How to choose the best knife set for your needs
If you’re searching for a kitchen knife set, you can be a bit overwhelmed by the number of brands and knife models out there. If you’re just starting with cooking, you might need only a small set, while professional chefs know the importance of using the right knife for the job.
If you’re a professional chef, you probably already have several high-quality sets and have your own opinion about knives. When you experiment with different knives, you see that some of them perform well every time and help you streamline meal preparation. However, if you’re new to the cooking world, it can be hard to know which knife to buy, not to say which one will perform the best.
I have prepared a comprehensive buying guide to help you all make an informed purchase. I will go through the best knife sets that will let you cooking right now and have a quick look at how to choose knives for your needs.
What knives should you get?
There are many articles online that tell you that you should buy 3 or 4 basic knives and that’s it. And for some people, a little set of quality knives is enough. However, many people also need cutlery if they cook meat that requires cutting or chopping. And some people use their knives beyond the most common ones. Of course, you can cook with 3 knives and think it is fine, but the right knives for your cooking needs will let you make everything much faster. You will be able to make fine cuts without any effort. I think it’s worth it to know what types of knives you need for your cooking methods.
The most basic knives many of us need are:
- Paring: a small knife that is perfect for precise cutting, very versatile.
- Chef: the most basic knives that we all use every day.
- Boning: a knife with a sharp tip and a narrow blade.
- Serrated: a long knife that is used for bread.
- Carving: this long, thin knife is mostly used for roasts.
- Butcher: long, heavy-duty knife, it’s perfect for cutting meat.
- Santoku: almost like a chef’s knife, but with a different tip and handle.
- Cleaver: this knife has a broad blade, which is perfect for chopping big pieces of meat.
- Steak: usually served to cut steak and similar meats.
Of course, the decision to choose a knife is personal, especially when you compare chef’s and santoku knives, I would recommend getting a paring knife, a chef knife and a serrated knife. If you eat meat, it’s a good idea to get steak knives for you and your family. A pair of good kitchen shears can also be very handy. Everything else is up to you!
The basics about knife construction
There are many terms professionals use to describe a knife. You can find them on the packaging, and it can be confusing for a new buyer. Basically, you should be aware of these terms:
- Forged. These knives are believed to be the best quality. Every piece is made from high-quality, individual pieces of metal. The pieces are molded to create the right shape. These knives are very well-balanced, durable, heavy and hold their shape really well.
- Stamped. This means that the person took a sheet of steel and then punched it, then the edges were sharpened. These knives are usually cheaper than their forged counterparts. Their blades are lighter and more flexible, so you can’t use them to cut bones or joints. They don’t hold their edges well and the material is just weaker than other options.
- The tang. It means that a metal blade is extended into the handle. If you see full tang, it means that the metal goes into the handle (it’s sandwiched along the blade. The main advantage of these knives is their perfect balance. The handle is a bit heavier, which allows you to fully control your cooking process. Sometimes you can see the term “partial tangs”, which means that the metal goes into the handle and enclosed within the blade. The quality of these knives is still good, but the balance is a bit worse.
- Bolster. You can find the bolsters on the blade near the handle. This part of the blade is a bit thicker than everything else. It’s there to keep your fingers from slipping and getting injured. High-quality knives have small bolsters because bigger ones can make it difficult to sharpen the whole blades. Santoku and some other blade-types don’t have a bolster at all.
- Balance. This is one of the most important features of any knife. You can check the balance by placing the knife across your fingers. It the balance is good, the knife will stay level. You should always check the balance when you choose basic knives. It’s less important for additional knives, and some of them don’t have a balanced blade and handle on purpose.
- Choil or heel. These two terms describe the bottom of the blade. You can find them near the handle. Choil shouldn’t be pointed backwards. For safety reasons, it should be very smooth or you can injure your fingers. It’s especially important with knives where you need to apply pressure.
One-piece designs are usually stronger and last longer than knives with an attached handle. This is because the handle is integral to the blade and it forms an extension. Professional chefs rarely take knives with many joints. Moreover, single-piece knives don’t have cracks where dirt and bacteria can get trapped. These knives are faster and easier to clean and they usually don’t break and bend.
The knives that you don’t need, but might want
There are many knives that amateur chefs don’t need, but might want at some point. These knives make many tasks easier and faster:
- A carving knife. This is not the same as a bread knife, even though they look very similar. This flexible, long and non-serrated blade gives you even slices of corned beef, ham, roast or anything solid that you want to cut in even slices without destroying the texture with a blade. You can’t cut poultry with this knife but anything that requires a single, slicing motion requires this one. It has pesky teeth and quickly cuts through almost everything. However, if you need to get between the joints, a chef’s knife is better.
- A meat cleaver. Many articles recommend getting this as an essential, and I can almost agree. However, I don’t think it’s a must for a person on a budget or who’s just getting starting with cooking. A chef’s knife is better for beginners because it gives higher control. If you often run in situations where you need a cleaver, you probably know you need it. Anyway, when you have the basic set, this knife can really help. If you feel adventurous, you can get a Chinese cleaver that is perfect for precise, thin slices and chopping. I like it more than European or American cleavers that are quite heavy. This knife can also chop and dice vegetables, especially dense one like carrots and cabbages. You can even break bones and cut joints with ease.
- A boning knife. If you cut up your own chicken or filet your own fish, you will probably need this knife. It’s very narrow and thin, with a flexible blade, which is perfect for slipping in between joints and bones. You can’t do it with any other knife. If you’re not going to part the whole chicken or fish, this knife is perfect for trimming the silverskin or removing fast from poultry and meat. You can also use it for vegetables and fruits instead of grabbing a paring knife (it’s shorter).
- Kitchen shears. Many people say these should be one of the essentials and I understand why, because sooner or later you will need to get through a joint while cutting poultry or cutting stems. Or maybe you need scissors to open packages, shears are versatile and can be used for many tasks. I recommend getting shears that are easy to wash, the ones that come in 2 separate pieces. Just make sure they don’t fall apart when you cut something. The grip should be sturdy even when your hands are messy.
Buy separate knives or get a set?
Some people tell you to get a set and others insist that you can get what you want only if you search for each piece separately. I don’t know the answer because I believe there is no answer. The right choice depends on every person and their needs.
However, if you’re confused, I have 3 questions for you to help you decide if it’s best to make your own set from scratch:
- Do you cook often?
- Do you like making quick meals that require minimal effort or do you get satisfaction from creating masterpieces?
- Do you like to put effort in every slice, so that the result looks appealing? Or do you prefer to efficiently complete the dish?
If you usually spend a lot of time in the kitchen and put effort in every meal, separate pieces is a better option. Different knives have different qualities and a set has them all. A knife set should be perfectly weighted between a blade and a handle, but a paring knife should be heavier in the handle. If you buy a steak knife, choose stainless steel because it’s easier to wash. No one likes to spend an hour washing dishes after a party right? When you choose other knives, strength and sharpness are the most important features, so consider buying blades made of high-carbon.
If you don’t cook for dinner parties and often order in or who doesn’t think that cooking is satisfying, you’re better suited for a good knife set. You don’t need to spend time to customize your own set, manufacturers have already done it for you. Sometimes even the most eager chefs choose a ready-made set due to budget limitations. These sets are usually much cheaper than separate pieces, even though the quality is the same.
Before you buy a set, you should consider how many knives you want in the set. You want to know their types as well. You can always find sets in a range from 3 to 10 pieces. If you’re searching for a set that performs all basic cooking tasks and doesn’t cost a fortune, you should choose a set of 3 knives. You will get the most popular knives for a good price and can slowly add other pieces to your set. If you go this route, you should choose the knives you would like to have. Make sure to get chef’s knife, as it’s the most versatile.
For example, you might want to have your bread knife, utility knife and chef’s knife to be evenly heightened and have sturdy, silicone-covered handles and blades made of high-quality stainless steel, but would prefer other knives to have heavy handles and your steak knife would be stainless still. This means you should buy a small set of 3 most common knives and then get other knives separately. Besides, when you get more familiar to your cooking preferences, you will learn what kind of additional knives you need.
When you choose the size of the set you want to get, you should remember to be honest with yourself about what knives you will use regularly. For example, I usually don’t use a boning knife and I don’t really need it. When I first got it, it took me a long time to learn to use this thin, sharp knife. I definitely didn’t need it in my first set.
If you know you’re not going to use every knife in a set, look for a different one. For example, if you think you will use your chef’s knife for slicing, dicing and cutting, you might get a set that doesn’t have this knife. If you choose wisely, you can get the most of your money.
Material and construction
Whether you’re building your own set or buying a pre-made one, you want to know the materials from which every knife is made of as well as the quality of their construction and a manufacturing country.
The type of the blade is one of the most important features. It can be made of high-carbon steel, stainless steel, carbon stainless steel or ceramic. Each material changes the way you cut and clean your knife. Besides, some materials have longer lifetime, while others are sharper and much easier to clean.
The type of the handle can also make a huge different. Some handles are nonslip, some of them are more ergonomic. Some handles can be washed in a dishwasher while others are for hand wash only.
If you buy a big kitchen set, it will probably come with a custom-made knife block. This is an essential thing for storing your knife. A block prevents them from damages. When you store your knives loose in a drawer, they can become pitted and dulled from contact with other utensils. A knife block can easily prevent it. It also lowers the risk of an injury from rummaging through a drawer for the knife. A knife block helps you choose a tool easier and quicker, and knife handles are well-laced out in there.
There are two common types of knife blocks. Some of them sheath the blade within the block, you can only see the bolster and the handles. Other blocks allow you to see the whole knife because they’re made of see-through acrylic or tempered glass.
If you choose the first type of a knife block, make sure to get a design that has labels on every knife, so you can get the right knife by looking at the handle. A little label can save you a lot of time, allowing you to choose quickly and get everything right. Moreover, you should choose a block that has enough space between the handles. It’s much easier to use, especially if you have manual dexterity issues.
The second type of knife blocks allows you to see knife blades, making it easy and quick to choose the right one. It’s really important if you don’t have much time to cook. However, you should make sure that the block hides the blades completely, so that they’re not exposed to grease and steam. This damages the blades and makes them dull. Additionally, exposed blades are a perfect place for bacteria to breed, which is a hygiene issue you can easily avoid.
Some knives come with a knife sharpener that will save you a lot of frustration. Every time you withdraw a knife, a sharpening technology inside a knife block automatically sharpens the blade. This feature can come very handy and save a lot of labor. It’s also safer compared to sharpening tool made of steel or stone.
When you shop for a knife block, make sure it’s heavy enough to stay still on a kitchen table. Tempered glass and wooden blocks are the heaviest and they often come with a convenient rubber pads to prevent the construction from slipping.
Chicago Cutlery Insignia Steel Knife Set with In-Block Sharpener
This set comes in 18 pieces and features all basic knives as well as a boning knife, steak knife, santoku knife and several paring knives with different tips. It can be pricey but a perfect choice for everyone who wants to buy a reliable set and forget about knife shopping. It has everything you need and more.
Every piece in the set has rust-resistant, strong, carbon stainless steel blades that smoothly blend into the heavy, steel handles. According to the manufacturer specifications, the knives are well-weighted for precision cuts. They don’t give you hand fatigue.
Thanks to the wooden knife block, you don’t have to fishing around in a drawer to find the right knife. It protects the blades and your hand. It comes with a build-in sharpener to safely and quickly pull the blade out of the block and slide it back into it for a really sharp knife. The blades are hidden in the block, nothing is exposed to kitchen steam.
This is one of the best sets on the marked based on customer reviews, sales and the variety of knives you get. The construction is very sturdy, they will serve you for many years. Even though I personally don’t need every piece in this set, the variety justifies the price. The quality of every piece is superb. I’ve seen many large, more affordable sets that include poor-grade steel, blades are glued into the handles and just fall apart when I use them. This set is different: the manufacturer included quality knives in a big set for a decent price.
Mercer Culinary Genesis Forged Knife Set
Not every person need a huge knife set. Many people can make everything with only a few reliable blades. Or many you prefer to buy a basic set and then get other knifes separately from different brands. For example, you might need several knives for burgers that can’t be found in sets. I personally would never buy a set with only steak knives because I already have one and I don’t need more. I’m also picky about some knives. For example, I want my bread knife to be flexible and let me cut through many things. All my other knives are strong and unbendable. Therefore, I would rather buy one small set than a big one. Once Mercer’s set has run its course, I will get it again.
For all the reasons that I listed and many others, I think every knife set list should have at least one small set with top 3 knives to appeal to people who only need a small set. There are many small sets out there, but this one raises high above everything else. It features 5 pieces and comes in a sturdy knife box, which is more like a display case. It’s not the most quality one but it does the job well. The set features a chef’s knife, bread knife, utility knife, paring knife and boning knife. You can cook all foods with these five knives.
Every piece in the set has a blade, riveted into the handle. Handles are covered with a santoprene, nonslip coating. The blades are made of stainless steel, meaning they are very durable and strong. They never bend and hold a sharp edge for years.
Wusthof Classic 3-Piece Kitchen Knife Set
It can be really hard to find your 3 most basic knives, but this set may solve this problem for most of us. This is one of the best small set for the beginners and everyone who doesn’t know what they want. Even though this set is very appealing, it’s so small that it’s missing a couple of essential I believe many people want in a set. If the pieces hadn’t been missing, this set would be in my personal top-3 choices. However, it’s still a really good option for almost everyone.
Featuring only 3 pieces, with this set you will get a spear-tip paring knife, a chef’s knife, and a utility knife. Arguably, these 3 are the most popular knives in the kitchen. I would prefer to have a serrated blade in the set. I usually cook crunchy and soft baked foods, and a serrated blade is a must for me.
I can understand that small sets don’t need shears, many people just don’t use them. Shears offer the convenient way to cut something and many shears are create by brands that don’t even have knife sets. I also understand that many of us don’t need a boning and a paring knife. As someone might barely know anything about a santoku knife, I can understand leaving this one out of the set. Steak knife is also an additional option and they can be bought on their own or in a set of steak knives. Even a bread knife is often bought separately so you can test its flexibility before buying.
This sounds great, but what if a person can’t go out and by those extra 5 or 6 knives? What if someone is looking for a reliable, easy-to-use set that meets all their basic needs and doesn’t require any extra effort? I think this set is very appealing to these people, even though it doesn’t include some knives that I often use. This set is very versatile and let you cu, slice and dice almost anything you can imagine.
Kyocera Bamboo 5-Piece Knife Block Set
Even though the name says it’s a 5-piece set, you will get 4 knives and 1 bamboo knife block. Still, this set is worth your attention.
This set includes blades of 4 different sizes, the most common ones are 3 inches and 6 inches knives. The other two are 4.5 inches and 5.5 inches blades. The first one is a general utility knife, it does the job well. The second blade can be used for foods with harder exterior and waxy interior. You can use these 5 blades for many different foods, everything from soft and gentle dough to boned meat.
You can use the 4.5 inches blade for slicing and mincing small cuts of meat and for basically everything when you don’t have your 5.5-icnh or 3-icnh knives available. If you cook together with your partner or your friends, you can use this knife while the other one takes the chef’s knife. This saves time waiting for your friend to finish before you can cook.
The other important feature of this set is the durable, nicely-looking wood block that is included. All knives slide into the block, ensuring the blades are always sharp and you store your knives safely. It’s safer for your hands, too.
The block feature rubber feet in the bottom, so it doesn’t slide and just sticks to the surface. For a complete set, this is a great deal. I’m sure you will use all these knives every day for mincing, slicing, chopping and cutting everything. It comes with a lifetime warranty and a solid wooden block. I think this is a rare set that deserves our attention.
Cuisinart 15-Piece Stainless Steel Hollow Handle Set
This set feature 15 pieces and has everything from basic chef’s and utility knives to paring knives with different tips to a set of shears and a sharpening rod. There is also a plastic knife block that keeps the blades away from hot kitchen steam.
Every knife in the Cuisinart set is made of stainless steel, which is really easy to clean and use. Unlike knives with separate handles and blades, here dirt doesn’t get under the blade. You don’t need to think about rust, water, and bacteria living in the joints or on the blade, because there are no joints and stainless steel never bends. The steel has bolsters near the handles to protect you during cutting, and it improves the balance of the knife. There is one thing, though, that can be an issue: this steel construction can make the handles slippery because they don’t have a non-slip coating. This can compromise your safety, so be aware.
Even though this set features 15 pieces, it doesn’t have a bread knife, which I often use in my kitchen. I don’t understand why the company decided to include a santoku knife as well as a couple of rare options, but not this one. Even though there is a utility knife that is serrated and can be used for cutting into baked foods, the length is not enough to conveniently cut a loaf of bread or a big cake. I think that you can always buy a bread knife separately because you should test its flexibility first, so many people plan for it anyway. But the knife block doesn’t have a space for another knife and you should find a storage place for other knives you might get.
A. Henckels International Forged Premio with Block
This is one of the biggest set on the list with 18 pieces. It features every knife you could possibly need. There are many sets on the market that feature many knives, but in this one every knife is high-quality and has a purpose. It almost made it to my top-3 knife sets list. With the set you will get all basic knives as well as several steak knives, kitchen shears, santoku knife, a wooden knife block and a sharpening rod.
Every knife has a stainless steel blade that is riveted into polypropylene handles. It ensures longevity of the joints and strength of the handle. Even though the handles are squared, there are ergonomic and thick and let you grab with a strong grip. The handles are covered with a nonslip coating. Every knife has a steel bolster for an additional balance for the blade. It also protects fingers and allows you to cut faster without compromising your safety.
One of the best knives in the set is chef’s knife. It’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever used and this is part of what pushed the whole set into the list. The knife has a curve which is perfect for skilled chefs and intricate cutting methods. There is a flat point near the bloster, which helps you chop faster and more efficiently. Of course, you don’t have to chop with the chef’s knife because the set features a santoku knife. This one isn’t a must but comes very handy when the main knife is taken or when you need to chop something really fast. It will help you get even pieces of anything without any effort.
The bolster in these knives is just great. It protects your fingers, acts as an additional balance to the weight of the blade, and allows for a precision grasp for difficult tasks. If you want an excessive set with quality knives, this one is a great option for a good price.
A. Henckels International Statement 15-Piece Set
This is yet another huge set that features 15 pieces. Stainless-steel knives are built with full-tang blades. The blades are riveted into handles that are coated with polypropylene, anti-slip for extra durability and strength. Even though the knives are high-quality, I don’t think they are very well balanced as the blade doesn’t have bolsters or end caps. Still the blades and the handles are perfectly weighted, so it shouldn’t be an issue.
In addition to all basic knives that we all need, this set has a bread knife, a paring knife, a steak knife and several santoku knives. There are also a set of shears, and a sharpening rod. I think this is the set that you buy once and use only these knives.
Yet again, as with all other knife sets on the market, if you’re a professional chef or just want to get the whole collection of knives, you will have to buy more of them. For example, I would like to see a slicer here instead of several paring knives. A boning knife would be better for me than a second steak knife. And I don’t think many people need several santoku knives, I think more basic knives would make the whole set more versatile. Still, this set has everything an amateur chef or a hobbyist need.
You can go crazy and get all of them and spend more that you would at a local store. But if you only need essentials, if you don’t know where to start and feel overwhelmed by the choices, all sets on the list can solve your struggles and be your best kitchen tool. These sets don’t cost a fortune and the knives will last you much longer compared to the ones you can find at a department store. Just make sure to store and clean them properly. If you don’t have a knife block, a magnetic rack or somewhere dry and clean is a good place. Your knives will be happy and sharp, and you will save money on buying new tools. Your safety won’t be compromised, which is one of the most important things in the kitchen.