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.
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.
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.
Summary of Our Top Picks
Table of Contents
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.”
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 would I want something 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, it can be a huge advantage!
There’s a reason the Staccato 2011s, Sig P320 X-5 Legion, CZ Shadow 2, and many other popular competition guns bring some weight to the table.
Many 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.
Beyond that, it’s all aesthetics and preferences which are 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, with only one smaller gun making this list.
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 some of the recoil-mitigating benefits of the weighty all-metal construction.
So, 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, whether for carry, home defense, competition, and just plain old fun at the range.
1. Beretta 92FS and 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 U.S. military sidearm for decades, is basically a 92FS (just with different sights and backstrap).
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 Performance uses the same DA/SA action.
What’s different between the models? A heavier slide, skeletonized hammer, competition springs, extended beavertail, straight back grip, and better sights, along with some aggressive checkering to aid your grip during rapid-fire strings.
Overall, the 92FS is a classic duty gun, and the 92X Performance is a modern upgrade designed for competition. Both of them excel in their roles.
2. Bersa TPR9
I know, I know. It might surprise some of you that a Bersa made it on a best-of list for metal-framed handguns. I was skeptical myself — until I got my hands on one.
The Bersa TPR9 is an alloy-framed DA/SA pistol that is based on the general design of the Walther P88.
So what makes this gun worthy of this list?
For starters, it has full-length slide rails, forward cocking serrations, memory serrations on the frame to rest your fingers, front and rear grip serrations, ambi safety/decocker and slide release, a 17-round capacity, and a damn good trigger.
What does all this cost you? Less than $450, sometimes even dipping under $350.
The fit and finish on mine are excellent. Takedown is the easiest of any pistol I own, only requiring a simple flick of a lever. The trigger is amazing for the price, with a 4.5-pound single action that has a shorter reset than my CZ Shadow 2 or Beretta 92X Performance!
With full-sized, compact, and threaded barrel options, there honestly isn’t any metal-framed gun out there that packs this many features at this price. As far as value goes, this gun is untouchable.
3. CZ 75 SP-01
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 legendary pistols have been deployed all over the world. Talk about battle-tested; the CZ 75 has proven itself in some truly harsh conditions.
The SP-01 model is a phenomenal duty gun, and it absolutely cleans up in the Production class of USPSA. Let’s not forget that 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 our next guess.
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.
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 Saur P226
The Sig Sauer 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.
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 (somewhat controversially), 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, the P226 is a tough one to beat.
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.
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. Furthermore, the gun 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.
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.
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 one of the best metal-framed semi-autos out there, this gun might be the gun for you.
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.
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.