The best chef’s knives can make life immeasurably easier for home chefs and professionals alike. Chop straight through onions and other veggies, or expertly carve cuts of meat and de-bone fish with our tried and tested favourites.
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It’s no secret that the safest knives are the sharp ones. These offer accuracy and prevent kitchen mishaps, but part of having the best chef’s knife is keeping it in top condition for day-to-day use. Read our full roundup to find Japanese santoku knives as well as paring knives and classic chef’s knives. These knives have ergonomic handles to balance any weightiness, and will not need too much maintenance if used correctly.
How much do the best chef’s knives cost?
If you opt for something seriously slick, the best chef’s knife can cost upwards of £100. That’s a lot, but then, it can make life so much easier. Of course, there are also some excellent chef’s knives available for under £20, or even under £10 if you know where to look (hint: we’ve found a great one).
Keeping your knife sharp and well cleaned will extend its lifespan, whether you spend £6 or £60. Follow the cleaning instructions to make sure you get the best experience possible when using it.
How to buy a chef’s knife
Knives aren’t simply a blade and a handle. They have several elements, including the tip, belly (the curve of the blade), the butt and a bolster, which is the thicker part where the blade meets the handle. The bolster is key, as it’s used to balance the knife and is mostly seen on forged knives.
Some knives also have a tang, which is the part of the blade that runs through the handle. A full tang runs through the whole of the handle to the butt (end) while a partial tang just runs some of the handle’s length. Tangs ensure the handle is well-balanced and strong, making it less likely to break if it’s put under pressure – cutting through bone for instance.
Best chef’s knives 2021
1. Wusthof Classic Cooks Knife 16cm
Best chef’s knife overall
Size: 20cm, 23cm, 26cm
Reasons to buy: It’s incredibly durable
Reasons to avoid: Keep scrolling for cheaper options
Wusthöf have been making knives in Germany for more than 200 years, so they know a thing or two about what makes a good blade. The Classic range has a comfortingly traditional look and feel, featuring a riveted, full tang blade that’s precision formed from a single piece of steel with a Rockwell rating of 56.
We opted to test the slightly smaller 16cm version, although they also do a standard 20cm, 23cm and a massive 26cm one. It proved to be a good choice for the smaller handed of our two testers as it fitted beautifully in the palm and the blade didn’t feel as weighty as some.
As you’d expect, the sturdy handle and full tang mean it’s very durable and it coped as well with boned chicken thighs as it did with soft herbs such as mint and coriander. We feel it’s balanced, super-sharp knife that’s the perfect addition to any cook’s kit.
Ideal Home rating: 5 out of 5 stars
2. Viners Assure 8” Chef Knife
Best chef’s knife for safety
Size: 8 inches
Reasons to buy: Non-stick surface means veggies slide clean off
Reasons to avoid: Not suitable for scoring
We haven’t got a bad word to say about the Viners Assure 8” Chef Knife. It’s amazingly affordable and genuinely high quality. The matte black handle is soft-feel and lovely to hold, and the non-stick coating means veggies and meat fall off the knife instead of sticking in place.
It stayed sharp for months and months after the initial testing and the black finish has not peeled or flaked. The block ending of the knife means there’s no sharp edge that could potentially catch your fingers while chopping.
This also makes it easy to store, because the knife can point down on a magnetic grip without fear that it would hurt anyone or catch any kitchen items if it were to fall.
Ideal Home’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
3. Stellar Taiku 16cm / 6.5″ Santoku Knife
Best santoku knife
Reasons to buy: It stays sharp
Reasons to avoid: Heftier than other knives
This Japanese-style santoku knife is great for chopping veggies, meat and fruit. It’s very versatile, and the 16cm blade is incredibly sharp.
The handle is very comfortable to use and the knife feels sturdy and reliable to hold. It can also be washed in the dishwasher and is stain and rust-resistant.
With an ambidextrous design, it’s suitable for all users and feels balanced and lightweight to hold, weighing in at under 200g.
Ideal Home’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
4. Füri Pro 20cm Cook’s knife
Best for heavy-duty chopping
Reasons to buy: Pleasing and ergonomic to use
Reasons to avoid: Hand wash recommended
The all-in-one handle and blade design of this 20cm Australian-made Japanese steel knife had a pleasing aesthetic and made it feel larger than some of the other 20cm knives we tested. It also means there’s no potential dirt trap, which can sometimes exist between blade bolster and handle.
It has a 20-degree bevelled edge, meaning it’s super sharp and while it certainly was great when finely slicing squishy tomatoes and avocado, it was also strong and long enough to make light work of larger, harder items such as butternut squash and celeriac.
Furi advises that it is only sharpened with its own make of industrially crushed diamond-coated sharpener to ensure the blade stays at the optimum 20˚ angle.
Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars
5. Robert Welch Signature Cook’s Knife
Best high-end chef’s knife
Size: 12m through to 25cm
Reasons to buy: Great for fine slicing
Reasons to avoid: A pricey option
This full tang German steel cook’s knife with Japanese-style, hand-applied 15˚ edge comes in variety of blade lengths, from a petite 12cm to a large 25cm. We loved the gently curved shape of the blade and the angled bolster and the rounded handle felt comfortable and secure to hold.
At 14cm long, this was the smallest of the chef’s knives we tried but it definitely held its own in terms of harder root vegetables such as swede and carrot, although if we were regularly chopping larger items such as butternut squash, we’d opt for a longer blade length.
The blade was great for chopping foods very fine – potato for dauphinoise for instance – but still substantial enough to efficiently cut up large pieces of meat. A good-value, versatile knife.
Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars
6. Judge Sabatier IC Paring Knife
Best chef’s paring knife
Reasons to buy: Great for small tasks
Reasons to avoid: Less versatile than larger knives
From peeling fruit to slicing fine vegetables, this paring knife from Judge Sabatier delivered. It’s made of stainless steel and despite its small size it feels sturdy and satisfyingly weighty.
We enjoyed how easily this knife was able to slice through smaller objects like orange and sausages, and while it’s not the ideal chef’s knife for larger items like butternut squash or steak, it’s a good choice for having an appropriate knife on-hand for smaller tasks.
You can place this knife in the dishwasher and it’s very easy to clean by hand. Sharpening is also straightforward and it stayed sharp for a very long time.
Ideal Home’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
7. Lakeland Select-Grip Japanese Steel Chef’s Knife
Best budget chef’s knife
Reasons to buy: Three year guarantee
Reasons to avoid: Not the sharpest we tested
While this forged steel knife didn’t feel as razor sharp as the Wusthöf, the ice-hardened Japanese steel blade coped brilliantly with everything we threw at it, from herb cutting and garlic crushing to chicken chopping. And while it doesn’t have a Rockwell rating, it feels on the harder rather than softer side.
The steel butt means it’s well balanced and not too heavy. The gently rounded soft-grip handle with bolster felt both comfortable and safe in the hand, allowing us to experiment with our ‘chef’s rock’ without fear of our hand slipping off the handle onto the blade. It also comes with a hard protective plastic case to keep the blade covered if you’re storing it in a drawer.
Ideal Home rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
How to buy the best chef’s knife for you
What’s the best knife material?
A forged steel knife is generally more expensive and is made from a single piece of steel that is then heated and hammered, either by hand or by machine, into shape. A stamped knife is created by cutting out the shape from a sheet of steel that is then treated and honed to ensure it is strong and long-lasting enough to use.
A forged knife will be heavier with a thicker blade and usually a bolster and tang, and more durable. A stamped knife will have a thinner blade, great for delicate slicing and is more flexible so could bend when cutting tougher ingredients. Ice hardening is a manufacturing process where steel is exposed to temperatures below sub zero.
This helps to increase the hardness while at the same time making it resilient enough to cope with even the toughest of kitchen conditions. Ceramic knives have a blade that’s harder and therefore more brittle than steel but that tends to stay sharper for longer. They’re also resistant to acids and rusting so great for fruit, vegetables and boneless meats.
What is a Rockwell rating?
The Rockwell Hardness Scale (RHC) measures how much of a dent in metal with a measured amount of weight a diamond point will make – the smaller the mark, the harder the steel. The RHC rating of your knife is useful to know if you’re looking for an all-purpose, sturdy knife that won’t snap or chip under pressure.
A general-use ‘softer’ steel knife can range from 54-56, while more professional style premium blades, from 58-64 at the upper end. The higher the rating, the thinner the blade can be forged, creating a finer, sharper cutting edge but there are trade-offs as knives this hard can be brittle, chip if misused and take longer to sharpen.
As a general rule German blades tend to be on the lower end of the scale, while Japanese are on the higher.
Why do people rate Japanese knives?
Generally there are two things that separate Western and Japanese steel knives, blade hardness and shape. Japanese knives are harder and razor sharp, while German knives tend to have a lower RHC but they are easier to sharpen.
Japanese santoku knives will have a straighter, scalloped edge to prevent things such as thinly sliced fish sticking to the blade, while German chef’s or cook’s knives will usually feature a smooth blade with a rounded belly which make them great when using a rocking, chopping motion.
How to sharpen a knife with a sharpener
All knives are sharp when first bought but constant use will deaden the blade resulting in them becoming blunter over time. Regular sharpening will ensure your knife remains in tip-top condition.
There are many methods of sharpening, from traditional whetstones to electric blade sharpeners. Whetstones or sharpening steels are great for a professional finish particularly on harder or Japanese knives, producing a perfectly angled cutting edge but they can be difficult for a beginner to achieve the perfect angle.
Standard sharpeners are great for sharpening to the right angle without the guesswork and are suitable for most Western style blades but not good with scalloped Japanese style knives or ceramic knives. You’ll need a diamond dust coated sharpener to keep a ceramic blade in top condition. Finally, electronic models will give your blade an effort free edge but can be expensive.
Never use a knife on a glass or ceramic chopping board – wood or plastic is best – as they will blunt the knife much sooner.
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Should I put my knife in the dishwasher?
While some knives say they are dishwasher safe, most makers and chefs recommend you don’t put them in the dishwasher, particularly if they have wooden handles. Just wash by hand in warm, soapy water to ensure a clean, sharp edge for longer.