I’ve culled a list that covers a variety of styles and knife makers, but leans toward Japanese made. Which means many of these kitchen knives have thinner blades and are made of harder steel than their German counterparts. They will take a super-sharp edge and keep it longer—but you need to be more careful with them. You won’t get away with powering through a bone without cracking an edge. Capice?
Any one of these chef/santoku knives would make a wonderful gift for someone who loves to cook and loves beautifully designed things.
Global Chef (G-2), 8-Inch
NOW ONLY $100 (Reg. $125) @ Sur La Table / Amazon
Global kitchen knives are made in Japan and look like an artifact from the future. They are precision-machined, lightweight, and finished to perfection. (Celeb chef, Anthony Bourdain, used to swear by Global.)
The G2 classic chef (above) is one of Global’s most popular models. The shape of the blade is just about as close as Global gets to a traditional chef knife—which is very close. It has a slightly slimmer tip and belly than your average German chef’s, but, nonetheless, has the potential to be a serious cook’s go-to.
Shun Classic Santoku, 7-Inch
NOW ONLY $100 (Reg. $140)
Shun, along with Global, has become one of the giants of the Japanese kitchen knife world. With its pakkawood handle, unassuming simplicity, and wavy Damascus blade pattern, the Classic line echoes traditional Japanese knives blended with a Western design. The construction of the blade riffs on Japanese swords—a core of harder steel (VG-10) sandwiched between layers of softer stainless. The core does the cutting while the outer layers protect and decorate. Elegant, but sharp! I’ve test-driven this santoku and I love the feel. Snug and balanced. It’s nimble. . .yet the broad blade has enough umph to handle hefty jobs.
Miyabi Kaizen II Chef, 8-Inch
NOW ONLY $100–130 (Reg. $170) @ Sur La Table
Miyabi knives, manufactured in Seiki City, Japan, are a boutique brand acquired by Henckels a few years back. The Kaizen line is a hybrid of Japanese and German knifemaking (originally) custom-designed for Sur La Table. The Kaizen II uses a newly-engineered, fine-grain stainless steel (FC61)—the same steel Bob Kramer uses in his Essential chef’s—which allows it to take a super-fine edge. Like the Shun (above), it’s constructed of a hard core that’s been wrapped in layers of softer steel that protect and produce the Damascus patterns. Can a $100 kitchen knife really look this sexy? (Pssst: If you love the Kaizen Damascus pattern, but prefer a more compact blade, the Miyabi Kaizen II santoku [VG-10 steel] would make your dream come true.)
Wusthof Classic Ikon Chef, 8-Inch
NOW ONLY $120 (Reg. $160) @ Amazon / Sur La Table
If you’re on a tight budget or think a certain someone will appreciate a more classic-looking handle, the Wusthof Classic chef is on sale as well for $20 less. NOW ONLY $100 @ Sur La Table / Amazon
More On Chef Knives
To learn more about kitchen knives and the brands I recommend, please check out Best Chef Knives — Six Recommendations and How to Buy a Great Chef Knife.
Henckels Pro Bread knife, 8-Inch
NOW ONLY $70 (Reg. $110) @ Amazon
There’s nothing more annoying than, instead of slicing, smooshing French baguettes down into your cutting board. Here’s the perfect fix at the perfect price. Henckels’ Pro line is a snazzy redesign of their signature Professional S by Italian architect, Matteo Thun. The quality remains, but with a modern flair.
Wusthof Classic Double-Serrated Bread Knife
NOW ONLY $120 (Reg $140) @Amazon / Sur La Table
Behold, the Ultimate Bread knife. No joke. If you’ve been searching the world wide for a knife that will truly do the job—from hard-crusted Italian peasant rounds to delicate croissants—your quest ends here. The double-serrated is carried in Classic Ikon and Grand Prix II lines as well. Read more about it at Wusthof Knives.
• • • HIGH END JAPANESE • • •
Bob Kramer Meiji Chef, 8-Inch (Zwilling-Henckels)
NOW ONLY $250 (Reg. $300) @ Sur La Table
Designed by Bob Kramer—near legendary American bladesmith—the Meiji collection melds East and West at a whole new level of quality and style. Believe it or not, from start to finish, they are handcrafted. In Seiki City, Japan, home of the samurai sword. Similar in concept to the Shun and Miyabi—German blade meets Japanese handle, blade composed of a sandwiched core. But the blade is wider and the balance and feel different as well (more knuckle clearance for one thing). If you want to dip deeper into the Kramer/Henckels kitchen knives collection, click on over to Bob Kramer Knives — Why Spend $300 on a Chef Knife?
Miyabi Birchwood Chef Knife, 8-Inch
NOW ONLY $230 (Reg. $350) @ Sur La Table / Amazon
Simply said, the Miyabi Birchwood is a babe among kitchen knives. But, to continue the metaphor, it’s a babe with brains. For, it’s not only gorgeous, but comes from the factory probably sharper than any knife on this page (well, maybe the Meiji). And it will stay sharp longer because the steel it’s made of (SG2) has been heat-treated to a Rockwell hardness of 63 (two points higher than any knife on this page). I’ve felt the Birchwood handle in my grubby mitts and it feels like. . .well, like, unfinished wood—earthy and real. Gift this to a gourmet cook who has an appreciation for the finer things in life—they will never ever forget the moment they opened the box. (Unlike the Meiji, the Birchwood comes in a full line of knives—including multiple-sized chefs, and a 7-piece set.)
• • • KNIFE SETS ON SALE • • •
Henckels Four Star 2-Piece Chef’s Set
NOW ONLY $100 (Reg. $130) @ Amazon
Next to Wusthof, Henckels is the other major German knife manufacturer who’s been pounding out kitchen knives for a couple of centuries. Their “newer” Four Star line is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary and the quality of the blade is still tops. This sale gives you two knives—an 8-inch chef and a 4-inch paring knife—for the price you’d normally pay for one. The ergonomics of the paring knife make it one of my very favorites for peeling fruit—the knob at the base of the handle keeps it firmly in my palm.
Global 3-piece Prep Set
NOW ONLY $160 (Reg. $200) @ Sur La Table
What’s most unusual about this Global 3-piece set is that it offers you an actual bread knife (most 3-piece kitchen knife sets do not). So you start off with the core three, the three most useful knives to have in your kitchen. A most excellent wedding gift. The only trade off is that the chef knife is a bit short—ideally, it should be 8-inches. If you do a lot of big jobs in your kitchen (chopping large onions, etc), then you may not be happy with this chef knife as your mainstay.
Henckels Pro 7-Piece Set
NOW ONLY $300 (Reg. $350) @ Amazon / Sur La Table
Set includes: 8-inch chef, 4-inch paring, 5.5-inch santoku, 5-inch serrated, shears, steel, block |
As mentioned above, the Henckels Pro line is a stylish retooling of the classic German kitchen knife. What’s nice about this set is that instead of the obligatory utility knife (which is rarely used), you get a santoku which is super-useful for smaller jobs. And by having two all-purpose knives—the chef and the santoku—it allows two cooks to be working at the same time in the same kitchen. The only negative, of course, is the missing bread knife. But you can pick up an inexpensive one for a song that will easily do the trick and fill out the set: OXO Good Grips, 8-Inch Bread Knife / Henckels International Fine Edge Pro, 8-Inch Bread Knife.
I really like Shuns! They seem to fit my hands the best. But they are a bit expensive. . .
The price for the Shun knife on both sites is out by 49 dollars.
Thanks for the catch, Doug (they’re actually out by $40). The sale is no longer on for the Shun or for the Kramer Essential either for that matter. But I’m not sure if it’s worth changing the copy yet because the merchants often play with prices. That happened with the Kramer Meiji which was on sale during the holidays, then came off sale (and they ran out of stock to boot), but now is on sale again :)
We have been using Wusthof before, but as the time comes we shifted to using the cheaper ones like the Victorinox. Though Victorinox is good, it would still be best if we were able to buy some Wusthof knives. Is there any discount on this, aside from the free shipping on Amazon?
Although I realize Victorinox performs very well in the kitchen, and may have a sharper factory edge than many Wusthof knives, I would just find it depressing to use an inexpensively made knife with a cheap plastic handle in my kitchen day after day :)
Sorry, but KitchenKnifeGuru does not offer any special discounts. The point of the above post is simply to highlight great deals on high-quality kitchen knives. (BTW, Sur La Table also offers free shipping on any order over $59.)
Hi, any experience with the Enso hammered Damascus Japanese prep knife?
No, I haven’t had any personal experience with Enso knives. But my research tells me that the knives in the Enso HD, Hammered Damascus line, should qualify as a high-quality kitchen knives. They are made in Seki City, Japan, one of the knife-making capitals of the world, famous for its quality, and the manufacturer has supposedly been in business since 1932. The company makes what looks like identical knives under two different brands—Enso and Yaxell. Not sure why, but they both look to be high-quality.
The Enso HD Hammered Damascus line is similar in design to the Shun Premier (see them both below), with a hard steel core, sandwiched between softer stainless steel that has been hammered. But a comparable Shun knife will be twice as expensive, thus Enso offers terrific value.
Here are what I see as the major differences between Enso HD Hammered Damascus and the Shun Premier:
• Core steel (that forms the cutting edge): Enso uses VG-10 which is respectable and is what Shun used to use in their Classic line. But Shun has now upgraded to VG-MAX alloy (a proprietary name) that should be more wear resistant and tougher than VG-10, yet still hold a very fine edge. Both steels come heat-treated at HRC 61—which is significantly harder (and more brittle) than most Western-made knives.
• Layers: Enso has 17 layers per side, while Shun has 34. This could make the Shun a bit stronger, but 17 layers per side doesn’t strike me as skimping.
• Sharpitude: Both come sharpened at 14-16 degrees which is razor sharp.
• Handle: Enso is made of micarta, a highly compressed composite made of linen and resin. Shun uses pakkawood, a highly compressed wood composite. Both handles should hold up well.
• Feel: I can guarantee you that they will each have a different feel . . . but this is something you can adjust to if you choose to, or let it drive you crazy.
Conclusion: I assume the Shun Premier, with a dramatically higher price tag, will have more spit and polish and may also simply retain its good looks for a longer time. It also may perform better and should require less sharpening. But the Enso HD Hammered Damascus is no slouch and comes for less than half the price of Shun. From the reviews I’ve read and from what I can extrapolate, it would be hard to go wrong with this puppy! Heck, I might add it to my recommendations above. . . :)
Enso HD Hammered Damascus Prep Knife, 5.5-inch: VG-10, 14 layers per side, micarta handle, $70
Shun TDM0727 Premier Santoku Knife, 5.5-inch: VG-MAX, 34 layers per side, pakkawood handle, $165
What is wrong with Lamson made here in the good old USA? I was a chef for 15 years and always had our staff use their knives. Great product! I just bought some for my home kitchen and they are every bit as good as the Henckels I bought 2 years ago for much more money.
Hi Richard! There’s nothing wrong with Lamson knives . . . other than the fact I’d never heard of them before :) But as I mention at the top of my Best Chef Knives article. . . none of my recommendations are intended to be a definitive list, just useful starting points. Because there are a whole lot of great kitchen knives out there!
Anyway . . . I just checked Lamson out and, according to their specs, they appear rock solid. The same kinds of standards as the German boys—quality stainless steel, drop forged, HRC 58. And that’s great to hear they compare so well against Henckels. Thanks much for the shout out!
Here are some links for anyone who’d like to shop:
Fire Forged Chef’s Knife Blade Length: 8″
LamsonSharp 8-Inch Wide Forged Chef’s Knife
LamsonSharp 10-Inch Wide Forged Chef’s Knife
I stumbled onto your site around 16 years too late! I do often hone our knives, but haven’t been doing it correctly. Also, some professional knife sharpers really did a number on our knives and the edges are terrible. All my knives cut about as good as butter knives at this point.
We have decent knives. Most are Henckels Professional S with a Wusthof Classic santoku. My husband and I are debating what to do. Do we send them to one of your favorite professional knife sharpeners to see if they can be rescued? Or do we just start over and buy new knives and treat them properly from the start? I have a feeling it will be pricey to rescue them because many of them might have to be “thinned.”
Do not lament—odds are very good that any of the professional sharpeners I recommend can revive your knives! If you go back and reread Reviews of Professional Knife Sharpening. . ., you’ll see that a number of the knives I sent them were in really poor condition.
Yes, it some cases it might cost more (for thinning, etc.), but because your knives are quality forged blades it should be worth it. The only exception to this would be if: 1) the heat-treating of the steel has been compromised by being sharpened too hot, or 2) the edges have been ground down so far as to not have enough knife left to be worth it.
It’s impossible for me to make this call without seeing your knives. And the heat-treating issue can’t be determined by pure visuals. But, if you wanted to send photos to email@example.com, I might be able to give you some more specific feedback :)
A top-notch pro sharpener can do wonders though. They love reviving knives. . . .and your knives should be worth reviving. And if you mail them a bunch (4 or more), you will save on postage and handling.
Please feel free to contact me with any more questions :)
… And I’m thoroughly confused now!
Why are you confused, Raana? Because there are so many more aspects and options to chef knives than you imagined? That’s OK. You don’t have to be an expert to find a great knife for you. But you will need to spend a little time educating yourself as a shopper—if you want to find the best fit. The same way you would if you were buying a car. Yes, a kitchen knife may feel like a minor purchase not worth that much time and thought. But if you cook regularly, having a great knife, that will keep it’s edge and stay sharp, can make it a lot more fun.
Buying a quality chef knife is the first step. The second, and just as important, is taking just a little bit of time out to regularly hone it.
Thanks for the very informative site. I’ve referred to it extensively over the past month in prepartion for taking my foodie/cooking show addict daughter out to buy her first “lifetime” knife. We found a local shop that carried all of your six recommended chef knife brands except Shun and Mac brands. They did carry the Zwilling/Kramer knives though.
We brought our own veggies and let her loose for a one-hour test drive of 7 to 8 different knives after which she selected the Miyabi Artisan 7″ Santoku; I took the prepped veggies with me to make some homemade soup.
The Messermeister 12″ ceramic hone is on it’s way via Amazon. I did want to raise a point regarding the knives with anti-stick mullions or dimples (see your photo of the Shun santoku in the “Knives on Sale” page). The dimples in the photo appear to be very close to the bevelled edge. I don’t know if this is your previously sharpened knife or a new Shun knife photo, but wouldn’t a dimple/bevel interaction make honing and/or sharpening problematic?
Sorry to be so delayed in responding. Been busy moving my family halfway across the country :)
Yes, dimples/mullions can, eventually, be a problem. As a knife wears down, usually quite a bit though, they can interfere with the cutting edge. For this reason, some cooks avoid dimpled knives like the plague.
On the other hand, I own a number of dimpled knives and have not worn them down enough that this poses a problem. So, in general, if you don’t over-sharpen your knives, you shouldn’t encounter any mullion interference for a loooooong time.
But it does depend on the individual knife. And the Shun santoku you are singling out, may be more vulnerable to this possible future problem than most. (Please keep in mind though, that the steel this knife is made of is harder, and more wear-resistant, than your average German knife.)
Hope this helps!