To most chefs, a good knife is the essential kitchen tool. So it's no wonder why Top Chef's famous send off is "Chef, please pack your knives and leave." Those contestants may be willing to be parted from their friends, family, and restaurants for weeks, but nothing comes between them and their knives.
Surprisingly, though, chefs don't get all snobby when asked to recommend knives on the less pricey end of the scale. Just as bargain hunters can often discover a perfectly respectable bottle of wine in the $10-and-under bin, the chefs I spoke to agree: Home cooks (like you!) have plenty of good choices if they want to spend less than $100 — or even a lot less. The trick is knowing what to look for.
1. Wenger Swibo Cook's Knife, $80
Tyler Florence says the most-used knife on his home rack is one from Wenger's SWIBO line. The Swiss steel, he says, sharpens well, and he likes that its distinctive orange handle, which "looks and feels like a grip," is different from all his other knives in his batterie de cuisine. Apparently his wife, Tolan, likes it too; the chef claims it's the knife she's most likely to nab when they're cooking together.
A Swiss-made knife is also the budget-priced blade of choice for chef Marco Canora, of NYC's Hearth and Zadie's Oyster Room, who praises the chef's knife by Victorinox Forschners as a great first knife for a young cook. He says he actually has more than one and uses them at both of his restaurants and at home.
"They're affordable and easy to sharpen," he notes, and the brand offers a range of sizes and prices, from the plastic-handled entry-level model (good for those who insist on putting their knives in the dishwasher) to a still relatively affordable high-end line with fully forged blades and more elegant handles.
Chef Suvir Saran, who specializes in bringing Indian cooking to the American kitchen, is a fan of Rosle's nine-inch, stainless steel-handled universal knife — a true steal at $26. He says it's perfect for most kitchen jobs and "excellent for those times when pomp and ceremony are just not possible." He also recommends Kyocera's Revolution five-and-a-half-inch ceramic santoku knife because it's especially kind on the hands for those like him who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.
Cookbook author and journalist Mark Bittman loves Kotobuki's wood-handled fruit knives, made of Japanese stainless steel. He says the blades are razor-sharp and the included wooden sheath makes them perfect to pack along on a picnic. And at this price, you can even afford to keep several around for everyday peeling, paring, and other light prep work.
5. Sabatier Edgekeeper 3.5-Inch Parer Knife with Sheath, $10 at Bed Bath & Beyond
Food Network star Alex Guarnaschelli says that her most favorite kitchen tool is a cheap paring knife. And the cheaper, the better. "My absolute favorite is a Sabatier. The knife is lightweight and easy to hold, while the blade itself is pretty easy to keep sharp," she says in an interview with Pure Wow. Because it's only $10, she says it's not a huge deal if it ends up meeting misfortune (like accidentially getting thrown out with food scraps!).
Do you have a cheap knife you love? Tell us about it in the comments below!