- 1 Everything You Need to Know Before Buying a Kitchen Knife Set
- 2 Should You Buy a Knife Set, or Should You Go A la Carte?
- 3 Best Kitchen Knife Sets to Buy in 2020
- 3.1 1. Mercer Culinary Magnetic Knife Set— Best to Buy in 2020
- 3.2 2. Shun Premier 7-Piece Essential Block Set –Best Professional Knife Set
- 3.3 3. HomeHero Knife Set with Stand – Best Budget Knife Set
- 3.4 4. Messermeister Avanta Steak Knife Set–Best Steak Knife Set
- 3.5 5. Shun Classic 6-Piece Block Set – Best Japanese Knife Set
- 3.6 6. 1119644 Cutlery Fusion — Best Chicago Cutlery Knife Set
- 3.7 7. Cuisinart C77SS-15PK— Best Cuisinart Kitchen Knife Set
- 4 Best Kitchen Knife Set Brands
No matter which one you buy, no single knife is right for every kitchen cutting task. Any chef can eventually find themselves frustrated by situations where they don’t have the right tools. We’re here today to head that problem off at the pass. In this article, we’ll examine the best kitchen knife sets, and offer our thoughts on the positives and negatives of different styles.
Everything You Need to Know Before Buying a Kitchen Knife Set
Kitchen knives can be a more complex topic than one might expect, since there are many different styles with different uses. Buying several of them as a set can offer certain advantages, and also help spice up the visual appeal of your kitchen.
What Defines a Kitchen Knife Set?
A kitchen knife set is a collection of different knives intended to make sure you have the various styles that you need. Their makeup is not standardized, so there’s no single answer to the question of what’s included. We can, however, make some generalizations.
Nearly every knife set you find will include a chef’s knife, utility knife, and paring knife. Most include at least a few others such as a serrated bread knife, boning knife, santoku knife, steak knives, or kitchen shears, though the offering varies by manufacturer. Some may even include specialty items such as a cleaver, fillet knife, or honing steel.
Naturally, the price can vary significantly based on the number of pieces in the set. It’s a good idea, therefore, to take stock of the types of cutting and cooking you actually do before buying your set. There’s no point in choosing an expensive set with a heavy cleaver if you never use it. Here’s a quick rundown of the various knives you’re likely to encounter and the basics of their intended use.
Also known simply as a “kitchen knife,” this is the one you’re likely to use more than any other. Most have a blade around eight inches long whose edge curves upward to a point, allowing you to use a rocking motion as you chop. The chef’s knife is usually the best option for slicing vegetables and meat, and a wide range of other cutting tasks in the kitchen.
Think of this as the Japanese version of the chef’s knife. It’s not as strongly curved, so the slicing motion is different. The edge of the Santoku is also usually set at a sharper bevel angle, allowing it to make precision cuts. That makes the edge more fragile, though, so it’s important to be careful around bones and other hard objects.
The main purpose of the small paring knife is peeling fruits and vegetables. The sharp 3-4 inch blade is useful for other detail work as well, so you’re likely to use it often. Paring tasks tend to work best when the blade is extremely sharp.
Representing something of a midway point between the size of the paring knife and chef’s knife, this handy little beast is basically just a general-purpose blade. You’re likely to find yourself reaching for it when you go to slice an apple or cut the kids’ sandwiches in half. It can take a bit more beating than your paring knife and offers more precision than a chef’s knife.
Occasionally known simply as a “serrated knife,” the bread knife is long and features pointed serrations along its length. It’ll come as no surprise that its main purpose is cutting bread. The serrations help it break into the crust without smashing the softer, fluffier bread inside. If you’re a fan of any bread that’s not pre-sliced, this is an important tool to have at the ready. It’s also useful for squishable fruits and veggies such as tomatoes.
Through an odd quirk of history, many of us here in the West seem to neglect the usefulness of scissors in a kitchen setting. But they’re not just school supplies! Kitchen shears are heavy-duty scissors that can be ideal for slicing herbs and certain vegetables. They’re also a good compliment to the boning knife when you’re deboning a chicken.
As you may guess from the name, the boning (or de-boning) knife is there to help you separate meat from bone. It features a narrow, roughly six-inch blade that’s easy to maneuver into those odd nooks you find around animal bones. Some boning knives have stiff blades, making them good for tough meats like pork and beef, while others are more flexible and best suited for poultry and fish.
Fillet knives are a specialized subset of boning knives specifically designed for use on fish. Since fish flesh is typically much more tender than terrestrial meats, a tough knife is not required. Instead, fillet knives are flexible and extremely sharp. The narrow, razor-like edge of this knife is prone to chipping if used too forcefully, so take care with it.
Due to its very specialized nature, the fillet knife is usually only included in larger knife sets. If you’re not the type to cook fish often, there’s little reason to buy a set with a fillet knife.
Cleavers are the heavy, square butcher’s staples made specifically for violent, forceful chopping motions. The thick blade and tough edge allow it to “cleave” meat and bone. Cleavers have fallen out of vogue in the US since we tend to cut meat off the bone instead of cutting through the bone itself. But they can occasionally still be found in large knife sets.
Again, if it’s not something you’re likely to use, this will probably only add to the cost of your set and take up space. If you’re looking to cut through bone, though, this one is a must.
Unlike the others listed above, steak knives are typically used at the table rather than the preparation area, and every diner needs one. That places them in a unique position when it comes to knife sets.
Steak knives are usually only included on large sets, and can represent a deciding factor when shopping. The inclusion of a whole bunch of steak knives can quickly drive up the cost. If you already have all the dinner-table knives you need, this style of set can be disregarded. If not, though, it may be a bit cheaper to buy a large set than a smaller kitchen knife selection plus a separate pile of steak knives.
Usually seen in large knife sets, the honing steel is a metal rod used to keep your knives in good condition.
Over time, as it’s used, the edge of any knife will dull. This is often due to the leading edge curling slightly over on itself at a microscopic scale. Running the edge over the honing steel a few times (at the proper angle) can straighten that edge out again. This is not technically sharpening the knife— sharpening removes small amounts of the metal while honing merely straightens out the edge— but the practical result is still to make the blade cut more easily. If you’re going to invest a bunch of money in a quality knife set, it’s important to learn how to hone them properly.
In a large knife set, you may also encounter carving knives, butter knives, cheese knives, Japanese Nakiri, Chinese Caidaos, and tourne peelers, among other types. Oftentimes, they’re largely unnecessary, and will serve only to drive up the set’s price.
If placed haphazardly in a drawer, your knives are likely to get chipped and dulled when they bounce against each other. That’s why most knife sets come with an associated knife block. This is essentially the storage rack for your knives and can also be an elegant addition to your kitchen.
Many of the most beloved blocks are made of hardwoods like maple or walnut, but no small number of metal, glass, or even polymer blocks are on the market nowadays. Some knife blocks can be found that are not custom-fit to a particular set. This is a particular trend for glass blocks, which also have the added benefit of allowing you to see which knife is which and whether they may need extra cleaning or drying.
Also on the market are magnetic strips that can be affixed to the wall. These keep your countertop uncluttered while making it easier to find and retrieve the knives you need. However, they also tend to be more expensive than the blocks.
Note that most of the time, the block is considered one of the pieces in the knife set. A package advertised as an eight-piece set will have no more than seven blades if a block is included.
Nearly all knives on the market are made of some sort of steel, but not all steels are created equal.
In its purest form, steel is prone to oxidation (rust) and degradation if left damp or improperly cared for. Some professional knives can be found in high-carbon steel, but the tedious care required to keep them in good condition limits their popularity, and they’re rarely found in larger cutlery sets.
Far more common in today’s market is stainless steel. The chromium and other elements added to the metal makes it far more resistant to rust, and thus better suited to the kitchen environment. It’s a slightly weaker material, but generally the benefits outweigh the negatives. High-carbon stainless steels also exist in an attempt to toughen the metal.
Some companies advertise “Damascus steel” knives which have beautiful swirling designs. In spite of the iconic name, however, these are actually just high-carbon stainless knives forged in such a way as to give them those eye-catching swirls.
Manufacturing: Forged vs. Stamped
In centuries past all blades were forged— produced by heating and hammering a billet of steel into the desired shape. Most high-end knives today are still made this way, and it offers manufacturers more flexibility to tailor the metal’s properties to their specifications. The downside is that it is a time-consuming and expensive process, so your pocketbook will feel it.
The alternative made possible by the industrial revolution is stamping. Stamped blades are cut from a sheet of rolled steel. They tend not to be quite as tough as their forged counterparts, but are usually far cheaper. Stamped knives have markedly improved in recent decades, so depending on the model, they may serve you almost as well as forged ones.
Should You Buy a Knife Set, or Should You Go A la Carte?
Most cutlery manufacturers offer the same knives individually as can be found in their larger sets or collections. For some people it will make more sense to just pick up one knife at a time. Others will benefit from purchasing them all at once.
Acquiring a full collection of kitchen tools is a long (arguably never-ending) process. Chances are you have at least some of the styles of knife you’d find in a set. If you already have a high-quality chef’s knife, paring knife, and bread knife, you may not need to buy a full set. It makes sense to just pick up those few you still need individually. A mish-mash of brands and models may not look as pretty, but good knives aren’t cheap, so economics are important to consider.
Speaking of cost, though, if you’re still in need of a professional-quality chef’s knife and are also missing some of the others, a full set can actually be the cheaper way to go. It’s important to select a quality brand— you don’t want to be stuck with a pile of sub-par blades that will wear out quickly— but the set of knives is usually much cheaper than they would be if purchased individually. Plus, with many sets at least, you also get a purpose-built knife block. A professional knife set in an elegant block can be a striking aesthetic addition to your kitchen.
So, if you’re in the market for a full collection, read on for our nominations for the best kitchen knife sets! If that’s not your situation at the moment, though, don’t fret. We have a guide for individual knife selection.
Best Kitchen Knife Sets to Buy in 2020
Among the many different knife sets on the market, we tried to choose a lineup that includes options for everyone— some are professional level, while others make cost the top consideration. Below is our list of best kitchen knife sets to buy in 2020.
- Mercer Culinary Magnetic Knife Set – Best to Buy
- Shun Premier – Best Professional Knife Set
- HomeHero Knife Set with Stand – Best Budget Knife Set
- Messermeister Avanta Steak Knife Set– Best Steak Knife Set
- Shun Classic 6-Piece Block Set – Best Japanese Knife Set
- 1119644 Cutlery Fusion – Best Chicago Cutlery Knife Set
- Cuisinart C77SS-15PK – Best Cuisinart Kitchen Knife Set
Below are our reviews for the best kitchen knife sets.
1. Mercer Culinary Magnetic Knife Set— Best to Buy in 2020
Mercer Culinary combines utility with unique elegance in this six-piece set. We chose it as the best kitchen knife set to buy because it offers high-quality examples of all the critical blades, but still comes in at a reasonable price.
The blades cover all the basics: you get a chef’s knife, bread knife, boning knife, utility knife and paring knife, plus a unique open-air magnetic rack. All the blades are forged from authentic German high-carbon stainless steel and heat-treated to a Rockwell Hardness number of 58. This helps ensure that they don’t easily chip.
Like all of Mercer Culinary’s products, these knives are NSF compliant. This means they are equally usable in a restaurant setting as a home kitchen.
Visually speaking, the stand-out feature of this set is the magnetic storage board. Mercer chose to create a thin acacia-wood board with magnetic backing on which to both store and display your knives. It’s pretty and, in a busy kitchen, allows you to find and retrieve the knives you need more easily. You should always handwash your knives and wipe them dry with a towel after washing, but if there’s any moisture left on the blades, they will dry much faster on this board than they would in a more enclosed block.
Of course, this Mercer Culinary set does have some minor shortcomings.
With only five knives, it’s a smaller set than some, so you miss out on the benefits of a matching set of kitchen shears and honing steel. The storage board is also quite tall, so it’s not well suited to kitchens with very low-hanging cupboards. Note also that it’s important to be careful with this set if young kids are about— mischievous small hands can knock the tall board over easier than a more bottom-heavy block.
All Mercer Culinary products are covered by a lifetime limited warranty (or 25 years if you are a corporate user) so you can cut with confidence for many years to come.
2. Shun Premier 7-Piece Essential Block Set –Best Professional Knife Set
Shun’s Premier Essential Block Set is where you turn if you need a truly professional level set designed for the top chefs in the world. It includes the most essential blades, all forged, NSF certified for commercial use, and stored in a heavy (and stylish) bamboo knife block.
This gorgeous set includes a chef’s knife, utility knife, paring knife, and serrated bread knife, along with a set of shears and honing steel.
Shun’s Premier series of blades are made of Japanese high-carbon stainless steel and ground sharper than most. They come in between 60 and 61 HRC on the Rockwell Hardness scale. The undulating “Tsuchime” texture of the finished blade not only looks beautiful, but also serves to reduce friction when cutting sticky foods. It helps prevent things like sashimi or soft cheese from sticking to the metal.
Though this set doesn’t have quite as many knives as some others, the knife block features an additional five slots ready to accept your other blades.
We won’t beat around the bush on this one: the Premier Essential Block Set is very expensive. It’s specifically intended for use by professional chefs in high-end restaurants, who are more likely to make the investment in truly top-of-the-line cutlery. But if you’re a home cook or simply an enthusiast with the funds to put into professional-level hardware, this is one set that won’t let you down. It’ll likely last decades, and of course, it carries Shun’s limited lifetime warranty.
If you can’t spring for such a pricey set, but still want NSF-compliant cutlery, have a look at Victorinox’s Swiss Army Cutlery Fibrox Pro set. It features stamped versions of the same four types of knife at a much more affordable price. Note, though, that there’s no block, shears, or honing steel. It would be a good idea to find a knife block or blade guards for this set.
3. HomeHero Knife Set with Stand – Best Budget Knife Set
Not everyone is in a position to drop hundreds of dollars on a set of knives. For them there’s the HomeHero set— a large collection of stamped stainless steel knives for an extremely low price.
There are 13 knives included, plus shears, peeler, knife sharpener, and acrylic knife stand. The sheer number of pieces in this set are what makes it our best budget kitchen knife set pick for 2020.
Unlike most, these knives are coated with a black non-stick coating. It’s pretty, but care should be taken to avoid scraping it off. The stand that holds everything is made from transparent plastic— a fact that will be useful when you’re selecting the right knife from the huge collection.
We do want to be forthright, however; in the realm of cutlery, you get what you pay for. These inexpensive stamped blades are sharp and with proper maintenance, can serve you well for a few years, but should not be expected to last a lifetime the way pricey forged ones might.
This is a good option for young cooks on a budget, but probably won’t meet a professional chef’s approval. If you want something that are more durable but still affordable, check out the 1119644 Cutlery Fusion or the Cuisinart C77SS-15PK set down below.
4. Messermeister Avanta Steak Knife Set–Best Steak Knife Set
Steak knives, fortunately, aren’t as pricey as cooking-knife sets. This four-piece set from Messermeister is proof that even quality forged German high-carbon stainless steel doesn’t have to break the bank.
These elegant fine-edge steak knives don’t have the serrations common to many. This lack means they may lose their edge faster than serrated steak knives, but the benefit is they are much easier to sharpen. The full-tang forged blades are complemented by your choice of stainless steel, black polymer, or PakkaWood handles to ensure they fit well with your existing kitchenware.
This set of four is smaller than some steak knife collections on the market, but the relatively small size means you have more options to customize the total size of your collection. It doesn’t include any case or sheath, however. We encourage you to take care when placing them in a drawer (or find an aftermarket knife block) to ensure the edges don’t chip.
You can also take comfort in Messermeister’s lifetime warranty against material and manufacturing defects.
5. Shun Classic 6-Piece Block Set – Best Japanese Knife Set
Shun Cutlery is among Japan’s top knife brands, and their Classic kitchen set is unlikely to disappoint. It features both a Western chef’s knife and Santoku knife along with kitchen shears, paring knife, and honing steel. The included wooden block has space for an additional three blades, so you have room to expand.
Unlike most cutlery sets, this one includes both German- and Japanese-style kitchen knives, making it best suited for a chef who knows the best uses for each. They’re constructed of proprietary VG-MAX high-carbon stainless steel, and clad with an attractive “Damascus” style finish. The inclusion of both of these large blades contributes to the price, naturally, so the set doesn’t come cheap. This set is for the truly dedicated cook who intends to use these knives for a lifetime.
Shun hardens their knives to 60 or 61 HRC on the Rockwell Hardness scale. As a result, these blades will keep their edge longer than most, but are slightly more vulnerable to chipping. It’s important to take care with these knives, especially in the sink or when cutting around bone.
Fortunately, Shun offers a free sharpening service for all its knives. They can’t take out major chips, but when that tough steel does eventually need a new edge, all you have to pay is the shipping, no matter how long you’ve owned the knife.
We know a set like this can be cost prohibitive. If you’re looking for a Japanese set at a lower price, try this set from BGT. It comes with a roll-up nylon transport bag rather than a block, but will still serve you well and still offer the benefits of matching German and Santoku knives.
6. 1119644 Cutlery Fusion — Best Chicago Cutlery Knife Set
The 1119644 Cutlery Fusion set is meant to fill nearly every knife-related niche in the kitchen. Chicago Cutlery’s huge set includes a full 16 blades plus honing steel, and houses them all in a heavy and attractive wooden block. Each knife is forged from high-carbon stainless steel, but the set still comes in at an extremely reasonable price.
The Cutlery Fusion set includes everything you’d expect such as a chef’s knife, bread knife, paring knife, and utility blade, and adds in a santoku, partoku (a smaller Japanese blade), peeler, long slicer, and fully eight steak knives. These blades get a good reputation among Amazon customers for being extremely sharp out of the box, and keeping their edge for long without the need for sharpening.
The kitchen knives all have rubberized polymer grips while the steak knives and honing steel stick with metal.
The whole thing weighs in at a whopping 13.45 pounds (6.1 kilograms), but considering the sheer amount of steel, that’s hardly a surprise. One of the drawbacks to such a hefty set of knives, however, is that it’s hard to tell which is which when they’re in the block. Even when you know the one you want, they’re packed in rather tightly, so a careful fingertip draw may be necessary.
7. Cuisinart C77SS-15PK— Best Cuisinart Kitchen Knife Set
Cuisinart’s Stainless Steel 15-Piece Block Set is a good, inexpensive option for the chef who enjoys a minimalist design. Included are a chef’s knife, santoku knife, serrated utility knife, 8-inch slicing knife, two types of paring knife, and six serrated steak knives. There’s also a set of kitchen shears and honing steel, and everything fits in a black wooden block that sits on a rather small footprint.
The handles of all the knives are made of a brushed version of the same stainless steel as the blades, resulting in a sleek appearance. The set’s makeup is a bit different than most, including a fine-edged slicing knife instead of a bread knife, for instance. That’s great for some users, less so for others. We also definitely like the bird’s beak paring knife, which isn’t available with many sets.
The steel used in this set appears to have a slightly lower chromium content than many leading brands use. That may allow them to hold an edge longer, but means they’re a bit more likely to develop rust spots. Always hand wash and thoroughly dry your knives before racking them, especially since this block is enclosed and doesn’t allow for air-drying.
Best Kitchen Knife Set Brands
Here are some of the brands that offer the best kitchen knife sets.
The Cuisinart company got its start in 1971 by bringing the new German innovation known as the “food processor” to American shores. Though it was a while before it really took off, the company eventually became so successful that the name “Cuisinart” (itself a portmanteau of “cuisine” and “art”) is synonymous with “food processor” to this day. The company’s founder, Carl Sontheimer, also aimed to make kitchen implements more accessible to users with disabilities.
Today, in addition to their infamous food processors, Cuisinart sells a wide line of kitchenware to include coffee makers, toaster ovens, slow cookers, cutlery, and more. True to their principles, they try as much as possible to make their products simple to use for disabled or visually-impaired customers.
This well-loved brand is part of the Corelle Brands conglomeration of kitchenware and craft-product companies. Others that fall under that umbrella include Pyrex, Corningware, and Olfa. The grouping of associated companies allows Chicago Cutlery to focus most on what they do best: knives.
Chicago Cutlery likes to tout itself as “the #1 brand in forged cutlery.” In spite of the tagline, they do offer both forged and stamped knives, and both versions can be found with elegant blocks and beautiful handles.
Based out of New York City, Mercer Culinary is famous for their barware and wide line of restaurant-oriented kitchenware. Their immense cutlery line covers all uses and features offerings in inexpensive stamped and high-end forged versions. They also focus on specialty kitchen items using modern materials such as their high-temperature nylon “Hell’s Tools” line.
Shun (pronounced, “shoon”) is a Japanese company that draws inspiration from the storied history of Samurai sword-making techniques. They hail from Seki City, a place viewed as the heart of Japanese blade-making for centuries.
Like the blacksmiths of old, Shun views the personal connection to the blade as crucial. Each knife receives individual, hands-on attention during the forging process. Their fusion of high-tech materials into both modern and classical production techniques results in fantastic blades that are famous all over the world.
Wüsthof is a famous German brand, but has expanded to include some Japanese styles in their product line as well. The company has been owned and operated by the same family for seven generations out of Solingen, Germany’s “City of Blades.”
Wüsthof uses modern forging technologies and the latest inspection techniques to maintain their renowned level of German engineering. That said, they don’t let automation take over the process fully. Every blade gets personal attention to ensure they can consider it worthy of the brand’s storied history. All this makes Wüsthof’s some of the best kitchen knife sets on the market today.
Messermeister means “knife master,” and began life in 1981 under the name DAMCO. Founded in California by a husband-and-wife team of globe-trotting German immigrants, Messermeister has retained much of the old German forging tradition. Their products are still produced using the hot-drop, hammer-forging process that made German knives famous in the first place.
As part of a commitment to their customers, Messermeister offers a lifetime warranty against material and manufacturing defects. They also offer their services to sharpen Messermeister products. Straight- and fine-edged products are sharpened for free and serrated or scalloped blades are done for a small fee.
Zwilling J.A. Henckels
Zwilling J.A. Henckels is one of the world’s oldest and largest knife manufacturers, and can trace its origins all the way back to 1731. Peter Henckels registered his new knife company as “Zwilling,” a word which means “Twin” in German, and is reflected in their famous logo. Like so many of the top German smiths, they are headquartered in the city of Solingen, but do business around the world.
Zwilling J.A. Henckels makes a range of both forged and stamped blades (as well as, more recently, cookware, kitchen tools, and beauty tools). Most of their knives are hand honed upon completion. Their forged products also tend to feature large heavy bolsters to aid in the user’s grip and distribute the knife’s weight properly. Like most high-end knife manufacturers, Zwilling J.A. Henckels warrants their products against manufacturing and material defects.
Have a question, or want to share your experience with a knife set you got? Drop a comment!
Found a keeper among our recommendations of the best kitchen knife sets? Let us know!