If I could only have one kitchen tool with me on a desert island, it’d have to be a good chef’s knife. It’s incredibly useful (for obvious reasons) and unless I’m carving a turkey or constructing an elaborate wedding cake (though I probably won’t be doing much of either on a desert island), a sharp, lightweight chef’s knife is versatile enough for any occasion.
Naturally, I had to ask other home cooks, former restaurant cooks, recipe developers, and cookbook authors for their desert island chef’s knives. From affordable buys to investment-worthy heirlooms, here are the nine best chef’s knives for slicing through butternut squash, dicing onions, and more.
Three of our experts waxed poetic about MAC knives. Recipe developer and food stylist Anna Stockwell relies on two knives every single day: an Opinel paring knife for small tasks and a dimpled chef’s knife, which she’s had for about five years, for everything else. “The 8-inch length is perfect for me, and because it’s not too heavy and not too light, it feels right in my hand. It slices and dices beautifully, and holds a good sharp edge,” she says.
MAC also makes the same dimpled knife in a 6 1/2-inch size that professional baker Laurie Ellen Pellicano loves. She finds the smaller size to be just right for her petite frame and small countertops, too. “MAC makes some of my favorite knives in the kitchen because they really strike the balance between function and finesse,” says Pellicano.
Perry, and recipe developer and Food52 contributor Maki Yazawa both echo Stockwell’s sentiment about a knife’s weight and making sure it's comfortable to hold. If you can, try going to a store and “shake hands with a few knives to see what feels good to you,” Perry says. “I have weak wrists so I like a lighter weight knife because I do a lot of chopping.” For an inexpensive pick, Perry and Yazawa both recommend the Fibrox Pro from Victorinox, though Yazawa notes that “you might find yourself at the sharpening stone more frequently to maintain a nice edge.”
Getting a feel for a chef’s knife before you buy it in-person or online also comes in handy for investment-worthy essentials. “When splurging, I shop at Yoshihiro Cutlery in Redondo Beach, California, which carries a wide variety of handcrafted Japanese knives from top-notch materials like Damascus steel,” says Yazawa. That’s how she discovered her favorite Yoshihiro Damascus Stainless Steel Gyuto, a Japanese version of a western chef’s knife, and how it helped prevent buyer’s (cook’s?) remorse. “Like picking out a car, giving a kitchen knife a trial run is imperative to assess the comfort level, grip, and style,” Yazawa points out.
Available in a few different colors, the Dexter-Russell 8-inch Cooks Knife is an affordable pick that comes highly recommended by Pellicano who thinks “it’s beastly when it comes to chopping.” When it starts to get dull, just take it to a kitchen supply store or knife shop to be sharpened on the regular, or try the DIY route with these expert-backed knife sharpeners.
Take it from the pros: if a knife works, stick with it. “I bought myself the Misono UX10 Gyutou Japanese chef’s knife when I graduated from culinary school,” says Jess Young, CEO of Bubble Goods and former professional chef. Young explains that the model is so sharp, durable, and well-constructed that she hasn’t bought another chef’s knife since.
The Shun Classic Asian Cook's 7" knife was the first high-quality knife that Washington Post food writer and recipe developer Aaron Hutcherson bought for himself almost a decade ago in the transition period between culinary school and his line cook days. Still, Hutcherson says the knife is “the one I use the most to this day—it’s great for most common kitchen tasks.”
See what other Food52 readers are saying.