December 4, 2020
The best direct-to-consumer kitchen knives in 2020: Made In, Material, Brigade, Aura and more

The best direct-to-consumer kitchen knives in 2020: Made In, Material, Brigade, Aura and more


The best kitchen knives aren’t necessarily the most expensive, but it is true that high-quality knives are one of the most important purchases you’ll make as a chef — regardless of your experience or expertise. Sure, you’d be wise to have some pieces of quality cookware laying around, and a few well-placed kitchen gadgets
help too, but it all starts with good, sharp knives. Think about it: There are very few recipes that don’t require you to employ the use of at least a chef’s knife, so why not have a set of really sharp knives that feel good in your hand?

Personally, I’ve found that great kitchen knives don’t only improve my abilities as a cook, but they also make the experience that much more enjoyable and, in turn, inspire me to cook more often. As much as anything else I use to prepare meals, having a trusty knife, or set of knives, that I know will be comfortable to hold and do the job I expect it to — and do it well — is critical. Keeping all that in mind, there are seemingly countless kitchen knife brands to choose from, and picking the best set of knives for your needs all while staying within a budget can be daunting. 

You can find knives anywhere and everywhere, of course, but there is a hearty crop of direct-to-consumer kitchen knife companies providing quality cutlery at better prices than your typical third-party retailer. Even better — and just our little secret — you don’t really need that 15- or even 10-piece knife set you find in most stores. These smart online DTC retailers know that and have spent their time and energy perfecting the most important knives like the chef’s knife, serrated knife and paring knife to save you money by cutting out all the fluff. In short, without resorting to cheap budget knives or totally breaking the bank, you can outfit your kitchen with quality cutlery to love and use for years to come.

If you’re looking for consumer brands that are more widely available through retailers, we have you covered with our overall list of best chef’s knives, too. 

How is direct-to-consumer different?

It’s natural to think that less expensive kitchen knives and cookware are somehow inherently lower quality, but that’s not the case with direct-to-consumer knives. Much of the cost of traditional knives and cookware comes by way of distribution and all its inherent costs: marketing, shipping logistics, storefront costs. Products pass through the hands of resellers, distributors and retailers, all of whom add a markup to the base price in order to make money. By the time knives land in a store, the price has increased dramatically and you end up paying a whole lot more than what the knives cost to make. 

The consumer kitchen knife market skips the aforementioned distribution chain, bypassing the middlemen and going straight to the customer. This often means you have to buy their products online (unless they have an outlet or flagship store), but the upside is you’re getting the same high-quality goods without added costs.

Types of kitchen knives

As you might imagine, you can buy almost any type of knife directly from these brands, including full sets of kitchen knives. A more important question you should start with is what type of knives do I actually need? The answer depends somewhat on the type of cooking you’re planning to do. If you are an avid fisherman, for example, who will be preparing your catch regularly, that might require a different set of knives (and skills) than someone who is mostly preparing meal kits from Blue Apron or recipes from a cookbook. That said, there are the most important knives that you’ll absolutely want in your arsenal, and a good chef’s knife sits firmly at the top of this list.

Chef’s knife: This is the most important and versatile knife you’ll own. If you have enough money to buy just one good knife, this is the one to get. Chef’s knives are very sharp, with (typically) about an eight-inch blade, but you can find them in bigger and smaller sizes too. A chef’s knife can be used for general chopping, slicing, mincing, trimming (e.g. fat) and a whole lot more. Chef’s knives also generally have a bit of heft but some brands make smaller and lighter versions, as we’ll explore in the details below.

Santoku knife: A santoku knife is similar to a chef knife, with some slight variances. While they are usually about the same length, or just a little shorter, santoku knives are generally lighter and have a thinner blade with a dull back spine and no sharp tip. The thinner blade aids in more refined slicing and dicing, so if you work with lots of fish or certain types of vegetables, a santoku is nice to have, but you can absolutely get away with just a good chef’s knife. Many santoku knives also have a granton edge — those small divots or scallops on the blade — to prevent food from sticking.

Utility knife: These versatile little knives are generally about four to seven inches long, and you can think of it like a mini chef’s knife for jobs that require more dexterity. Utility knives are great for getting into tighter spaces and working sharp angles, or for cutting smaller fruits or vegetables with greater precision. You’ll want a utility knife if you’re looking to make a specific type of incision for aesthetic purposes, too, as with avocado or tomato for a pretty summer salad. They can be serrated but are more often not.

Paring knife: Paring knives are similar to utility knives, although generally a bit smaller. They are also great for intricate cuts, as in making garnishes for food or cocktails or taking the seeds out of fruits. You typically don’t need both a paring knife and utility knife, but if a set includes both it’s certainly not a bad thing. 

Serrated or bread knife: This one is likely self-explanatory. A long serrated knife is ideal for cutting into soft things like crusty bread or large, ripe tomatoes. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on a serrated knife as long as it’s functional and feels good in your hand. Chances are you won’t need to sharpen it as often either. 

Boning knife: If you don’t do a ton of deboning of meats or filleting of fish, this knife may not get a lot of use, but it’s nice to have when you need it. The blade is generally a bit more flexible than other knives so it can adhere to the curvature of whatever you’re working with and get under skin and around bones. Boning knives can also be used to peel fruits and vegetables in a pinch.

Kitchen shear: I have a little secret: After my chef’s knife, I probably use kitchen shears more than any other “knife” in my block. I love how dexterous they are so you can get right into a stir fry and cut up any big pieces you missed or trim chicken and other meats safely and in seconds. Though it’s not technically a knife, make sure your new set has a pair of sheers or buy some separately.  

What to look for when buying knives

There are a lot of fancy, flowery adjectives and descriptors floating around when it comes to knife construction, materials and design. Confusing as it may seem, there are really just a few things that are actually important to know and will greatly simplify the knife-buying process.

Blade material: Most knives are made from stainless steel composite and that’s the first thing you should be looking for. Some knives are made from slightly stronger carbon steel but beware: They will rust and stain and if you’re not diligent about upkeep they may not be worth it. Ceramic knives are also an option, but they are much more likely to chip or break and prove more difficult to both care for and sharpen — and a sharp knife blade is just essential.

Blade construction: Forged stainless steel knives are ones that have been crafted from an individual piece of metal and are generally considered to be of better quality and stronger construction. Forged steel knives will also keep their sharp edge for longer (again, no one wants a dull knife). Stamped knives are punched out of a flattened sheet of stainless steel. Stamped knives are generally lighter, weaker and lower overall quality. They may not hold their edge as well. 

Full tang: This is another construction term to look out for when buying knives online or in a store. A full tang means the same metal from the blade extends through the length of the handle (you can often see it but if not, be sure to research). A full tang gives you better balance but also more strength and durability against the pressure and torque of daily use.

Handles: The type of handle is more up to your own personal preference with regard to general feel, fit and overall comfort. Wooden handles are beautiful but can wear out faster and might stain or discolor. Metal handles — often made from aluminum — are sturdy but not terribly comfortable and can cause your hand to tire and ache faster. I personally like composite handles, which are a mix of synthetic plastics and are the most popular material used by modern knife producers. Composites come in a variety of aesthetics, too, including sheer, matte and bone. They’re durable and often comfortable to grip. 

Trying knives you’ve bought online

There’s no substitute for holding a knife in your hand. Most of these direct-to-consumer knife companies are aware of that and so offer risk-free home trials, which we wholly encourage you to take advantage of. We’ll call out the specifics in each description, but most allow you to try the knives for at least 30 days and then send them back if they’re not to your satisfaction.

So, are you ready? Grab your cutting board and ready the knife block, here are the best direct to consumer kitchen knives for 2020. We update this list periodically.

The best direct-to-consumer knives for 2020

Made In

Made In is our favorite direct-to-consumer cookware brand, but it makes some excellent kitchen knives too. The eight-inch chef’s knife ($89) is on the heavier side (which I happen to like) and feels solid in your hand while still affording plenty of dexterity for whatever job you’ve got in front of you. These knives are also sharp — probably the sharpest on the list, in fact. 

Beyond the sleek chef’s knife, Made In sells a seven-inch santoku knife ($99), as well as a duo paring knife and serrated utility knife. Each is made from fully forged, nitrogen-treated steel and sports a full tang through the handle. The full set of four knives, available in red, black and gray, is $275 and can be paid for in installments. You’ll also have 45 days from delivery to return your knives if you’re not satisfied. 

Material Kitchen

Material Kitchen is another producer of DTC cookware — including some frying pans we really dig — that also makes sturdy kitchen knives you can order directly. Though it’s a full eight inches long, Material Kitchen’s chef’s knife is a bit slimmer and lighter than Made In’s and some others in the category. It has a smooth composite handle with a matte finish. The eight-inch chef’s knife clocks in at just $75, while the six-inch serrated utility knife goes for $60 and the paring knife, which they call the “Almost Knife,” sells for $50. You can have the trio of kitchen knives for $155

Beyond the knives, Material offers a pair of sturdy kitchen sheers and a sharpener. The knives are available in four colors: black, bone white, blush pink and gray. Material Kitchen will allow you to try the knives for 30 days, risk-free. You can also add a sharpener or a handsome knife stand, available in walnut or black, to your order.

Misen

Misen has a small collection of impressive knives made from a material called Aichi AUS-10 steel, which has a higher carbon content. That means these knives should theoretically be a bit stronger than others in the category. The knives also have a good heft if that’s what you’re looking for. There is also something about the ergonomic blade and design of Misen’s blades but also the soft matte finish of their blue, black or gray handles that we just love. 

Misen’s eight-inch chef’s knife goes for a reasonable $65, but the brand also makes a santoku (also $65), a larger-than-normal utility knife ($45), a paring knife ($30) and serrated bread knife ($60). The Misen Essentials Set features the chef’s knife, paring knife and serrated knife all for just $130, which is a good price for three quality knives. The full set of five Misen kitchen knives will run you $200. 

Brigade Kitchen

Brigade Kitchen makes some of our favorite DTC stainless steel cookware, but it also churns out some pretty solid kitchen knives made from premium steel. Brigade doesn’t yet offer a chef’s knife, but it has an eight-inch santoku knife with a dimpled blade for easy food release. The santoku runs for $75 and has good heft (eight ounces) with a full tang through the black composite handle. It’s definitely heavier than most santoku and chef’s knives so if you left some weight, this is a good all-purpose knife. You can also get a paring knife for $45 or a bundle of both for $99. Brigade will let you try its knives risk-free for 60 days.

Aura

The clear splurge knife on our list, an Aura chef’s knife makes a wonderful gift for yourself or a special home cook you know. The California-based knife producer crafts knives (and only knives), and it’s gotten darn good at it. Aura knives feel both incredibly strong and sturdy but with a lightness that allows you to operate with extreme precision. This unique combination of light and strong comes by way of implanted gemstone counterweights that ensure excellent balance. Aura’s were also the sharpest of the knives we tried, on par with Made In’s very sharp chef’s knife. 

Aura makes just a chef’s knife, but it comes in two unique sizes: the 6.7-inch Chakra ($590) and the nine-inch Aura One ($749). You can, however, choose from a number of beautiful handle color schemes, including ones made from redwood, onyx, turquoise and California buckeye burl wood. The brand makes a few lofty claims, many of which checked out when tested in real life. A nonlinear blade profile, for example, is supposed to “promote less friction” and easy release, which I found to be true in comparison with the other knives. This is an extremely high-performance chef’s knife with a price tag to match.

Potluck

If you’re not looking to spend a lot but need some serviceable kitchen knives, these Potlucks will likely do the trick. They are the only knives on our list that are stamped out of sheet metal and not forged, which means they’ll almost certainly be a little less sharp and sturdy over the years. The set of three knives clocks in at just $60, however. That includes an eight-inch chef’s knife, a 10-inch bread knife and a 3.5-inch paring knife.



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