Kitchen tools tend to fall into two categories — need-to-haves and nice-to-haves. Items like an air fryer or ice cream maker may spice things up, but you can certainly get by without one. On the other hand, items — like pots and pans — are essential to everyday cooking. Knives are a tool that falls into the latter category. “Knives are a chef’s best friend and the most essential tool in every kitchen. You’ll pick one up literally every time you cook,” says chef Dennis Prescott, co-host of “Restaurants on the Edge” and author of “Eat Delicious: 125 Recipes for Your Daily Dose of Awesome.”
When it comes to building or upgrading your kitchen knife collection, it is less about quantity and more about quality. Ask any culinary pro and they will likely have the same advice: A few quality knives are all any chef needs to more than cover their bases in the kitchen. We spoke to professional chefs about what to look for while shopping for knives. They also shared some of their favorites for different cooking needs.
Selected.Our top picks
How we picked the best kitchen knives
When it comes to shopping for kitchen knives, we asked experts what to keep in mind. Here’s what they suggested:
- Knife type: For most households, there are three types of knives that it is helpful to own — a chef’s knife, a paring knife and a serrated knife, says Prescott. “Do I have more shapes and sizes of knives in my kit? Yes. Do I need more than these three? Not really,” he says.
- Material: For the home cook who wants a great knife that is sharp and easy to use, Prescott says stainless steel is the way to go. Celebrity chef and restaurateur David Burke agrees that stainless is a good option, but he also suggests looking into ceramic options, noting that shoppers shouldn’t underestimate this (often more affordable) option. “The sharpest knives I have right now are ceramic, and you can put those in the dishwasher,” he said. “They keep their edge, and they’re pretty in bright colors, so you can find them easily in the drawer.”
- Hardness level: Both Burke and Prescott suggest paying attention to a knife’s Rockwell Hardness Scale rating. This number indicates the hardness of steel by measuring the depth of an indentation after a heavy object impacts it. This rating is often indicated on the edge of the blade with the initials HRc. Anything below 52 is too soft for a kitchen knife. But a rating can be too high as well — if a knife is too tough, it may be prone to chipping. Ideally, for a knife used in a home, you should look for a rating between 52 and 62.
The best knife for every home cook
From budget-friendly chef knives to santoku knives worth splurging on, these are the essential kitchen knives that our experts recommend. And remember, you don’t have to build up your knife collection overnight — a few key pieces are more worthwhile than a massive set with a wide variety of mediocre knives.
The best chef's knives for home cooks
This all-purpose knife is what you’ll use for almost every task in the kitchen — including chopping vegetables, slicing meat and more, says Prescott. Originating in Germany and France, a chef’s knife can vary in length from 6 to 12 inches and has a broad blade that curves upward to form a tip. “They’re great for ‘rocker-style’ chopping and are typically heavier than their Japanese-style counterparts,” says Prescott, alluding to the Santoku knife we cover below.
Rockwell Hardness rating: 56
Wüsthof’s versatile high-carbon steel chef’s knife is a kitchen workhorse with a sturdy, 8-inch blade, according to Prescott. “You will pay a little more, but the Wüsthof is still a reasonable price point while offering great quality, and it’s easy to find in a store, so you can check it out [in person],” he says. “The German craftsmanship is excellent. It will last you forever.”
Rockwell Hardness rating: 56
This Swiss company has been making knives since 1884. Because of features like the non-slip ergonomic handle and the comfortable 6.1-ounce weight, Prescott says this stainless steel 10-inch chef’s knife is both practical and dependable, adding that the Victorinox brand generally offers a very good quality line at a reasonable price.
Rockwell Hardness rating: 57
“I reach for this knife almost every time I cook because its blade stays very, very sharp,” says associate updates editor Zoe Malin. “I never worry about whether it will be able to cut through food, even watermelon, butternut squash and thick fish filets.” The blade is made from high-carbon stainless steel and has an ergonomic handle for a comfortable grip, according to the brand.
Best santoku knives for home cooks
The santoku knife is Japan’s version of an all-purpose knife — it is similar to a chef’s knife, though it has a much thinner and harder blade for better precision when cutting. Used for a variety of tasks in the kitchen — including cutting meats and chopping nuts — this type of blade typically ranges from 5 to 8 inches long. “This style has a wide blade with no tip [and] a dull back spine that curves down to meet the straight-edged front blade,” Prescott says. “It’s thinner and lighter to hold than a chef’s knife and allows for more refined slicing — and is my personal preference in the kitchen.”
Rockwell Hardness rating: 60 to 61
With a 7-inch blade and 6-inch handle, this option is a favorite of chef David Burke — he said he prefers a shorter handle because there is less risk of knocking it off the counter. Prescott added that the Shun is his go-to knife when he cooks for friends and family and at events. “I have a bunch of Shuns. They always hold up,” says Prescott.
Rockwell Hardness rating: 57
This Henckels Santoku Knife is another favorite of Burke’s, who says it is a good choice for cutting vegetables, meat and fish. The blade is made from stainless steel and it can be hand washed or placed in the dishwasher, according to the brand.
Rockwell Hardness rating: 60
This santoku knife has a 7-inch blade made from Damascus stainless steel and the blade is designed to stay sharp for a long time, according to the brand. “I’m obsessed with the handle of this knife because it’s covered in a soft material that’s comfortable to grip and just overall really nice to touch,” says Malin. “Plus, the blade is wide so it doubles as a scraper, which is especially helpful when I’m slicing onions or mincing garlic and need to transfer them from my cutting board to a pot.”
Best bread knives for home cooks
A bread knife has a serrated blade with small teeth to help cut through hard crusts without crushing bread. But your use for this knife goes way past bread — the sharp serrated edge makes easy work of cutting through other foods with hard surfaces but soft insides, like tomatoes. “The bread knife is much more than the name implies,” Prescott says. “From carving roasts to slicing melon or eggplant — and yes, slicing bread — a serrated knife can often be a lifesaver in the kitchen.”
Rockwell Hardness rating: 56
Wüsthof’s Gourmet 8-inch Bread Knife is one of Prescott’s top picks because it’s slim and sharp. This high-carbon steel serrated blade, which the brand says resists stains and corrosion while maintaining its pristine edge, is a great choice for those who want quality without the cost of a forged knife (a knife made from one single bar of steel).
Rockwell Hardness rating: 58
This 6-inch serrated knife has a ceramic blade and a textured handle to provide a stable grip. “I’ve owned this knife for years and the blade is as sharp as the day I bought it,” says NBC Select contributing editor Bethany Heitman. “I also love that it’s dishwasher safe — it makes it so easy to clean.”
Rockwell Hardness rating: 56
At under $10, this bread knife is a good buy for those on a budget. The 10-inch blade of this serrated knife is made from stainless steel and has an ergonomically designed plastic handle.To clean this knife, simply run it under water and wipe it down with a damp cloth, according to the brand. This knife has a 4.4-star average from over 2,600 reviews on Amazon.
A paring knife is a small, short-bladed knife used for intricate cutting, peeling, mincing and dicing, Burke says. The straight blades typically range from 2 to 4 inches and are ideal for more delicate slicing, deveining shrimp, trimming and cutting fruit into different shapes. “It’s a small knife tailor-made for the finer, more finesse-required jobs in the kitchen that require a more delicate touch, like hulling strawberries,” says Prescott.
Rockwell Hardness rating: 56
It’s clear from many of our experts that Victornox’s paring knives aren’t just budget-friendly, but also reliable. With options ranging in length and blade type, these multipurpose knives are ideal for intricate cutting and peeling, they noted.
Rockwell Hardness rating: 61
This paring knife has a 3.5-inch blade made from high-carbon stainless steel and a plastic handle. The knife comes with a cover that acts as a sharpener — each time you pull the knife out of the cover, it sharpens the blade, according to the brand. This knife has a 4.4-star average from over 7,200 reviews on Amazon.
How to shop for kitchen knives
When shopping for a kitchen knife, Prescott says it all comes down to personal preference and how the tool feels in your hand. “Whether you prefer the Japanese-style santoku or a chef’s knife, you want to love your knife. Like, actually love,” he says. “Your knife should be the driver to inspire you to want to cook more and encourage community at the table. That should be your end goal.”
There are countless individual knife options to consider, not to mention oversized sets with flashy components. So how do you determine the best investment for your needs? The professional chefs we spoke to say you should pay particular attention to how a knife feels in your hand and how it is crafted.
Look for the right feel for you
Knives aren’t a “one size fits all” type of tool — how it feels in your hand matters more than many realize. “You always want knives whose weight and size are somewhat comparable to that of the person using them,” Burke says. “A small person is not going to be comfortable with or accurately handle a large, heavy knife, and it’s important that you feel comfortable with the knives you use.”
Prescott says that you’ll be less likely to pick up your knives each day if they don’t feel right in your hands. “It should fit like a glove,” he says. “Coming from someone who’s used a ‘bad’ knife to chop onions for four hours and dealt with the blister battle wounds, you want a knife that is comfortable and fun for you to use.” Prescott said you should try to test the knives out in person before buying them online. “It might look incredible in photos, but you need to hold it in your hand.”
Understand the different types of blades
Depending on the type of knife you buy, the blade can be constructed in one of two ways: either forged or stamped.
- A forged knife is formed from a single bar of steel, which is heated and then pounded into the right shape, usually by a specially trained craftsman. The blade of a forged knife is typically heavier and thicker than a stamped knife, according to Prescott.
- A stamped knife consists of a blade that is cut out or “stamped” from a large sheet of steel, similar to how a cookie is cut from a piece of dough with a cookie cutter. The steel is then honed, heat-treated for durability and attached to the handle. These knives tend to be less expensive and not as strong as those that are forged.
“Forged [knives] are more on the premium side of things,” Prescott says. “But it doesn’t mean a stamped can’t be a great all-around knife. It’s really about how the knife feels in your hand.” Burke agrees, noting that while a forged knife holds up better, you likely won’t “go through that much wear and tear” using your knives at home.
The right price
Knives can range anywhere from $10 up into the thousands, depending on the type of steel, the handle, the craftsmanship and the company’s reputation, Burke says. But our experts agree that buying a high-end knife isn’t necessary — especially for the home cook. “The most important thing is keeping [your knives] sharp. It doesn’t matter if it’s a $10 knife or a $100 knife. You can buy the most expensive knife in the world, but if you don’t keep it sharp, you’re not going to like it,” says Burke. “You just need a knife that’s comfortable in the hand. It’s like a car — you want to feel good in it.”
How to take care of your kitchen knives
Just as essential as narrowing down the right type of knives for you in the sea of gadgets and accessories is how you care for them once you start cooking. “To keep your knives sharp, hand wash and dry them — don’t put them in the dishwasher, which can dull blades and destroy handles — and then store properly in a knife drawer, block or on a magnetic wall strip,” says Burke.
Burke recommends buying a stone to sharpen your knives when they get dull. “The steel rods don’t sharpen your knife — those are just to get the bristles off the edge after sharpening on the stone,” he says. “It will clean up the edge, but that’s it.”
Meet our experts
At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Dennis Prescott is a chef, co-host of “Restaurants on the Edge” and author of Eat Delicious: 125 Recipes for Your Daily Dose of Awesome.
- David Burke is a celebrity chef and restaurateur who has been nominated twice for James Beard’s Best Chef award.
Why trust Select?
Lauren Levy is a contributor with work published on The Knot, PopSugar, CafeMom, Mom.com, Bridal Guide and Care.com.
Barbara Booth is a former CNBC reporter whose work spans a wide range of business and social topics, including work/life issues, international business and personal finance. In addition to CNBC, her work has been seen in USA Today, Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, HerMoney, and for various television news programs including the Nightly Business Report.