A chef’s knife is arguably the most important kitchen tool in your arsenal, so it makes a lot of sense to invest in the best chef’s knife you can. But knives are intimidating to shop for: What’s full tang? What’s the difference between a Western-style knife and a Japanese-style knife? Do you want a thick blade or a thin one? Should your knife be heavy or light? And of course, how much money should you spend? When highly rated products range in price from $5 to more than $3,000, it’s hard to know where to begin.
We waded through all the nonsense and set out to find the best chef’s knives for home cooks at the best prices. We tested 14 eight-inch options from leading brands (between $6 and $400 each), and three ended up a cut above the rest. Read on to discover the best chef’s knife of 2020 in each category, including best all-around, runner-up, and an impressive budget pick. For the specifics of how we tested and what to look for in a kitchen knife, scroll to the bottom of the page.
The best chef’s knife overall: Mac Professional Hollow Edge Chef’s Knife
This is a moderately priced and very sharp knife that at 6.5 ounces is also pretty lightweight. It’s strong enough to get through tough vegetables with ease and delicate enough to chop tender herbs without smashing them. The agile blade is relatively straight and tapers at the end, giving it a curve reminiscent of a Western knife, but the same sharp edge of a Japanese model. The material is also a compromise between German and Japanese knives—it’s made of a hard steel like a Japanese knife, but isn’t quite as brittle, so it’s less prone to chipping.
We also found this knife to be lively and responsive in our hands, comfortable to hold and not too bulky. We also know from using them in the Epicurious Test Kitchen that they stay sharp for a long time and are easy to sharpen. With its simple design and finish, wooden handle, and dimples along the blade that keep food from sticking to the sides, this knife is a kitchen workhorse that will last a long time.
The runner-up best chef’s knife: Global Classic Chef’s Knife
Even though the Global knife is about one ounce heavier than the Mac knife, it feels lighter in your hand because of its impeccable balance. The hollow handles of Global knives are filled with a precise amount of sand to ensure perfect balance. The knives are made of a proprietary steel blend that’s resistant to rust and staining. This knife felt like an extension of the arm and could get the thinnest slices. Some Epi staffers use the Global chef’s knife at home and report that it stays sharp for a long time (and is easy to sharpen when the time comes). At $90, it’s a great pick at a moderate price point.
The best budget chef’s knife: Victorinox Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife
Sure, the finish quality on this Victorinox knife isn’t nearly as high as the Mac or the Global, but at less than $40, it’s a total steal. Plus it’s super sharp. It glided through tough sweet potatoes with precision and delicacy and made quick work of slicing an onion. In fact, the blade on this knife has a nice nonstick finish that seemed to repel onions, which stuck to most of the other knife blades we tested. The rubber handle might not look like much, but it’s comfortable to hold and easy to grip. It isn’t full tang, meaning the metal of the stainless-steel blade doesn’t extend all the way to the base of the handle, which is generally said to indicate a lower-quality, less-sturdy knife. For such an inexpensive tool, however, that isn’t a cause for concern; it still produces beautiful knife work. It’s smart to have an inexpensive chef’s knife around—one that’s low-maintenance and can take a trip through the dishwasher. As Test Kitchen Director Chris Morocco told us, “It’s probably the best chef’s knife out there for the money. It’s one we keep around the test kitchen and it sharpens nicely.” Sold.
How we tested the chef’s knives
The first step in evaluating a knife is getting a feel for the tool. We some spent time with each of the 14 chef’s knives we tested just holding them in our hands, observing the quality of the metal and sharpened edge, the feel of the handle, and the overall weight of the knife. We then used each knife to chop raw sweet potatoes and onions and mince a pile of herbs. We evaluated the knives on the following factors.
1. How heavy is the knife?
To a certain extent the ideal weight of a chef’s knife is a matter of personal preference. If you tend to use a rocking motion while cutting, a heavier knife with a curved blade will keep your hand stable in one place; if you prefer a slicing motion, a light thin-bladed knife will be easier to maneuver back and forth. As a team, we preferred a lightweight knife.
2. How thin is the blade? What shape is it?
From the start we were looking for a thin, sharp blade, which makes slicing easier and smoother and also weighs less overall. In testing we found that we preferred the flatter belly characteristic of a Japanese or French knife more than the pronounced curve of a German-style knife; the latter is more conducive to rocking and requires a bit more force. Thinner blades do have a catch, however: “Chips are going to happen to any knife after a while, especially to ones that are thinner and have less metal behind the edge when you’re slicing through tough vegetables like butternut squash,” Morocco says. You can combat this by taking extra care of your knife and having it sharpened regularly.
3. How does the handle feel? How responsive is the knife?
Naturally, we wanted a knife with a comfortable handle, which we interpreted as lightweight and smooth rather than heavy and long. When it comes to responsiveness, Morocco explains that you want a knife that feels “alive in your hand.” You can determine the responsiveness by tapping the blade against the cutting board or counter—a responsive knife will vibrate in your hand. When you chop something, you’ll feel like you have greater control over the cutting motion and more of a connection with the knife.
4. How sharp is it? How effectively does it slice through tough vegetables?
We sliced through raw sweet potatoes to test each knife’s sharpness and smoothness. We didn’t want blades that would catch on the veggies—we wanted the clean, easy slicing that comes from the sharpest chef’s knives. We also tested onions to examine the knives’ precision when slicing and dicing. Certain knives yielded thinner, even, and more precise slices than others.
5. How does the knife handle delicate herbs?
In addition to handling the heft and toughness of something like a potato, we wanted a knife that could slice through herbs without crushing them. A good chef’s knife shouldn’t muddle or mush a pile of parsley.
6. What’s the finish quality like?
How nice is the steel? How are the transitions between blade and handle? Is the handle made of a high-quality material? Is the blade smooth and even? Again, understanding the difference between a German-style knife and a Japanese one is important here: German knives tend to have a thick cuff, or bolster, that runs between the knife blade and the handle. This makes the knife heavier and better suited for rocking motions. We ultimately liked a smoother transition without the cuff, as it resulted in a lighter knife that made for an easy and comfortable slicing motion.
Other chef’s knives we tested
For people who prefer a heavier knife, the Misen chef’s knife ($65) is a good option. It has a thinner blade than many German-style knives and a half bolster, which makes it easy to choke up on the blade. Ultimately, we found it was a bit too heavy and not as nicely finished as we wanted, but it handled the job of cutting through hefty vegetables just fine.