German kitchen knives are in a separate league regarding manufacturing standards and material durability. While German engineering's elite quality is a well-established cliche, German knives are a well-known commodity next to their automobiles. Many of Germany's world-famous knife manufacturers have their factories set up in Solingen, better known as the "City of Knives."
What's up with German Cooking Knives?
The best German kitchen knives mentioned in this article adhere to their unique, rigorous processes that result in their distinct stellar-quality knives. While it is true that most kitchen knives, from your dollar to top-buck, come out the box razor-sharp, there are plenty of other factors that distinguish German steel from the rest.
That said, let's look at some of the best German steel kitchen knives on the market:
Wusthof knives from Solingen, Germany, are the rockstars in the knife world and have been family-owned for seven generations. After World War II, Wusthof equipped their production facilities in Solingen with automation capabilities. Over a hundred robots performed several tasks in the knife process, the advantage leaning towards higher precision and efficiency. However, critical processes like finishing the edges and surfaces and final blade honing are still facilitated by expert craftsmen.
Founded by Johann Abram Wusthof in the early 1800s, the trident logo represents the company's commitment to forging quality and durable knives that'll see years of hard use in your kitchen. Wusthof offers various collections, each tailor-made to cooks of all levels from home to Michelin-star restaurants. Among these are the Ikon, Grand Prix II, and Epicure.
Wusthof boasts an exhaustive 40-step process in making each knife, with automation enhancing some parts of the process. Every blade is precision-forged using laser technologies while leaving critical finishing work, like honing and inspecting, to skilled artisans. X50CRMOV15, a high-quality steel alloy with high-carbon content, gives the knife extra resistance against corrosion. Most of the Wusthofs come with full-tang construction.
Every handle design varies per collection, each well thought out and elegant. The Epicure uses natural fiber. The Classics, Ikon, and Gourmet all use polyoxymethylene. All are securely reinforced with three metal rivets.
Wusthof knives have taken eastern influence by adopting a 14-degree angle on their angle edges, contrasting to the standard 20 to 22-degree angle used by most German knives. Their santoku lines, however, can be sharpened to a 10-degree angle.
Maintenance and Warranty
Wusthof products come with a limited lifetime warranty, which can be difficult to claim if you're outside their distribution networks. Wusthof are amenable to dishwashers, though chefs would look at you wrong for not washing such a precious knife by hand.
Henckels stand out for various reasons, despite their uncanny similarity to Wusthof due to the red-white logo color scheme. The brand has over 15 collections of different features and styles, so everybody gets something.
The most famous set is Zwilling Pro, and it's easy to see why. It has everything a tremendous German kitchen knife should have: a thick and large tip, a complete tang, and a triple-riveted silicone handle. It is similar to the Wusthof Classic set, but it has a half-bolster instead of Wusthof's complete bolster. If you want a more realistic appearance, they have a Pro Holm Oak variant with a beautiful light-colored Mediterranean Holm Oak handle.
All knives coming from their factories are forged with Henckel's proprietary SIGMAFORGE, wherein only a selected portion is heated using precise and controlled temperatures. This unique process minimizes steel damage and excess energy commonly observed in traditional forging.
Henckel blades also come with excellent hardness due to their patented FRIODUR ice-hardening procedure, which involves alternate heating and cooling of the steel to considerably enhance its hardness and edge life. This cold part of the process reaches a whopping subzero of -70 degrees celsius that all results in a stronger blade.
Most of Henckel's collections have a smooth and gleaming finish, but others, such as the Kramers line, have unique Damascus patterns.
Henckels' handles are highly grip-ergonomic to compensate for their heavy blades. Depending on the series, their knives come in full or partial tang. The handle is secure with the classic 3-rivet design that holds the tang in place. The extra bolster reveals the robust forging process. It protects your fingers from slipping into the blade during intense cutting sessions or when the handle gets slippery with animal fat or grease.
Nobody wants a dull knife in their kitchen. The Henckel Pro S and other Henckels are honed with in-factory laser-controlled technology that gives each side an equal angle for better and more precise cutting. The Pro series all come with approximately 15 degrees, similar to most Japanese-style knives. Their Santokus and Kramers take it even thinner with blistering 9-12 degree edge angles.
Maintenance and Warranty
Most Henckel knives have been designed to tolerate dishwashers to appease modern markets, but handwashing is the way to go if you want longevity. Most models score a Rockwell hardness of 55 to 57, which means they are relatively softer than your Rockwell-60 Japanese knives but will still hold an edge well. In terms of warranty, Henckel offers limited to lifetime guarantees.
Messermeister produces high-quality knives in Solingen, Germany. Their forging process adheres to more conventional methods. Bernd and Debbie Dressler founded the firm in 1981 and began as a marketing and sales firm for German and Japanese knives.
Messermeister pays homage to its founders' German origins by traditionally producing knives. Their artisans forge their knives by hot-dropping and hammer-forging. This one-of-a-kind method, as well as their attention to detail, distinguish Messermeister from the rest.
One of the best-selling ranges, Meridian Elite, features a traditional German style with a triple-riveted black grip, full exposed tang, and thick, large blade. The Adventure Chef line is intended for use while hiking, fishing, or traveling. The knives are small and lightweight but are as high quality as their standard sets.
Messermeister employs a high carbon content German steel alloy, molybdenum vanadium, and stainless steel. It has a 30-degree razor-sharp finish that is durable and sharp enough for most ingredients. The knives are resistant to corrosion and are simple to sharpen.
Messermeister sticks to tradition when making their knives, using hot-dropped and hammer forging, resulting in powerful blades from the tip down to the heel. The blades also undergo extensive heat treatment and subsequent cooling for a Rockwell hardness rating of 57-58. Messermeister utilizes 1.4116 alloys, a carbon, martensitic stainless steel with impressive strength and can achieve and maintain mild hardness (RC 55-57) and wear resistance. This is an older steel alloy compared to 420HC steel in terms of performance.
The lightweight handles of the Adventure Chef range fold in on themselves. The Park Plaza set features completely visible rivets, which are more typical of German design. The majority of collections have a smooth and polished finish, but others, such as the Kawashima series, have a slight wave pattern.
The bolsterless heel simplifies cutting, sharpening, and honing by allowing the whole blade to be used from heel to tip.
Maintenance and Warranty
The Knife for Life guarantee covers material and manufacturing flaws for, as the name suggests, a lifetime. For maintenance, Messermeister recommends hand washing in warm water with a gentle detergent, then subsequently clean and dry right away.
Güde is another well-known German knife brand. In Solingen, Germany, they have produced high-quality knives using traditional methods since 1910. Each knife is ground and sharpened by hand in-factory. They have never strayed from their excellent way of producing knives and continue to make high-quality handcrafted, forged knives.
Güde artisans follow 55 manual steps to produce each knife, starting with the drop-forge and finishing with individual checks, wrapping, and marking. Güde has a knife for every job in the kitchen through their eight sets.
Güde knives are sharp and long-lasting. Each knife is ice-hardened, which means the blades are chilled to -80°C to strengthen the microstructure and then tempered in stages to increase strength.
A Güde kitchen knife's blade is made of ice-hardened chrome-vanadium-molybdenum alloy. The handles are riveted to the blade, which has a double bolster. This double bolster gives the knife its distinctive profile and the proper balance seen in a Güde kitchen knife. The Damascus Steel set employs two kinds of carbon steel, one tough and elastic and the other soft and malleable. Delta knife steel is made out of an alloy of chrome, molybdenum, and vanadium.
The handles differ depending on the collection. The Alpha array makes use of a long-lasting Hostaform while the Alpha Pear-wood set uses, you've guessed it, Pearwood. Oak, plum wood, Desert Ironwood, Italian briarwood, and durable plastic are among the other materials used.
Its black hue quickly identifies the Hostaform. Wooden handles usually have various shades of brown and red. The knives are made of solid plastic and come in various colors, such as brown, black, red, and green. The majority of collections have a gleaming, clean, and simple finish. The Caminada selection blade has tiny vertical lines running down the steel to produce a one-of-a-kind design.
Gude knives are primarily manufactured with a 17-degree angle on each side, a midway angle between Japanese and German distinct edges. A 58 Rockwell score accompanies this steep edge angle.
Maintenance and Warranty
Gude knives come with a 2-year warranty on manufacturing and material defects, although you have a 30-day lead time to facilitate returns. Gude knife sets are dishwasher safe.
You won't regret purchasing any of the knife brands mentioned above. They have all passed the test of time, with techniques honed and perfected throughout centuries. If you've noticed, most of them have resorted to incorporating automation in their production to cope with the ever-increasing demands. Despite the automation, most of their procedures involve human intervention in the most critical moments of knife-making, like the final steel sharpening and polishing plus a final inspection before sending them out overseas.
You can trust that the knife will have undergone rigorous quality control, one huge reason why most brands are confident enough to dole out long-term warranties. If you're still on the fence about what brand to choose, we'd suggest you go with Wusthof. While any of the choices above are fine, Wusthof is our go-to for a kitchen knife gold standard.