Kitchen knives

We last tested kitchen knives in 2013. There are no updates planned.

Are high-end knives better?

We tested the sharpness and edge durability of 12 knives in the 18-21cm range – and then gave them to our experts in the test lab kitchen for some hands-on assessment.

We've gathered information on 8 kitchen knives.

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How we test chefs' knives

We tested 18-21cm knives because they’re good for handling most jobs in the home kitchen without being so big that you need lessons from a professional chef in how to use them.

We chopped parsley, carrots, cucumber and trimmed raw meat to test the knives slicing and dicing ability.

Most home users want a knife to be sharp when it’s new – and they want it to be able to hold its edge for as long as possible before it needs steeling and ultimately resharpening. To test each knife identically we turned to the lab.

A knife-test machine gave us an initial sharpness result along the entire length of each blade. All except the Scanpan Spectrum Cook's Knife were acceptably sharp at this stage.

Then the torture began: we blunted each knife by running a weighted aluminium rod along the edge of its blade 50 times before putting the knife back in the test machine. We used the difference between the “before” and “after” sharpness to give a score for edge durability.

The slicing and dicing test

To get an idea of how each knife handled and how easy it was to use, we gave a second set of the knives to our testers in the kitchen. After much chopped parsley, carrots, cucumber and trimmed raw meat we had an idea of how well each knife cut, as well as its feel and balance and the comfort of its handle.

View our test results.

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What we found

A well designed, really sharp knife is a joy to use.

And it’s definitely safer than a blunt knife. But while the shape, feel and balance of a knife are a mix of ergonomics, personal preference and design, its sharpness and edge retention are down to metallurgy and sharpening skill.

It's no surprise that our top 3 recommended knives are all Japanese: Shun Classic Chef's Knife, Global G-2 Cook's Knife and Tojiro Flash Chef's Knife.

Shun Classic Chef's Knife.

These have harder and higher-quality steel in the blades and often have more than 1 layer of steel. This means that the knife blades can be thinner, lighter and sharper and yet still hold their edge for longer. (Of course all these benefits come with suitably sized price tags.)

While not quite as good as the Japanese knives, the Victorinox Chef's Knife was a standout at a surprisingly low price of $76. The Victorinox has a stamped blade of European steel that handles more like a Japanese knife and this is coupled with a cheap but user-friendly moulded plastic handle. The Scanpan Classic Cook’s Knife also performed well and costs just over $100.

The 3 knives that are “worth considering” cover a wide range of prices – and there’s some variability in their mix of scores (see our Test results comparison). The lower-grade steel used in these knives means their blades are thicker than the Japanese ones, and there’s more of a tradeoff between sharpness and edge durability.

Top tips

  • Only cut on wooden, plastic or nylon cutting boards. Cutting on glass boards, stainless-steel bench tops or plates will damage the blade edge and rapidly blunt your knives.
  • Dishwashers are bad for sharp knives. Even if the handle is dishwasher safe, the caustic cleaners and all that clanking around will damage the knife’s edge. Careful hand washing is the way to go.
  • Store your knives on a magnetic rack, in a dedicated knife drawer or in a knife block (with the edge facing up).
  • Avoid the regular use of electric or "pull-through" knife sharpeners. These remove metal each time you use them and can progressively damage the blades.
  • A knife without a bolster is no less safe than a knife with one. It’s also easier to use and sharpen correctly. (A bolster, sometimes called a finger guard, is the thick piece of metal at the heel of the blade that your index finger sits against.)
  • Store your knives on a magnetic rack, in a dedicated knife drawer or in a knife block (with the edge facing up).
  • Avoid the regular use of electric or "pull-through" knife sharpeners. These remove metal each time you use them and can progressively damage the blades.
  • A knife without a bolster is no less safe than a knife with one. It’s also easier to use and sharpen correctly. (A bolster, sometimes called a finger guard, is the thick piece of metal at the heel of the blade that your index finger sits against.)

Forged or stamped?

Forged or stamped?

Forged or stamped?

This is an old debate that doesn't really apply these days. Few modern knives are truly “forged” and the heat treatments that all good knifes go through towards the end of their production means that forging makes no practical difference. What really matters is the quality and grade of the steel being used and how well it’s heat treated.

Sharpening and steeling

Sharp is good. But absolute sharpness needs to be traded off against how long a knife will stay sharp enough for use.

Scalpels and razor blades are high on the sharpness ladder but there’s a reason they’re disposable – they lose their edge very quickly.

The edge that gets put on a knife at the factory can vary considerably, both between brands and between individual knives of the same make and model. Some are very sharp but won't stay that way for long whereas others are less sharp but have a sturdier edge … and occasionally you find a knife that was obviously sharpened at the factory late on a Friday afternoon.

To keep your knife slicing as it did when new, you should learn to steel it properly. And once you’ve learnt how, you should steel it regularly.

See our short video guide on how to steel a knife.

The point of steeling is to straighten and re-align the edge of the blade. There should be no metal removed and no "sharpening" happening.

The best steels are metal or ceramic, and have smooth surfaces. For some reason many steels have very rough grooved surfaces – these are likely to act like a file and damage your knife. Rough metal or diamond steels should be avoided.

Once steeling stops working, it's time for your knives to get a proper sharpen (see below).

Professional knife sharpening

If you want a knife that’s as sharp and durable as it can be, then it’s best to take it to a professional knife sharpener. A good sharpener should be able to put precise angles on your knives that are matched to how you’re going to use them and the type of steel in the blade.

Unless the sharpener’s very experienced, avoid any sharpening service that uses motorised sharpeners (grinding belts or wheels). It’s just too easy to ruin a knife on them.

What about serrations?
Any chef will tell you that serrated knives only have one use in the kitchen – and that's for slicing bread. Anyone who tries to tell you they’re perfect for slicing ripe tomatoes and other soft squishy produce doesn't keep their knives sharp and has to resort to sawing rather than slicing.

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