There are hundreds of different types of kitchen knives around the world. Some have been around for centuries, some for only a few years. As with automobiles or shoes, what company makes the best knives is subjective. As with any product, if higher quality materials are used, and more labor is put into making a knife, you’re going to pay a premium for that product. On the other hand, just because a knife is more affordable doesn’t mean it’s of poor quality. It could mean that the knife brand has grown and developed technology to mass-produce a quality product.
If you consider yourself a “blade geek,” or a steel knife expert, you’re probably looking for an end-to-end hand-forged kitchen knife. The problem with these kinds of knives is you’re going to pay super premium for them because the bladesmith has to pay the bills. Another issue with hand-forged blades is availability. The work of some forgers is highly sought out, and it could take months to get your hands on it. Whatever your preference, there’s a knife brand out there for you. Here are some of the best kitchen knife brands on the market today to upgrade your kitchen knife set.
Zwilling J.A. Henkels
Zwilling is the oldest knife brand in Germany. Peter Henkels registered his company and trademarked Zwilling in 1713, making it not only the oldest registered knife brand but one of the oldest brands in the world—period. Zwilling knives are very comparable to their rival brand Wüsthof in both quality and price. Where it gets a bit confusing is when the Zwilling and Henkles brands break off. Zwilling knives are exclusively crafted from German steel in Germany. The Henkels brand sources its labor and materials from various regions, which puts their quality into question a bit. Zwilling J.A. Henkels also owns the premium Japanese knife brand Miyabi, another notch in the belt of the German blade empire.
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For over 200 years, Wüsthof has been forging knives in the “City of Blades,” Solingen, Germany, and was one of the first companies to help give the city that name. Over the centuries, the German brand has minimized the hand-forging aspect of its product and developed state-of-the-art technology to mass manufacture blades. But, like a new iPhone, when new tech is involved, prices remain high. The average price of a Wüsthof chef’s knife is around $150, which is on par with most premium brands.
Although the Shun knife brand is young compared to Wüsthof, this Japanese knife company has over 100 years of blade-making experience in Kai Corporation. These hand-forged knives take around 100 steps to complete, as can be seen in the knife’s overall beauty. The brand has won multiple awards over the years. You can pay as little as $100 for a chef’s knife or as much as $750.
This Japanese knife brand doesn’t have the storied history that some companies do. However, in our opinion, Global knives are some of the best-designed knives, in both form and function, that you can buy. Developed in 1985 by Komin Yamada, Global blades are a hybrid of Western and Japanese knife styles. Because they are so unique, they can take some getting used to. But, the end-to-end solid steel design, coupled with Global’s proprietary straight-edge technology, make these knives some of the most durable and sharpest blades you can buy commercially. Compared to some other premium brands, they are also very affordable.
If you’re more concerned about getting the job done in the kitchen, more so than craftsmanship, then you can’t beat the Swiss brand Victorinox. More widely known for the Swiss Army Knife, it’s not to say Victorinox doesn’t make some beautiful knives. However, the brand inserted itself into the culinary world by making affordable yet durable kitchen knives that can withstand the punishment of a commercial kitchen. You can get a quality chef’s knife for around $50, just don’t expect a hand-crafted walnut handle.
For many professional chefs who were classically trained in culinary arts, a Mercer knife kit was the first set of knives handed to them along with their first chef coat. That’s because Mercer Culinary is affiliated with groups like the American Culinary Federation (ACF), the Center for the Advancement of Foodservice Education (CAFE), the National Restaurant Association, and more. Although these knives are made in Taiwan, in a blind test against a Zwilling or Wüsthof, it’d be hard to tell the difference. That level of quality, plus being very affordable, is what makes Mercer Culinary an excellent brand.
Keeping on trend with affordable knives that are well crafted, Imarku is the perfect brand for someone looking for Japanese knives that won’t break the bank. The brand has picked up a lot of steam for only being 13 years old. That’s likely because you can get a complete 16-piece knife block set for $200. Home chefs love these knives because of their style, affordability, and durability.
Benchmade is a knife brand out of Oregon that bridges the gap between mass-produced knife manufacturing and customization. Although the Benchmade bladesmiths don’t pound out your knives by hand, they do use the latest in laser cutting technology, premium-grade steels, and aerospace-grade handle materials. You can customize your blades on their website or through select dealers across the country. Benchmade knives are perfect for someone who wants a premium knife that stands out.
Laguiole En Aubrac
Laguiole En Aubrac is a world-renowned French forge named after the French village of Laguiole. Depending on the type, a single blade can go through over 200 processes before it’s sold. Like Benchmade, the brand offers customization options if you order direct, such as handle material and engraving options. Surprisingly, despite the brand’s popularity and laborious production, you can get an engraved chef’s knife for around $150.
With these last two knife brands, we’ve left the avenue of affordability. That’s because Bob Kramer is considered one of the premier Master Bladesmiths in the country—and there are only 120 accredited by the American Bladesmith Society. To get your hands on a Bob Kramer knife, you have to be a member of his email list. Then, once a knife becomes available, you can bid on it at auction. This “demand by scarcity” approach to marketing has driven some blades to reach as much as $24,000. After his death, Anthony Bourdain’s custom Bob Kramer knife (originally $5,000) sold for $231,250. If you’re like most and find this to be too extreme, Kramer has licensed some of his knife designs to Zwilling, where you can pay between $300-$500 for a chef’s knife.
If you troll the bladesmith forums, you’ll probably come across the name Robert Dalman a lot. Dalman is an elusive Swedish Bladesmith that makes super-premium Japanese-style knives from Swedish steel. Although you won’t pay as much for a Dalman knife as a Kramer model (between $400-$700), getting your hands on one might be even more challenging. Dalman is one guy who makes knives as a passion, so his work is on extreme backorder. But, you never know, you could get lucky if you keep checking his website every day.
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