We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
It's not unusual to pay 30-40 dollars for a single knife. Sabatier knives, long-rated as a top chef's tool, can easily cost two or three times that amount. And yet, as expensive they are, Sabatier knives are notoriously difficult for the amateur to keep sharp.
A top kitchen knife set, by comparison, represents an excellent value. We've carefully selected knife sets that are easy to maintain and provide all of the tools you need.
We do not accept products directly from manufacturers; we use our own funds to purchase the same “off-the-shelf” products that you do. And when we've finished our testing and consumer reviews, we donate all these products to charities and other non-profit organizations.
Born and raised in Paris, the land of unapologetic butter, Francois has spent the last 20 years shaping the American culinary world behind the scenes. He was a buyer at Williams-Sonoma, built the Food Network online store, managed product assortments for Rachael Ray's site, started two meal delivery businesses and runs a successful baking blog. When he's not baking a cake or eating his way through Europe, Francois enjoys sharing cooking skills with cooks of all levels. Rules he lives by: "Use real butter" and "Nothing beats a sharp knife."
Opinion is divided, even among professionals, as to what constitutes a good kitchen knife set. Obviously, it's quite a personal decision. While we usually try to avoid lists, it's something of a necessity in this case in order to show you exactly what each manufacturer offers.
Cheap kitchen knives are usually pressed from a steel sheet, whereas more expensive ones are forged — something that's long been considered a mark of quality. However, production methods change over time, and traditional methods aren't necessarily still the best.
If you're prepared to invest in a top knife set, it's clear that you enjoy your kitchen and expect nothing but the best from your tools. We look at performance elements such as grip, balance, and how easy it is to maintain a sharp edge.
A kitchen knife set is an investment. When you but a set, you're buying tools that should be a pleasure to use and will hopefully last for years and years. However, this doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune to get what you need. We explore prices in this section of our ratings.
It's important to note that each of the sets reviewed count the block as an item, so the 18-piece Chicago Cutlery Knife Set doesn't actually contain 18 knives. This is a little deceptive perhaps but, as far as we can tell, every manufacturer does it. Eight of the knives featured in the Chicago Cutlery set are steak knives, and there's a sharpening steel (which we think is a vital piece of equipment), leaving eight other knives as follows: a 3-inch peeler, 3.25-inch parer, 5-inch utility, 5-inch partoku, 7-inch santoku, 7.75-inch bread knife, 7.75-inch chef's knife, and 8-inch slicer. For those who haven't come across santoku (or partoku) knives, they're an Asian design with a flat cutting profile and scalloped surfaces, intended for cutting very thin slices. Strictly speaking, they're all santoku knives, but partoku has been adopted by some to describe the smaller models.
Some people argue that a few knives are all you really need. That's certainly the approach taken by the Mercer Culinary Renaissance Knife Set, which offers just five different blades and styles: a 3.5-inch parer, 5-inch utility knife, 6-inch boning knife, 8-inch bread knife, and 8-inch chef's knife. Whether that's enough will depend on personal opinion, but we're disappointed that a sharpening steel is omitted from this set. We do like the unusual tempered-glass storage block.
The 18-piece J.A. Henckels International Premio Knife Set comes with eight steak knives. There's also a nine-inch sharpening steel that we really like. The remainder of the set includes a 3-inch parer, 5-inch utility knife, 5-inch boning knife, 6-inch utility knife, 7-inch santoku, 8-inch bread knife, 8-inch chef's knife, and a pair of kitchen shears. This last item is a very useful addition. Knives aren't really the best tool for opening packets, so having shears handy is an excellent idea!
We can understand how many consumers would find it useful to receive a set of steak knives with their cutlery set. The Wusthof Gourmet Knife Set only includes four steak knives which, in our opinion, is too few. On the positive side, there's a 9-inch sharpening steel (the size we favor) and a pair of kitchen shears. The rest of the set is comprised of a 2.75-inch parer, 3-inch parer, 4.5-inch utility knife, 8-inch bread knife, and 8-inch cook's knife.
With a total of 19 pieces, the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Signature Knife Set is the most comprehensive collection on our elite list. Customers get a useful pair of kitchen shears, the preferred 9-inch sharpening steel, and eight steak knives. The remainder of the block is composed of a 2.5-inch peeler, 4-inch parer, 4.5-inch utility knife, 5-inch serrated utility knife, 6-inch utility knife, 7-inch santoku, 8-inch bread knife, and 8-inch chef's knife. There have been some negative comments about the knife block itself. It's made of bamboo rather than the usual (and perhaps more attractive) hardwood. However, bamboo has natural anti-bacterial properties, is more resistant to warping or splitting, and is arguably a more sustainable product.
For many years, the best knives on the market were forged rather than pressed. The challenge lies in how people interpret the word "forged." Historically, it's meant that the blade and the tang (the bit inside the handle) are all one piece, making for a very durable knife. However, it's possible to have a forged blade attached to a separate handle, and that appears to be the case with the Chicago Cutlery Knife Set. While that's not necessarily a problem, joining two pieces of metal creates the potential for a weak point, and a couple of owners have reported handle breakages. Additional problems with the steak knives have also been reported such as blades breaking when dropped onto hard floors. This is probably a manufacturing fault: high-carbon steel is great for sharpness, but it can be fragile under certain circumstances. Given the popularity of this set and the relatively low number of complaints, however, it's not something we want to draw undue attention to -- and it may only be relevant to a particular batch. Handles are stainless steel, left plain on the steak knives but wrapped in a comfortable, non-slip "poly" on the others.
Many of the world's top cutlery manufacturers use high-carbon German steel (regardless of where the knives are actually made), and it's the main component of each Mercer Culinary Renaissance kitchen knife. Blade and tang are of a one-piece construction; this is a true forging, which you can see if you look at the backs of the blades. The steel runs in a continuous line all the way to the very end of the handle. The two halves are "sandwiched" around the steel and then riveted in place. Mercer's attention to detail is underlined by NSF certification, a food hygiene standard that isn't just granted once but is regularly re-assessed. Handles are POM (polyoxymethylene), a particularly durable thermoplastic often used in precision engineering.
Despite its name, the J.A. Henckels International Premio Knife Set isn't the company's premium product . However, we certainly wouldn't want to give the impression there's anything inferior about it! This is another high-carbon German steel product. It is forged with a full tang like the Mercer. It features a similar rigid and impact-resistant, three-riveted handle for good balance and superior strength. Indeed, these kitchen knives bear comparison with the very best on the market. It's only the extraordinary manufacture of the Zwilling, also on our shortlist, that stops this set from being one of the company's top tools.
You might think you'd recognize a fully forged product by the telltale steel strip up the back of a riveted, two-piece handle. However, this appearance can be deceptive. While the Wusthof Gourmet knives are full tang, they are pressed, not forged. For some people, that could be a deal breaker. But this company's construction standards are as high as anyone's. Each knife undergoes up to 40 different operations, from initial laser-cutting to tuning, polishing, and sharpening. Their premium range is called "Classic." The "Gourmet" set on our list is perhaps a slight compromise between price and quality, but they are well-made kitchen knives nonetheless.
The Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Signature Knife Set turns the traditional notion of a top-quality kitchen knife on its head. These are not forged knives; they're pressed. While that's usually the hallmark of cheap kitchen knives, these go through some remarkable processes to ensure customers get tools that are tough, light, and exceptionally sharp. The steel is of impeccable quality, of course, but it's how the company treats the steel that's key. Zwilling knives are heated to over 1,000 degrees Celcius to increase hardness, cooled to room temperature for flexibility, frozen to -70 degrees Celcius to make them more corrosion resistant, then heated to 250 degrees Celcius two more times. According to the manufacturer, this process allows them to take and maintain an extremely keen edge without having the brittle tendency that afflicts some very hard carbon steel blades. If you think that's extreme, they're not finished there. Sharpening and polishing is a five-stage process that includes laser-guided honing.
How a knife feels in use is very subjective, so in this part of our ratings, we pay careful attention to owner feedback. In general, comments about the Chicago Cutlery Knife Setare very positive; many say the knives perform far beyond their expectations. One respondent in our survey is a professional chef who uses extremely costly knives at work but the Chicago Cutlery kitchen set at home. He is very pleased with their balance, their comfortable grip (still secure when wet), and their consistent sharpness. Serious customer complaints about the Chicago Cutlery set are few and far between.
The Mercer Culinary Renaissance kitchen knives receive exceptional ratings from both amateurs and professionals. In fact, the only complaint we've come across is that there just aren't enough knives in the set. No complaints relate to actual knife performance. Rather, it's quite the opposite. Mercer knives have a confidence-inspiring grip, excellent balance, and a razor-sharp cutting edge that stays that way for a long time. Owners also like the fact that this small set comes in a compact unit that's easy to store on a kitchen worktop.
In any other company, the J.A. Henckels International Premio knives would probably be outstanding. Among our top five kitchen knife sets, however, the set doesn't stand out quite as much as some other products. That's not to say that there's anything wrong with this set; most owners report good comfort, balance, and durability. However, among skilled chefs, the J.A. Henckels knives are considered to be a good — not a great — buy. They're not the sharpest out of the box. More than one owner suggests that potential buyers ought to invest in an additional sharpening tool. (A sharpening steel can maintain an edge, but it can't create one.) Another option would be to get this set professionally honed.
Not surprisingly, many who buy the Wusthof Gourmet kitchen knife set expect great things. After all, this is a manufacturer with an excellent reputation. While this set is not Wusthof's top range, the knives receive much praise from owners, particularly for their ability to stay sharp. A few had problems with handles breaking, and some thought them too light and thin. If you're used to a more traditional forged weight and balance, these knives might take a bit of getting used to, but nobody complained about their actual cutting ability.
As with the Mercers, the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Signature kitchen knives are just about flawless in terms of performance. Some owners had a problem with the weight at first, but these occurrences were due more to unfamiliarity with the product than compromised comfort or balance. We've already seen that build quality is superb, and this is borne out in use, with many owners warning that you must be extra careful because of how sharp the knives are!
The santoku knife has scallops called granton edges, which add air between the blade and the food being cut. This makes it easier for the food to fall from the blade.
A price of $83 makes the Chicago Cutlery Fusion block an affordable set of kitchen knives that will satisfy a lot of people. Indeed, if you want a good set of tools without spending a fortune, the choice to buy the Chicago Cutlery set is something of a no-brainer. There are enough components to satisfy all but the most fastidious of cooks, and although there have been some questions about quality and durability, it's a set that represents unbeatable value.
The Mercer Culinary Renaissance Knife Set costs $141, which is a fairly good price for what you get. We do find it frustrating that this set doesn't include a sharpening steel -- something you should use regularly to keep your knives in peak condition. However, the knives arrive in excellent shape, and even though there are only five of them included in the set, you'll struggle to find higher-quality knives on the market today.
The J.A. Henckels International Premio Kitchen Knife Set costs $209. There were a few complaints about rusting (not uncommon with high-carbon steels, which should always be hand-washed and dried after use), but owner satisfaction rates are, in general, very high.
The Wusthof Gourmet Kitchen Knife Set retails at $219. As with the J.A. Henckels Premio set, there could be some rusting if the knives are not properly cared for. However, the Wusthof Gourmet Kitchen Knife Set is comprised of excellent tools, and most owners are more than happy with them.
The Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Signature Knife Set currently sells for $335. Some will say the price is high for pressed knives (rather than the traditional forged items), but the manufacturer has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that these knives perform at least as well as any other knife on the market. Not everyone likes them, and not everyone can overcome long-held biases concerning the way they're made. However, actual owners reveal almost no criticisms. Owners consider the Zwilling set to be an excellent investment, which is exactly what a top set of kitchen knives should be.
Owners consider the Zwilling J.A.Henckels Twin Signature to be an excellent investment, which is exactly what a top set of kitchen knives should be.
Our five finalists each have their strengths, but the Best of the Best kitchen knife set is the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Signature.
With 19 pieces in all, it's the set on our shortlist that offers the greatest range. Others come close, but none deliver such a wide choice of cutting tools. In the Zwilling set, you get a peeler, parer, serrated utility knife, regular utility knife, santoku, bread knife, and chef's knife. You also get kitchen shears, a sharpening steel, and a set of eight steak knives.
The Zwilling set is held to pristine manufacturing standards. In essence, the manufacturer has taken some long-held ideas and turned them on their head. Using pressed steel instead of forged might be a little controversial, but the complicated heating and freezing process used in making the blades results in a combination of hardness, flexibility, and light weight that's practically unmatched. The resulting performance, in terms of balance and sharpness, is fantastic.
The complicated heating and freezing process used in making the Zwilling blades results in a combination of hardness, flexibility, and light weight that's practically unmatched.
The knives themselves are all-but flawless, but the same cannot be said for the block. It's made of bamboo, and there are some good reasons for that material choice, but there's really no excuse for the poor knife fit. A number of professionals recommend replacing the bamboo block with a magnetic wall strip. Such a strip is more convenient and also easier to keep clean.
Other than that, compliments are many and complaints are few. Some people who ordered this product received incorrect contents (which should be rectified under warranty), but the only frequent comment was one of caution: because the knives are so much sharper than what people are used to, knife users must be very careful! In short, the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Signature knife set is the cream of the crop. If you're looking for the best money can buy, this is it.
Our research indicates that of each of our finalists have a lot of satisfied customers. In the end, though, the Best Bang for Your Buck knife set is the Chicago Cutlery Fusion.
Quality knives don't usually come cheap, but with this set, you get 17 valuable tools, each of which costs very little. They're not on the same level as the Mercer or Zwillings, of course, but do you really need that kind of excellence? And do you really want to pay what they cost by comparison? For many people on a budget, the answer to this question is no.
Quality knives don't usually come cheap, but with this you get 17 valuable tools, each of which comes to very little individual cost when bought as a set.
The Chicago Cutlery set includes just about every kind of knife you'll need. All are made to a good standard, and all are found to be well-balanced and comfortable to use by the vast majority of owners. The edges may require a little more work to keep sharp than some premium products, but regular use of a sharpening steel (which is included) should be part of any keen cook's maintenance regimen. In fact, professional cooks sharpen their knives on a daily basis! Likewise, if cleaning and drying are performed after each use, you won't get the problems with marks or rust that some less conscientious consumers have.
Not surprisingly, this budget-priced product is very popular with consumers. If you're prepared to take good care of your knives, you should enjoy the same long service and sharpness that many satisfied Chicago Cutlery owners have reported. In short, the Chicago Cutlery knife set gives you the best value for the least amount of money.