to our top pick and runner-up. Knife makers like Mac and Tojiro heat-treat their blades to make them just as strong as forged steel.
Knife balance means different things to different people. The blade, handle, and sometimes a bolster all contribute to a knife’s weight distribution. Some people want a blade-heavy knife, while others think the blade and the handle should be the same weight. A half-bolster or bolsterless knife will be more blade-heavy, whereas a full bolster throws more weight to the handle. Balance boils down to personal preference. If you’re not sure what kind of balance you prefer, go to a kitchen store and handle as many knives as possible to see what feels right.
The best knives have handles that fit comfortably in the hand. The feel depends on the size and shape of your hand and the way you grip the knife. Try to get your hands on as many knives as possible to find a good fit. If you can, cut some vegetables to look for knuckle clearance—nothing is quite as annoying as banging your knuckles on the board while chopping. Just like balance, comfort is a personal thing.
What’s a tang and is it important?
The tang is the piece of metal inside the handle. Many big knife makers claim that a full tang extending through the whole handle helps balance the knife. Brendan McDermott told us he agreed: “Having the full tang really helps balance the blade so the handle and the blade can remain at an even balance.”
Chad Ward argues in An Edge in the Kitchen that a full tang is unnecessary since knife balance is largely personal preference. That said, most of the chef’s knives we tested had full tangs with riveted handles. We think this design is so common because the full tang has stood as a benchmark of quality among both knife makers and cooks.
What about dimpled blades?
Some chef’s knives have oval dimples carved just above the edge. This granton edge, as it’s called, has long been a common feature on slicing and santoku knives. Knife makers claim the air pockets keep food from sticking to the blade. Even though our top pick has a granton edge, we don’t find dimples to be very effective at keeping food from clinging to a knife. But they certainly don’t hurt, either.
We couldn’t test all of the possible contenders that fit our criteria, so we focused on popular, widely available knives. For our 2017 update, we brought in seven new knives, plus four past contenders, to test against our top picks. In total over the years, we have tested 21 knives that all had an 8-inch blade, carried a price tag of $200 or less, lacked a full bolster, and came with recommendations from experts and trusted editorial sources.
We invited six friends and colleagues of all culinary stripes to our test kitchen to participate in a chopping panel. We sliced, diced, julienned, peeled, and chiffonaded a pile of butternut squash, onions, carrots, apples, oranges, sweet potatoes, and fresh herbs to gauge the knives’ versatility on foods of varying textures. We looked for sharpness, precision, maneuverability, and comfort.
We then sent the top-performing knives to the kitchen at Le Coucou in New York City (the James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant of 2017), where the cooks used them for prep and during service. Since chefs and cooks are very passionate about their knives, we wanted their unbridled opinions of our favorites.
The Mac MTH-80 is our favorite knife because it’s crazy sharp and will stay that way longer than most other knives. It was the standout favorite for all our testers, regardless of their cutting style or the size of their hands. We found it had the best weight and balance; it felt more agile than the German models and more durable than the thin Japanese gyutos. The MTH-80’s blade shape strikes the perfect middle ground between German and Japanese chef’s knives, curved just enough for rocking but still straight enough for push-pull choppers. It’s the only knife we tested that I can safely recommend to most people without reservations.
Out of the box, this Mac model sliced straight through paper, which is something our previous pick, the Victorinox Fibrox Pro 8-Inch Chef’s Knife, couldn’t manage. It also made straight cuts through the thick center of butternut squash, which, again, the Victorinox couldn’t do.
In our tests, the MTH-80 always made clean cuts through fibrous carrots. The cut edges of basil stayed mostly green with very little oxidation, meaning the Mac’s razor-sharp edge broke very few of the herb’s cells. To be honest, all the Japanese knives did a superb job on our basil test, because they’re sharper and thinner, whereas the six budget knives we tested ($20 to $40 models) turned the basil black within five minutes. The drop-forged German knives fell somewhere in between, causing only a moderate amount of bruising and oxidation to the basil.
The daytime kitchen crew at Le Coucou used the MTH-80 for prep and during lunch service for a week and praised its outstanding performance on vegetables, herbs, and fish. Scott Markowitz, sous chef at Le Coucou, said, “[The Mac] was the favorite of all the cooks. We used it on shallots, herbs, and even slicing fluke for crudo. It was the best overall for basic mise en place.”
Because the Mac’s stamped blade is made of very hard steel (it has a Rockwell hardness of 59 to 61), it will keep its sharp edge longer than softer blades, such as those of the Wüsthof Pro and Classic Ikon, which are hardened to 56 HRC. Adam Brach, sauté cook at Le Coucou, said, “I’m pretty sure [out of all the cooks] I do the most knife work in the morning as far as chopping shallots and onions and stuff. [The Mac MTH-80] held the best edge.”
Mac’s proprietary steel isn’t as brittle as the super-hard Japanese VG-10 steel manufacturers use for most gyuto knives. This means it’s less likely to chip, which the Tojiro knife did after we used it to cut hard butternut squash. And because the Mac model’s blade is slightly thinner than a German knife blade (measuring 0.0976 inch at the thickest part of the spine), maintaining its keen edge will be easier as you sharpen it throughout the years. In comparison, the Wüsthof Classic Ikon measures 0.1187 inch.
Across our 15 testers, everyone agreed that the Mac model was comfortable to hold and use. Most testers, including Sam Sifton, named the MTH-80 as their top choice of all the contenders. The blade geometry is unique in that the edge curve is more articulated than on a classic gyuto but not quite as extreme as on a German knife. It offers the best of both worlds. As one tester put it, “I really like this knife—Japanese design and German heft.”
Even testers with larger hands found that the handle gave plenty of knuckle clearance. By comparison, the Tojiro DP F-808 didn’t offer enough knuckle clearance for larger hands. Although the MTH-80’s handle is slightly short, most testers found it comfortable to grip.
At 6.6 ounces, the Mac MTH-80 is lighter than a German drop-forged knife but heavier and sturdier-feeling than many gyutos. Part of that is due to the thickness of its spine: This Mac knife’s 0.0976-inch spine is relatively thicker than those of other gyutos we tested, which gives this knife some heft. In our tests, it didn’t feel as delicate when cutting through tough vegetables like butternut squash, but it still had the smooth slicing feel of a thin blade. By comparison, at their thickest parts, the Togiharu Molybdenum comes in at 0.0754 inch, the Tojiro DP F-808 at 0.0817 inch, and the Global G-2 at 0.0754 inch.
The Mac MTH-80 has dimples on both sides of the blade to reduce the chances of food sticking to the knife. We don’t think this feature is its biggest selling point. In our tests, the dimples were merely mildly effective, and we noticed the difference only when cutting butternut squash. Slices of squash stuck to the blades of every knife we tested, but removing them from the Mac’s blade was much easier.
Even though the Mac MTH-80 tends to be on the pricier end of the knives we tested, we think its combination of performance and superior build will give you many years of happy use—much more than a budget knife. In that respect, $145 or so is a bargain.
Cooking For Engineers rated the Mac MTH-80 as the top pick after an exhaustive test of chef’s knives. In An Edge in the Kitchen Chad Ward writes that the MTH-80 is “a treat to use,” adding, “They are extremely popular among chefs and line cooks because they are comfortable, reasonably priced, high-quality knives that come with an aggressive edge and hold it for a very long time.”
The Mac MTH-80 has been in regular rotation in our test kitchen for over two years. In that time, we’ve honed it on a steel but never sharpened it. While it is due for a pass on a whetstone, the edge is still sharp enough to blast easily through vegetable prep, and it’s still our favorite knife in the kitchen.
We understand that the price of the Mac MTH-80 may be offputting for some people. But because it’s made of quality materials, we think it could last a lifetime with proper maintenance. Check out the section on how to keep your knife like a pro for tips on extending the life of the most important tool in your kitchen.
We found some reviews on Amazon complaining about the blade staining. I spoke with a Mac customer service representative, who explained that the knife’s high carbon content meant that sometimes, especially when you don’t rinse and dry the knife after cutting corrosive acidic foods (like citrus or tomatoes), you might see a rust spot. If you want a completely stainless knife, get a Wüsthof. But paying a little attention to care will keep your Mac knife clean and spot-free.
If the Mac MTH-80 sells out, or if you want to add a Japanese gyuto to your collection, the Tojiro DP F-808 is an exceptional knife for the price. This classic gyuto has a flatter belly curve than our top pick, a design best for people who use a push-pull cutting style. In our tests, the thin, razor-sharp edge cut through vegetables with the precision of a scalpel. Thin strips of basil stayed green with little bruising or oxidation. Testers liked chopping vegetables with the Tojiro because of its sharpness, control, and easy handling. One colleague fell in love with the Tojiro DP F-808 and bought it immediately after the test. But it didn’t surpass the Mac MTH-80 for several reasons.
The Tojiro DP F-808 is shaped like a classic gyuto, with a straighter edge, no bolster, and a pointed tip. Its lack of a curve in the belly makes cutting with a rocking motion awkward. If that’s what you’re used to, we suggest adopting a push-pull cutting style. We like this Tojiro model for slicing leeks, green onions, and herbs into fine julienne, but it’s also great for handling most fruit and vegetable prep, and slicing boneless meat filets. This Tojiro gyuto is still a popular knife in our test kitchen after two years of regular use. We especially like its smooth slicing action and blade-heavy balance.
Like the Mac MTH-80, the Tojiro DP F-808 has more heft than the lighter Global G-2 and Togiharu Molybdenum. The crew at Le Coucou noted that the Tojiro was heavier than they preferred (it’s only two-tenths of an ounce heavier than the Mac), but they rated its edge retention on a par with that of the more expensive Mac. Tojiro’s steel core is harder than the surface material; that hardness helps the blade hold a better edge, but it appears to be more brittle than Mac’s homogeneous construction. We found a tiny, almost microscopic nick in the Tojiro knife’s blade after cutting butternut squash. As it turns out, the company’s website recommends the knife not be used for cutting pumpkin (or frozen foods), because the hard vegetable can chip your blade. But because this Tojiro knife’s core has the hardest steel of all our picks, its edge retention is exceptional for the price. We still believe this model is one of the best values in kitchen cutlery.
Testers with smaller hands found the Tojiro DP F-808’s handle comfortable and didn’t have any issues with their knuckles hitting the cutting board. But knuckle clearance was scarce for larger testers.
In An Edge in the Kitchen, Chad Ward cites Tojiro DP knives as “the bargain of the century.” He writes, “The quality of the handle fit can be variable, and the handles themselves are blocky, but the performance of these knives is outstanding, especially for the price.”
We think the Mac MTH-80 is a better knife, but if you like the heft and the more substantial feel of a drop-forged German knife, we recommend the Wüsthof Classic Ikon 4596/20. Its factory edge is sharp, but not as keen as that of our top pick and runner-up. Compared with other German knives we tested, the Classic Ikon has a thinner blade, a more comfortable handle, and a more manageable belly curve for better leverage and control.
In our tests, the Wüsthof Classic Ikon cut smoothly through butternut squash and onions, although carrots did split slightly. Like the other drop-forged German knives, it caused moderate bruising to cut basil. Compared with the Mac model, this Wüsthof knife was less agile and sharp when peeling the skin from butternut squash.
The Classic Ikon 4596/20’s blade is thicker than the MTH-80’s, measuring 0.1187 inch at the spine. But it isn’t as thick as that of the Messermeister Meridian Elité (0.1461 inch) or the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Zwilling Pro (0.1298 inch). That thinner blade makes the Classic Ikon a tad lighter than other German knives and means it will be able to take a sharper edge than the thicker knives over the long run.
One advantage the Classic Ikon has over the Mac MTH-80 is that its stainless, softer steel blade is more durable. If you drop a Wüsthof into a sink or wait to clean it after cutting acidic foods, it shouldn’t stain or corrode. (But that kind of treatment will destroy the blade’s edge, so don’t do that to your knife.) On the other hand, that soft stainless steel also means that the edge of this Wüsthof model will dull faster and require more regular sharpening.
We also recommend Wüsthof’s Classic Ikon in our guide to knife sets. The seven-piece Classic Ikon set is a great option if you know you like German knives and have the cash to drop on a whole set.
If you’re sticking to a tight budget or outfitting your first kitchen, we think the Wüsthof Pro 4862-7/20 is the best option in its price range. Of six budget models ranging from $13 to $40, most of our testers liked this knife best. Its stamped blade was by far the sharpest and straightest-cutting of the budget knives. The Wüsthof Pro doesn’t compete with the Mac or our other top picks, as you’re sacrificing smoother slicing action and the ability to make precise cuts easily. But it’s a great model for beginning cooks because it’s sharp, durable, and affordable.
In our tests, the Pro 4862-7/20 diced an onion quickly (although not as smoothly as our other picks), thanks in part to its sharp pointed tip. It made clean cuts through carrots with minor splitting. It wasn’t a “pro” at peeling a butternut squash, but our former pick, the budget-friendly Victorinox Fibrox Pro 8-Inch Chef’s Knife, was more cumbersome with its dull blade. Like all the budget knives we tried, this Wüsthof model turned our chiffonade of basil black pretty quickly.
Compared with the Victorinox, this Wüsthof model is better in almost every respect. Out of the box, the Pro’s sharper edge cut through paper, a task the brand-new Victorinox couldn’t hack. The Wüsthof also made straighter cuts, managing to evenly split a butternut squash lengthwise, a feat that none of the other budget knives could match. The Wüsthof Pro also costs $15 less than the Victorinox at this writing.
Some testers took issue with this Wüsthof knife’s handle. The large, rubbery handle extended farther onto the blade than on any other knife we tested. It’s almost impossible to hold this knife with a pinch grip. If that’s a dealbreaker in your book, you might consider getting the Victorinox instead.
The Wüsthof Pro 4862-7/20 saw daily use in the home of our office manager over the course of two years, never honed and always used on a cutting board. When we got the knife back, we honed it and used it to dice two old yellow onions—and the edge retention blew us away. For under $30, this knife is an outstanding deal with proven longevity.
When buying a knife, it’s good to spot-check the spine and edge for defects. Hold the handle with the edge facing downward and look along the spine to make sure the blade is perfectly straight.
Next, turn the knife over and examine the edge. If you see any light reflecting back at you, that indicates a roll spot in the factory edge. You can grind it out with sharpening, but you shouldn’t have to sharpen a brand-new knife. Don’t be shy about asking for many versions of the same knife to decide on the particular one you want to take home. At Korin, a knife store in New York City, the staff usually brings out two or three of the same knife so you can examine them and choose the one you like.
A pinch grip is the most secure way to hold your chef’s knife. We strongly urge you to train yourself to use the pinch grip. You’ll have more control over your knife and as a result cut yourself less. You’ll also develop faster knife skills, and that’s awesome.
German knife blades are curved and designed for a rocking chopping motion. In this motion, the tip of the knife mostly keeps contact with the cutting board, and you raise and lower the heel while your guiding hand pushes food underneath the blade.
Because Japanese knives have straighter edges, with these knives it’s better to use a push-pull motion, lifting the whole knife off the board for each cut. If you decide to make the jump from German to Japanese knives, this motion will take some getting used to.
It’s easy to care for a knife—it just takes attention and two extra minutes. Simply hand wash and dry it thoroughly after each use. Never put any sharp blade in the dishwasher, as it’s not good for the edge to bump up against other things, such as glassware and ceramic—materials that are harder than the steel. Don’t use anything abrasive on the blade, such as a Brillo pad or a scouring sponge, which can make little scratches in the metal.
Never throw unprotected knives into a drawer, where they will dull quickly. Wall-mounted magnetic strips, such as the Benchcrafted Mag-Blok we recommend in our guide to small-apartment gear, are better and safer. If you don’t want a magnetic strip mounted to your wall, buy a blade guard. That way you can store your knife in a drawer and keep the edge protected.
Use your knife only on a wood, plastic, or rubber cutting board. Do not, by any means, let your edge hit glass, granite, marble, or ceramics—not even a quick slice on a dinner plate. Mastersmith Murray Carter explained, “Anything that has any degree of hardness that approaches metal, especially ceramic that’s 10 times harder than metal … as soon as it makes contact with the edge, it dulls it.”
Honing and sharpening
Keep a sharp cutting edge longer with a honing rod. Using this tool doesn’t actually sharpen the blade—its sole purpose is to realign the microscopic teeth on the edge that bend and get knocked out of alignment during the course of use. Although steel is a classic choice for honing rods, sometimes the material is softer than your knife, rendering it useless. A ceramic rod is better because it’s harder than the hardest steel but has a smooth grit so it won’t chew up the edge of your knife while it realigns the edge. Hone your knife before each use, and you’ll be golden.
As you watch a chef whipping a knife down the rod toward their hand at lightning speed, it’s easy to see yourself taking a thumb off. But the task is not as difficult as it looks. You have two ways to effectively hone a knife.
The key with both styles of honing is to make sure the edge bevel is flush to the rod. If you’re starting out, it’s safer to place the tip of the honing rod on a cutting board, with the rod perpendicular to the board. Start with your knife toward the handle and then pull down from heel to tip. Repeat on the other side and continue for four or five reps.
The way most pros do it is to point the tip of the rod up and and pull the knife down toward the handle.
Eventually your knife will need sharpening. Depending on your use, that could mean every six months to a year. You’ll know it’s time when you have to work to get through skins of tomatoes or cucumbers. If you want to send your knives out for sharpening, it’s important that you look for a professional who knows what they’re doing. Unfortunately, that’s really hard to find. We suggest asking a local chef where they would send their own personal knives (not the cheap kitchen prep knives). Generally, chefs sharpen their own knives, but they usually know of a reputable knife person.
If you learn how to sharpen your own knives, you will have tools that are truly yours. Murray Carter told us he highly recommended it. He said, “It’s a mentality perspective. Who in Western society ever thinks about sharpening their own knives?” Carter continued, “Once they have a new sharpening skill, it empowers them to have mastery over the cutlery they own.”
We like these Japanese stones and have used them for years. For online tutorials, check out these videos from Murray Carter and Korin that show you how to use whetstones. After some education and a lot of practice, you’ll be able to sharpen any old knife to a pro-style edge.
Steel hardness is measured on the Rockwell C scale. Decent high-carbon steel knives should register anywhere between 55 HRC and 64 HRC. Steel at the lower end of the scale is softer and more durable. Higher HRC ratings mean the steel is harder and more brittle.
Steel alloys for knives are formulated to increase stain resistance, machinability, and hardness; to improve grain structure; and to increase shock resistance. The composition of most German knives is X50CrMoV15, which roughly translates to 80 percent iron, 0.5 percent carbon, and 15 percent a combination of chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium. Chromium protects against corrosion and is what makes the knife stainless, while molybdenum and vanadium increase machinability and wear resistance, and refine the grain. This stainless steel is usually hardened to 56 HRC, softer than Japanese knives but capable of taking a beating well and withstanding up to a certain level of mistreatment.
Japanese steel generally has higher carbon content and, in addition to the ingredients in German steel, contains tungsten and cobalt, which improve hardness. VG-10, made by the Hitachi Corporation, is the most popular alloy and is what people think of when they think of Japanese steel. It creates hard blades that take and hold an edge very well but are also pretty brittle. This is why many gyutos are laminated with softer stainless steel to protect against shock and staining.
You will see knives made from American steel, and while some of it is fine for knives, a couple of formulas don’t perform as well. In An Edge in the Kitchen, Chad Ward writes, “I wouldn’t make garbage can lids out of 420J or 440A, but some manufacturers do use them for kitchen knives.” These types of steel are low carbon and highly corrosion resistant. They stay pretty but don’t hold much of an edge.
Quality stamped knives and drop-forged knives go through a heat-treating process, which gets the steel to the desired hardness. This process includes, but isn’t limited to, annealing, quenching, and tempering. In short, annealing relieves the steel of inner stress and prepares it for shaping and grain refinement. Quenching hardens the steel, and tempering relieves some of that hardness to make it more durable.
We gave the Global G-2 gyuto an honorable dismissal. It would’ve been one of our top picks, but our testers were split down the middle: People either loved the Global for its light weight and razor-sharp edge, or hated it because of its dimpled steel handle, which could get slippery in wet hands. If you find the Global G-2 intriguing, we suggest checking it out in person to see if it’s right for you. The G-2 also comes highly rated by Cooking For Engineers.
The Victorinox Fibrox Pro 8-Inch Chef’s Knife was our previous pick and the favorite knife of America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) and several other food publications. It has an ergonomically shaped plastic handle that appeals to most people, including New York Times food editor Sam Sifton. In our tests, it was the only knife that failed to cut paper straight out of the box. The dull factory edge split carrots and couldn’t evenly halve a butternut squash. However, our testers preferred the Victorinox Fibrox handle over the Wüsthof Pro’s bulky grip.
The Mac TH-80 is similar to our top pick in both blade design and size. It lacks the weight and the smooth transition from blade to handle, though, and we found that it simply wasn’t as comfortable to use. The TH-80 isn’t made from the same cold-tempered steel as our top pick, so it probably won’t hold an edge as well as the MTH-80. However, at this writing, the TH-80 costs $50 less than our top pick.
Even though the Mac MBK-85 is an objectively good knife, our testers were pretty lukewarm about it. The edge was sharp and the knife itself was comfortable to hold, but the 8½-inch blade length was a little too much for home cooks. This model was one of the knives we gave to pro chefs to try, and no one mentioned it in any of our interviews as a favorite.
Like the Mac MBK-85, the Mac HB-85 garnered lukewarm reviews from our testing panel. The HB-85 offers a good price-to-quality ratio, but our testing panel overwhelmingly chose the Tojiro DP F-808 as the better chef’s knife for the price.
The Tojiro DP Damascus F-655 gyuto is a higher-end version of the Tojiro DP F-808. Most testers agreed that this model was a little too heavy for their liking.
At first glance, the 8-inch Misen Chef’s Knife checked all the boxes—a half bolster, a pointed tip, a sharp factory edge, an affordable price—but in our tests it fell flat in performance. The slicing action was rough and the edge felt a little toothy. The Misen couldn’t make a straight cut down the middle of a butternut squash, and it split carrots instead of cleanly slicing through to the board.
Wüsthof designed its newest offering, the Classic Uber line, to be a bolsterless version of the traditional Wüsthof Classic chef’s knife. But we saw one big problem with the 8-inch Classic Uber 4583-7/20: Its belly curve was much more articulated than those of other Wüsthof chef’s knives. Much as we did with the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Zwilling Pro, we found the Wüsthof Classic Uber awkward to use because of the extremely curved belly.
The Mercer MX3 M16110 gyuto performed about as well as our runner-up from Tojiro, but it was considerably more expensive at the time of our tests.
In an attempt to find another budget knife to test for the 2017 update to this guide, we gave the Mercer Genesis M21078 chef’s knife a try. Although the Genesis was sharper out of the box than the Victorinox, it didn’t perform as well as the Tojiro.
The Togiharu Molybdenum Gyuto is a classic lightweight gyuto. Another honorable dismissal, this knife is sharp and precise. Like the Tojiro DP F-808, it lacks knuckle clearance for large hands, but the Tojiro is a better value. This Togiharu model’s blade is thin, so we think it’ll be too delicate for hard vegetables. Chad Ward praises this knife in An Edge in the Kitchen.
Messermeister’s Meridian Elité came recommended in Chad Ward’s An Edge in the Kitchen. In our tests, the drop-forged blade of the Meridian Elité E/3686-8 was sharp enough but not as smooth as that of the Mac MTH-80 or the Wüsthof Classic Ikon. It was heavier than the Classic Ikon, too, and our testers thought it was awkward to hold.
Another stamped budget choice, the Messermeister Four Seasons 5025-8 was pretty much on a par with the Wüsthof Pro, but was almost twice the price at the time of our testing. We found the handle uncomfortable due to the sharp edges on the spine, which kept digging into our forefingers.
The Zwilling J.A. Henckels Zwilling Pro 38401-203 drop-forged knife was just awkward. The curve of the blade was too severe and made chopping difficult. We had difficulty maintaining control of this knife in our tests.
In our tests, the Shun Classic DM0706 was mediocre. The long stick handle kept jabbing into my wrist, and the cutting edge was only adequate. It felt like a heavy German knife with a Japanese name. Although at this writing it has a lot of favorable Amazon reviews, like all the knives in our testing sample, the negative reviews complain of the blade chipping. That problem didn’t happen for us, though.
Mercer’s Millennia M22608 was not very sharp; the stamped blade split carrots and was uncomfortable to use. We didn’t find very many reviews of this particular model on Amazon, but at the time they were favorable.
We found the Rada Cutlery R131 French Chef Knife to be comically flimsy. Stamped from American stainless steel scraps, this knife couldn’t make straight cuts in our butternut squash or our carrots. Like the other budget knives, it turned green basil leaves into black-lined strips. It currently has a favorable Amazon rating, but we can’t understand why.