The Best Knives in My Kitchen

In this week’s guide I’m sharing which knives I use in my home kitchen, how I store them, and what I use to keep them sharp.

Every home kitchen needs a good set of knives for safe and efficient cooking—but you don’t need to buy a lot of them or spend a ton of money. Our winning paring knife is a small and powerful tool. With it in hand, I can core and slice tomatoes easily and score chicken skin precisely. I also reach for our favorite chef’s knife almost daily, whether I’m smashing or chopping garlic or precisely dicing vegetables. My knives are stored securely in our Best Buy knife block, which has long, medium-strength magnet bars and a sturdy, grippy base. Whether you're shopping for knives or just want to make the most of the ones you already have, this week’s guide contains everything you need.

—Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, ATK Reviews

Still the best—and a bargain—after 20 years, this knife’s “super-sharp” blade was “silent” and “smooth,” even as it cut through tough squash, and it retained its edge after weeks of testing. Its textured grip felt secure for a wide range of hand sizes, and thanks to its gently rounded edges and the soft, hand-polished top spine, we could comfortably choke up on the knife for “precise,” “effortless” cuts.

Update: November 2013 Since our story appeared, the price of our winning Victorinox Swiss Army 8" Chef's Knife with Fibrox Handle has risen from $27.21 to about $39.95. We always report the price we paid for products when we bought them for testing; however, product prices are subject to change.

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The blade on this paring knife is identical to that of our original winner; it’s just as sharp, thin, and nimble as ever, and it’s capable of making ultraprecise slices and incisions. Its plastic handle is easy to grip and accommodates large and small hands easily. In addition, the handle doesn’t add too much weight to the knife overall, allowing for agile, effortless use.

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Our new favorite won us over with its ultrasharp, moderately flexible blade, which made every task seem nearly effortless. It kept its edge throughout testing, even after deboning an additional 10 chicken breasts. Its slightly shorter length proved especially advantageous with finer jobs, giving us more control as we boned chicken breasts. And although we wish the plastic handle were made of a grippier material, its slim profile made it easy to grasp in different ways.

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Though not quite as sharp as our winner, our former favorite still performed admirably in every task, hugging the curves of bones and joints just as closely thanks to its moderate flexibility. Its textured plastic handle made it particularly easy to hold even when wet or slippery with fat. Several testers found the thicker handle to be a touch unwieldy, preventing them from changing their grips as readily, but large-handed testers preferred it.

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This meat cleaver put grace and beauty into the most barbarous tasks. Its perfectly distributed weight and long, tall, gently curved, razor-sharp blade made for truly effortless chopping. And its long, straight pakkawood handle gave us plenty of grip options, although at times its smooth surface got a little slick. Yes, this cleaver is expensive—but you’ll never need another. Strong and durable, it breezed through testing with minimal wear.

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This old-school cleaver was the favorite of many testers, who loved how fluidly this well-balanced, medium-weight tool moved. Its long, tall, very sharp blade made it particularly easy to maneuver through a big butternut squash and a whole duck. It had just a few minor durability issues: Its thin blade sustained a little more wear and tear than our winner’s, and its otherwise comfortable wood handle rattled on its rivets when we chopped, though it remained intact and performed well after extended use.

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Our favorite santoku wowed testers of all abilities, who raved that it felt “agile, sharp, and really good in hand.” “Solid but light,” it made “fine, level cuts” with “great precision and control.” This knife features an asymmetrical blade with a 70/30 bevel that the company hand-sharpens specifically for either right- or left-handers.

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Thanks to its sharp cutting edge and skinny spine, this knife produced razor-thin slices and broke down a whole chicken and cut carrot matchsticks “like butter.” The wooden handle felt a hair too thick and bulky to testers with smaller hands, and its blade was on the shorter end of what we prefer.

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Very sharp and thin-spined, this knife sailed through food cleanly and precisely. We liked it almost as much as our winner; its blade is just a hair longer, giving us a bit less control, and there’s a tiny bit less clearance for your knuckles under the handle. But these are really minor quibbles; this is a great knife, and larger-handed testers will appreciate that its handle has a little extra room for them to grip.

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This “prep” knife had a slightly curved blade that allowed us to rock through each slice, rather than cut in a more up-and-down motion, as with our other top choices. And it did a great job with all the foods; its relatively short blade made it very easy to control. While a touch slippery, its handle is on the longer side for these types of knives and provides lots of clearance underneath, making it an excellent choice for large-handed cooks. 

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Our favorite knife sliced every food with ease, thanks to a stiff, ultrasharp blade featuring 5 inches of scalloped and pointed serrations, which provided just enough bite to slice into food securely and give it a leg up over the second-place finisher. A narrow tip allowed us to do detail work, and a tall heel ensured that our knuckles never dragged against the cutting board when we cut. Just one teensy gripe: The handle could be a touch longer and wider—testers with larger hands said their hands cramped occasionally.  More on this test

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

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This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

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This handsome bamboo knife strip provided 1.25 inches of clearance between knife handles and the wall—the most in our lineup. It had medium-strength magnets that held knives with just the right amount of pull, and it was relatively durable, sustaining only a few tiny scratches after extensive use. Finally, it was by far the easiest strip to install. One minor quibble: It has a half-inch of unmagnetized space on either end. Note: Messermeister makes this strip in different materials; we also tested and liked the beechwood version.

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Our top-rated sharpener had the winning combination of producing truly exceptional and consistent results quickly, neatly, and efficiently. The manual clearly outlined a few specific steps that must be followed each time, and it took about 2 minutes from start to finish to get a polished, razor-sharp edge. Narrow, spring-loaded slots made it easy and unambiguous to maintain a consistent angle as we moved the knife through the three slots. It rapidly removed a notch we cut in the blade and easily sharpened both our everyday chef’s knife and pricey carbon-steel chef’s knife. We subtracted half a point because the slots left very light cosmetic scratches along the sides of our knives.

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This slightly simplified, more compact version of our top-rated sharpener has one fewer sharpening slot, with the same medium-abrasive diamond abrasive of our winner for shaping, and a flexible stropping disk to polish the edge. As a result, this sharpener created an edge with two reinforcing bevels, as opposed to the three created by the top-rated Trizor model. We noticed only a minor difference in cutting performances between the knife we sharpened in this model and the knife we sharpened in the Trizor, but knives sharpened in this model may require slightly more frequent sharpening to maintain their edges. Like the Trizor, the spring-loaded guides left light cosmetic scratches along the side of our blades.

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This tool had one of the longest and thickest hones in our lineup; testers found it easy to use. The rod's two alternating textures, lightly ridged and smooth, let you choose to start gently with the smooth side or be a bit more aggressive by using the ridges first. Under a microscope, we noticed that this rod had more and finer-textured ridges than others in this style. “Wow,” one tester said, praising the way the freshly honed blade glided through paper and tomatoes. Using it “felt really natural” to most testers, and the results were “beautiful.”

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This smooth, white ceramic rod was easy to use, with a length that gave us plenty of space. Its wood handle was comfortable and compact, with no overhand to block us from getting the right blade angle. It took slightly longer to achieve a sharper knife edge than our top-rated tool because of its smooth, less-abrasive texture, but it worked while being comparatively gentle on our knife.

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