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One of the first purchases a cook makes is quality knives, and it is a very personal choice. There are a number of blade materials, handles, and storage options so it is important to find the fit for your individual use. A sharp knife that sits comfortably in your hand makes all the difference whether you are chopping onions, slicing a roast, or just trying to make quick work of that loaf of sourdough.
While consideration of options is important, it is also paramount to understand how to care for your knives once you decide what to buy. Some descriptions may say “dishwasher safe,” but like most chefs and avid home cooks will advise, handwashing knives will help them stay sharp and attractive longer. Dishwashers use high-powered spray, steam, and uniform baskets to clean cutlery. Sharp blades can be jostled against each other, opening the blade for rust and corrosion. Handles can crack when exposed to heat and steam. There is also the issue of food spots forming on your blades. A simple hand wash and thoroughly drying after use ensures your investment will stay sharp and beautiful for years to come.
From a self-sharpening knife to a handmade Japanese blade, here are the best knife sets.
Best Overall: Wüsthof Classic 9-Piece Knife Block Set
Long known for quality knives, Wüsthof’s Classic line provides the perfect tool for an aspiring chef or serious home cook. The knives are crafted with high-carbon steel blades for sharp edges and rust resistance. Each forged full tang—steel runs all the way through the handle—blade is triple-riveted to the handle to increase balance and control, and it is one of the only brands that holds the “Made in Solingen seal,” rather than the more generic “Made in Germany” designation. In 1938, Solingen became one of the only trademarked cities in the world, and they are known for high-quality steel that adheres to extremely strict industry standards. All of this adds up to ease of chopping for that next sheet pan dinner.
This set, exclusive to Williams Sonoma, comes with a 3-inch serrated paring knife, 3.5-inch paring knife, 5-inch hollow-ground santoku, 6-inch utility knife, 8-inch chef’s knife, 8-inch bread knife, 9-inch honing steel, and shears. There are five extra slots in the slim wood block for future knife purchases. I own four Wüsthof Classic knives, and love them. The handles are extremely comfortable for my small hands, even for heavy-duty chopping. The knives are almost 20 years old and still look new. And, this set comes with a honing steel to keep them sharp.
Best Budget: AmazonBasics Premium 18-Piece Kitchen Knife Block Set
If you are looking for an affordable set that is also good quality, this is it. The AmazonBasics Premium set is made of forged stainless steel with a full tang handle that is comfortable to hold.
The 18-piece set includes a wide selection of blades from chef’s knife to santoku to boning to a serrated bread knife. It also has a set of eight steak knives, a honing steel, and kitchen shears—whether you are mincing parsley, or breaking down a whole fish, all the elements of a complete kitchen knife set are here for a budget-friendly price.
Best Japanese: Shun Classic 6-Piece Slim Knife Block Set
Shun Classic knives are handmade in Seki, Japan, with VG-MAX steel that is proprietary to the company. The blades include more carbon for strength, chromium for corrosion resistance, and tungsten to keep the blade edge fine, but sharp. The handles are crafted from PakkaWood that is comfortable to grip. If you are looking to dip into the world of Asian knives, Shun is reliable and beautiful.
The set includes a 3.5-inch paring knife, a 7-inch santoku knife, an 8-inch chef’s knife, 9-inch honing steel, and kitchen shears. It all comes in an attractive block that has room to grow your collection. The knives in this set are not meant for frozen foods or cutting through bones, but Shun does offer a Western-style cook’s knife that could easily be added to this collection and is wider-angled for tougher jobs.
Related: The 7 Best Knife Sharpeners in 2021
Best for Small Kitchens: Global Classic 5-Piece Knife Set with Magnetic Bar
Space can be a consideration when choosing a knife set, but it doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality. Global’s Japanese-style stamped blades are made of Cromova 18 high-carbon stainless steel and ice-hardened for corrosion resistance. The edges are ground straight on both sides of the blade, like Western-style knives, to ensure maximum sharpness. Unlike Western-style blades though, they are ground to a point rather than a bevel which delivers a sharper knife that maintains its edge longer.
The sweet part of this set is the magnetic strip for storage. No counter space is taken up, and you have an attractive display for these beautiful knives. The handles are also stainless steel but dimpled for extra grip. The lightweight, balanced set includes a paring knife, vegetable knife, utility knife, and 8-inch chef’s knife.
Best Self-Sharpening: Calphalon Classic SharpIN 15-Piece Block Set
The best knife is a sharp knife and this set has that capability built into its block. Ceramic sharpeners in each slot automatically sharpen blades every time they are used. The blades on all knives except steak, are forged high-carbon steel with full tang design for strength and balance. The choice of high-carbon over stainless makes these knives heartier, but also more susceptible to corrosion and stiffer to handle.
The set includes a paring knife, utility knife, serrated knife, 7-inch santoku, 8-inch chef’s knife, kitchen shears, and eight steak knives. The biggest plus of this set though is the handles. They are ergonomically designed and perfect for people with larger hands. Each handle is also labeled for ease of use.
Best without a Block: Zwilling J.A. Henckels 30720-000 Twin Signature Starter Knife Set
If you are looking to start your knife collection, but do not want to buy a block, this three-piece set has all the essentials. The blades are precision stamped from high-carbon, stain-resistant steel. Because they are stamped rather than forged, these are lighter-weight knives.
The blades are ice-hardened to stay sharper longer and remain corrosion-resistant. The polymer-based handle is ergonomically designed for a comfortable grip and heavy prep work. The set includes a paring knife, utility knife, and 8-inch chef’s knife. Henckel knives are known for their balance and durability, and this set offers the flexibility of building your collection based on individual needs.
If you are looking to equip your kitchen with reliable, Western-style, German-forged knives that offer sharp edges and comfortable handles, we recommend the Wüsthof Classic Set (view at Williams Sonoma) because it has a full tang blade that is triple-riveted to the handle for precision and balance. If you want to try a Japanese-style blade that offers compact storage, choose the Global Classics (view at Amazon).
What to Look for in a Knife Set
Number and Type of Knives
The common wisdom is you only need three knives: a chef, a paring, and a serrated knife. These three will be the workhorses of any kitchen, but when you buy a set, you are probably going to get more bang for your buck. Sets often include a honing steel (absolutely necessary to keep your blade edge functional), a boning knife, a santoku (Japanese-style blade), and a selection of steak knives. These additional pieces round out a kitchen collection. As you evaluate your options, be cognizant of what you already have, and what pieces will add value to your kitchen.
Carbon or Stainless Steel
It can be confusing when shopping for knives and you are confronted with carbon and stainless steel. First, all knives have carbon—it is part of the alloy in stainless, carbon, or otherwise steel blades. Usually, it is designated with the word high, as in “high-carbon stainless steel.” Carbon knives are steel knives, but the addition of stainless to the mix aids in longevity. Carbon steel blades maintain sharp edges longer and are heavy-duty, but they can corrode and rust. Adding stainless steel to the mix mitigates the issue of discoloration or rust by virtue of the chromium in the alloy. Chromium also gives blades their silver shine and helps them stay beautiful longer with less upkeep.
Forged or Stamped
The next consideration is forged versus stamped blades. Generally, forged steel is more expensive and heavier because the blades are made from a single piece of heated metal, often by a trained artisan. They also feature full tangs, which add control and balance. An easy way to tell if a knife is forged or stamped is to look for the bolster, a band of metal that transitions the blade to the handle. Bolsters provide protection to your hand during use, and often aid in knife stability. Because of the process, forged knives are sturdier and usually stay sharp longer. The blades are thicker, but also less flexible.
On the other side is a stamped blade. They are cut from large sheets of metal and then tempered and honed for shape. Stamped knives tend to be thinner, lightweight, and flexible. The weight can be a double-edged sword as you experience less wrist fatigue with lighter blades, but it also makes more robust chopping arduous as the blade does not have the heft to propel down. Stamped knives require less time to make so they tend to be less expensive as they are easy to mass-produce. Stamped knives have seen improvement lately with added partial or full tangs, but the balance in the blades still does not match forged, especially with the addition of a bolster. They are rarely found in stamped knives unless they are more high-end blades.
In the end, it comes down to what is comfortable in your hand. If you have weak wrists or prolonged periods of chopping, a stamped blade may be for you. If you want something more durable and balanced and can handle the extra weight, forged is probably the choice.
Japanese or Western
Until this century, most American kitchens contained Western-style knives. German and French knives tend to be heavier, blades are thicker, and construction is more durable. They are perfect for root vegetables, and sturdy cuts of meat.
Over the past decade, Asian knives have become popular. The santoku is now included in many Western-style knife sets. Asian knife design tends to be lighter with slimmer blades. They have a straighter edge compared to the Western curve. For people with smaller hands, they are usually more comfortable to handle, but they are also more delicate.
Buying a set often means you get the storage solution with the purchase.
Many sets come with hardwood blocks, some even have sharpeners built into the slots. Knives are protected and conveniently located for meal prep. They come in a variety of colors, materials, and shapes. The disadvantage of a block is food particles can escape into the slots making them difficult to clean, and the constant sliding in and out can dull the blade edges.
A popular choice is a magnetic strip. A carryover from restaurant design, magnetic strips easily mount on walls adjacent to food prep areas and provide ease of use when you need to change between knives for different projects. There are many attractive solutions from wood to metal to reclaimed grapevines. The disadvantage is that over time your knives can become magnetized.
If you have a small kitchen without wall or counter space, an in-drawer solution might be the way to go. This can be anything from inserts to sheaths. They also come in a wide variety of materials that can be secured to your drawer or provide loose storage. The disadvantage here is knives are not as convenient for meal prep, and they can be a safety hazard for children.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Carrie Honaker is a food writer who has wielded many knives over the years. As a restaurateur and avid home cook, she knows the importance of finding the right knife for your grip and needs. She loves her Wüsthof Classic knives for their beauty and functionality. Her work has appeared in many publications including Bon Appetit, Allrecipes, and Wine Enthusiast.
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