We put eight 8-inch chef’s knives through a battery of tricky tasks, both in the lab and at home. Here’s how Henckels, Wüsthof, and other top brands measured up.
By Paul Hope
Ask any chef about the one tool they can’t live without and chances are good most will say a sharp chef’s knife.
That holds up in my own kitchen, where (as a former chef and lover of kitchen gadgets) I have almost every chopper, slicer, and dicer ever conceived. And yet, whether I’m cooking for a crowd or just making a weeknight dinner for my family, I usually find myself reaching for an 8-inch chef’s knife, not a mandoline or food processor.
The chef’s knife is regarded as the cornerstone of cutlery, at least in most Western kitchens. It’s a tool designed to tackle everything from finely mincing parsley to deboning a chicken, and a good one is worth its weight in gold. “A chef’s knife can really do about 95 percent of your cutting in the kitchen,” says Branden Lewis, a chef who’s also an associate professor in culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.
An 8-inch chef’s knife is the most common size, and in culinary circles it’s widely viewed as hitting the sweet spot: long enough to cut through large foods like a roast but not so long that it’s unwieldy or difficult to hold.
Of course, finding a stellar chef’s knife amid all the options available isn’t easy. A quick online search yields hundreds of choices, ranging from $10 to $1,000 or more. Can you get away with buying a cheap knife? And what do you really get when you splurge?
To answer those questions, CR developed an expansive testing protocol, looking at eight different 8-inch chef’s knives in our labs with panelists and with our in-house expert in ergonomics. I brought all eight knives home to my kitchen and used them for everything from mincing herbs to deboning chicken thighs. We also fielded a user study to see how home cooks use their chef’s knives in their own kitchens. Because we no longer test knife sets, we took a detailed look at the most popular and useful knife to offer insights into the best chef’s knives. We’ve also compiled tips on shopping for a new knife and proper knife technique and care, to ensure years of effortless cutting.
How CR Assessed Chef’s Knives
Any knife you buy is likely to be sharp out of the box, so we focused on factors that will make for a great knife years down the road. Our evaluation focused on ergonomics, and we put all eight knives through their paces. The models we tested were from Global, J.A. Henckels, KitchenAid, Keemake, Mac, Mercer, Wüsthof, and Zyliss. We sought out four panelists with different hand sizes and cutting styles to chop carrots and slice tomatoes before scoring each knife on 14 factors, including the balance and comfort of the knife and the feel and contour of the handle and blade.
A CR panelist uses all eight knives to cut carrots and tomatoes.
Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports
Then we evaluated whether performance and design would hold up with slippery hands, similar to what might happen if you were working through a chicken breast. To do that, we used a basting brush to paint oil on the hands of the participants, and asked them to repeat the tests, noting whether each knife slipped or became difficult to handle. Each knife was also evaluated by our in-house ergonomics expert, Dana Keester, to see what factors contribute to good and bad knife design.
In addition, we wanted to know what makes a great knife in the eyes of real users to inform our reviews and picks, so we asked 15 home cooks about their habits and preferences, what they loved and hated about the knives they already use, and what they’d seek out in an ideal knife. We whittled our list down to those who owned a chef’s knife for a minimum of six months and used it at least weekly, though a majority reported using their knives almost every day.
Almost every single person reported that they sharpened their knives, though half didn’t hone the blade or know what honing was. And a vast majority rarely or never washed their knives in a dishwasher, opting instead for hand-washing, which is the way to go.
Panelists repeated each assessment with an oil-covered hand to see which knives are tough to hold with wet or slippery hands.
Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports
Lastly, as both a culinary-school grad and the primary preparer of food in my own household, I brought all eight knives home to try them in my own kitchen. I cook almost every night for my family, and with three kids with different tastes, I knew I’d get a chance to really get in the trenches with each knife.
I used each knife on my household staples—potatoes, garlic, onions, and chicken thighs, as well as for some finer work, chopping cilantro and scallions. My family loves a chicken and veggie stir-fry, and all the chopped ingredients lend themselves perfectly to an evaluation of knives. I opted for bone-in chicken thighs so I could really get a feel for deboning and cubing chicken with each knife, which I consider to be one of the hardest tasks you’ll tackle in a home kitchen. It’s a process that’s half surgical, and half, well, just plain gross—but the stakes are high because you’re making intricate cuts with slippery hands.
Read on for the details about the eight chef’s knives CR evaluated in our labs and in our kitchens. And remember that any knife works better when it’s sharp, and paired with the perfect cutting board. Check out our picks for best knife sharpeners and best cutting boards if you’re in the market for either.
Henckels has been making knives in Germany for almost 300 years, and its expertise in design is on full display with this knife. The Premio was the Goldilocks of the eight knives we tested, and in the end it was the only one with a positive review from all four of our panelists. The handle is contoured, with no sharp edges, resulting in a knife that’s extremely comfortable to hold. One user said their hand became clammy during use, but the knife was well-received overall. It also excelled at force transmission from handle to blade, which means you don’t need to exert as much effort when cutting.
In my own kitchen, I was so impressed with the Henckels knife that I’m rethinking my long-held preference for Japanese cutlery. Tasks that seemed easy with some of the other knives—like slicing an apple or a potato—felt almost effortless with the Premio.
Depending on grip style, some of our panelists thought the Henckels Premio was slightly imbalanced. Like most chefs, I use a pinch grip, with my thumb and index finger gripping the top of the blade where it meets the handle. It provides a better level of control, like choking up on a baseball bat or golf club. With a pinch grip, the knife felt perfectly balanced in my hand.
The weight, too, struck me as ideal, both light enough to use the knife for an extended stretch and with enough heft to help power through fruits and veggies with a tough rind, like a sweet potato or squash. In the end, the Henckels proved adept at everything from deboning chicken to mincing herbs, making it my favorite of the bunch.
Worth noting: Our ergonomics expert deemed this knife the best choice for someone buying one sight unseen, meaning that of the eight knives here, it’s the model most likely to work well for a cross-section of users.
If you subscribe to the school of thought that manufacturers don’t make things like they used to, let us direct you to the appropriately named Wüsthof Classic, a chef’s knife that clearly benefits from having undergone only minimal design changes in its generations-long history. Like Henckels, Wüsthof has been making traditional German knives for more than 200 years, and in the same city: Solingen, Germany.
The traditional design features a triple-riveted handle mounted to a blade formed from a single piece of steel that extends from the tip through the handle. The result is a knife that was exceptionally comfortable for all our panelists, with no reports of pressure points or discomfort during use.
It had good force transmission, but it’s worth noting that it’s among the heftiest knives of the group, so even minor differences in grip can have an impact on how balanced it feels. It features a thermoplastic grip—designed to retain its appearance better than a wood handle—and one panelist said it felt slightly slippery during use. Overall, it was still less slippery than other knives with similar composition.
When I used the Wüsthof Classic, I was initially struck by its heft, even alongside the other more traditional European-style knives. (Asian knives have a reputation for being lighter and leaner, and that was largely our finding.) The base of the blade is thicker than a lot of the competition’s, but it doesn’t prevent you from attaining a razor-sharp edge, either.
Like the Henckels, I found the Wüsthof Classic was able to glide through heavier foods like a potato or chicken with relative ease, but the weight isn’t as needed (or welcome) for finer tasks like chopping parsley. Despite that, the Wüsthof is an exceptionally well-rounded performer that illustrates why change isn’t always a virtue.
It’s hard to get nitpicky about a $20 knife, and for casual cooks, the KitchenAid Classic 8” Triple Rivet Chef Knife is a stellar choice. It’s the obvious best value of the bunch, with looks and design reminiscent of the Wüsthof Classic. Our panelists found that it scored moderately well for all hand sizes, even if two panelists did report minor cramping. Several also said the blade felt a bit heavy, resulting in less than perfect balance. Force transmission from handle to blade is decent.
When I cut with the KitchenAid, I had to put myself in check. The price alone left me ready to find fault, but I have to say I really didn’t. It’s the kind of knife I’d be relieved to find if I were prepping a meal at someone else’s house: sharp, comfortable, and surprisingly adept at each of my cutting tasks. And frankly, if I were stocking a kitchen from scratch or advising a friend on a budget, it would be the obvious choice.
That said, cheaper knives tend to be made of cheaper but often harder steel, which in turn makes them tougher to sharpen and more disposable. The Henckels and Wüsthof get the edge because they’re made with high-carbon steel that lends itself to routine sharpening and a long life in your kitchen.
Over the years, Global has cultivated a following of professional chefs, probably fueled by a shoutout in “Kitchen Confidential,” Anthony Bourdain’s famous memoir about his life in professional kitchens. I’ll admit I’m one such convert. After reading the book, I decided to enroll in culinary school and simultaneously saved to buy a set of Global knives, which remain in my kitchen to this day. Bourdain prized Global knives, crafted in Japan, for their light construction and razor-sharp edges.
In our tests, the Global Classic 8” Chef’s Knife delivered on both of those fronts, but there was a clear dividing line. Users who favor a pinch grip loved the knife and found it to be exceptionally well-balanced. Those who grip the knife handle with all five fingers, however, found it slightly less comfortable.
Our experts also said people with large hands might find the handle to be slightly on the small side. Force transmission was excellent, and to the surprise of our panelists, the knife resisted slipping when used with wet hands, probably because the metal handle is designed with dozens of concave dimples to absorb excess moisture.
While I’ve been using the Global Classic for a decade, I have to admit that the Henckels was ever so slightly preferable. The most notable difference is when you’re working on heavy or tough foods like chicken or root vegetables. This Global feels a little light, so my perception at least is that I’m forced to exert myself more.
It’s not close to a deal breaker for me or something I’ve ever noticed, but if I were prepping a bunch of potatoes for a big group, I’d grab the Henckels first. The Global clearly held its own with light work, like chopping herbs, when the light weight made it feel like a mere extension of my hand.
Mercer is a brand that makes kitchen gear, including cutlery, that’s largely marketed to professional chefs. The Mercer Culinary Renaissance 8” Chef Knife is remarkably similar to the Wüsthof classic, with a full-tang blade and triple-riveted handle. But even subtle differences in design—the Mercer seemed to some to have a heavier blade—can play out in meaningful ways.
Some users found the Mercer knife unbalanced, particularly those who use a grip that’s farther back on the handle. Another user said part of the rounded portion of the handle created a pressure point while cutting. The Mercer scored moderately well for comfort overall, but it’s a better fit for those who use a pinch grip with two fingers on the top of the blade. Force transmission was good, likely helped in part by its full-tang construction, which means the blade is a single piece of metal, extending all the way through the end of the handle.
I found the Mercer preferable to the Wüsthof, in part because it has no bolster, which is a wide or flared piece of metal on the blade where it meets the handle. Bolsters are often used to add weight to a knife and provide a safety buffer between hand and blade. But in practical terms, removing a bolster means that if you have decent knife skills, you can glide through larger foods, like a roast, without disrupting the cut. The Mercer felt controlled and sharp, and I was able to work through everything with relative ease.
The Zyliss Control 8” Chef Knife elicited some of the most divided opinions of all the knives in our evaluation. It’s basically a knife that’s designed (in some capacity) for cutting the wrong way. A flat divot sits on top of the handle where it meets the blade, providing a place to rest your thumb or index finger while cutting.
That’s great for folks who hold a knife that way. The problem is that it’s not the correct way to hold a knife. Most pros recommend a pinch grip because it provides a level of control you can’t get with other grips. And on the Zyliss Control, using a pinch grip can prove downright uncomfortable, leading to pressure points and cramping. It has nonslip touch points (made from a rubbery material), which helped the knife resist slipping with wet hands. But others said the rest of the handle, which isn’t rubberized, felt slippery during cleaning.
I’ll admit my own biases against a knife like the Zyliss. It looks like a tool designed for casual cooks who have some trepidation about cutting. I cringe when I see someone hold a knife the wrong way, because I know from experience it leaves them more prone to an accident; there’s less control of the knife.
That aside, my biggest issue with the Zyliss was the curved blade. It looks more like a scimitar than a chef’s knife. It’s plenty competent at basic tasks, but the curve makes it tough to control for things like deboning chicken, and you basically have to rock the blade as you cut to use the full length. That’s fine, maybe even helpful, for mincing parsley, but it’s limiting for almost everything else.
Mac knives try to blend the best elements of German and Japanese design, with thinner Japanese blades and more traditional European handle styling. The Mac Professional Series 8” Chef’s Knife, which features dimples on the blade designed to release food, proved to be just fine for panelists with small hands, but those with larger hands complained of a small handle. There were a number of issues with the knife in our testing. One panelist complained of rough edges, another experienced cramping, and a third said it could become slippery when wet.
My hands are pretty average, and while I didn’t notice any cramping while I cut, the blade on the Mac felt almost brittle. Like the Global Classic, the Mac features a thinner, narrower blade than some of the German-style knives above, but where the Global leaves you feeling confident in your cuts, the Mac almost feels like you’re going to break or chip the blade.
That thin design can be a virtue—it makes for a light and nimble knife—but it left me feeling uneasy near chicken bones and even when plowing through potatoes. The design is downright gorgeous, and it’s easy to see the appeal. The thin blade also makes the knife feel sharper than some of the others here, even though it’s not.
You’d be forgiven if you don’t recognize the name Keemake, but when we came across this knife on Amazon, we had to get our hands on it. It’s not every day you see a $40 knife that boasts beautiful Asian design while promising a blade forged from high-carbon German steel, or one that musters 4.7 out of 5 stars, for that matter.
The Keemake 8” Chef Knife has a more narrow cutting angle than traditional European cutlery, like an Asian knife. And while I’d love nothing more than to tell you that it held its own against the pricier picks, the truth is, the knife proved problematic.
For starters, it wasn’t even the knife we ordered. We selected a Damascus steel blade, made from many visible metal layers folded together, but instead got a Keemake with a standard blade. We tested it anyway, once we were able to correctly identify it as the 8-inch knife from the company’s standard line.
The problems with the Keemake didn’t stop once testing began. It received one of the lowest comfort scores from our panelists. And it has a long neck, the space between the handle and the blade, which made for an out-of-balance knife for many panelists. Force transmission was below average, and a number of panelists complained of cramping.
I desperately wanted to love the Keemake, in part because it’s always nice to be able to steer readers toward an excellent value that doesn’t compromise on design. But alas, the knife exemplifies the risks of buying look-alike products online. It’s beautiful, but it felt more like an early prototype than a tool that’s ready for prime time. Sure it’s sharp, but to no good end. The handle is so uncomfortable and the force transmission so lousy that it almost feels like you’re using a dull knife. (Note: This knife is currently out of stock, but you can add it to your Amazon Wish List to keep tabs on its availability.)
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