The relationship between home cooks and their knives is a funny thing. Every home cook needs them. But few bother to invest in a fine set. Certainly, the manufacturers of quality knives don’t make it easy on us consumers with a dizzying array of choices, all claiming to be the “best knife” or the “only knife you need.”
That’s why I’ve put together this guide to the best knives as well as the best knife sets for home cooks, focused on tools that I and the chefs I work with on the website, use in our own kitchens and have stood the test of time.
What to look for when knife shopping
Although I stand behind all of my knife recommendations below, they are mostly affordable options for best home kitchen knives. But you may be ready to upgrade to a more serious knife investment. The tricky part about buying knives as the choice isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all. If you are ready to invest in a quality knife of two, you really need to try out knives for yourself before buying high-quality home kitchen knives.
How to buy a good knife
Instead of shopping from a catalog, find a store with a good variety of knives and knowledgeable staff. Is there a Sur la Table store in your area? This kitchenwares chain can make a good starting point when you’re shopping for knives. Particularly when looking for a chef’s knife, you need to make sure the size and weight are a fit for your hand and wrist. Make sure that the knife feels balanced in your hand, not to mention comfortable.
You will also want to consider how you want to use the knife before you buy a new knife. If you value a sharp blade and spend many hours a week chopping, you might want something lighter weight. Japanese knives made in a Western-style are known for keeping sharpness longer than most knives made by Western manufacturers. They also tend to be lighter in weight. But if you just want a workhorse that can do anything from slice a whole melon in half to slicing chicken breasts into cutlets, then you may want a classic, Western-made chef’s knife. (Alternatively, check out my favorite knife for cutting meat in the list below.)
What are forged knives?
If you are ready to invest in quality, you should understand the difference between stamped and forged knives. These knives are made from a single bar of metal that is heated and pounded into shape. (The alternative, stamped knives, are cut out from a big piece of metal, then heat-treated to form their shape.) Forged knives are not only known for being the most durable, they tend to hold a sharp edge very well.
The process to make forged knives is more time-consuming than the process of making stamped knives. But as a result, a good forged knife tends to have great balance and better durability, not to mention a higher price tag, than a stamped knife. That being said, you can find high-quality stamped knives and badly made forged knives, so don’t let this be your only factor in choosing a knife to buy.
My list of the best knives for home cooks
This list includes both single knives with a specific purpose as well as great knife sets. These items are ones that I use in my own kitchen or the chefs who work on recipe development for the site have in their own homes.
The criteria we used to come up with this list of great knives included:
- Value – Although not all of the knives on this list are the most affordable, all of these kitchen knife recommendations represent great value for money.
- Durability – Some of the knives on my list are more fragile than others, (like my beloved ceramic Kyocera knife), but all of them have stood the test of time. Most of them have been in my kitchen for at least 15 years.
- Functionality – These knives are all sold for a specific purpose and every knife on this list performs its function exceptionally well.
What is the best knife for cutting fruit?
This knife may be as fragile as fine china but it is the indispensable small, sharp knife in my kitchen. (Luckily, it is also relatively inexpensive.) Ceramic knives are made with a thin and almost razor-sharp ceramic blade. This means that if you drop one, it will shatter. These pairing knives can also get nicked but with careful handling, they’ll last for decades and retain their edge without sharpening.
I’ve had one Kyocera ceramic knife for over 15 years. It shows little wear other than some staining on the blade from cutting tomatoes. And speaking of tomatoes, that’s exactly why I love this knife. It is the perfect tool for cutting soft fruits like strawberries and tomatoes, even mangoes, with a clean edge, no bruising or crushing.
What is the best knife for cutting meat?
If you think Viking was a manufacturer of quality large appliances, you’re right. But they also produce a line of highly-regarded, German knives. To be honest, I never considered this brand until the company sent me a knife to try. It was a traditional chef’s knife with Santoku-style dimples down the blade. That knife, with it’s weight and balance, quickly became my go-to. Unfortunately, Viking no longer sells this knife. But they do sell a 7″ Santoku that is an excellent meat knife.
Hand-forged with dimples down the blade, this Viking knife is designed in the Japanese Santoku style. The tiny indents making a pock mark pattern down the blade create air pockets during slicing to help reduce friction, softening the blow to delicate fish and meats. It makes my list of knife recommendations as the best knife for cutting meat because it is a dream for slicing pheasant breast or raw tuna. But I also like it for chopping onions and most other vegetables with precision and ease. This Santoku-style knife from Viking also comes with a lifetime guarantee against manufacturing defects.
This is the best Santoku knife for my hand but if you find the weight and feel aren’t right for you, other knives that make the list of best Santoku knives include: Zwilling J.A. Henckels Signature Santoku Knife; Zelite Infinity 7-inch Santoku Knife and the Mac Knives MSK-65 Professional Hollow Edge Santoku Knife. Or just buy my recommendation for the best chef knife set below, which comes with a 5-inch Santoku knife.
What is the best knife set for home cooks?
Wusthof is one of my favorite knife companies because they make knives light enough to be manipulated by small, female hands like mine. And although the brand represents quality, these are good value knives. In fact, most knife reviews put Wusthof on the list of the best knives for cooking at home.
I’m recommending the Wusthof Classic 8-Piece Block Set because it offers absolutely everything you need in a home kitchen at a fair price. This really is one of the best knives sets you could hope to find and as far as I’m concerned, it is the best value kitchen knife set. It comes with all the usual suspects: paring knife, bread knife, kitchen shears and honing steel, all made from single shafts of high-carbon stainless for better balance. (The Wusthof bread knife that comes with this knife block is a particular favorite of mine. It offers a slimline and excellent balance. Although I own several bread knives, this is the knife I reach for most often.)
But this Wusthof knife set also brings a twist to the typical block.
In addition to an 8-inch cook’s knife, this set has a 5-inch Santoku knife, perfect for precision chopping veg or thinly slicing fish. And I’ve already talked about how I love Santoku knives for cutting meat as well as seafood.
And in case you want to expand your knife collection later, the block comes with seven additional slots so you can grow your collection of kitchen knives as needed.
But if you aren’t ready to invest in a full block set of knives, consider starting with the cook’s knife. Wusthof is known as one of the best chef knife brand for home cooks when it comes to value. So if you just want to start with one knife, you might want to consider the Wusthof Classic 8-inch Chef’s Knife. It is one of the most popular chef’s knives for home cooks for a reason. (Check out the chef knife reviews on Amazon for details on why home cooks love this knife.)
What is the best knife for cutting lettuce and other greens?
This is a goofy-looking knife. But this plastic lettuce knife is one of my favorite knives in the kitchen. It was created purely for the purpose of cutting lettuce. Think of it as the carving knife for vegans. (The plastic blade prevents the bruising of the lettuce caused by metal knives. But if you prefer more sustainable options, several companies now make this style of salad knife in bamboo.)
Now, you may be thinking, “What self-respecting cook regularly chops instead of tears lettuce?” Look, I’m a tearer, too. But this inexpensive knife makes my list of knife recommendations because I’ve found a number of uses for this colored plastic blade. It’s klutz (and child) proof. It is durable, easy to maintain, doesn’t lose its blade and it doesn’t nick countertops.
My favorite use is for Oxo’s lettuce knife chopping herbs, as the plastic blade tends to cause less browning when you use this knife for chopping herbs than will a traditional metal edge.
We originally published these knife recommendations in 2007 and figured we were due for an update. I’ve actually kept (almost) all of my original knife recommendations. These are still solid knife choices and represent good value.
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