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Published 3:56 PM EST, Tue March 2, 2021
High-quality, super-sharp kitchen knives make culinary tasks easier and safer. (Did you know that dull knives are actually more dangerous?) While many home cooks will fare just fine with a basic chef’s, paring and serrated knife, investing in a set, housed neatly in a handsome knife block, adds versatility — and, for real cooking nerds, even joy — to meal-making.
But with so many options and price points on the market, choosing a knife set can be confusing. To help you decide, we did exhaustive research to determine which are the best sets on the market and spent the past several weeks putting the 11 finalists to the test.
We chopped. We diced. We sliced. We minced. We trimmed. We peeled. We cored. We found ourselves repeatedly using terms like “full tang” (when a blade is constructed of one metal piece that extends the length of the handle, which is preferable), “forged steel” (pricier than its stamped counterpart, but sturdier) and “heavy bolster” (the junction between the blade and handle that helps with balance). “Please never say ‘full tang’ again,” our children begged.
We loaded our cutting board with fruit, veggies, herbs, bread, meat, cheese and more to see which blades did the best job, suffering — to our extreme surprise — just one minor flesh wound in the process. In the end, we came up with three winners any home chef would find to be — er — a cut above the rest:
Generally, most of the knives we tested were nice and sharp out of the box and all were stainless steel grade or better, but from there they varied when it came to grip, build and weight, which affected performance. The three winners earned points for great maneuverability, aesthetics and included extras. And while each knife in our top three sets got high marks, there were individual knives in other sets that performed better. Why didn’t those win? Points for each set were tallied across a variety of factors, including price. (See below for a full breakdown of how we evaluated each set.) In other words: One incredible knife does not make a great set.
The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.99. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.
If you’d like to step things up a few notches, it’s hard to go wrong with the Zwilling Pro 7-Piece Knife Block Set. Complete with four knives all forged from a single piece of high-carbon stainless steel, the precision-honed blades are extra-sharp, stylish and just feel really nice in your hand. At $330, they’re pricey, yes. But if you’re looking to make an investment in your kitchen tools, we can’t think of a better place to start.
Finally, if you’ve been saving up for a knife set you know will last for years — nay, decades — to come, reach for the Wüsthof Classic Ikon 7-Piece Walnut Block Knife Set. From sharpness to balance to heft, to the sleek and sophisticated appearance of the four included knives — plus a sharpening steel and kitchen shears, in their classic wood block — we quickly discovered why this family-owned German company has been lauded for turning out high-quality knives for more than 200 years. You know that saying “It cut like a hot knife through butter”? We think the Wüsthof chef knife served as its inspiration.
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
First things first: Of the 11 knife sets we tested, this was one of the cheapest. At just over $100, you might reasonably expect they’d be lower quality than their more expensive counterparts. You’d be wrong. We were blown away by the sturdy construction, comfort of use and reliable execution that came with each piece in this all-inclusive set. True, there were sharper, higher-quality knives in several of the other sets we tested, but when it came to overall rankings, performance and consideration of cost, the Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set was the clear champion.
One big plus: the whopping 17 included pieces. Besides the classic — and heavy — chestnut-stained wood block, you get a 7 3/4-inch chef’s knife, 7 3/4-inch serrated bread knife, 7-inch santoku knife, 5-inch santoku knife, 5-inch utility knife, 3 1/4-inch paring knife and eight — yes, eight! — 4 1/2-inch steak knives, plus a sharpening steel and chop assist. The only thing missing is kitchen shears, but you can add a pair like these OXO Good Grips Multipurpose Kitchen Scissors ($17.90; amazon.com) to your utensil drawer later.
The forged blades are made using high-carbon, rust-resistant stainless steel. The ergonomic handles could be a little small for those with big hands, but we found them to be just right. At first blush, we didn’t think we’d like the poly padded handles, but they were actually extremely comfortable and kept the knives from slipping, even after they had just been hand-washed. And, yes, tempting as it may be to throw your knives into the dishwasher, this set, as with pretty much all the knives we tested, should be carefully hand-washed to preserve longevity.
Among the four core knives we tested, the chef’s, paring and utility knives got average points for slicing through onions, carrots, tomatoes, apples, herbs and everything else we threw at them. But the Chicago’s serrated knife was a standout among all the sets we looked at. Its length makes it versatile and useful for all sorts of kitchen projects. Plus, it is exceptionally sharp and took practically zero effort to drag through a few-days-old loaf of crusty bread, take the rind off a cantaloupe or slice uber-thin pieces from a tender tomato or peach, earning it more points than the Zwilling or Wüsthof versions.
Another bonus: These knives stay sharp. As part of our testing, we compared the knives we used during our rigorous tests to a second identical set straight out of the box. After plenty of chopping, slicing and dicing, the Chicago Cutlery knives remained as sharp as their brand-new counterparts. We also did the paper test, where the ability of the knife to easily slice through a piece of basic printer paper without snagging or catching shows it’s properly sharpened. These knives passed with flying colors.
Also putting Chicago over the top were all the extras: The steak knives performed great while slicing through grilled filet mignon and the two santoku knives were handy for slicing cheese, mincing garlic and scooping everything off the cutting board. (Santoku knives, by the way, are similar to chef’s knives, but are thinner, with no tip and often have small divots on the edges to keep food from sticking to them. They’re great for chopping soft or sticky things like meat, veggies, herbs and cheese and for scooping food off your cutting board, thanks to their wide blade.)
In a sentence: If price point is as important to you as quality, add this knife set to your shopping cart, stat. Again, there are higher-performing individual knives on our list, but, as a whole, we were impressed by the completeness and overall execution of this wallet-friendly set.
Zwilling Pro 7-Piece Knife Block Set
When you’re seeking out knives that are super sharp, durable, ergonomic and will last a lifetime, we highly suggest you stop and give this standout set a good look.
Complete with an 8-inch chef’s knife, 4-inch paring knife, 5 1/2-inch prep knife and 8-inch bread knife, plus shears, a sharpening steel and a 16-slot hardwood bamboo block, it received excellent scores on performance and quality.
This set, made in Germany by Zwilling J.A. Henckels, which was founded back in 1731, also takes into account the benefits of both Western and Asian knife design. For example, the chef’s knife blade has a broad curve to allow for a Western-style rocking motion, but a straight back that aligns with the Asian chopping style.
One thing that truly sets this set apart from our top choice is the ice-hardened, precision-honed blades. They’re forged from a single piece of high-carbon stainless steel, making them harder and sharper than many other models. Lasers are then used to angle the edges of the blades for precision sharpness, and the process seems to have succeeded. The chef’s knife, which was our favorite from the Zwilling set, for one, practically dropped through a head of lettuce, and easily sliced through carrots, onions, herbs and more. The chef’s knife is typically the most used knife in a home cook’s block, so the fact that this was the standout piece in the set shows that Zwilling knows what matters most.
The paring knife, at 4 inches, was bigger than most versions, and the height of the blade seemed gigantic — basically twice the size of other paring knives. In fact, it seemed more like a utility knife, and the oversized blade, while very sharp, made it difficult to core a tomato or hull a strawberry. The utility knife, meanwhile, cut easily through apples and avocados, but wasn’t quite as sharp as the paring knife. And the serrated knife, our least favorite in the set, didn’t cut easily through bread.
The box promotes the fact that the knives are designed with a unique ergonomic and curved bolster (where the knife meets the handle) to support the “professional pinch grip” — where your thumb and index finger rest on the blade for safer cutting. This was read aloud to us while we were chopping, and we looked down to see we were, indeed, holding the knife just so. That attention to craftsmanship and user experience is a detail worth paying more for.
The factors that ultimately kept this set from being our winning pick? It includes only four knives for its hefty price, and the extras it comes with ー a sharpening steel and a pair of shears ーwere uncomfortable to use and seemed oddly mismatched with the rest of the set (read: different, lesser quality). Still, the quality of the knives and handles means this set is likely to last a lifetime — making the investment worth it.
Wüsthof Classic Ikon 7-Piece Walnut Block Knife Set
Elegant, sophisticated, ergonomic, sharp as hell.
There’s just so much to appreciate about this German-made, handcrafted knife set that includes the four basic knives that a serious home cook needs: an 8-inch chef’s knife, 3 1/2-inch paring knife, 6-inch utility knife, 8-inch bread knife, plus come-apart kitchen shears, a 9-inch honing steel and a 15-slot cherry block. This knife set has it all and looks great doing it. It’s got history, a classic design and high-tech, high-quality craftsmanship that comes with a lifetime warranty (on workmanship and materials under normal conditions).
The full-tang (meaning the blade is a solid piece of metal from the tip all the way through the handle), triple-riveted polypropylene handles are made for serious wear and tear yet look sleek, with a double bolster that gives them an impressive balance. Thinner than other knives we tested, the handles fit perfectly in a woman’s hand, but our male tester wished they were a smidge more substantial.
The blades, meanwhile, are a point of differentiation from the other sets. Sure, they’re precision-forged from a single piece of tempered high-carbon stainless steel, making them stain- and corrosion-resistant. So are a few other sets in our testing pool. But their special PEtec edge is created by robots sharpening the blades on a whetstone to a precise and consistent sharpness, making them a self-proclaimed “20% sharper with twice the edge retention,” which means you’ll hardly ever have to sharpen them.
The chef’s knife, or “cook’s knife” as Wüsthof calls it, has a lot of heft, making it a wise choice for chopping vegetables, meat and more. It glided through onions, potatoes and tomatoes, took the corn off the cob with ease and sliced through the tough rind of a pineapple like it was nothing. The paring and utility knives fit comfortably into our hands and easily sliced everything we tested them on: limes, oranges, strawberries, carrots, zucchini, radishes, you name it. The serrated bread knife drew right through our baguette loaves, making us dream of a second career as an apprentice in a French boulangerie.
As for their performance when tested against the same never-been-used blades? We couldn’t suss out any difference in sharpness by touch, performance chopping up onions, carrots and tomatoes or from the paper test, of which both used and new Wüsthof knives made mincemeat.
Wüsthof proudly makes these blades in Solingen, Germany — the steel manufacturing capital of the world — where it has been headquartered since its inception 200-plus years ago. The fact that the set includes just four knives and comes with a $450 price tag kept it from being our overall winner or runner up. If you have the money to invest, however, we think the classic, elegant set will not only look like a crown jewel on your kitchen counter, but also continue to dazzle for a lifetime. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself continually seeking out new things to chop.
We spent weeks testing these knife sets, comparing each model by the same criteria, including overall performance, build quality, added accessories and warranty, taking detailed notes on how specific knives functioned based on everything from sharpness and materials to heft and hand-feel to how they looked and the usefulness of any included extras. We ordered two of each set so that after spending several days slicing and dicing our hearts out, we were able to compare the used knives’s sharpness to their just-out-of-the-box twins.
As avid home cooks, we already spend a significant amount of time in the kitchen, but as our dining room table became overtaken with woodblocks filled with knives to test, we quickly found ourselves continually looking for things to chop. Who wants an apple peeled, cored and diced? What can we make with minced garlic and minced onions? Need another slice of crusty bread? But ultimately a decision had to be made. Here’s how we broke down our evaluation:
Chef’s knife: This standard tool is made to take on most of the bigger jobs in the kitchen. Its weight makes it easier to chop up loads of ingredients in one go, say, for a big pot of soup or to roast a bounty of potatoes and vegetables. We tested chopping through meat, onions, carrots, herbs and more, noting the knife’s design, grip, weight and general feel. We noted the ease of drawing the blade through different food items, and also whether the knife glided through paper or snagged. Paring knife: A paring knife needs to be nimble, precise and feel good in the hand. So, for this knife, we cored and peeled apples and tomatoes, and minced shallots and garlic to evaluate its performance and feel. Utility knife: These knives are made to take on all of the random jobs where no other knife feels right — the chef’s knife is too big, the paring knife is too small. Too many items to list, including tomatoes, hard cheese, oranges, carrots and salami, were used to test how easily this knife could live up to its name. Serrated knife: Serrated knives are made to cut through things that you can’t press down on easily, like crusty bread, angel food cake and cantaloupe. We looked at ease of cutting through difficult foods, as well as how thin we could slice something softer, such as a tomato. Build
Quality: We took into account the quality of materials, including blade and handle construction. Forged knives, for example, are typically stronger than stamped, which are cut from a flat metal sheet. Some knives use laser technology, resulting in extra-sharp blades. Full tang, meaning the blade extends through the handle, helps create balance and overall heft. And handles varied from plas
We chopped and diced and sliced with 11 top-rated kitchen knives to find the best set
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