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Chef's Knives, Innovative

How we tested

We ask a lot of our chef's knives in the test kitchen. We want one that's versatile enough to handle almost any cutting task, whether it's mincing delicate herbs or cutting through meat and bones. We want a sharp blade that slices easily, without requiring a lot of force. We want a comfortable handle that doesn't hurt our hands or get slippery when wet or greasy.

We've tested 30 knives in recent years, and we know what we like. But manufacturers have recently begun offering new designs that challenge many of our assumptions about the classic chef's knife. We've seen unusual handle angles and blades, ergonomic designs for reducing hand fatigue and improving grip, and a variety of other features that promise better handling and easier cutting. Would any of these prove to be a real improvement?

A good handle should virtually disappear in your grip, making the knife the oft-cited "extension of your hand." The knives in our lineup featured handles shaped like metal triangles or wedges, handles tilted upward, handles covered with spongy plastic or pebbled polypropylene, and handles with ergonomic bumps and bulges. We found that metal handles became slippery when wet or greasy, as did textured polypropylene handles. The slick plastic grip was heavy and uncomfortable, making the knife feel "angular and awkward."

One knife we did like had a handle that rose in a 10-degree angle to keep knuckles clear of the cutting board. This provided leverage for hard cuts, but there were some complaints about the exaggerated rocking motion during mincing. A second innovative handle that really won testers over has a short wooden handle that arcs downward, with a pronounced bump on the belly. The metal bolster is cut away to help fingers grip the blade and mercifully extends over the sharp spine to protect the fingers. The wood did not become slippery, and testers reported that the knife felt natural and maneuverable as they worked. A nice touch: The bottom of the bolster stops 1/2 inch short of the knife's heel, allowing it to pass completely through a sharpening device.

Some blade innovations were also successful. Thin profile knives avoided the impact of wedge-shaped knives. While a wedge-like blade can be useful for jobs like splitting open a heavy squash, it can rip food and make slicing slower and less precise.

Overall, while we found plenty to admire among the top-rated innovative knives in this test, we remain hard-pressed to pay a premium—sometimes as much as $175—for their innovations.

Methodology

We tested nine chef’s knives by butchering whole chickens, chopping butternut squash, mincing parsley, and dicing onions. We also evaluated their comfort and user-friendliness based on feedback from a variety of testers: right- and left-handed cooks; skilled professionals and untrained home cooks; cooks with small hands and cooks with large hands. We rated sharpness and edge retention by cutting ordinary sheets of 8 1/2 by 11-inch paper before and after kitchen tests.

HANDLE

Knives that were comfortable, fit securely, and resisted slipping in wet or greasy hands were preferred.

BLADE

Sharp, agile blades with sufficient curvature were preferred.

KITCHEN TESTS

We cut up whole chickens, chopped butternut squash, minced parsley, and diced onions. Knives were assigned a score for each task, which were averaged to get the overall rating.

EDGE RETENTION

Knives that maintained a sharp edge after testing was completed were preferred. Testers appreciated the thin blade’s razor-sharpness and an enhanced feeling of control.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

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.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

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.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*