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It turns out that asking culinary experts to recommend a set of knives is more of an invitation for them to cut deep. Consumers posing the seemingly innocuous question in the 181,000-member r/chefknives Reddit community repeatedly invite chefs to shout they’re a waste of money and to invest in high-quality individual knives instead. SPY polled experts in the industry about whether these convenient kits are unnecessary or if it’s more about the brand behind them.
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According to Elizabeth Mehditach, LA-based chef and restauranteur, the target demographic for knife sets isn’t professional chefs or even seasoned home cooks. “Knife sets are very appealing to the newbie,” she said. “It seems like everything is already thought out for you, prepackaged, and ready to go. A no-brainer.” The appeal is there, and while most people might not need eight different knives to choose from, it doesn’t mean the entire product category is a wash.
Most of the time they’re wedding or housewarming gifts for young adults living alone for the first time. They gift consumer confidence to a demographic who isn’t exactly equipped, nor motivated, to learn the subtle differences between German and Japanese knife engineering. But are they really a waste of money?
One great knife, in a busy kitchen, is much more valuable than 14 cheap knives that will dull quickly and may even cause injury. However, that doesn’t mean all knife sets are useless or not worth buying. If the set is simply a bundle of high-quality knives from a great brand, it might be overkill, but the knives won’t underperform to your detriment. According to experts, you don’t want to spend less than $200 on your set, and should probably spend upwards of $350-$500 on a set that’ll last for decades.
What the Experts Say
For this story, Spy spoke to James Beard Award Winning Chef Galen Zamarra, cookbook author and food blogger Anca Toderic, and world-renowned chef Jarad McCarroll to see what knife sets they would recommend to their friends and family and why.
“It is not about the knife set, but rather, the knife in the set,” McCarroll explained. That is why set shoppers need to educate themselves on what each knife is for and techniques for safe use. To be fair, there is a lot to learn before scratching the surface of sharpening and other maintenance. For instance, dishwashers will dull knives and they should be hand-washed, even if they promise to be dishwasher-safe.
The nuances continue from there. According to McCaroll, forged knives are made of a single bar of steel that is typically heated and hammered by a bladesmith or machine, whereas stamped knives tend to be mass-produced from sheets of steel that are stamped out and less labor-intensive to make. Blade hardness also varies, measured on the Rockwell Hardness Scale, but most worth buying hover between 58-62. McCarroll warned, “It’s a rabbit hole!”
Your money is better spent on one high-quality chef’s knife than a set of 15 knives from Amazon that will dull fast, break easily, and may even increase your risk of injury in the kitchen. Here are the sharpest recommendations from the experts SPY tapped.
WÜSTHOF Classis 7-Piece Slim Knife Set with Acacia Block
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When it comes to long-term sharpness and functionality, WÜSTHOF is the gold standard for kitchen knives. Whether it’s on an online forum, or in McCarroll’s kitchen, chefs and serious home cooks, these knives are the epitome of undeniable. “I love WÜSTHOF knives,” he said.
The family-owned company, based out of Solingen, Germany (affectionately dubbed the “City of Blades”) has perfected their proprietary Precision Edge Technology over the last 200 years. Each knife is forged from a single piece of chromium-molybdenum-vanadium steel using computer-operated lasers. This doubles the length of their edge retention so they don’t need to be sharpened as frequently, and the blades have a Hardness score of 58, well equipped to cut through meat, produce, and anything else on the menu.
As much as chefs are quick to call BS on bold claims like that these knives are 20 percent sharper, McCarroll co-signs the sharpness, and sensible purchase overall. “Durable, sharp, and trusty, WÜSTHOF fits these criteria perfectly.”
If the price point of nearly $500 seems high, when one WÜSTHOF 8-inch chef’s knife costs $170 alone, buying these blades in bulk cuts that cost roughly in half. “For the value you are getting, these knives are hard to beat,” McCarroll added.
Shun Cutlery Premier 7-Place Essential Block Set
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Shun knives are relatively new to the Western culinary world, introduced in 2002, though the company that produces the knives, the Kai Group, has also been in business for over 100 years. Similar quality but a very different style than WÜSTHOF, Shun knives are Japanese in origin and comparatively lighter to use.
Shun knives happen to be Toderic’s favorite because they are lightweight, reliably sharp, and look cool. “They’re hand-hammered finished for a unique aesthetic and have a wood handle which I love.”
With 68 layers of Damascus steel, this gives the blade an eye-catching patterned look that sets Shun blades apart from other knives in the kitchen. However, they are not forged, despite being handmade. Likewise, the handles are crafted from walnut-finish Pakkawood and contoured for comfort.
As much as a lighter knife can feel easier to use, with a Rockwell Hardness score of 60 to 61, the harder Shun blade can chip easily with an inexperienced chef. Since the Kai Group’s limited warranty “does not extend to normal signs of wear, rust, damage or breakage due to improper use, improper maintenance, accidents, loss, or theft,” this Shun is for someone with knife skills.
When Shun’s chef’s knife alone is $200, a 7-piece set for around $800 feels worthwhile for very motivated home chefs looking for a high-end brand.
Global 7-Piece Ikasu Knife Block Set
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Global knives represent an accessible middle ground between WÜSTHOF and Shun knives. The Japanese brand, which has been sold in the U.S. since the mid-1980s, is lighter weight and easier on the wrists than German knives, but more budget-friendly than Shun. Although Global knives are crafted by hand, they are not forged, and their stainless steel blades are at a 58 on the Rockwell Hardness scale. This lowers the risk of chipping for novice slicers.
“Global makes great stainless steel knives that are affordable and durable,” Mehditach said. The dimpled, stainless steel handle, offers a distinct feel compared to wooden and plastic handles and provides a good amount of grip while being light on the wrists.”
Mehditach put it simply, “You’ll find Global knives somewhere in a chef’s knife bag.”
Zamarra agreed that “Global is a good brand for the home, professionals use these knives.” And despite their quality, “they are pretty affordable as far as knives go. They look good, have a good balance in the hand, and hold an edge pretty well.”
This set’s storage is more of a bamboo window than a block and allows knife blades to hang out in the open air so they harbor less bacteria. The National Sanitation Foundation identified knife blocks as one of the most contaminated kitchen items, making this a huge pro for Global’s set. However, some customers complained that the bamboo holder falls over more than a traditional block due to the structure and lighter-weight knives.
The Global warranty is also only good for two years, and regarded as less forgiving compared to WÜSTHOF’s coverage. For those who tend to break more than eggs in the kitchen, that variable is worth factoring into consideration.
BEST STARTER KNIFE SET
Victorinox Swiss Classic 3-Piece Chef's Set
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For anyone new to cooking and on a budget who wants to buy more than one lonely blade that needs washing between ingredients, three blades appears to be the magic number. This Victorinox set does not include a bread knife but includes two large chef’s knives capable of cutting bread, along with meat and other ingredients. It also has a paring knife that is exceptionally sharp.
“For certain knives, like a paring knife, I will only use Victorinox,” Zamarra said. The stainless steel, stamped knives score a 56 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale, which means they have a fair amount of flexibility while maintaining durability. And they are as “cheap” as professional chefs will allow for themselves. “Victorinox knives are as cheap as it gets, and they outperform all other brands,” said Zamarra.
Zamarra suggests Victorinox to individuals with limited sharpening skills because they maintain their edge for a long time. “Unless you know how to sharpen a knife yourself on a proper stone, don’t spend big money on a knife,” he said. Again, “any knife is only as good as it is sharp.”
This small set does not include a block, which lowers the cost considerably. And a magnetic hanging bar can offer a sanitary alternative for less than $20, and leave room for a more eclectic knife collection to grow with a person’s skill set. For someone starting on a lower budget, a $40 chef’s knife is a great entry point because Victorinox offers a lifetime warranty, with comparable customer service to pricier brands like WÜSTHOF.
Frequently Asked Questions About Knife Sets
Are knife sets a waste of money?
Owning multiple quality knives has its advantages, but for someone who doesn’t know what to look out for, it’s easy to sink money into cheap knives that won’t last. Since there are rarely any instances where chefs need more than a few knives at a time, culinary professionals regard large sets with 14-plus pieces as a waste of money. But for experienced home cooks who want to spend a little more on forged or hand-crafted European or Japanese knives, buying smaller sets of 7 knives or so is smart because it lowers the price of each blade.
How do I sharpen my knives? And should I?
For McCarrol, having a sharp knife is a non-negotiable. Buying high-quality knives and learning to sharpen them is the best way to do this and avoid throwing away knives, which always feels a little sketchy. He prefers using a Japanese sharpening stone. There are a number of YouTube tutorials that walk consumers through safe sharpening with stones and with honing steel, or they can look for a local knife sharpener, but that comes with additional overhead and the risk that a third party will damage knives.
At the very least, outsourcing sharpening requires additional research, and more time spent when self-sharpening can be enjoyable, McCarrol emphasized. “I love sharpening my knives and find the process soothing and rewarding.”
Why can’t I put my knives in the kitchen?
The high-pressure hot water that conveniently washes dishes comes at a cost, and that cost is that it’s kryptonite to sharp knives. Specifically the high-pressure hot water dulls blades, so even if they claim to be dishwasher safe, this will still wear away their edges much faster than if they were handled carefully. “Always better to be washed by hand,” McCarroll stressed.
Just wash the damn knives, and clean the block too.
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