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The Best Chef’s Knives to Sharpen Your Home Cooking Skills

The Best Chef’s Knives to Sharpen Your Home Cooking Skills

A great knife is the cornerstone on which a great meal is built. But if you ask three chefs what makes a great knife, you’ll likely get at least five answers. The truth is that what makes the perfect knife for you will depend on many factors, including your comfort level with knives, the size of your hands, and what sort of food you like to cook.

That said, there’s a reason the basic 6- to 8-inch chef’s knife is ubiquitous: It’s the most versatile knife. The chef’s knife is capable of dicing veggies, slicing meat, smashing garlic, and chopping herbs and nuts. In a pinch, it’ll even go through small bones without too much trouble.

There’s a bewildering range of chef’s knives available, from dirt cheap to very expensive specialty blades. To help you make sense of it all, we sliced and diced with dozens of knives until a simple truth emerged: A poorly-made $10 blade you sharpen every week is more useful than a $200 blade that’s dull. Every knife needs to be sharpened, some just need it more than others. Much of the price difference in knives comes down to the quality of materials, which in turn often translates into how well the blade holds its edge.

We stuck mostly with 8-inch blades, the sweet spot for the classic chef’s knife. Testing involved the stuff you’d do in your own kitchen—peeling, filleting, dicing, chopping, cubing, slicing, and all the other standard prep work for meats and vegetables. Here are our picks.

Updated February 2022: We’ve removed a Shun that’s no longer available anywhere. We’ve also add some more sharpening options and updated pricing throughout.

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Cooking in a Tiny Kitchen? This Gear Will Help You Stay Sane

Cooking in a Tiny Kitchen? This Gear Will Help You Stay Sane

When you show people your kitchen, they ask “Where’s the rest of it?” We get it. If you live in a big city, it’s not uncommon to find kitchens crammed into hallways and former closets. If your kitchen is so small you have to store bread vertically to keep it from sticking out into the living room, then this is the guide for you. 

Maybe you’re having trouble fitting your chef’s knives onto your limited counter space. Maybe your beloved Dutch oven sits in the middle of the floor. If so, we have some creative storage solutions and fun-size cookware that WIRED writers have loved and tested. Do you need some inspiration once you have your setup perfected? Don’t forget to check out our other buying guides, including the Best Cookbooks and the Best Pots and Pans.

Updated January 2022: We’ve swapped out the Cooks Standard 36-Inch Pot Rack, which we love, for the Wallniture Lyon rack, since the Cooks Standard is currently out of stock everywhere. We’ve also added the Gneiss Spice magnetic spice jars, Hamilton Beach Mini 3-Cup Food Processor, Le Creuset Small Utensil Crock, Raddish Mini Cooking Tool Set, and Ebern Designs Aliecia hanging fruit basket.

If you buy something using links in our stories, we may earn a commission. This helps support our journalism. Learn more. Please also consider subscribing to WIRED.

Maximize Storage Space

Schmidt Bros Knife Bar with knives attached

Schmidt Brothers Acacia

Photograph: Crate & Barrel

  • Start with pot hanger shelves. Getting those pots and pans onto the wall will free up precious drawer and cabinet space. If you don’t have room for a shelf, a hanging bar will get skillets, saucepans, and woks out of your way.
  • Mount a wooden knife bar to your wall. The magnets that grab the knives are hidden beneath the wood, so it’ll be less likely to chip or dull your knife blades than an all-metal bar. Skip the countertop knife block—not only does it take up counter space, it’ll dull the blades of your knives more quickly.
  • Wall-mounted spice racks also free up a lot of cabinet space. Buy a bare rack and stock it with good spices, like selections from Burlap & Barrel. Spices are one area where you should spend money; the difference in quality is noticeable. WIRED product reviewer and writer Louryn Strampe sticks magnetic spice jars to her refrigerator. She likes Gneiss Spice, which comes in a ready-made kit. You can also specify the spices you want.
  • If you’re low on drawer space, store your cooking utensils in a utensil crock. This Le Creuset Utensil Crock ($55) has enough room to hold all your spoons, spatulas, and tongs.
  • Hanging fruit baskets mean you won’t need to use precious counter space to store fresh fruit and vegetables. Leave your tomatoes, potatoes, and stone fruit out of the refrigerator.

Consolidate (and Downsize) Your Cookware

Image may contain Pot and Dutch Oven

Lodge Enameled Dutch Oven

Photograph: Amazon

  • How often do you really use that quesadilla maker or steaming basket? One multicooker can replace a couple of less often used machines. The Instant Pot for ($89) is the most famous, but there are other multicookers worth a look.
  • A Dutch oven, like this enameled one from Lodge ($80), can also replace several single-use pots or machines. I’ve used my Dutch oven to steam oysters, bake cornbread, slow-cook stews, and make barbecue.
  • WIRED product reviewer and writer Louryn Strampe makes most of her meals in the Great Jones’ Deep Cut ($90), a hybrid pan that’s a cross between a skillet, a frying pan, and a sauté pan. “It doesn’t shine in one area over any other,” she says, “but it’s sturdy, it heats up evenly, and the stainless steel surface cleans up easily in the dishwasher.” WIRED food writer Joe Ray recommends a similar multi-use option from All Clad.
  • You don’t need that many knives. Ditch the 10-inch knife set: An 8- or 9-inch chef’s knife, a smaller paring knife, a bread knife, and maybe a couple of specialty blades will suffice. Or consider replacing them all with a general-purpose Chinese caidao. For more information, check out our chef’s knife buying guide.
  • If drawer space is limited, you can even downsize your hand tools. Senior associate reviews editor Adrienne So got a pair of tiny tongs in a mail-order cooking kit for her six-year-old daughter, but she quickly found them useful for everything from flipping sausages to tossing noodles and serving salad at the table in tight confines. “I also use her tiny whisk for salad dressing, her tiny stirring spoon, and her tiny spatula much more often than I’d like to admit,” So says. “Tiny tools forever!”
  • Consider a small food processor if you don’t have enough prep space to handle a knife safely. The Hamilton Beach Mini Food Processor ($19) can slice and dice up to three cups of ingredients at a time. WIRED product reviewer and writer Medea Giordano has had hers for three years now and particularly loves using it to make fresh pasta sauce.

Add Prep Surfaces

Image may contain Furniture Tabletop Wood and Drawer

Catskill Craftsmen Maple Cutting Board

Photograph: Wayfair 

  • Cutting boards take up a ton of room when you’re doing meal preparation. Buy one that’s made to fit over your sink, like this Catskill Craftsmen Maple Cutting Board ($27). Hardwood, like the maple used here, is easier on your knives than bamboo.
  • Mount a drop-leaf table to a nearby wall. The IKEA Bjursta ($45) is 3 feet of counter space that swings down and away when not in use.
  • Burner covers can add space to your cooktop. Use them to make a place to set down an extra cutting board or utensils. This Prosumer’s Choice Bamboo Workstation ($60) can cover half your stovetop—get two for a continuous flat surface over all four burners.
  • Buy a rolling cart. Most tend to be 48 inches long, but if you’re in a tiny kitchen you’ll be better off with 36 inches or less. You can tuck it into a corner of your kitchen-adjacent room and wheel it over when you need more counter space, then roll it away when you’re not using it. Utility carts can also move where you need them to go.

How to Move in the Kitchen

  • Here are some tips from WIRED senior writer and product reviewer Scott Gilbertson, who worked in the restaurant industry for six years and knows his way around tight cooking spaces:
  • You don’t need to lay everything out like you’re presenting a cooking show. “I think there’s this notion that you always need to cook via mise en place, where everything is all spread out and ready to go,” Gilbertson says. “Take what you need off the shelf, use it, and put it away.”
  • Clean up as you cook. Got a spare minute while you’re waiting for a sauce to reduce in the skillet? Wipe down that counter. Toss out those eggshells. It’s not just a chef’s and line cook’s secret to making cleanup less intimidating and soul-sucking later on. It’ll also cut down on the clutter that builds up by the time you’re finished making your meal.
  • If you’re sharing your cramped kitchen, it’s important to communicate whenever one or both of you are handling food, pots, or cooking utensils. Just say “behind” loudly when you’re passing somebody in the kitchen who’s wielding that cleaver or handling that colander of hot pasta.

More Great WIRED Stories

Hard-Core Home Bakers, This Is the Mixer of Your Dreams

Hard-Core Home Bakers, This Is the Mixer of Your Dreams

Out of the blue a few months back, my power-baker friend Shannon texted photos of a failed baking project. Instead of a picture of a plateful of crumbly cookies, she sent three successive shots of the stripped gears in her high-end stand mixer, which was in the process of falling apart.

“Do I just bite the bullet and shell out $3K for the Hobart n50,” she asked, referring to a pro model that looks like it could power a tiny tractor through a stony field, “which at that price, should rub your feet and tell you that you’re beautiful?”

I sent Shannon’s pictures to another power-baker friend, Tara, as something of a joke, à la “look at the weird stuff people send me!” Instead, she had a suggestion.

“Tell her to get the Ankarsrum.”

“The what now?”

“The Ankarsrum. It’s from Sweden.”

As a product reviewer, it’s always a bit of a thrill to say, “I’ve never heard of such a thing,” knowing it’s preapproved by someone who knows what’s what in the kitchen.

I looked it up, and this unique Swedish gem—the $700 Ankarsrum Assistent—which originally came out in 1940, did not disappoint.

Here in the United States, where the brand of reference is KitchenAid, we’re used to stand mixers whose motor and moving parts are all above the bowl and whose primary attachments—the dough hook, paddle, and whisk—all spin around in the bowl.

In the Ank, as aficionados call it, the main bowl spins, powered by a motor in the base of the machine. Once I started testing it, I’d tell friends about it, usually accompanied by a short video I took, which would invariably elicit a response along the lines of “what the hell is that?”

The Ank’s motor is controlled by a pair of dials: One is for the speed, and the other is an on/off switch that also allows it to run on a timer for up to 12 minutes, something that’s handy when you want to multitask, but not overmix. The metal bowl is a cavernous seven quarts, and the company’s website touts its ability to make five kilos of dough (11 pounds!) at a time. In the machine’s back corner is a tower with an arm that swings out over the bowl and attaches to a kneading dough roller.

In what you might call its classic setup, the dough roller is attached to the arm, and a dough knife slots into the tower to keep the sidewalls clean.

GIF of Ankarsum Mixer mixing dough

The mixer in action. 

Courtesy of Joe Ray

Turn it on and your dough comes together, the bowl spinning, the roller squooshing it up against the sidewall, the dough knife keeping that sidewall clean. There’s also the possibility of using a big dough hook in place of the roller, which I did to gently (and cleanly) mix together a giant batch of meatballs. Confusingly, there’s a second bowl that’s stationary for other baking styles. This smaller, plastic bowl in the shape of a bundt pan has a pair of balloon whisks for light work and thicker wired “cookie whisks” for chunkier doughs.

I went with classic breads to start testing, making sure to adjust recipes to add liquids first—something of an Ank requirement—immediately marveling at all the work done by friction. Yes, the bowl spins thanks to the motor, but the roller rolls thanks to a grooved rubber ring around its top that nestles into the bowl’s lip. The dough knife is naturally pushed against the sidewall of the bowl. It quickly gives you the pleasing sense that there’s less to break.

Once the dough comes together, you can pivot the arm and roller toward the center of the bowl as it runs, allowing you to adjust the kneading pressure on the dough, occasionally allowing you to work through the step in the directions where you stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Staying in a similar, bready vein, I made toast bread, following a recipe in the book that came with the mixer and makes four squat loaves that fill a half-sheet pan. I used up some lovely Moroccan olives to make a more rustic loaf. I also tried two different recipes for focaccia, and one that many people recommended I make: challah. For each of these, the Ank felt impressive and sure on its feet.

The Best Espresso Machines for the Home Barista

The Best Espresso Machines for the Home Barista

There’s always room to up your game, and there are quite a few additional tools that can help you make the best espresso you can. These ones are all tools you’d employ before the brew, setting the stage for the perfect extraction.

Fellow Atmos Canister for Coffee Beans

A vacuum canister is a great way to store your coffee beans. By vacating the chamber of all air every time you close it, the Fellow Vacuum Canister slows down the degradation of all those flavorful oils and chemical compounds inside your (hopefully locally roasted) favorite coffee beans.

OXO Conical Burr Grinder

This is one of our top picks in our Best Coffee Grinders guide, and it’s a good choice for espresso. Espresso requires a fine and consistent grind, the likes of which you can easily get out of a burr grinder. Just be sure to get in there and give your burrs a sweep now and then—maintenance which the OXO makes easy, with a bean bin that snaps apart without any fuss.

Bezzera Bottomless Portafilter

Nothing will improve your espresso brewing like a bottomless portafilter. Not because it will make your coffee better, it’ll make you better by making you more aware of your mistakes and inconsistencies. Bottomless portafilters are finicky, and when your grind is off or you’ve over-tamped your grounds, the bottomless portafilter lets you see that in how the espresso coats the bottom of the filter and pours down into the cup. Be sure to double-check the circumference on your espresso machine’s group head though (the place the filter attaches). There are a number of standard sizes, so you need to make sure you order the right one. The most common are 53 mm and 58 mm, and almost every bottomless portafilter comes in each of these sizes.

WPM Tamping Mat

Tamping mats are just a thick, soft piece of rubber or silicone, but they make it much easier to maintain a consistent tamping pressure (and a clean tamping space so you won’t stain your kitchen table with coffee or scratch it with the bottom of your tamp). You can also use a folded kitchen towel, but these are easy to rinse off.

Crema Distributor & Tamp

Once you put your grounds into your portafilter, the next step is giving them a good, even tamping. You want to use about 30-40 pounds of pressure, and while you can use a scale to determine exactly what that feels like, I find it’s better to just press with your upper body, then extract a shot and see how it went. If it’s too bitter, you tamped too hard, if it’s too watery you didn’t tamp hard enough. A distributor (also called a leveler) makes it easy to get an even surface for you to tamp, and this one has a tamp on one side and a distributor on the other so you can level off your beans, then flip this tool over and give ’em a good tamp. Just make sure you get one that fits the circumference of your machine’s portafilter!

Duralex Picardie Shot Glasses, Set of Six

These are my favorite shot glasses in general, but they’re also great espresso shot glasses—tall and narrow enough to allow a wonderfully aerated crema to form on top, and made of tempered glass so they can stand up to the heat. They’re also great for serving up smaller drinks like macchiatos—a shot of espresso with a dollop of froth on top.

Breville’s Dual Boiler Is Nearly Perfect for Coffee Tinkerers

Breville’s Dual Boiler Is Nearly Perfect for Coffee Tinkerers

I don’t like big kitchen appliances. I have a small space, so I like to keep surfaces as clear as possible. More work surfaces mean more room to get up to weird stuff, whether that’s brewing my own dye from black walnuts, mixing up dozens of varieties of fermentables, or just making a cup of coffee. If an appliance takes up any of that real estate, it really has to be worth it. 

For my household, that means our stand mixer, food processor, rice cooker, and electric kettle all have permanent homes on our countertops. The Breville Dual Boiler is bigger than all of them. If you glued all those countertop appliances together into a monstrous ball of plastic and metal, the Breville might still be bigger. But after several months with it, there isn’t an appliance in my entire kitchen that has earned its keep more. It’s big, it’s expensive, and it’s worth every penny.

Instant Boil

The Dual Boiler is a $1,500 coffee pot. Let’s just get that out of the way. It’s the price of a MacBook Pro, a 65-inch OLED TV, 600 cups of drip coffee, or 300 lattes. It’s a commercial-grade espresso machine built for at-home use, and I’d wager most people don’t need commercial-grade kitchen equipment to get them through the day. It is not a machine any household needs—but it’s really nice to have.

As the name suggests, it has two internal boilers. The boiler is a metal chamber where the water is heated up and turned into either hot water or steam. Most at-home espresso machines have just one that does double duty. Having one boiler means you have a smaller amount of water available for espresso shots, steam (for milk frothing), or hot water (for tea). When you use all that water, the machine needs to pull more into the boiler and heat it up again. It’s not a big deal for most homes, it just takes a few more minutes than usual. Unless you’re making more than a couple of cappuccinos in short order, you probably won’t have any issues with having just one boiler.

Commercial-grade machines usually have at least two boilers. That means you can pull a couple of shots of espresso, steam up that milk, pour a cup of tea, and have hot water to spare. You never even have to think about the capacity of your boilers. My partner and I drink a lot of coffee and tea throughout the day, and we’ve never had to stop and wait for the Dual Boiler to heat up. It’s always ready to go. 

That’s compared to a single-boiler machine I was testing recently, which kept us waiting for hot water so long that we just put the kettle on instead of trying to use it for coffee and tea at the same time.

Built to Last

espresso machine parts
Photograph: Breville

The front face of the Dual Boiler has four tiny buttons under its LCD display, and four big buttons around it—a power button, one to automatically brew one shot, one for brewing two shots, and one for manual control. It’s a nice, clean interface.