February 2, 2023

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The 7 Best Chef’s Knives for Your Kitchen (2023): Affordable, Japanese, Carbon Steel

The kitchen is full of gadgets and innovative technology, but the cornerstone on which great food is built remains simple: you need a good knife.

But this seemingly simple gadget probably causes more confusion and headaches for most of us than a bevy of air fryers and instant pots. What makes the perfect knife for you depends on many factors, including your level of comfort with knives, the size of your hands, and the type of food you enjoy preparing.

For most of us, the basic 6- to 8-inch chef’s knife is the starting point. It is the most versatile knife that can dice vegetables, slice meat, crush garlic and chop herbs and nuts. There is a bewildering array of chef’s knives, from dirt cheap to very expensive specialty blades. To help you make sense of it all, we tested dozens of knives until we came up with a simple truth: the best knife to use is a sharp one. A poorly made $10 blade that you sharpen every week is more useful than a dull $200 blade. Here are our tips.

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Best for most people

The Fibrox Pro chef’s knife from Victorinox is the best value for money of any knife I’ve tested. It doesn’t have the same high-quality construction as some of the others here, but it’s usually available for around $50. It holds the edge well and has an almost non-stick surface – hardly anything sticks to this blade, not even fresh coriander. If you are just beginning your cooking journey, this is a great first chef’s knife and will serve you well for years to come.

Take the money you save and invest in a good sharpener. If you’re a beginner, I recommend the simplicity of a two-stage electric sharpener like the Presto EverSharp ($35 on Amazon). If you know how to sharpen with a stone, I like Shapton’s Medium Grit Ceramic Stone (1000) ($68 on Amazon). If you’ve never used a stone before, fear not; it is not that hard. YouTube is full of videos to get you started, but I really like Ryky Trans Burrfection guides.

Our favorite budget meter

Kiwi knives have something of a cult status. They’re cheap, and the thinness of the blade reflects that, but I turn to this knife 90 percent of the time. I love the thin, lightweight blade, and I find the Kiwi to be just as sharp as knives that sell for well over $100 for reasons I can’t explain. I sharpen it once a week at most and it stays razor sharp. Due to its thin blade, this isn’t our top pick. I don’t reach for the Kiwi when I need to cut up a chicken, but when I’m done testing all the fancy knives below, this is the one you’ll find in my hand most of the time.

If you’ve decided to go down this route, I suggest you spend a few bucks more and grab a chef’s knife and half-cleaver set ($15 on Amazon), which I love for chopping herbs. Again, take the money you save and invest it in a good sharpener.

A working knife

The Richmond Artifex II is a small update of the original Artifex, which I’ve been using since I was a line cook. For a knife at this price it holds the edge very well and makes a great first step into the world of Japanese knives.

It’s a bit longer than many of the blades here, but unlike many Japanese knives, it has a western-style handle. A western grip or wa grip usually has two parts with flat sides on either side of the metal, while a Japanese or ho grip can be any shape but sloping towards round (octagonal is also common). The Artifex is the best I’ve seen a stainless steel knife match the benefits of a carbon steel blade.

Best for young chefs

French knife maker Opinel – best known for their folding knives – offers this mini chef’s knife set for kids who want to help out with slicing and dicing in the kitchen. It’s a real knife with a real edge, but the size is good for little hands and the red ring ensures they keep a good grip. It was a bit small for my 10 year old but my 7 year old loves it. I think it’s probably ideally suited for children aged 4 to 8 but of course every child is different so you will need to use your own judgement.

I’m not convinced you need the finger guard. It provides a good barrier to balance the blade and teaches children to form the “claw” grip you want to use with a knife, but only two fingers are required, which may mean recreating their grip need to learn if you are going to become a “real” knife. Still, the knife itself is worth having if your younger child wants to help out in the kitchen.

A kitchen proven workhorse

The Global G-2 8″ Chef’s Knife is a favorite of working chefs – it’s been the most used knife in the kitchen in all the restaurants I’ve worked at. It is light, easy to handle and has a very good edge retention. In fact, it is very similar to a carbon steel blade but without the hassles associated with carbon steel knife maintenance.

The other thing that makes this so popular is the softness of the steel. It’s not carbon steel – it’s soft, but much thinner and softer than most European knives and therefore easier to sharpen. A quirk worth knowing: the factory bevel is 15 degrees and not the more usual 20 degree bevel. Keep this in mind when sharpening on a stone as you will want to hold it a little differently to get that great edge back.

Best Japanese Knives

There are entire books, websites, and YouTube channels dedicated to comparing all types of Japanese knives. It can be overwhelming and, for the most part, has nothing to do with helping you cook a good meal. However, if you’re looking to spend some cash, there are worse options than investing in a good carbon steel Japanese knife. Here are some of our favourites.

I have owned a very similar Korin Gyoto knife for almost 20 years (I recently gifted it to a friend) and it remains one of the best knives I have ever used. Togiharu is Korin’s house brand, sourced from a knife maker in Japan. They are very well made and not very expensive. This model sharpens up to a razor edge and holds that edge pretty well. If you have small hands or just like a smaller blade, the Korin Petty knives (about 5- to 6-inch blades) are also very nice.

Similar to Western knives, gyotos are double-edged – meaning they are sharpened on both sides rather than the single-edged blades of most traditional Japanese knives. Many gyotos don’t have the 50:50 V shape of western knives, and to get them as sharp as possible you should keep the ratio (often 70:30) for maximum sharpness.

Tojiros DP Gyutou is a solid performer at a great price. It holds the edge almost as well as blades twice the price and feels wonderfully solid in the hand. The blade is capable of precise and very thin slices for which I would normally use a carbon steel blade. The only thing to watch out for on this model is the handle height, which is a bit too low. I’ve knocked my knuckles on my cutting board with it more than once. If you have big hands, you’re better off with something else.

Best Mandolin/Slicer

While the chef’s knife is the foundation of the kitchen, there are other must-have slicers. The mandolin is another tool I highly recommend, especially if you find larger knives intimidating. When I’m chopping veggies — cabbage for a coleslaw, cucumber for dipping, tomatoes for a sandwich — I reach for a mandolin. It’s fast, accurate and, dare I say, easier.

However, a mandolin alone is too disposable for me. I prefer this combination of Garrett Wade slicers. It features a mandolin and three graters and takes up minimal space in your drawer. Between the two, I can slice, grate, and mince to get just about any size I need. The rubber base keeps them from sliding on the counter and the stainless steel construction makes for a solid, durable tool. They don’t have any guards or guards of any kind, so I suggest bringing some cut resistant gloves as well. I like these Dex Fit Gloves ($13). They protect your fingers and knuckles from cuts and have a nitrile coating on the palms that makes it easier to grab wet veggies.

★ Alternative Choice: This Mueller mandolin ($30) is similarly multifunctional, despite being made of plastic.

Should you buy a knife set?

In a word: no. Unless you are in a serious business, knife sets are usually not a good investment. You don’t need many knives; You need some good knives. Really, you only need one good one: an 8-inch chef’s knife. Also, some people like to have a paring knife, and I have one, but it only ever opens bags of chips. The chef’s knife is really all you need to prepare almost any meal. Knife sets often cost twice as much as just buying a good chef’s knife. The large wooden storage blocks also take up useful counter space. Skip the set and invest in a sharpener instead.

You need a sharpener

A dull knife is dangerous. You compensate for the lack of a sharp edge by applying more pressure when cutting. That means if your knife slips, you’ll cut yourself deeper. During my time as a professional chef, I’ve had to spend a few nights in the ER thinking about it, and I’ve become a bit religious about sharpening my knives.

In an ideal world there would be one sharpener to do them all and I would just link it here. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Different blade materials and shapes require different sharpening techniques. In particular, many modern stainless steel blades are too hard to be effectively sharpened with conventional water stones. (Water stones are great for carbon steel though; like I said, get those Shapton stones.)

For most people, I recommend an electric sharpener. As mentioned above, the Presto EverSharp ($35, Amazon) is an excellent choice for most of the knives in this guide, with the exception of the Japanese knives. The softer steel and offset grind of most Japanese knives we recommend mean you’ll want to sharpen them with a stone.

For more sharpening options and some tips on how to give your new knives the best edge, check out this guide from Epicurious on how to properly sharpen a knife.