Best steak knives
Six picks from the uber-high end to Crate & Barrel steakhouse-style knives.
By Kate Bonamici, FORTUNE writer-reporter

NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - You've got the grill. You've got the dry-aged steaks. As you get in shape for summer and start serious consideration of upcoming cookouts, give equally serious thought to how you plan to slice your finished masterpiece.

And though filet mignon fans brag about cutting their meat with a spoon, connoisseurs of tougher but far more flavorful cuts turn to steak knives to speed their meat to mouth.

The "classic" WŁsthof knives.
Go high-end with William Henry Knives out of Oregon.
Go high-end with William Henry Knives out of Oregon.

Using a special sharp knife to cut meat is actually a recent cutlery development, according to knife expert Bernard Levine, who has authored several books for knife collectors and sold his table cutlery collection to the Smithsonian in the 1980s.

Before the invention of stainless steel just before World War One, he explains, all regular table knives were sharp. But the blades required constant upkeep and frequent replacement, extra work that grew less realistic as household servants faded from view.

Stainless steel flatware, which stayed shiny without polishing, was an instant hit when it went into mass production after the war, but before the invention of heat-treatment in the 1950s, the knife blades didn't hold an edge and needed frequent sharpening. And the sharpening dulled the attractive bright finish that made stainless steel such a popular material.

So shortly after the Second World War, faced with ever-duller table knives and no good way to slice meat at the table, Americans were ready for steak knives - often serrated to keep a sharp blade and slice quickly through tough food.

Levine is a fan of steak knives from unexpectedly low-end sources, but there are some luxury knives out there that also bear investigation.

Here are some steak-cutting picks for every occasion:

The Łber-high end

It's hard to go much more luxe than the steak knives crafted by William Henry Knives, an artisan knife-making shop based in Oregon. The lightly curved handles are carved from cocobolo, a rare tropical hardwood grown in Central America.

The blades are made from 45 layers of special steel from Japan that can be incredibly hard without becoming brittle. Those layers are allowed to show on the finished blade, resulting in a topographic look. You probably won't want to hide them away in the hand-carved storage box.


The classic

WŁsthof is a tried and true classic in the knife world, and is one of the few German knife makers who still forges the knife blades of carbon steel, instead of stamping them out of sheets of metal.

The tang - the metal attached to the blade but contained in the handle - runs through the entire handle. The set of four from Williams-Sonoma comes in an aluminum case for safekeeping.


The newcomer

For a more modern take, Global is the way to go. The brand has taken the culinary world by storm in recent years, often replacing heavy German knives as the go-to knife for professional chefs and their most serious home counterparts.

Lightweight, and without any worries about cracked handles, the knives also keep an extremely fine edge, thanks to super-hard steel. The handles are comfortable and well weighted. The dimpled silver handles and unique shape make them an edgy choice for a contemporary table.

$144 for a set of four,

The Steakhouse choice

If you want to go for a classic steakhouse feel at your dinner table, a wide-bladed serrated knife with a wood handle is the answer. Crate and Barrel has a budget option, or you can pick your favorite steakhouse and see if they sell their version. New York institutions Peter Luger and Smith & Wollensky sell their knives online, complete with imprinted restaurant logos.

$5.95 each,

Smith & Wollensky, $54 for four,

Peter Luger, $24.99 for four,

The adaptation

A favorite trick of Levine's is to use a great paring knife as a steak knife. "The Japanese have always known how to make good knives," he says about the 3 1/2-inch paring knife from Kai. "It is very good quality, nice design, and a modern take on traditional Japanese design."

He's also a fan of the Woodswalker, made by A.G. Russell, which has a curved blade just shorter than three inches and was designed as a non-folding pocketknife.

Kai, $45/each; Woodswalker, $9.95 each, both

As seen on...

Finally, those unexpected sources. "I have a perverse fondness for the Quikut steak knives from 1950s and 60s," says Levine, who likes the sharp edge and easy-care plastic handles on his, bought at a gas station with spare change.

The company is now owned by Infomercial Masters Ginsu (and the parent company is one of Warren Buffett's holdings). If As Seen on TV Web sites for similar styles (often including in 10-for-$5.99 Ginsu starter sets) isn't your speed, try Levine's other budget favorite, the stamped steak knives from Victorinox (yes, the Swiss Army Knife folks). Machine stamping keeps costs down, but Levine likes the design and solid construction.

$50 for six,


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