Just as in faerie tales, with knives, three is a magic number, and there’s an age-old understanding that three knives can handle almost anything you need to do in a kitchen: a paring knife, a chef’s knife, and a bread knife. Of the three, the last is the one most often overlooked and least understood. Maybe part of the reason is the name: bread knife. Sounds mundane and single-purpose, doesn’t it? But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
What distinguishes a “bread knife” is its long blade, the moderate flexibility of that blade and its serrated edge. That combination of attributes is magic. A good bread knife can make quick work of a crusty loaf of sourdough, and for all its look of toothy power, can also handle many surprisingly delicate tasks, such as leveling off a fragile lemon cake layer or making beautifully clean slices of tomato for a toasted sandwich.
The secret is in the science of the blade edge. We think of a serrated bread knife as looking like a saw. It does, and we do, in fact, use it that way. Unlike a chef’s knife, which is designed to cut through foods with downward pressure, a serrated bread knife is designed to work its way through, back and forth. The points of the serrated edge act as wedges, breaking through a tough surface, while the sharpened gullets in between the points do the slicing. This also explains why – even though you might guess otherwise – more points per inch isn’t necessarily better. The knife needs both points and gullies, and the best serrated bread knives strike a balance.
To discover the best serrated bread knives for your kitchen, we tested a variety of knives at home and consulted with bread-baking experts. We sliced up everything from crusty loaves and soft breads to lusciously ripe tomatoes and leathery avocados, paying special attention to features like design, sharpness, ease of use, and price.
Shun Classic 9-Inch Bread Knife
Lettering fades after some time
This knife isn’t flashy, but subtly beautiful, and a delight to hold and use. The polished wooden handle is crafted just so, with a subtle D-shape you can see by looking down from the butt end of the knife. It’s nearly invisible, but you can feel it when you wield the knife. (This is only for right-handed use; it will feel awkward in the left hand, because that ridge is then on the wrong side. See our Best Left-Handed Pick, below.)
The blade does all the work, cutting through crusty bread as cleanly and easily as you would ever want. It just glides through, with few crusty crumb eruptions, does equally well on softer breads, and slices a very soft, juicy tomato without the least rip or squish.
The blade has very little flex, but in this knife, that seems to work to advantage. Its design is also proof of the fact that fewer – and in this case quite rounded – serrations are in many ways more effective that the craggy serrations you see in some knives. At 9 inches, it's also an argument for a bread knife of more modest length.
It's far from a bargain purchase, but Shun will hone a serrated knife when it needs it, at no cost. So, if properly cared for, this is a knife that will be in your kitchen for decades. That makes it worth the cost difference against any number of more "disposable" breads knives that will never work as well.
Price at time of publish: $170
Length: 9 inches | Material: VG Max Steel, pakkawood | Weight: 10.2 ounces
Mercer Culinary Millennia Wide Wavy Edge Bread Knife
The handle gets sticky
This is a great knife to own, but the blister-packaging needs serious rethinking. It requires a really a sharp blade to open a package that contains a really sharp blade. That’s fraught with danger. (Think Dan Ackroyd as Julia Child.)
But the knife itself has good weight and balance, and a particularly grippy surface at the handle. They have thoughtfully rounded the heel of the blade at the bolster, so that even if a finger strays from the grip, no one gets poked. Similarly, it has a rounded front tip, no point, which makes certain sense in a bread knife.
This behaves as if it were a much more expensive knife. Perhaps that can be attributed to the lesser number of serrations per inch – just three – and their rounded design. The knife sits easily and safely in the hand and made quick work of everything we tested. At first the rubber grippy-ness of the handle seems like an advantage, too, but we suspect the material might degrade and get sticky, especially if you get lazy and toss the knife in the dishwasher once in a while. But enjoy the grip while it lasts and the price-worthy knife along with it.
Price at time of publish: $19
Length: 10 inches | Material: High carbon steel; polypropylene | Weight: 4.8 ounces
Especially with a serrated bread knife, be prepared to let the knife do the work. Even though the blade is designed to be pushed forward and drawn back across the loaf or other food, it shouldn’t require a lot of effort. If you have to put a lot of effort into it, it’s not the right tool for the job or simply needs sharpening.
Mac Knife Superior Bread Knife, 10-1/2 Inch
Good knuckle clearance
Doesn’t work well with super crusty bread
The knife and its packaging are simple and classy, with just enough embellishment to tell the user that this is a very good knife – and it is. It’s quite long at 10.5 inches, and has a full tang, so the knife is heavy, but well balanced and with a quality feel. There's just enough flex to the blade.
This is another knife where the blade seems to do all the work – as it should. You hardly have to push the blade; you just have to guide it back and forth. It has fewer (not quite four per inch) and rounded serrations, but those rounded serrations broke cleanly through the skin of a very ripe tomato, making lovely slices, and even made quick work of a leathery avocado, but didn’t make a mess of the inner slices.
The blade didn't bend excessively, crack, or chip under use. However, it has an unfortunate and very sharp corner point at the heel (the handle end of the blade), and – oddly – no guard designed into the bolster. But for that issue, this is a fine knife that does exactly what it's supposed to do and does it well.
Price at time of publish: $78
Length: 10.5 inches | Material: Steel, pakkawood | Weight: 5.06 ounces
Victorinox Swiss Army 10.25-Inch Bread Knife
May lose sharpness
This knife has a reliable blade and a handle that is especially secure and well-shaped to the hand, with a nicely curved bolster. Victorinox touts it for its extra utility as a spatula for bakery icing and slicing, and suggests its slightly curved blade edge is more effective. It’s a knife you can use for just about anything and not worry too much about whether it will survive in the long term.
Anything? Yes. Its four-per-inch serrations cut into crusty bread well enough, even though it did require some small amount of effort to make the actual cut. And yes, it does serve as a spatula for both peanut butter (great when making sandwiches en masse, spreading and slicing with one knife) and for icing a delicate cake.
This is a good, solid knife, with a handle that is especially easy to keep hold of and has balanced weight. Its raw cutting ability could be a bit better, but for routine and multi-purpose kitchen use, it's perfect.
Price at time of publish: $64
Length: 10.2 inches | Material: Stainless steel, polypropylen copolymere | Weight: 4.08 ounces
Best with Long, Flexible Blade
Tojiro F-737 Bread Slicer
With pointed serrations at four per inch and a truly flexible blade, the knife works well – if your preference is for that long, flexible blade. It did require real leverage and active sawing on crusty bread, and as one might expect, tended to squish softer breads. It has one especially nice feature though: the handle. It's a smooth wooden handle with the tang deeply embedded three-quarters of the way into its length. Also, it has a front finger-edge curve at the bolster that helps protect any digit that might come into forward contact with the blade itself.
The blade had arrived with a large scratch on the surface, and while any knife will eventually acquire scratches over time, that this one was visibly scratched out of the gate doesn't bode well for lifetime beauty. Its overall cutting quality didn't measure up against the other options, either, which was kind of a surprise considering we'd ranked it highly in a previous test. But manufacturing can be inconsistent, and quality can slip over time. It would be worth having as the bread knife that travels with you to potlucks, where it might disappear, but it's not a legacy knife.
Price at time of publish: $25
Length: 9.25 inches | Material: Stainless steel, wood | Weight: 3.87 ounces
Best for Lefties
Mercer Culinary Bread Knife 10-inch
The handle gets sticky
The Mercer knife we list as Best Budget Pick also comes in a version especially designed for left-handed users. All the other admirable qualities of the knife are the same, but the design of the handle is reversed, which will be welcome for any southpaw who is tired of having to adapt to a right-handed world. A priceless feature for some, in a very good knife.
Price at time of publish: $19
Length: 10 inches | Material: High carbon steel, Santoprene®, polypropylene | Weight: 6.4 ounces
Best to Impress
DALSTRONG Bread Knife, 9 Inch
Handle can get slippery
This knife is visually impressive and comes with a heavy-duty sheath (a keeper, which is handy). That weighty design is evident in the knife itself as well, and it’s heavy with a full tang, reasonably well balanced overall, but the sharply angled finger design of the bolster might not accommodate smaller hands well. The blade stayed stable and unbent, and it sliced well, but the weight of the knife itself put lots of pressure on the soft loaf. With almost 4.5 really pointy serrations per inch, it didn’t cut as easily as knives with fewer or rounded serrations. For fancy looks, it can’t be beat, but it might be overkill for a humble (or elegant) loaf of bread.
Price at time of publish: $64
Length: 9 inches | Material: Steel, Titanium Nitride coating, resin | Weight: 8 ounces
We prefer the Shun Classic 9-Inch Bread Knife as the best choice for a one-and-only bread knife, based on its overall quality and performance. The Mac Knife Superior Bread Knife comes a close second and will become a knife you’ll use for almost everything. If price is more of a factor, consider the Mercer Culinary Millennia or the Victorinox Swiss Army for overall value and utility.
Other Bread Knives We Tested
The Global Sai Bread Knife suffered from a bit of packaging overload with a plastic locking strip that has to be cut away with utility shears or a box cutter. It was impossible to remove the plastic strip without scratching the blade – and scratch it did. Also of note is the fact that the branding logo on the heel of the blade scraped off with the first slice into a loaf of bread. It's just painted on, and this speaks volumes about the longtime quality of the knife. For all its heft and appearance of quality, using this one-piece, artfully crafted knife was a slog. With just under four serrated points per inch, it felt, in fact, as if the points were doing all the work. It seems unnecessarily heavy overall, and the handle is unbalanced. It also has no particular protection at that point where the heel joins (or in this case, becomes) the handle, and it would be all too easy to snag the side of a finger on the sharp corner.
How We Tested
We sent some of the most popular serrated bread knife brands to our expert tester to use in their own kitchen. They rated the knives on their quality, design, and size, as well as other features like value and durability. Our tester then offered additional insights based on their overall experience and where each bread knife either excelled or fell short.
What to Look for When Buying Serrated Bread Knives
Shape of Serration
If you look closely at the serration in a bread knife, the shape of the serration is either pointy and sharp or scalloped and rounded. Should you go for pointy edges or more rounded ones? Most often it depends on what you are using the knife for. If you are cutting crusty loaves, a sharp pointy serration offers more grip as it bites into the food allowing you to cut with less force and more of a sawing motion. For softer breads or cakes a more rounded shape is less abrasive and makes cleaner cuts.
Don’t judge a serrated knife by the number of serrations. If many many really really pointed serrations were better at cutting bread, we could all just use hacksaws. There's a reason we use bread knives. And sharp points on the serration can be useful but aren’t entirely necessary. If the blade you choose has pointy serrations, it becomes a "know your tools" safety thing. Rather like the way we always need to know and alert others to when knives have been newly sharpened, you need to know that your bread knife is sharp at those points. Keep it sheathed.
While it is possible to keep serrated knives honed, it is time-consuming to sharpen them at home and in some cases a bit challenging as well. In the case of serrated knives, it is best to look for knives that are super sharp right out of the box. A sharp knife with regular care will need less frequent sharpening.
As with the chef’s knives, the comfort of the grip in a serrated knife is important. Although this is a knife used for specific tasks and you may not use it for hours on end, you still want to feel in control. Since serrated knives are used for multiple functions, from cutting bread to portioning sandwiches to dividing cakes, a non-slippery firm grip is a key feature in the knife.
A short blade may fall short when slicing through larger loaves of bread whereas a very long blade might prove difficult to use for smaller foods. For home use, a knife with a length of 8 to 10 inches is just about right for a serrated bread knife.
Flexibility of the Blade
Thinner blades are more flexible, and in the case of bread knives, that is a strength. The thin blades are easier to maneuver and cut much neater than thick blades.
The design of the bolster is especially important in a serrated bread knife because you will be using that sawing motion, so the knife will rock a bit in the hand. A well-designed bolster allows the knife to handle well and work safely.
If you are cutting a particularly tough bread that has a hard crust but soft interior, try using a sawing motion with very little downward pressure and holding the edges of the bread to give it more support, suggests Jane Bonacci, author of The Gluten Free Bread Machine Cookbook.
Are bread knives and serrated knives the same thing?
Serrated knives form the broader category of knives that have broad, deep, and pointed grooves. Although the terms are used interchangeably, bread knives fall under the serrated knife category but not all serrated knives are bread knives. Serrations allow the knife to cut through foods that are tougher on the outside and soft within. Also, knives like serrated paring knives or steak knives have somewhat similar functionality but will fall short when slicing bread. Although a good bread knife can be put to many uses, including cutting cherry tomatoes, a serrated paring knife will do it faster and more safely.
Can you sharpen a serrated knife?
Serrated knives retain their sharpness for a long time, so they don’t need to be sharpened often. Serrated knives can be sharpened using a cone sharpener (like this one). Since the serrations on knives vary in width, this type of sharpener is better able to pass through each serration, sharpening each edge as you go from one end to the other. You can also get serrated knives sharpened professionally.
Why are bread knives serrated?
Serrated knives have pointy sharp edges that pierce the foods that are hard from the outside but soft within. As the tips pierce the surface of the food, the gullets reduce friction as the blade is moved in a back-and-forth, saw-like motion. These gullets help cut through without smashing soft, squiggly foods. This lesser friction and force results in less drag, and a much cleaner cut.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Catherine Russell is a food writer who has worked in commercial kitchens around the country. She’s an enthusiastic cook and baker who knows that quality tools are the ones that feel right, work well, and last.
Renu Dhar is a chef instructor, personal chef, and food writer with years of experience teaching knife skills. She personally owns a couple (or more) of the knives on this list, although she recommends starting with one that feels just right for you. She interviewed Jane Bonacci, author of The Gluten Free Bread Machine Cookbook for additional research for this roundup.