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.
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.
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 pickX50CrMoV15 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. Chad Ward writes in An Edge in the Kitchen: “Don’t put your knives in the dishwasher. The heat may damage the handles and the edges will bang against other cutlery or plates.” 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.
In 2014 they examined both the Victorinox and a Henckels under an electron microscope, which revealed the Henckels’ steel–predictably–to have a very tight grain, which is what you’re looking for in a sharp knife that will stay sharper longer. But the Victorinox’s steel showed a nearly as tight grain. ATK summed their findings up this way: “When the results are that close, the bottom line for us, has to be practical. We’re still gonna use our Victorinox Stainless Knife. It’s low maintenance, it’s cheap, and it’s the best tool in our kitchen.”
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.
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.
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.
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, high heat, and agitation are a recipe for disaster—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.
Victorinox Fibrox 8" Chef's Knife on Amazon.com
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."
Victorinox Fibrox 8" Chef's Knife on Victorinox.com
Good Housekeeping, "Victorinox Swiss Army 8-inch Chef's Knife", May 2012.
Originally published: July 18, 2012