Here in the Saveur Test Kitchen, we’ve had ample opportunity to test drive a covetable selection of kitchen tools. Some of our favorites are the kitchen knives. When it comes to style, comfort, and function, many high end brands are worth every precious penny. Whether made in Japan, Europe, or the Wisconsin, the craftsmanship of the world’s top bladesmiths is worthy of admiration.
On the other hand, most kitchen tasks don’t require a Ferrari of a blade. Mercifully, there are a number of budget kitchen knives out there that get can go head-to-head with some of their most expensive counterparts. Here are a few of our favorites in the most useful categories – at a wide range of price points.
These are the workhorses of the kitchen, so they should be your most thoughtful investment. Stick with something versatile (nothing too long or too short), durable (hard enough to hold an edge but easy to sharpen), and comfortable (this is personal; consider your own grip, hand size, and strength).
There are advantages to both European and Asian style blades, but for home use and for the widest range of applications, consider a hybrid shape. These two all-purpose chef’s knives combine elements of both Eastern and Western styling; perfect for trimming precise strips of sushi fish, matchstick julienne vegetables, or feathery chiffonade.
The new crowd-funded kitchenware company Misen (“meez-uhn,” as in mise en place) is upending the way you stock your arsenal by connecting the manufacturer directly to consumer, while giving other high-end brands a run for their money.
Their affordable chef’s knife will only put you out $60; it combines Japanese steel, the taper and rock of classic western blades, and an acutely angled edge for a sturdy yet nimble blade that can chop, slice, or butcher through your most ambitious kitchen projects.
Japanese knife brand Shun recently launched this super-premium line through William Sonoma, and I’m a little bit in love. The attractive damascus patterning on the blade is sandwiched over alternating microlayers of high-carbon stainless steel. The overlay provides a bit of texture, preventing foods from sticking during cutting while the layers purportedly wear at different rates, creating “micro serrations” that extend performance between sharpenings.
Compared to true santoku blades, the Hikari’s edge has a slight curve, allowing for a bit of rock; this speeds up tasks like milling through finely chopped herbs or mincing garlic and ginger. The curved birch Pakkawood handle is smooth and comfortable for a wide range of hand sizes.
There’s little practical reason to break the bank on a luxury paring knife. The aren’t heavy enough to warrant top-shelf steel: since they weigh next to nothing, they aren’t prone to breakage when dropped, the nimble tasks they are used for aren’t the sorts to necessitate much heft, and sharpening a 3-inch blade takes very little time and effort.
That said, if you want to treat yourself to a fancy blade without dropping a chunk of change, paring knives have the most attainable entry point. I like to keep one or two reliable, cheap-o options on hand that can withstand a run through the dishwasher while stashing my snazzy custom mini away for more delicate tasks: butchering small birds like cornish hens and squab, separating fragrant strips citrus zest away from the bitter pith, and coring juicy strawberries and tomatoes.
Budget Thai knife-maker Kiwi Brand is a staff favorite. Their blades are lightweight, they come in a range of Asian styles and shapes, and they hold a precise edge better than many premium brands. Best of all, they top out at $16.95. Many of Kiwi’s knives, including this petit chopper are only available with unfinished wooden handles that will degrade with time, though at $4.95, you won’t mind replacing this one in a few years.
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I’m partial to the blade shape; most paring knives are intended for working in the air with a “choke grip” and so they’re awkward for use on a cutting board. This little guy has an offset heel like a full-sized chef’s knife so your knuckles won’t hit the board while chopping or slicing; the butt of the handle has a gentle curve for a comfortable grip.
This elegant, American-made paring knife from the bladesmiths over at Town Cutler is a true knife nerd’s knife. Its carbon steel blade requires a bit of babying – left wet or dirty, it will most definitely rust – but if you’re willing to show it some love, it will reward you with a superfine, superdurable edge. The nickel bolster, and brass fasteners are built to last and the ergonomically-designed stabilized wood handle is comfortable and secure in a variety of grips.
A Proper Bread Knife
I am a firm believer in a good budget bread knife. The best serrations–deep, far apart, and sharply pointed–are key, but also pretty much impossible to maintain, so don’t invest in a serrated blade expecting it to last a lifetime. Serrated blades can be sharpened, but at the expense of the pointed teeth, eventually wearing them down to a straight edge. Fortunately, there are loads of affordable bread knives on the market. I prefer one that is long and thin for sweeping featherlight cakes into layers or for shaving thin slices of brioche–Kutler makes an inexpensive and reliable version, but you might like something with a little more weight if you’re regularly sawing through crunchy loaves of pain de campagne. This panini knife from Wusthof is slightly offset, allowing the user to put a bit more force into their slice.
And a Carving/Slicing Knife
I don’t get a ton of use out of my carving knife, but every once in a while, I need to make lovely, long cuts through a roast or a side of cured salmon; having the right blade for the job is a simple luxury that helps me slice through proteins a pro.
Unless you’re regularly cooking for a crowd, your slicer won’t see as much use as your all purpose chef’s knife, so long as you’re maintining a good edge, an inexpensive blade like this $7 wonder from Shanasana will do the trick. And if you’re only bringing it out for special occasions and you want something a little bit showy, upgrade to this slick Japanese set from Shun or this Italian stunner, designed for shaving paper thin slices of prosciutto de Parma.
Plus Some Oddballs Worth Keeping Around
I was born and raised in Rhode Island, and no self-respecting New England cook would ever be without an oyster shucker. A good shucking knife should have a textured handle to avoid slippage and a thick, short, sturdy blade. The hand guard style always seems to rattle loose with wear; my go-to is the “Providence” from Swiss brand, Victorinox. Beginners should protect their non-shucking hand with a thick towel or one of these rad protective oyster gauntlets.
When I visited Isaiah Schroeder’s knife studio this spring, I fell pretty hard for his one-of-a-kind custom knives. The Madison, WI bladesmith has a background in sculpture, furniture-making, and woodworking and his knives are a testament to his range of skills. Most of his knives are made to order, but Schroeder has teamed up with Mastro.co to offer these fierce Asian cleavers.
Mastro brings the rough, heavy blades in from a South Korean manufacturer, then Schroeder polishes them up, gives them a corrosion-resistant “San Mai” patina, and refits them with his own handcrafted African blackwood and brass handles. The slick cleavers can easily hack through chicken bones while holding an edge sharp enough for more delicate chopping tasks. At $150 a piece, you’ll be hard pressed to find a prettier, more badass blade.