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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.
- 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 plastic to rubber to wood to metal.
- Feel: So much of handling a kitchen knife rests on how it feels in your hand, so we paid special attention to the heaviness of the blades and handles, maneuverability, weight distribution and ease of sliding the knives in and out of their blocks.
- Knuckle clearance: Not all knife handles are created equal, so we measured whether or not our knuckles or fingers hit the cutting board while chopping.
- General looks: Aesthetics are important — especially for utensils that will sit out on your countertop 24/7. While we realize taste is subjective, we noted our general reaction to how nice they looked.
- Some sets were very simple with just a few items, while others included a full array of steak knives, shears, honing steels, boning knives, slicers and more. We looked at what was offered and how useful those items were.
- Stuff happens, so we noted warranty information (tease: most had limited lifetime warranties).
Using the metrics described above, each knife set was assigned a score in each subcategory, which were combined for a total subcategory score and then added together for an overall total. Here’s how the scores were broken down:
- Overall performance had a maximum of 40 points: chef’s knife (13); paring knife (9); utility knife (9); serrated knife (9).
- Build had a maximum of 35 points: quality (15); knife feel (10); room for knuckle clearance (5); appearance (5).
- Accessories had a maximum of 10 points.
- Warranty had a maximum of 5 points: lifetime (5 points); two to five years (2 points); less than two years (0 points).
With a focus on value, we also considered the price of each knife set, which ranged quite a bit, from $14 to $500.
Shun Classic 6-piece Slim Knife Block Set ($429.99; amazon.com)
Shun Classic 6-piece Slim Knife Block Set
There’s no denying it: These are the sharpest knives we have ever used.
Handcrafted in Seki, Japan, the durable, beautiful and razor-sharp Damascus stainless steel blades had us oohing and aahing at their ability to perfectly slice through everything. The paring knife, for instance, was so sharp that as we used it to core a tomato, we found it was shaving skin off our finger from the slightest touch. We also swooned over how the knives felt in our hands — the pakkawood handles were heavy, but the knives remained well-balanced. So, why was this not among our winners? The pricey set comes with just three knives: an 8-inch chef’s knife, 3 1/2-inch paring knife and 7-inch santoku knife. It also includes a slim dark wood knife block, which we liked, but the included honing steel and shears felt like afterthought additions. If you’re looking for pure sharpness? Hands down, Shun is the winner.
Calphalon Classic Self-Sharpening Stainless Steel 15-piece Knife Block Set
First, this is just a really solid set of knives. It scored high points for the amount of tools you get (8-inch chef’s knife, 8-inch bread knife, 6-inch utility knife, 7-inch santoku knife, 3 1/2-inch paring knife, eight steak knives and kitchen shears). We were also really impressed by the unique self-sharpening block that also features a modern wood finish. Admittedly, we thought the claim that the block’s built-in ceramic sharpeners would work with each use was a gimmick, but we were quickly impressed that the knives really did seem to get sharper every time we chopped and sliced. Cool, huh? As far as performance, the all-stainless steel, full-tang knives handled well and felt balanced, although they did feel overly heavy in our hands. We also appreciated the fact that the handles are labeled so you can quickly grab the correct knife. So why wasn’t this set a winner? The metal handles were much less comfortable than the rubber- and wood-handled sets. They felt very slick in hand, making for an unsure grip.
Cuisinart C77SS 15-Piece Stainless Steel Hollow Handle Block Set ($59.11; amazon.com)
Cuisinart C77SS 15-Piece Stainless Steel Hollow Handle Block Set
These knives scored lower on performance than most models: They weren’t as sharp, the hollow metal handles felt too light, causing an imbalance, and they tended to get slippery when wet. But if you’re on a budget and moving into your first apartment, we could see how this 15-piece knife set would still seem appealing. Besides the value price, it features lightweight, dishwasher-safe stainless steel blades that will cover your cutting needs. You get an 8-inch chef’s knife, 8-inch slicing knife, 7-inch santoku knife, 5 1/2-inch serrated utility knife, 3 1/2-inch paring knife, 3 1/2-inch bird’s beak paring knife, 8-inch sharpening steel, household shears and a block to store them all in. Our favorite? No. But decent for newbie cooks? Sure.
AmazonBasics Premium 18-Piece Kitchen Knife Block Set ($62.99; amazon.com)
AmazonBasics Premium 18-Piece Kitchen Knife Block Set
When variety is key to your cooking game but staying on budget is too, you’d be wise to consider picking up this basic but useful 18-piece set. Besides the fact that you get a whole lot of knives (8-inch chef’s, 7-inch santoku, 8-inch slicing, 8-inch bread, 5 1/2-inch utility, 6-inch boning, 3 1/2-inch paring and eight steak knives), plus kitchen shears, a sharpener and the rubber-wood storage block, the quality here for $70 is respectable. The full-tang stainless steel blades are matched with triple-riveted, ergonomic handles. And while we had to put more elbow grease into our chops than we did with higher-end models, they generally performed well — especially the chef’s knife. Overall, this is a nice starter set for those testing the knife set waters, but more serious cooks will likely want sharper tools.
Dalstrong 5-Piece Shadow Series Knife Block Set ($289.99; amazon.com)
Dalstrong 5-Piece Shadow Series Knife Block Set
We must admit, when we unboxed this midnight black set noted by the company for its “menacing design,” we were prepared to be underwhelmed. Our aesthetic biases had us thinking these would prove to be more flash than performance, though we know some will dub the highly stylized look as awesome. Our biases were so wrong. The geometric design of the military-grade G10 handles actually fit really comfortably into our hands and their slight texture made slippage a non-issue. The full-tang titanium nitride-coated German steel blades were razor sharp and excellent at chopping and slicing everything we threw at them. So what didn’t we like so much? The curved blade of the chef’s knife was helpful in chopping, but its thinness made it feel a bit light. In fact, the heavy handles, paired with thin blades, seemed to affect the balance of the knives. And, at a rather hefty price, it includes just five knives (chef’s, paring, utility, serrated and santoku) plus a honing steel. Then again, if your home decor is Kylo Ren meets Jacques Pépin, put these on your wish list immediately.
Vremi 10-Piece Colorful Knife Set ($13.99; amazon.com)
Vremi 10-Piece Colorful Knife Set
If you know a college student who has made the move from their dorm to their first apartment, this colorful set of kitchen knives would make a fine housewarming gift. And, as that student may have learned during a leadership course, it’s best to offer some words of praise first. These knives are pretty. They’re bright and fun and will add a rainbow of hues to any kitchen. They’re BPA-free and come with matching sheaths so they can be easily stored in a drawer, saving precious counter space. They’re stainless steel and nonstick and include a chef’s knife, paring knife, carving knife, serrated knife and utility knife. But when it comes to performance? Well, they’re pretty much worth their budget price tag. They didn’t feel especially sharp out of the box, our fingers smashed against the cutting board as we chopped and the blades felt heavy compared to the plastic handles, which threw off the balance of the knives in our hands. We also had to push hard to cut our way through crusty bread, tomatoes and more. Overall, they get a passing grade, but just barely.
Mercer Culinary Genesis 6-Piece Forged Knife Block Set ($149; amazon.com)
Mercer Culinary Genesis 6-Piece Forged Knife Block Set
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder: What one person may deem stunning, another will see as gauche. Take this knife set from Mercer. Its unique, vertical tempered glass block had one family member wrinkling his nose with distaste, two teenagers dubbing it “sick” (a good thing) and one who kept waffling between “so cool” and “trying too hard.” But whether or not you like the looks of the glass block, no one can argue that these are great knives. Nice and sharp out of the box, they’re made using high-carbon German steel, a bolster for support and santoprene handles with full tang, offering fairly even weight distribution. They feel a little light, but worked well on everything we tested them on. With the set, you get five knives: 8-inch chef’s, 8-inch bread, 6-inch boning, 5-inch utility and 3 1/2-inch paring, plus that controversial holder. Our final opinion: While we decided the glass block does look pretty cool, giving the illusion that the knives are floating in air, having to pull the knives straight up vertically to remove them means you always have to move the block out from under your cabinets with each use — not ideal. It also only contained five knives, one of which was a boning knife which doesn’t see a lot of use, and the smaller, rubber handles weren’t especially comfortable.
J.A. Henckels International 15-Piece Statement Knife Block Set ($139.99, originally $345; amazon.com)
J.A. Henckels International 15-Piece Statement Knife Block Set
This solid, versatile set landed in the middle of the pack. With 15 pieces — 8-inch chef’s knife, 3-inch paring knife, 5-inch serrated utility knife, 7-inch santoku knife, 8-inch bread knife, six 4 1/2-inch steak knives in addition to a sharpening steel, kitchen shears and a hardwood block — we gave it high marks for all its useful add-ons and accessories. Made of honed, stainless steel blades and plastic curved handles with full tang, the chef’s knife was our favorite, although it felt a bit light in the hand. Overall, the knives were sharp out of the box, look nice in their wood block and come with an affordable price tag when on sale (which seems to be most of the time at most retailers). We weren’t crazy-wowed, but we weren’t disappointed, either.
Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing:
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed price at the time of publication.
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