A contractor has his hammer, a mechanic his wrenches, and a cook his knives. While a food processor is the moral equivalent of an air hammer in the kitchen, knives still rule. Especially for small batch amounts when getting out the equipment can be more trouble than its worth. Cooking is a much about feeling as the mechanics, being hands-on will tell you if the veggies are crisp and fresh, the meats and cheese wholesome.
At times in the commercial kitchen you will use a knife so much that you get a permanent indent of the spine and the callouses to go with it. If that’s not your role, you will get the benefit of the knowledge that kind of hands time on will bring. Shopping today is so much more about the convenience of buying from home, this will give you an idea of what expect when you open the box.
There is a lot to be said about who makes your product. So we are going to look at the top brands in the field of knives, see how they got there and why they deserve the label. Each of these brands will deliver a product that offers value and functionality based their production values and quality of materials.
Top Ten Knife Brands Worthy of Your Purchase
Zwilling J. A. Henckels
Henckels knives are known throughout the world, which comes as no surprise when looking at a company that started in 1731 in Solingen Germany. They have to be doing something right to get that kind of longevity. Part of what they do right is to deliver longevity to you, based in blades that are made with superior metallurgy. With a small amount of TLC their blades will last a lifetime, or more if they become heirlooms to your family. Aesthetically simple with clean lines, their knives are well balanced and known for holding an edge. Their business has expanded to include a variety of kitchen offerings, with a broader range of price points in their knife offerings as well.
Over 100 years ago Farber began making pots and pans for the kitchen. Since then they have brought us innovations like the first electric percolator and first countertop convection oven. In the early nineties Farberware partnered with Lifetime Hoan to get into the cutlery business. Neither company was an elite brand, however, they have very successfully filled the niche of quality products in their segment. The Farberware label offers a consistent cutlery product that is easy to maintain, with stainless steel as their core component and one of the few brands on this list that carry a ceramic line.
Twenty-five years ago, Mercer was a trade name only known in the food industry. They make the whole gamut of metal utensils and cookware, all the toys of culinary work, along with specific apparel for the trade. Now everyday consumers can own these workhorse knives. Most of their products are reflective of their roots, simple and utilitarian in design. They will put up with tons of use, and abuse, frankly. They build with graded German metals, high carbon and annealing for resilience and holding an edge, and some alloying for stain resistance. Mercer has expanded their line into more elegant designs while maintaining their blue collar work ethic and sturdiness.
Not only did Wusthof start in Solingen, the same German town as Henckels, they are consistently one of the few manufacturers who can go head to head with them. They have also accrued a similar number of awards for their cutlery. Wusthof knives are used and endorsed by the biggest name chefs, and utilized by the German and Japanese national chef teams. These are some heady credentials that you can bring into your own kitchen. All but one line of their knives use “X50CrMoV15” steel, a specific classification of carbon and chromium content. Which translates to you getting an exceptionally sharp edge that is easy to maintain and will endure for years.
As important as the knife is in a kitchen, there is room for automation. Almost 50 years ago, when Julia Childs and James Beard let the world know that a food processor is an excellent tool in the kitchen arsenal, Cuisinart revolutionized American kitchens. For about twenty years now they have held up the brand image with a line of approachable knives and cutlery. They have brought to market knives with classic design, along with contemporary looks including multi-colored and with various non-stick coatings. Their diverse offerings can deliver a style and look that will fit in and enhance virtually any home kitchen.
Dalstrong is another relative newcomer to the knife market with not quite a decade under their belt. The big difference is that they came out blazing right toward the professional cooking market with knife roll cases, accessories, and of course high quality blades. Their knives have the disclaimer ‘Not for mortal combat’. Good advice sure, but if you did use them, you’d win for certain. In fact, they took the top spot in our Kitchen Knife Set Test Kitchen.
With heavy spines for sturdy blades, high quality steel, accurately honed edges, and unique design features, these are an excellent upgrade from just a utilitarian blade.
These are the Swiss army knife guys, and they did actually start as a supplier of knives to the Swiss army. The ubiquitous folding gadget assortment was known as the ‘Swiss Officer’s and Sports Knife’. For years they have also made a broad spectrum of knives for kitchen use. And really cool bayonets for the Swiss army. But back to knives, they are still crafted in Switzerland, with steel of their own specification coming from Germany and France. Their lines encompass knives for commercial use, and more distinguished varieties that will serve well in the home kitchen.
Over 50 years ago Mr. Kasperzak got credit for inventing anodized aluminum cookware, labelling his own as Calphalon. His company was already selling cookware to the industry, and this product line took off. Home cooks clamored for the cookware and in the eighties it became more readily available. Their cutlery lines deliver a similar quality as the cookware. Sturdy and functional, they offer a variety of gradations to meet consumer needs and budgets. Calphalon uses a variety of metals in different lines, from high carbon low stain, to German steels, to Japanese steels. They deliver a solid consistent product backed by a company with a solid history.
The world of Japanese knives can be hard to navigate. But they have roots that stem from thousands of years of metallurgy, specifically for blades in the Samurai tradition. Okami combines this with manufacturing in Yangjiang, China, a blade manufacturing center for over 1500 years. They are also more approachable than many Japanese knife brands, both in pricing and design, keeping certain elements of western blade shape for ease of use and maintenance. Japanese steel specifically allows for lighter weight more resilient blades. While they offer limited blade shapes in their collection, all of them are functional and possessing of amazing design elements.
For almost thirty years Winco has made everything you need in a restaurant, all the way down to janitorial supplies. With restaurateurs being a noticeably frugal group, their product line is very approachable. They are also designed to last. And last. Designs are function over form, with classic looks that are tested and proven to work. If, heaven forbid, you threw their knives in a dishwasher, they’ll come out ready for another day’s work. Their catalog will offer just about any blade shape you are seeking, with an NSF designation, and made with functional metal alloys for holding an edge and overall durability.