The Best Chef’s Knife for Most Cooks

If you want a sharp and affordable knife to prep food with, you should get the Victorinox Fibrox 8-Inch Chef's Knife.

Last Updated: September 17, 2013
We put four hours of research into making sure our picks were still the best for most people. They are.
Expand Previous Updates
November 1, 2012: Updated November 1, 2012: Added some lines in the competition section to address this recent roundup review by Wired. Also better delineated the differences between forged and stamped knives and added the Wusthof Classic 8 inch Cook's knife as a recommendation for a German forged knife.

The Swiss aren’t renowned for their kitchen knives, but based on the $40 Victorinox Fibrox 8-Inch Chef’s Knife., they should be. In head-to-head test, the Victorinox beat out a comparable blade from notable German manufacturer Henckels, which cost three times as much. It’s not the best bar-none, but you won’t find anything that performs this well without spending at least twice as much money.

You’ll want a knife that suits your current skill level and budget, but won’t hold you back as you improve
Buying a chef’s knife is a lot like buying a musical instrument. There will be a lot of variation, even among instruments of the same kind. As an amateur chef, you want an instrument that is not only appropriate to your current skill level and budget, but also one that won’t hold you back as your skills improve. Like a musical instrument, a chef’s knife is something that you’ll probably use on daily basis. Accordingly, you’re going to want to pick something that’s comfortable to use. This refers not only to shape, but also to material. Wood and metal look nice, but in many cases, fiberglass-impregnated rubber is a lot easier to work with–especially if you’re a beginner with no callouses. This is something that is better investigated in person. That being said, like musical instruments, there are certain designs (like the Victorinox) that work well for most people. Similarly, there are some steels that are rather common but offer cutting performance and blade retention that’s comparable to more expensive alloys. In this sense, the 8-inch Victorinox is like a low-end Yamaha acoustic guitar. It’s affordable on almost any budget, comfortable to most people, is well-made from solid materials, and gives a performance that professionals can appreciate.

Why recommend one knife rather than a whole set? The answer is simple: You only need one. Mark Bittman, renowned cooking advice columnist for the New York Times and author of “How to Cook Everything,” wrote a column in 2007 about what you really need to have a complete kitchen. (This is a must-read for cooks of all skill levels.) In it, he lists only three types of knives: an 8-inch chef’s knife, a $3 paring knife and a bread knife. A good paring knife is essential for smaller tasks like peeling, but they’re almost literally a dime a dozen at this point, so there’s really no point in stressing over which is the best. Bread knives are necessary for cutting, well, bread. But with these knives, it’s really the jagged serration that does most of the work so it’s not essential to get the sharpest tool possible. The chef’s knife however, is a totally different animal. It needs to be a good one.

Our pick

It’s made of X50CrMoV15 steel: the same as what you’d find in $100+ knives like the Wusthof Classic
The Victorinox may cost only $40, but it packs some serious features for the price. First and foremost, it’s made of X50CrMoV15 steel: the same high-carbon, stain resistant steel you’d find in much more expensive knives like the Wusthof Classic, but for a much lower price. You also get a textured Fibrox handle, which is easy to grip, even when wet. It’s also dishwasher safe, although I wouldn’t recommend running it, or any other knife, through a dishwasher. The extreme heat and harsh detergent can negatively affect the heat treatment on the blade. Worst case scenario, if  you do manage to totally screw it up, the Victorinox comes with a lifetime warranty.

In most categories it’s difficult to find reviews of budget-oriented gear, but apparently knives are the exception. The Victorinox stood out as the knife to beat.

Who else likes it?

America’s Test Kitchen loved it and gave it top marks in every category (handle, blade, slicing, chopping, mincing and butchering). It was also the only “Highly Recommended” knife in their “Inexpensive Chef’s Knives” category, where it won out over eight other knives, including offerings from premium brands like Wusthof and Henckels.

Lest you think it’s only good when compared to other cheap knives, the Victorinox was also “Highly Recommended” in the “Hybrid Chef’s Knife” category. This time it shared that honor with two Japanese knives, but both cost four to five times as much as the Victorinox. It also placed first in the general “Chef’s Knife” category, which included eight knives ranging in price from $25 to $112.

Michael Chu from Cooking for Engineers also liked it, naming it “Best Value” in a extensive and comparative test between 11 different knives from some of the best German and Japanese brands around (read about his methods here). Overall, the Japanese knives handily defeated the German offerings thanks to their thinner blades and harder steel, but that’s to be expected. What surprised me was that the Victorinox (listed under its old Forschner monicker) beat out its German rivals from Wusthof and Henckels in every test performed. It’s worth noting that since this test was conducted in November 2005, Wusthof has redesigned its knives with a steeper, 14-degree bevel, similar to what you’d find on a Japanese knife. Thus, it’s entirely likely that a new Wusthof Classic will outperform the Victorinox in these same tests. That doesn’t detract from this knife’s prowess and value, though.

Good Housekeeping‘s Research Institute was impressed by a similar version as well, they gave it a solid B overall, citing an uncomfortable handle as its main detractor. But that’s probably due to the weird concave handle in the model they tested. The current iteration has a plump handle that is not only comfortable, but also super grippy thanks to its textured surface.

WIRED recently did a roundup comparison of 8 Chef’s knives. Wired’s commenters have pointed out its complete lack of context, methods, and testing criteria. While other reviews mentioned here tested a variety of knives ranging in price, materials, and design, this one skews heavily towards Asian-styled, $100+ premium cutlery–despite the author’s claims in the comments that it is written for “the vast, vast majority of people [who] are never going to sharpen their knives…” Well if that’s the case, it makes no sense to choose the most high maintenance, difficult to care for knife as the top-rated pick (which is what he did). In reading the article, it seemed to me that the author’s penchant for Japanese-style knives with super-sharp slicing edges was what led him to his conclusions rather than any sort of methodical testing based on overall performance, but these are things that the average reader would never have picked out on their own. All this to say that if you don’t already have extensive background knowledge of knives, you’re better off avoiding these picks.

Users love the Victorinox as well. For a while, it was the top-rated product on all of Amazon, and it’s still up there with a 4.7 star rating averaged over 772 reviews. It also boasts a 4.9 star average on Cooking.com averaged over 60 ratings, with every single reviewer saying they would recommend it to a friend.

Of course, it’s not perfect. One of the major complaints is that the blade is stamped rather than forged. This means that the blade is stamped, or laser-cut, out of a larger sheet of steel, which is then heat treated, sharpened and attached to a handle. Typically in cheaper knives, the metal part does not extend fully through the handle (full tang), which can lead to poor handling performance in some cases. On the other hand, forged knives start out as a solid chunk of steel which is then heated until it’s red hot, then hammered (forged) into a knife shape, handle and all. It’s then heat treated, sharpened, and finally finished with handle scales. Stamped knives tend to be thinner, lighter, and cheaper to produce whereas forged knives have a thicker blade, healthy heft (handy for heavier tasks like breaking down a chicken), a bolster (the thick, dull portion at the base of the blade), and a more involved, costlier construction process. European-style forged chef’s are better used for cracking and crushing things like crustacean shells, bones, and garlic, but they also tend to dull easier due to their softer blade steel.

But in the end it really doesn’t matter how a knife was made as long as it performs well, is comfortable to grip and doesn’t bust your budget. In fact, many chefs prefer stamped knives for their lightness and thinness, which lets them slice more easily through many types of food. The only reviewer who had anything bad to say about the Victorinox’s handling characteristics was Good Housekeeping, which tested a model with a different handle.

The competition

Most other knives in this price range are not worth looking at. They’re cheaply made from unspecified stainless, or “high carbon” stainless steel that doesn’t stay sharp over extended use (see description for “Surgical Stainless Steel“). This includes offerings from budget-oriented brands like OXO and Chicago Cutlery as well as more premium and expensive makes such as Henckels. The Dexter-Russell Sani-Safe chef’s knife recommended in the aforementioned Bittman column is the exception. In fact, it’s basically the same knife as the Victorinox, but with a softer grip. The problem is that they’re really more geared towards professionals, which sounds impressive, but isn’t necessarily a good thing for you. When a restaurant knife breaks, they buy a new one. If you break a knife, you’re going to want to get it replaced, under warranty if possible. The Victorinox offers a lifetime warranty, the Dexter-Russell does not. Furthermore, they can be somewhat difficult to find if you don’t live near a restaurant supply store. Both cost about the same on Amazon depending on who you buy it from, but really, you should just stick with the Victorinox.

A step up

Although the Victorinox is plenty of knife for most people, I can totally understand wanting to spend more on something nicer. Be forewarned, though, that shopping for a premium knife is not nearly as simple as hunting for a good, all-purpose alternative. There’s really no way for someone else to determine what knife is best for you. That being said, if you want a more high-end knife, you could do a whole lot worse than the $130 MAC MTH-80. The Victorinox is a great deal and a capable tool, but it performs at somewhere between 80 and 90 percent efficiency, compared to a high-performance knife like the MAC, which will bump that figure up to about 95 percent. Getting that last 5 percent, however, would mean spending several hundred dollars more on a custom blade, hardly worth it for the vast majority of cooks.

Also Great
This blade was consistently at or near the top of CFE's exhaustive cutting tests. It's also endorsed by Thomas Keller and Eric Ripert, who own and run 3 three Michelin Star restaurants between the 2 of them.
The MTH-80 is a Western-styled, Japanese-made stamped knife made of a tungsten-alloyed “Superior Steel.” It features an exceptionally sharp edge that is gradually tapered to a point as opposed to the bezeled blades you find on most knives. (Click here to read about the differences between Eastern and Western knives.) It’s also got dimples on the blade, which keeps food from sticking to it, a useful feature commonly found on santoku knives but rare on chef’s knives.

It’s not as pretty as other damascus-clad Japanese knives such as Shun’s offerings, but it’s a good deal sharper. In the Cooking for Engineers comparison test, the MTH-80 consistently placed first or second in every testing category. This puts it head and shoulders above even the Nenox S1, a forged Japanese knife that sells for well over $300. The Victorinox may be better than its German brethren, but the MAC is better than just about everything out there—except maybe the Global G-2 (another taper-edged knife).

It’s true that the  G-2 was slightly better at pure cutting in a number of tests, but reviewer Michael Chu still picked the MTH-80 as the overall winner, thanks to its more comfortable, pakka-wood handle. The Global uses a tapered and dimpled stainless steel handle shaped like a baby carrot which many users — especially those with larger hands — find uncomfortable or difficult to hold.

Chu isn’t alone in his thinking, either; the MAC also carries the endorsement of Thomas Keller and Eric Ripert, who own and run three three Michelin Star restaurants between them. That said, I can’t stress enough how important it is that you try out expensive knives before you buy them. The best way to do this is to borrow some from a friend and cook a few meals. If that’s not possible, Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma are more than happy to let you try theirs. Perhaps you’ll realize that you actually prefer a heavier knife.

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $100.
Japanese knives are sharper, but if you're used to a big western knife and do a lot of lobster killing, the Wusthof Classic is your best bet.
For those who prefer German-forged knives either because that’s what feels better, or because you do a lot of heavy cooking tasks–such as lobster killing, chicken butchering, what have you–we recommend the Wusthof Classic 8 inch Cook’s knife. If you go back and look at our sources for the Victorinox (here, here, here), you’ll see that in the same tests, the Wusthof either matches or beats the Henckels in every category. But what puts it ahead of the Henckels is the fact that Henckels now makes its knives out of 3 pieces of steel that have been welded together. This lets them save money while maintaining cutting performance by using cheaper steel for the handle than in the blade. They claim that this process actually makes their knives stronger, but a local knife shop says otherwise. They told me on background that they made the decision to stop carrying Henckels products after receiving multiple customer complaints of dangerous cracking along the weld seams. Both manufacturers carry lifetime warranties, but it’s probably better not to risk it given the choice.

Maintenance is important

It’s also worth mentioning that even the best knife can be useless, even dangerous, if you don’t know how to use and take care of it. For cutting technique, I refer you to this excellent instructional video by Food Network celebrity chef, Alton Brown. As for maintenance, the two most important things you need to know are how to store them—use a knife block, magnetic strip, or a special knife drawer organizer in order to keep them from being chipped—and how to hone them in order to keep the edge straight and aligned between sharpening. For this, I refer you to this how-to video by master knife-maker, Bob Kramer. Sharpening is an art form best left to the professionals. If you don’t have access to a good cutlery store, check out this Wall Street Journal comparison of online services. All the services provided good sharpening but The Knife Guy set himself apart by offering the most convenient ordering and shipping system. Oh and don’t forget, do not put knives in the dishwasher. The harsh chemicals and high heat will ruin your knife’s finish–even if it is technically dishwasher-safe.

Wrapping it up

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but methods aside, the Victorinox Fibrox 8-Inch Chef’s Knife is a great tool for any cutting job. Its exceptional price to performance ratio, quality steel, and universally comfortable styling make it a good fit for any cook in any kitchen. You could spend a lot more for a more professional cutting experience, but for most people it’s simply not worth the added cost, either in cash or time spent on research.

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Sources

  1. Victorinox Fibrox 8" Chef's Knife on Amazon.com
  2. Michael Chu, Chef's Knives Rated, Cooking For Engineers, November 19 2005
    "Most salespeople working at the cutlery counter of your local stores will tell you that a forged knife is a sign of a strong sturdy knife and any forged knife is superior to a stamped knife. This may have been true in the past, but this is definitely no longer a universal truth. The two MAC knives tested in this article are stamped knives with bolsters that are welded on, ground, and polished. MAC Knife claims that using the stamped steel gives them a level of control over the tempering, the bevels, and the thinness of the blade. I don't know if all that's true, but I do know that the two chef's knives we tested out performed all of the forged knives."
  3. Victorinox Fibrox 8" Chef's Knife on Victorinox.com
  4. Good Housekeeping, "Victorinox Swiss Army 8-inch Chef's Knife", May 2012.
  • GP

    Great article! How does one properly dispose of old knives?

    • waltd

      Wrap it in packing tape and put it in the recycling, if you have single-stream. Otherwise, maybe take it to the Salvation Army or another thrift shop.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      I discussed this with a few people and they all said donate them to a Goodwill or Salvation Army type place. If you want to take the time, you can also put them up on Craigslist for cheap or free. WIkihow also has a great article on how to throw them away if you go that route. You can find it here (with pictures) http://www.wikihow.com/Dispose-of-Knives-Safely

  • Royce Ruiz

    Great post. Everything is right on target. I would add that if aesthetics are important to you Victorinox offers the same knife with a rosewood handle for a little more money. Performance is the same and most Chefs that I have seen use the rosewood because it doesn’t melt when you set it on a hot surface. Those Chefs that choose plastic almost always have handles that are partially melted.

  • Micah Sherer

    Hey guys! Let me start by saying I’m a Shun junkie, so it hurts me a little to not even see them considered for the “higher dollar knives”… That being said, I think this is a great article. I’m a bit of a knife nut, and I have done comparisons between the Victorinox and my Shuns and Wusthofs. I would say that the Victorinox is fine for home cooks, but I wouldn’t use it personally (since I’m a chef and use my knives extensively every day). I would have one suggestion… Maybe check out the new Ginsu Chikara knives. I tried these myself, and I was very impressed. They are much more aesthetically pleasing then the Victorinox, and the performance is on par with the Swiss offering. I know Ginsu is basically a cutlery punchline from a bygone mail-order era, but they actually make excellent knives these days. You might end up finding they are a better recommendation than the Victorinox. Keep up the good work! Love the new site!

    • Alejandro Enrique de los Rios

      I’m also a big fan of Shun and equally disappointed that they were mentioned only in passing in this article. I’m not a professional chef but I have and currently bartend at high-end restaurants worked by classically trained chefs and count several more as my friends. Nearly every chef I know swears by Japanese steel and most prefer Shun knives for their craftsmanship, sharpness and comfort.

      Personally, I have their 8-inch chef’s knife and their 4-inch pairing knife (I was lucky to receive both as gifts). I use them constantly and can’t imagine using another knife. Yes, not everyone can afford it and not everyone is a professional chef (or likes to pretend to be one at home) but I have never been happier with nor have I seen such overwhelming support for a knife like with Shun blades.

      Oh, and they provide a sharpening service in case your blade gets dull (mine still haven’t after a lot of heavy use. Japanese steel is very, very strong.)

  • Roman Berry

    I’m going to chime in here with a recommendation for an unexpected brand at an absurdly cheap price. Update International is a commercial cookware company that makes (or sells under their brand) a huge variety of kitchen equipment…including knives. Their KP series of stamped steel blade commercial (NSF rated) kitchen knives have the same X50 Cr Mov 15 steel you’ll find in the Victorinox and Wusthof knives but they are a fraction of the price of even the Victorinox offerings. For example, the KP-09 10 inch chef’s knife is under eight dollars (!!) at Amazon. Food Service Warehouse also sells their complete line (KP-01 through KP-10.) And Update International also offers a very good, absurdly cheap line of forged knives, KGE-01 through KGE-10. How absurdly cheap? Food Service Warehouse has the KGE-09 10 inch forged chef’s knife for $12.59 (!!) as of this writing. Same knife is available at Amazon for less than 24 dollars (as of this writing.)

    I understand that people might be skeptical, but from first hand experience I can tell you that these knives are probably the best bargain in a super sharp high quality blade anywhere. The stamped KP series are comparable to the Victorinox/Forschner stamped knives in every way save for the textured Fibrox handle. (The UI’s are molded white polyurethane.) The KGE series are, in my experience, quite nice as well. They may not have the finish of a hundred dollar knife, but they’re only a tiny fraction of the price. Check ‘em out.

    • Michael Zhao

      I actually went and bought one of their bread knives (stamped) and a paring knife (forged) on this recommendation. I also looked at the chef’s knives. I would say that they are about 80% as good as the Victorinox counterparts. They’re not as sharp out of the box, there are some slight fit and finish differences, but overall, they don’t feel like high-quality cutlery in the way that the Victorinoxes do. It’s not anything that’s easily described, but holding the bread knives side by side, it’s easy to see why one costs 3x as much as the other. I could see these working for some people, but if you cook on a regular basis, it’s worth investing in the Victorinox.

  • lauren_church

    Victorinox owns. Total agree.