The Three Kitchen Knives You Actually Need

These are the most essential kitchen knives and our top picks for each.

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Shun Sora Chef’s Knife

Food and Wine / Russell Kilgore

There are three primary knives that every home cook should have in their kitchen: a chef’s knife, a serrated knife (also called a bread knife), and a paring knife. This trifecta — sometimes referred to as “The Big Three” — empowers a cook with the right tools for nearly every kitchen task, from finely chopping carrots to slicing thick cuts of meat. Here, we detail when to use which kind of knife and share our picks for the very best versions of each.

Our cutting-edge recommendations are the result of a rigorous testing process. To determine which knives to test, we tapped into our network of tastemakers including, chefs, cookbook authors, and F&W staff. We then got to work, evaluating the knives with testing methods tailored to each one’s most important attributes. These are the key knives to own and our favorite picks to buy.

The Chef’s Knife

The first of the big three — chef’s knives — are considered the workhorse of any kitchen because they can be used for a wide range of tasks, from the most detail-oriented, like dicing vegetables, to larger-scale, such as butchering poultry. While traditional Western chef’s knives from places like Germany or France tend to have blades that are 8-10” long, the Japanese version of a chef’s knife–called a santoku–runs shorter, closer to 6-7”. Western chef’s knives are often curved, allowing for a rocking motion while cutting, whereas Japanese santokus have a straight edge, leading instead to short, downward strokes. Santokus also tend to be lighter, with finer blades, which is why, when it comes to cutting through bone, we recommend reaching for a heavy Western chef’s knife or–better yet–a cleaver (see more on cleavers below).

Western chef’s knives and santokus empower the cook to cut in a controlled, powerful fashion. Although choosing between the two styles has a lot to do with personal preference, keep an eye out for a sharp blade, a comfortable handle, and a knife that yields clean, even cuts. Out of an original list of 30 chef’s knives and santokus, all tested by our lab and editors, we selected six as the best. This group of varied, versatile chef’s knives offers an all-purpose style for every kind of cook.

Our Best Overall Pick: Mac Knife Professional 8 Inch Hollow Edge Chef Knife

Mac Knife 8-Inch Hollow Edge Chef's Knife


The classic, simple design on this knife feels like a hybrid of Japanese and German styles–the dimples on the blade help push food away while the knife is at work, and the length and weight of both the blade and the handle keep the knife balanced. One tester called this knife a “rock solid” choice for nearly all kitchen tasks. Throughout testing, this knife received the highest marks, yielding clean, even slices every time. ($156)

The Serrated Knife

Serrated knives, often appearing in the kitchen as bread knives, have a scalloped edge similar to a saw. They’re made for cutting through foods that are hard on the outside and soft on the inside, like a crusty loaf of bread or a whole pineapple, and are also great for slicing cakes–their long blades can move through a cake neatly, yielding pieces that are clean and intact. When choosing a bread knife, a long blade is key. Generally speaking, a serrated knife should be long enough to make slicing through a loaf easily–you don’t want to lift the knife up while rocking it back and forth. Bread knives typically fall somewhere between 7 to 10 inches, and longer blades can maximize efficiency by minimizing effort.

Another thing to consider in a serrated knife? Handle clearance. You don’t want your knuckles dragging on the cutting board while you’re working the blade. Taller blades and offset blades typically allow for more space between the handle and your hand, providing a good amount of clearance while slicing. Our top-rated bread knives run the gamut as far as pricing and style, each bringing its own kind of functionality and flair.

Our Best Overall Pick: Zwilling Pro 9-inch Bread Knife with Z15 Serration

Zwilling Pro 9-inch Bread Knife Z15 Serration


“This knife cuts through a tomato like it’s whipped butter, evenly and easily, even on thin slices,” said one tester. We liked the longer blade on this knife, as well as the shallower serrations, the combination of which helps maintain an even cut through a sourdough boule. Another upside? This knife is dishwasher safe. ($140)

The Paring Knife

Small but mighty, the paring knife is best deployed in cutting that’s detailed, delicate, and requires control, like hulling strawberries or slicing a clove of garlic. When choosing a paring knife, look for a grip in which your hand feels secure enough to wield the knife in the air–while peeling an apple, for example–as opposed to using downward force on a cutting board. There’s something in here for every kind of cook, whether you’re looking for a version that’s inexpensive but utilitarian or high-end and unique.

Our Best Overall Pick: Wüsthof Classic Ikon Paring Knife

Wusthof Classic Ikon Paring Knife


Classically German in its design, this knife–with its small, narrow blade and riveted handle–is ideal for kitchen tasks that demand attention to detail, like deveining prawns and shaving root vegetables. “For me, this is the ideal paring knife,” said one tester. “With its weight mostly in the handle, I have a good, solid grip and can cut with control. I love the full-tang design because it feels indestructible.” ($115)

Other Important Kitchen Knives

While chef’s, serrated, and paring knives are the foundations of any kitchen, there’s an entire world of knife shapes and styles available. Sharpen your skills and expand your arsenal with these next-level blades, recommended by our experts.



Victor Protasio / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

Chinese cleavers, which resemble hatchets with their rectangular blades, can vary in size, shape, and purpose. They’re most often used for tasks that require some force, like cutting up squash or breaking down bones, but can also be great tools for pounding meat and dicing vegetables. Cookbook author Andrea Nguyen recommends the Chan Chi Kee Small Cleaver as an all-purpose kitchen workhorse. “I use my cleaver like a chef’s knife because it preps veggies and soft proteins well, plus it’s a great bench scraper,” she said. Made of carbon steel, this cleaver–known as a sangdao–has a thinner blade that’s intended to be used with vegetables. If you’re seeking a cleaver to cut through bone, look for a meat cleaver with a thick, heavy blade. (, $85)



Victor Protasio / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

The nakiri is a specialized Japanese knife made for cutting vegetables. Messermeister’s Kawashima 6.5” Nakiri from Seki, Japan has a straight, thin edge that allows for maximum chopping precision. Food & Wine Deputy Editor Melanie Hansche loves this knife for its cleaver-like blade, which provides control and comfort. (, $240)

Boning Knife

Boning knife

Victor Protasio / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

As its name suggests, boning knives are designed to separate meat from bone. While Western boning knives often have a narrow, flexible blade, the Japanese boning knife–known as a honesuki–is thicker, with a thin, dropped tip that makes it easy to pierce meat. Cookbook author Andrea Nguyen uses Chubo’s Inox Honesuki 150mm knife for deboning chicken. She said, “The pointy tip is perfect for getting into tight spots in the carcass.” (, $85)

Frequently Asked Questions

How should you store kitchen knives?

“The most important aspect is, do you have a designated space that protects you and the knife? There are several factors to consider when storing knives: ow often do you access them, does a block work well in your kitchen environment, who and what are the ages of the members of your household?” says Bobby Griggs, vice president of Hammer Stahl Cutlery.

“Knife blocks are easier and more accessible from my perspective, and that’s what we use in our kitchen,” says Henry Liu, founder and CEO of Cangshan Cutlery. But every space is different. For compact kitchens, an in-drawer organizer or magnetic knife bar are also great options.”

If you go with a magnetic knife bar, invest in a quality product, according to Griggs. “Don’t be cheap here. You don’t want the knife to fall accidentally and damage you or the knife. I also have many clients that swear by a drawer block. This hides the knives from the countertop but provides great protection to the knife and user. Finally, quality knife sheaths are a great way to protect your blades as well,” he says.

How do you sharpen kitchen knives?

“The best way to sharpen your kitchen knives is to take them to a trusted professional about once a year or two, depending on frequency of use. I’d also encourage regular maintenance in between sharpenings. Regular use of honing steel or a hand-held device is simple and will keep your blades performing optimally for much longer,” says Liu. 

While using a professional is ideal, the process of sharpening at home with a whetstone system can be a great skill to learn, according to Griggs. “To properly use a whetstone, first soak the stone in cold water for approximately 15 minutes. Place the sharpening stone on a stable surface, such as a countertop or cutting board. Wet the stone with water or oil, depending on the type of stone. Locate the angle and hold the knife at an appropriate angle relative to the whetstone. Starting at the heel of the blade, gently move the knife along the stone toward the tip, using moderate consistent pressure while maintaining the proper angle. Repeat this movement on both sides of the blade, alternating sides with each pass. Repeat this motion on both sides of the blade, using light to moderate pressure, until the desired sharpness is achieved. This may take several minutes, depending on the dullness of the blade. Finish with honing: After sharpening, use a honing rod to realign the edge and remove any burrs. You can also graduate from a coarse stone to a polish stone to help deburr and polish the edge,” says Griggs.

How do you dispose of old kitchen knives?

“The best solution here is not to dispose of your old knives, but instead consider donating them. Good knives can get resharpened and last a lifetime if taken care of. Local charities are always happy to receive kitchen items for families in need. A local recycling center is also a great and safe option,” says Liu.

Not every knife, however, is salvageable, according to Griggs. “If the knife is damaged and should be discarded, we recommend wrapping the blade in several sheets of newspaper or heavy cardboard carefully to make sure the edge and the tip cannot easily slice through the newspaper or cardboard.  We recommend taping the newspaper and cardboard onto the knife to ensure the newspaper and cardboard will not easily come off exposing the edge or the tip of the blade. Check with your local waste management company to ensure you follow their disposal guideline,” he says.

Our Expertise

Nina Friend is a former Food & Wine Features Editor. She and several F&W editors used data from our lab tests as well as home testing and chef recommendations to compile the best kitchen knife picks. This piece was also updated by Stacey Ballis, a freelance writer, recipe developer, and product reviewer. Stacey has been published on Food & Wine, Eating Well, Allrecipes, MyRecipes, Delish, and more.

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