Cooks Illustrated Kitchen Tools and Equipment List: Knives, Boards, Sharpeners and Storage

December 4, 2012 · 22 comments

Having the right tools is no guarantee you’ll be a great cook, but it’s really hard to produce even a passable meal without a basic set of decent quality equipment.

This is probably why Cook’s Illustrated included their list of essentials everyone needs to equip a working kitchen—including specific brand names and models—in their fabulous work, The Science of Good Cooking.

While they don’t list absolutely everything you might need (for example, I NEED my Romertopf clay baker), the book gives a brief description of what qualities to look for in each item they do list. In the interest of keeping this post to a somewhat manageable length, I’ll cut to the chase and just list the goods.

If you’re a foodie who’s into the “whys” of things, you will definitely want to check out the book itself. In addition to the great kitchen equipment list and 400 tried-and-true recipes vetted in in the rock-solid tradition of America’s Test Kitchen, the information they offer will unlock the secrets of the universe known as “your kitchen.”

And that is as close to a guarantee you’re likely to see around here.

Feel free to share the list and share the love… of cooking!

Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox 8-Inch Chef’s Knife

This is the eight-inch version of the 10-incher Rick uses. He prefers the heavier heft and deeper breadth of the blade for maneuvers like using it turned flat to smash garlic cloves. This is also the current #1 Best Seller on Amazon with a 5-star rating over 3300 reviews. Everybody loves their Victorinox!

01/02/2014 UPDATED: In September of 2013, Cook’s Illustrated published their fifth update to their best chef knife review, this time with a specific focus on the most versatile knife in any kitchen, the chef’s 8-inch all purpose knife, and capped their budget for the test at $50. Once again, the Victorinox beat the competition hands down. The online article accompanying the results (you’ll need a Cook’s Illustrated online subscription to read it) goes into great and gnarly detail about why–tempering temperature and process, ergonomics, handle material, etc.–but suffice it to say, if you only get one, this is still the knife you want. I also added the Cook’s Illustrated recommendation for best kitchen shears. Happy chopping!

Victorinox Paring Knife

Got this one, too. It’s perfect for the fiddly stuff.

Victorinox Bread Knife


Are you noticing the pattern here? And did we not expound last week, previous to finding this list, on the great value to be found in Victorinox knives?

It’s a good thing we aren’t “I told you so!” type people, because that’s just rude. But we did mention this… earlier.

Shun Kitchen Shears

Great for everything from snipping herbs to trimming pie dough to heavy-duty chicken breakdowns, a good pair of kitchen shears are right up there with the 8-inch chef’s knife and wooden spoon on the list of “starter kitchen essentials.” The Shun, good for both right and left-handed cooks and guaranteed for life, wins Cook’s top place.

For those on a more modest budget (or maybe for those 100 year-old/smoking/seatbelt eschewing/parachuting chefs among us with a shorter-life expectancy), their recommended “best buy” is the J.A. HENCKELS Take Apart Kitchen Shears.

Proteak Teak Cutting Board, Edge Grain with Hand Grip

If you’ve been puddling along with one of those midgy little plastic jobbers, switching to a full-size wooden cutting board will rock your world, not to mention bring a new level of safety and ease to a process that’s part of virtually every meal prep.

Note: this is situation where I opted to list Cook’s Illustrated’s Number 1 pick in a category rather than their “best buy” option, which is the OXO Good Grips Bamboo Cutting Board. In our opinion, the OXO version is just too small to serve as the one-size-fits-all-jobs classic board, although it would make a dandy second “for garlic use only” option if your budget (and counter space) permits two.

The Proteak board stays put during use, there’s no more corralling errant diced veggie bits back onto your working surface, and the edge-grain wood surface seems to anchor both the food and the knife blades more solidly in place as you slice and chop.

Plus, it will keep your knives sharper for longer, so you won’t need to use the sharpeners listed below as often.

08/15/2015 UPDATE:

Knife Sharpeners

Chef’s Choice Trizor XV Knife Sharpener

With an eye to the additional demands of ultrathin Japanese knives sharpened to 15 degrees on both sides of the blades, Cook’s Illustrated revisited both the electric and manual sharpener options. Their new “highly recommended” top pick for electric knife sharpeners (both Japanese and traditional blades will benefit) is the Chef’s Choice Trizor XV Knife Sharpener. According to their review, with 10 minutes of effort in the “heavy damage slot,” the sharpener was able revive a seriously gronked blade to “like new” condition. That same slot, by the way, can convert a 20-degree blade to a 15-degree version which slices with discernibly greater ease through anything standing between it and a chopping block.

And anything that “purrs” (their word) but doesn’t shed in a kitchen could definitely find a place in my kitchen. However, since we are rabidly fanatical fairly meticulous about how we care for and store our knives, we don’t need the horsepower of an electric unit and stick with manual sharpeners to maintain our edges.

Top “recommended” marks for a 15-degree manual sharpener to the Chef’s Choice Pronto Manual Diamond Hone Asian Knife Sharpener.

Chef’s Choice Pronto Manual Diamond Hone Asian Knife Sharpener

The Cook’s tests were carried out on nine of Cook’s favorite Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox 8-Inch Chef’s Knife (above). Initially, this seemed a little odd to us as the review is about sharpeners for Asian knives, but since these Victorinox blades are already honed to a 15-degree angle, it makes sense.   While none of the manual sharpeners could remove notches (or change the angle of the blade), the Chef’s Choice Pronto worked a charm.

BTW, if your favorite blade isn’t (yet) a Victorinox, is five years or older, and is from a non-Asian maker, chances are it’s honed to 20 degrees. Per their Aug. 2015 review, Cook’s Illustrated recommended sharpeners for 20-degree blades is once again the Chef’s Choice 130 Professional Knife-Sharpening Station for the electric fans, and the AccuSharp 001 Knife Sharpener for the manual fans.

Chef’s Choice 130 Professional Knife-Sharpening Station

For my money, when Cook’s describes an appliance designed to produce super sharp knife edges with the words “quiet,” “Rolls Royce,” and “foolproof,” I’m instantly in “sign me up!” mode.

AccuSharp 001 Knife Sharpener

Lightweight, drawer-friendly, and inexpensive, this is Cook’s top pick for owners of a beloved 20-degree blade who aren’t nervous in the face of increasingly sharp steel daringly exposed to their precious digits.

Pardon me… my bias is showing. You may have noted my gently facetious use of the royal “we” earlier.

I can only say that if this kitchen duty were up to me, I’d be jumping briskly into the “I’m more likely to keep all my precious digits with the electric version” camp. I’ve seen Rick do the blade versus stone magic wand sharpening dance in our kitchen, and it frightens me terribly. I’m always standing by with paper towels for the blood and a sterilized baggie for the body parts in need of surgical reattachment that seem inevitable but miraculously never appear.

Bottom line: whichever version you choose, the best advice is to use it frequently. A sharp knife is easier to control and more likely to command the respect and attention of the user.


Bodum Bistro Universal Knife Block

Finally, once you’ve got the blades you need, the board to use them on, and the tool to keep them sharp, where will you keep them? Cook’s has two recommendations in the best knife storage category. Top pick for a universal knife block is the Bodum Bistro. Not only does the compact footprint accommodate up to nine knives stored diagonally, but it comes in a variety of fun colors to brighten things up.

Short on counter space?

Messermeister Bamboo Knife Magnet

Get your knives up and out of the way with Cook’s Illustrated recommended, the Messermeister knife magnet with room for five knives plus a pair of kitchen shears. Their testing revealed it was easy to install and clean, and the bamboo surface was gentle on blades. Not a fan of bamboo? It also comes in acacia wood. Besides, who doesn’t think it’s fun to say “Messermeister”? You can never have too much fun in the kitchen.

07/02/2015 UPDATED: Cook’s Illustrated just released a steak knife review, and guess what?! Yup… Victorinox topped the list in this category as well with their beautiful Victorinox Swiss Army Rosewood 6-piece set with spear points and straight edges. Their recommended “best buy” this time around: The Chicago Cutlery Walnut Tradition 4-piece set. At almost 25% the price per knife of the Victorinox, these puppies might be worth a second look, although as you will read below, our house leans Victorinox…

Stay tuned for the rest of our Cook’s Illustrated product reviews:

Pots and PansEssential Bakeware (my favorite), Kitchen Gadgets and Handy Tools, Teflon Pan and Non-Metal Spatula,

Here’s to happier cooking!

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Pure Simple Healing Trial January 28, 2018 at 1:06 pm

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jon komow July 11, 2016 at 1:58 am

I’m in the Toronto West area of Milton. Where can I buy the Victorinox Chef’s knife?
Jon Komow

kathy September 12, 2016 at 6:25 pm

Sorry, Jon. We live way out in the boondocks so do almost all our shopping online. the Victorinox is a super popular knife, though, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it in TO.

Ben June 8, 2014 at 5:41 am

Knife sharpeners are such a brilliant tool to have around the kitchen, but manual models (such as stones, steels, rods) can be so difficult for newcomers to get the hang of! Do you have any tips for getting the hang of these?

I agree with your recommendation of the Chef’s Choice electric sharpener above, but you know what purists can be like…

brenda mcmillan November 30, 2013 at 7:58 am

does my non-stick coating paring knives need to be sharpened as i use them?

kathy November 30, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Hi Brenda,
We don’t own a non-stick knife so we don’t know first hand. However, I have read of others who said the coating started to come off “with the first sharpening,” so that would indicate it probably isn’t a good idea to sharpen one with coating. By the way, I’ve also read that non-stick coated paring knives are GREAT for slicing the tops of bread dough (baguettes, etc.) before popping the loaves in the oven. I’m tempted to buy one just for that reason!
And in case you’re interested, here’s everything you ever wanted to know about sharpening knives: Great info!

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