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7 Best Metal Framed Semi-Auto Pistols

There’s something about a metal-framed semi-auto that just feels right. 

Polymer guns are cool and all, but there are notable benefits to a hefty metal frame, especially for competition shooters.

Couple 1911s
A handful of 1911s, ya know, just hanging out.

Whether it’s an old-school 1911 or a modern competition gun, there are a number of great options out there that meet the standards of reliability and accuracy while also being fun!

But which model should you buy?

I love a good metal-framed pistol, as do a lot of you, so we wanted to take a look at the best of the best across a few different price points. 

Whether you’re looking for a new home-defense gun to live in the bedside safe, a brand new competition gun to smoke your buddies at the next USPSA match, a new carry gun, or just a fun range toy, there’s something here for everyone.

Lethal Weapon Beretta
Ohhh the good ole days of burning through ammo at the range.

Let’s talk about what makes metal-framed semi-auto handguns so great, some potential drawbacks, and which ones are most worth your hard-earned dollars.

Table of Contents

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Why a Metal-Framed Semi-Auto?

I can hear the Glock disciples already. “Why bother with a metal-framed pistol? Polymer is lighter, springs back instead of deforming, and flexes to soak up felt recoil.” 

Downtown Abbey Snob
Glock fanbois right now.

Yes, all of that is true, but there are benefits to metal frames too. Well, mainly just the one benefit, but it’s a big one.

A metal-framed handgun is heavier. Now, you might be asking yourself, why I would want something that is heavy? It’s actually a good thing.

That extra weight soaks up recoil energy, making follow-up shots and rapid-fire strings a whole lot easier. For both competition and duty/carry use, that’s a huge advantage

There’s a reason the STI 2011, Sig P320 X-5 Legion, CZ Shadow 2, and many other popular competition guns brings some weight to the table. 

950
at Cabelas

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

A lot of phenomenal classic guns also exist in this realm, like the 1911 and the CZ 75. These guns are backed by enough history that they’re worth owning just because of the pedigree. Not to mention, they are some of the most beloved handguns.

All gun owners should have at least one 1911, and you can’t change my mind.

Springfield 1911 (9)
TWO WORLD WARS, darn it!

Beyond that, it’s all aesthetics and preferences, which is important, no matter what the internet gun gurus say. Yes, these are tools and even weapons, but there’s no reason we can’t like the way they look. 

If you like the look and feel of a metal-framed gun, then as far as we’re concerned, that’s reason enough to go for it. 

Just keep a few things in mind…

The Problems of Packing All That Metal

The downside of a heavier gun is it’s less convenient to carry. For that reason, the list of compact or sub-compact, metal-framed semi-autos is short and nonexistent on this list. 

Why?

Beretta 92FS and USMC Kit
She thicc

Well, to get the most out of that metal frame, it helps to have a larger gun. With a smaller model, recoil is going to get pretty snappy. You’ll miss out on the recoil-mitigating benefits of the weighty all-metal construction. 

There are a number of great metal-framed subcompacts like the Colt DefenderWith that said, these are more niche picks that don’t really make the cut for the best overall list.

Best Compact 9mm 1911
900
at Cabela's

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Which guns took the win for best overall? I’m so glad you asked.

Best Metal-Framed Semi-Auto Handguns

These metal-framed pistols stand out from the rest of the pack for one reason or another. Use them as you please, for carry, home-defense, competition, and just plain old fun at the range.

1. Beretta 92FS or 92x Performance

I struggled for a long time with which version of the Beretta 92 to list. Eventually, I just decided to include both. 

The Beretta 92FS is one of the most battle-tested firearms. The M9, the official US military sidearm for decades, is basically a 92FS (just with different sights and backstrap).

Beretta 92fs
Want a gun with street cred? This one has it.

The open-top design, along with the delayed blowback system, make this an absurdly reliable gun. It’s a big part of why so many American servicemen and women have deployed with it to places all over the world. 

Boasting a 15-round capacity, the Beretta uses a double-action/single-action design. The action offers a fairly smooth DA trigger pull and a crisp SA mode — the best of both worlds.

If you are partial to the idea of the 92FS, then the 92x Performance might be even better. The 92x has the same frame and same DA/SA action.

What’s different between the models? A heavier slide, skeletonized hammer, competition springs, and better sights on the Performance model along with some aggressive checkering to aid your grip during rapid-fire strings. 

Grab yourself a pair!

Overall, the 92FS is a classic duty gun, and the 92x is a modern upgrade designed for competition. Both of them excel in their roles. 

1699
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

2. Colt Delta Elite

Honestly, I could fill half this list with Colt 1911s, but we’ve already got a list of the best 1911sso I decided to go with something a little unusual and a little extra cool. 

The Colt Delta Elite is built on Colt’s standard Government-sized frame, but it’s chambered in the best millimeter…err, 10mm, that is.

Colt Delta Elite with Boxes of Black Talon 10mm Ammo
You know you want some 10mm goodness.

Having a Colt 1911 is already great. The extra capability and cool factor of having one in the faster, flatter-shooting 10mm is a leg up over many of the standard .45 ACP models. And really, just about everyone has a 1911 in .45 ACP. 

How many of your range buddies have one in 10mm?

Exactly. 

Capacity is 8+1, and you get two mags included with your purchase. This is a bonus because 10mm 1911 mags are not what I’d call cheap. You also get Novak-style fixed sights and a lovely stainless finish.

Classic 10mm 1911
1299
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

3. CZ 75 SP-01

We have a full review on the CZ 75 SP01 if you want to read more about why we absolutely adore this handgun, but suffice to say that it rocks. 

First of all, it’s a CZ 75. Hipsters all agree it’s excellent. 

The CZ 75 is the second most influential pistol around (after the 1911) and with good reason. These legendarily-reliable pistols have deployed all over the world. Talk about battle-tested, the CZ 75 has proven itself in some truly harsh conditions.

CZ 75 SP-01
#Classic

The SP-01 model is a phenomenal duty gun, and it absolutely cleans up in the Production class of USPSA. Let’s not forget, it’s also a very popular home-defense gun. 

All-in-all, this is one of the more versatile options on this list and one that we feel every gun owner should own at some point.

While it’s a solid pistol, it doesn’t take top marks for competition guns on this list. That honor goes to…

Best for Production Competition
819
at Guns.Com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

4. CZ Shadow 2

The CZ Shadow 2 was designed for one thing and one thing only — to be the best Production division competition gun on the planet

We think it succeeds in that. 

There are a number of great guns that give the Shadow 2 a run for its money, but for an off-the-shelf option, it’s incredibly hard to beat. Especially for the price.

CZ Shadow 2 back lit

It’s built on the CZ 75 platform and is as reliable as a Swiss watch. The high beavertail and undercut trigger guard help you choke-up on the grip for better recoil control. Speaking of recoil, it’s further improved by the extra-heavy slide.

Did we mention you also get a swappable magazine release and a tuned and polished trigger? The smooth-as-glass double-action trigger pull brings a crisp break in single-action mode.

On top, you get a fiber optic front post with an adjustable HAJO rear sight that makes for a very accurate gun, even during rapid fire.

5. SIG P226

The SIG P226 is another legendary duty gun that we just had to include. Fielded by everyone from the Navy Seals to the Texas Rangers, this ever-popular handgun has been around for decades. 

It doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon.

A 4.4-inch barrel is a good size for this genre of pistol. Though the gun is weighty at just over 2-pounds, it actually sits quite well on the hip. 

Sig P226 looking awesome

Just maybe don’t try to carry it concealed unless you’re wearing a jacket.

Performance-wise the gun is a tank. It will take a beating and keep on going. Resilience makes this a great option for duty or home defense. 

Though the 92FS beat it to become the sidearm that replaced the 1911 in US military inventories, this gun is still used worldwide by U.S. and allied forces and law enforcement.

In short, if you’re looking for something with a strong military pedigree and a hearty reputation for reliability, this is a tough one to beat.

P226 Perfected
1200
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

6. Springfield 1911 EMP

Have you ever wanted to carry a 1911? Did you immediately realize that most of them are too big? 

Boy, have I got news for you.

Springfield 1911 EMP is here to save your day!

This officer-sized 1911 has a 3-inch barrel and is the very definition of “boringly reliable.” It goes bang every time, which is the most important aspect of a carry gun.

Springfield 1911 EMP 9mm
It’s so cute!

Nice and narrow like you’d expect from a single-stack 1911, the EMP carries well. The steel frame soaks-up recoil from the snappy 9mm chambering. Further, the 1911 opts for a dual-spring recoil system with a full-length guide rod to smooth out your shooting experience. 

Tritium night sights accompany the EMP, which are almost a must on a carry gun. 

If you want to know more about this gun and why we love it, check out our full video review.

7. Wilson Combat CQB Tactical LE

Oh, hey, it’s another 1911. 

Not just any 1911…oh no. As far as I’m concerned, the Wilson Combat CQB is THE 1911. 

This is the ultimate progression of the 1911 design. 

A combat-focused handgun created for Special Forces and SWAT entry teams might seem like overkill for most people, but if you want the best of the best, this is it.

Wilson Combat CQB with Light Rail
Want top of the line? Wilson’s got top of the line.

You get a full suite of legendary Wilson Combat parts, including their High-Ride Bullet Proof Beavertail safety and extended magazine well, and improved thumb safety. 

The 5-inch match-grade bull barrel is hand-fitted from the factory giving you one of the most accurate guns on this list. 

It’s not cheap, and it’s not for everyone. If you have the cash on hand and truly want the best metal-framed semi-auto out there, this gun might be the gun for you.

Dream 1911
3100
at Wilson Combat

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Conclusion

Metal-framed semi-autos are a classic style of handgun that has remained popular despite the rise of polymer-framed guns. Whether you’re looking for a 1911, CZ, or something else entirely, there are a number of options out there that will serve you well.

1911s with Lights & Lasers
Look at all that metal. *Drool*

Every gun on this list is rock solid, and we would trust our lives to any of them (and have in many cases). With that in mind, it’s worth noting this is not an exhaustive list. There are many great metal-framed semi-automatic handguns out there…these are our best of the best.

What do you think of these metal-framed pistols? Let us know in the comments below! Ready to read more? Check out our guide on the Best Affordable 1911s and 14 Best Service Pistols of the World

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29 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Wisconsin Tanker

    Great review Megan, very well thought out as usual. I had the honor of being an armorer of a tank unit in Germany in the early 90s, when the army switched over to the Beretta. Was sad to see the 1911 go, but man were the M9s sweet. Also, hey, who wouldn't want a Sig 226 Legion. Aw Yeah!

    February 5, 2021 3:43 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Wisconsin Flyer

    I have no disagreement with any of the excellent guns you listed, nor your reasons for selecting them.
    I respectfully disagree with your comment that a less-than-full-size gun decreases the benefit of a metal frame.
    The first downsized gun I wanted was a Beretta 92 Compact, back when they were introduced. But they were so popular they were not to be had. A colleague handed me a Taurus 92 Compact, and while I've had a history of poor service from them, this one was perfect from the first shot.
    From the Sig P220, my employer issued the P228 and then, as an option, the P229/357Sig. I scored as well with it as with the P228/9mm.
    The next compact i got was a Sig P239/357Sig. While these days I shoot rather sloppy groups, at the time I shot it very well, if a little slower. I shot a friend's P239/9mm and found it easy to be fast and accurate.
    At the end of my active career I purchased a Springfield Champion Operator Light Weight .45ACP. Everyone who has shot it side-by-side with other compacts say it is the best compact .45ACP they have ever handled.
    I made a guilty pleasure purchase of a Sig 1911, 357 SIG, Fastback Emperor Scorpion Carry, FDE, SAO, one month after date of manufacture. It is a "Commander"-size gun and the best platform yet (in my opinion) for the 357Sig cartridge.
    I still like my "big" guns. I liked the Beretta 92FS well enough to buy one for myself. I was given a Sig P226 Blackwater as a retirement gift and keep in the rotation, along with my personal P220/45ACP. I also have a Colt Series 70 I bought in '72 and like it a lot, especially with my handloads, 200-gr JHP bullets at ~900fps. I have a few others, large and small, and feel no disadvantage with any of them.

    December 7, 2020 10:57 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tom Hammond

    Good article. Only 1 minor flaw: the most influential pistol is not even a semi-automatic. Wirhout any doubt, the most influential pistol - the one that Marshal Dillon & Ben Cartwright & the Lone Ranger (along with historical figures General Patton, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, etc...) carried was a Colt 1873 "Peacemaker" single action revolver.

    December 5, 2020 2:09 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Cole

      I’m pretty sure it was a list of the best metal-framed SEMI-AUTO pistols. So you can put your 1873 Colt Peacemaker back in its holster there cowboy.

      October 7, 2021 3:56 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    clean harry

    i dont share your viewpoint that steel minis like the sig p938 or kahr shoulnt be considered. at 7 to 10 yd., i can shoot the p938 about as well as i can a larger pistol. beyond that range, the gun is out of its intended use zone. the heft makes it feel much better than, say, the LC9 which feels like a toy.

    November 26, 2020 12:59 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Cole

      The P938 is just a clone of a Colt Mustang, and I’m assuming you’re only talking about the K-series Kahrs being the only metal-frame Kahr makes.

      October 7, 2021 3:59 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Darkman

    I bought my first all steel pistol back in 1994 a Ruger P89. After all these years and several other purchases I still consider it the best one of the bunch. It goes bang every time and eats whatever you feed it. It has never once failed to perform even after thousands of rounds through it. I now own four 89's and wouldn't trade anyone of them for even the best on this list.

    November 25, 2020 9:48 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Cole

      The P89 is really kind of a cheap knockoff of a SIG P226. It may not be an exact clone but you can tell that Ruger was definitely using one as a template when they made the P89.

      October 7, 2021 4:02 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Paul

    i have many of the pistols you have all mentioned. I like them all! the Sig 229 just fits my hand and points instinctively. I would say to all that find something that fits your hand and reacts well and stick with it. we all have favorites and that's great but find what is natural to you. BTW, i own 4 1911s and love them all, i own a beretta 92 and love that as well. I have numerous Glocks and will never get rid of them lol. I have been able to acquire numerous tools and have found them all to be worthy. that said i have the sig, the kimber or a glock on my hip at all times and am comfortable with any of them. Bless you all for being patriots! Oh and i also have a SW 542 revolver that fits in my pocket without issue so don't give up on the old school design either

    November 24, 2020 9:18 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Bill, Lafayette Louisiana

    I have to agree with the argument for a full metal frame; the heavier frame is easier for me to control. Even in lighter calibers, I have always preferred metal frames; just old school I guess. All these are excellent choices, although I'm surprised the original Browning 9mm wasn't on included. My oldest son got my CZ75; the younger got my Browning SA 9. They will both be fighting over my 1939 production 1911 when the time comes.

    November 24, 2020 7:39 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tom D

    I generally agree with all the picks, might add the Walther Q5 SF to the mix. Though a striker fire design, the trigger is still quite good, especially if you already shoot a PPQ regularly.

    November 24, 2020 7:18 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    James Bee

    CZ 97 - 10 rounds of big bore badness all up in yo biz-nass... a real sweet shooter.

    November 24, 2020 7:11 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    just Chuck

    I really like Smith and Wesson metal automatics from the 90's (give or take ten years) because of the feel and less recoil. If I said I didn't own a Glock or two I'd be lying but I like all metal pistols best.

    November 24, 2020 6:43 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Aiden

    Arex Rex Zero 1

    November 24, 2020 6:04 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Dan

      This!

      February 23, 2021 12:39 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Simon Downunder

    Love your articles, unfortunately living down under in communist New Zealand, our option on firearms can be limited. And the list of cool owns gets smaller by the day. Anyway agree with the wanting a full metal framed semi... recently went on the hunt for something in 9mm that I could buy locally, and found a Tisas Zigana sport and also being the guy who a likes a budget deal and to have something at the range that no one else has. Had to buy one. And so far I’m loving it. Would love to see you guys review the budget Tisas range of pistols to see what you think of them. PS we can only use pistols on a range for competition over here so our selection choices and reasons don’t always align with your reviews. But doesn’t stop me from enjoying them :-)

    November 24, 2020 6:00 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tony B

    TAC ULTRA FS HC - 45 ACP..... DOUBLE STACK! All day long!

    November 24, 2020 5:24 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Don

    Metal framed pistols do feel good, usually, shoot well and look nice. I still use Glocks to get a very functional carry gun. I carry my pistols and find the weight of metal-framed guns to be unneeded.

    November 24, 2020 5:18 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Steve Eisenberg

    I dry-fired a CZ Shadow at a gun store and it had a trigger as good as anything I had ever tried. Obscenely over my budget, however. Maybe some day.

    November 24, 2020 5:13 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    BuckyBlade

    Where does the Walther Q5 SF fall in this category?

    November 24, 2020 4:42 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    David Satchell

    If you want a truly nice pistol for not nearly as much cash (1/2 the cost) that is based on the CZ-75B; even uses the same magazines, then check out the Jericho 941 F9 which is the all metal full length version.

    November 24, 2020 3:33 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      A T Wolf

      Agree 100% -- I have both the Jericho and the CZ; I like them both, but the Jericho feels better in my hand, and I think it's probably a bit better made, designed as it was for a pretty active military.

      November 27, 2020 8:36 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Daniel James Howard

    I have a SIG P226 Extreme that I really like, but my favorite is my Les Baer Boss 1911. Surprised no Les Baer's made your list.

    November 24, 2020 2:50 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Lisa

    I have had the Sig 229 Legion (SAO) for roughly 4 years now. It's been extremely reliable and has been my go-to for range training, classes and matches. I love it so much I recently a bought a second one with a red dot. Two thumbs up from me.

    November 24, 2020 2:45 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Lisa

      *226 not 229...typo

      November 24, 2020 2:48 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Rick C

    Love my Sig P226 Legion (SA)! Rock solid, really accurate, and amazing right out of the box.

    November 24, 2020 8:46 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    The Ivanator

    I'd like to hear more about the 'delayed blowback' Beretta 92.

    November 23, 2020 11:57 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Paul

    Ok...I know that everyone has their favorite...its a given...however being an MP in the Army the 1911 would probably be my go to...I own one now....but with that being said and in the same breath.
    I will and do prefer my Ruger P89....I have owned it since 94 and it has only jammed once...it typically will eat any ammo...cheap or not ...with no feed issues.
    Will I put my life on the line with it...yes in a heartbeat...definitely over most on this list....especially the Beretta....I hated that doorstop
    Yes it improved over the years but I tested it pre adoption. And it jammed constantly....but again I say...we all have our favorite

    November 23, 2020 7:33 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Daim

    Kimber micro another great option.

    November 23, 2020 4:34 pm