The Victorinox is an excellent option for people who want to start cooking regularly but aren’t yet ready to invest a lot of money, offering a solid performance for around $45.
It’s a European-style knife, meaning the blade is both wider and slightly thicker than the Japanese-style MAC and Shun. It only weighs 6.6 ounces (lighter than both our top picks), but the blade measures 2 inches across at its widest point. It also didn’t feel quite as maneuverable as the Shun or the MAC. One tester noted that she “didn’t like the large handle for cutting small things,” although it was “great for large things” like squash.
The Victorinox’s handle was its most controversial feature. Made of Fibrox, with a slightly textured pattern, it offers a no-slip grip even if your hands are wet. Our fingers felt undeniably safe. But the handle also felt bulky to some testers, with several people noting the material seemed “cheap” or “flimsy.” One tester even told us, “each time I use it, it’s more comfortable. But it feels cheap, so I have a mental block there.”
Tate agrees that the Victorinox is the best knife for people who are on a budget (although he, like our testers, prefers a wood handle to the Victorinox’s plastic). Brownstein told us that commercial kitchens often order this knife for their line cooks. If you’re looking for low cost but respectable quality, the Victorinox is a good place to start.
We considered one other budget knife during hands-on testing, the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Forged Razor Series 8″ Chef’s Knife, which retails for about $40. It looks more impressive than the Victorinox, with a smooth, contoured handle that testers loved. But we were less impressed once we hit the kitchen. One tester noted that “the Victorinox did a better job chopping and peeling” across all categories. Another reported that the Zwilling required her to “saw” in order to cut her squash in half.
Other Knives to Consider
Both the lightest knife and the heaviest knife in our testing group got high marks from our testers although they weren’t as universally popular as our top picks.
Wusthof Classic 8″ Chef KnifeA European-style knife with a full bolster, for heavy-duty tasks.
The Wusthof Classic 8, a full-bolstered, European-style knife weighing in at 9.1 ounces, was favored by our large-handed testers: “The edge of the bolster has a nice gentle slope and sits wonderfully in my hand,” one participant noted. Testers praised the knife’s good blade control, even when chopping mint, and reported that they fell easily into a smooth rocking motion as they worked. “The Wusthof is my favorite German knife — a little heavier and a little cheaper than its Japanese counterparts,” Brownstein told us. “Wusthof was the first professional knife I bought 28 years ago, and it’s still in perfect shape.”
Global G-2 8-Inch Chef’s KnifeA lightweight knife with no bolster.
On the other end of the scale — literally — is the Global G-2 8-Inch Chef's Knife, weighing a mere 5.9 ounces. “I’ve always liked Global,” Brownstein said, explaining that this lighter knife is good for people who are more likely to prep for a single meal than spend long stints prepping as it can leave a sore spot on your hand after a long day of prep. Because it is all metal it is easy to maintain. Thanks to great quality steel, it also keeps a wicked edge.
Our testers agreed that the Global felt sleek and easy to handle: slicing carrots was like “cutting butter.” But it tended to be most popular with small-handed testers (one of whom flat-out told us, “I want this knife.”) Others found it a little too lightweight and didn’t like its lack of a bolster, which left fingers feeling exposed.
Did You Know?
Chef knives are versatile, but you’ll still need a few specialty knives.
As a rule of thumb, if the purpose of the knife is in its name — bread knife, filleting knife, even steak knife or grapefruit knife — it marks a task that will be difficult to accomplish with an all-purpose chef knife.
If you’re still building up your collection, a serrated bread knife to cut loaves of bread, and a paring knife — which has a very short blade — for tasks like paring apples or potatoes are good places to start. Depending on the cuts of meat and fish you use, you may eventually want to invest in a boning knife or a filleting knife as well.
But all of our experts agreed that you shouldn’t waste your money on a knife set. “Buy knives one at a time,” Rachel Muse, private chef and founder of Talk Eat Laugh, told us. “Each chef will have their own mixture; a set is too constricted and too prescriptive.”
Keep your chef knife properly sharpened.
As Muse puts it: “If you buy a professional knife, you need to keep an edge on it, otherwise it’s like owning a car and not putting fuel in it.”
If there’s a professional knife sharpener in your area, you can outsource the task. If not, MAC, Shun, and Wusthof all offer mail-in sharpening for a small fee. (Note that Victorinox and Global do not offer this service.) You can also learn to sharpen your knife yourself, but Wusthof notes: “It is always recommended to use the same brand sharpener as the knives you are sharpening, because the steel hardness varies from one manufacturer to another.”
Honing and sharpening are not the same.
A knife honing rod, or honing steel, is designed keep your knife functioning well between sharpenings. Honing straightens the edge of a knife, while sharpening literally grinds away part of the steel to produce a sharper edge.
Brownstein recommends honing your knife each time you pick it up (the whole process should only take 10-20 seconds) or, if prepping a lot, whenever it starts to feel dull. She offers these tips:
- Hold the steel upright and move the blade swiftly across and down the steel at a 25-degree angle, as if you were cutting slices of cheese.
- After you hone, check your knife’s sharpness by gently sliding it across a soft tomato. The knife should bite into the fruit right away without pressure.
But be aware that not all of our experts recommend honing. “People often hone incorrectly,” Resnick told us, “so unless you know you’re doing it right, it’s not worthwhile.”
There’s a right way and a wrong way to chop.
If you’re looking to improve your chopping game, Bob Tate offers these tips:
- Imagine your cutting board is a clock. Most people point their knife toward noon, placing the food horizontally across the cutting board. But if you angle your knife so that it points towards 10 o’clock (and adjust your food to stay parallel), the knife becomes an extension of your forearm and is easier to handle.
- Keep your knife in contact with your cutting board or work surface. There’s no need to lift it off the cutting board for each cut.
And one more word of advice: only use your knife on food. When Brownstein teaches cooking classes, she’s astonished at how many students use their chef knives for tasks like cutting open boxes. “A chefs knife is your most important kitchen tool” she says, “buy a pair of kitchen shears for boxes and bags!”
Avoid the dishwasher.
Regardless of manufacturer instructions, never put your chef knife in the dishwasher. And while you’re at it, never toss it into the sink. Every time the knife blade bangs against something — like the plastic spines of your dishwasher or the metal sides of your sink — it has the potential to dull, and you want to keep the blade as sharp as possible for as long as possible.
Instead, wash your knife by hand with standard dish soap, then use a clean dishtowel or paper towel to rub it completely dry. (If you let it air-dry, it can develop water stains or rust spots.)
Think about your cooking style. Do you regularly chop up whole chickens and large cuts of beef? If so, a full-bolstered European-style knife might be the best fit. More likely to dice veggies or butterfly chicken breasts? Japanese-style may feel more intuitive.
Take a test drive. If you’re unsure about your preferences, it’s a good idea to hold a few options in person. The best chef knife is the one that feels right to you.
Treat your knife kindly. One expert we spoke with has a chef knife she’s used since she was fifteen. Yes, a good knife is an investment — but if you treat it well, it’s a long-lasting one.