How To Choose A Knife Set

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Knife sets are indispensable tools for chefs and casual cookers alike. We've compiled a list of what makes a good kitchen set and some of our favorites.

kitchen knife
Image courtesy of Daniel Warshaw

The most skilled chefs will tell you that all they need is a dependable—and pricey—chef’s knife for all of their kitchen tasks. For the rest of us, however, the many things we’d want to do in our home kitchens, like butchering meat, slicing bread and chopping vegetables, would go much faster with the specialized blades that you’d get in a knife set.

If you’ve never owned one before, it may be intimidating trying to sort through all of the different series, features, and combinations in a kitchen knife catalog. How many knives does an average home kitchen actually need? Do you really want a special knife for every little job that you might find yourself doing? And are the extras, like Teflon-coated blades, worth considering?

To help you answer those questions, we’ve thought up some important things to think about when you shop around for your next knife set. Also included are some suggestions for great all-around knife sets that would work for any kitchen.

How much do you really cook?

Some of us can be happy with making a big casserole once a week that’ll last us through all of our work lunches, while others can’t live without making meals from scratch every night. How often you cook matters when it comes to edge retention: the less you do it, the less important it is to have a blade that can withstand heavy use.

What do you cook?

A lot of knife sets come with specialized knives that may or may not be useful, depending on what you actually do in the kitchen. You’ll want to evaluate whether you really bake a lot of bread before you buy that serrated bread knife, for example. A boning knife might look cool, but if you’re not breaking down any whole carcasses any time soon, you might not need one. You know what they say: one man’s fillet knife is another man’s paperweight.

Are you obsessive about cleaning your knives?

If not, you may want to consider Teflon- or resin-coated blades, which keep food from sticking and minimize the scrubbing you’ll have to do later. Professional cooks tend to wipe their blades down hundreds of times a night, and if that sounds great to you, just plain stainless steel will probably do you right. Damascus steel blades are also a great option for users who love giving their knives that extra TLC.

Our Favorite Knife Sets

Still need some more guidance on your knife-buying quest? The following are our suggestions for the best options for every kind of user.

Ontario Knife Company 705 Old Hickory 5 Piece Cutlery Set

old hickory knife set

Our favorite bachelor blades by Old Hickory are easy to use, easy to maintain, and are perfect for cooks with a few rough edges to them. Forged from carbon steel that is fully heat-treated and tempered, these blades are hardy as all-get-out.

This set includes two paring knives, a butcher's knife, a boning knife and a slicing knife, which makes it ideal for the hunter or meat lover. The hardwood handles, a calling card of the Old Hickory brand, would fit in perfectly in any country kitchen. Their all-American design and production means that you're getting some real, old-fashioned quality assurance.

Tekut Kitchen Dao 7 Pc. Premium Ceramic Knife Set

tekut ceramic knife set

There's a lot of back-and-forth within the culinary knife world when it comes to ceramic knives, but the bottom line is that ceramic knives are perfect for the home cook who doesn't do much heavy cooking. These knives should only be used on non-frozen boneless meats, vegetables, cheeses and fruits. If that sounds like the kind of stuff that you usually work with, this might be the set for you.

The beauty of ceramic knives is that they need minimal sharpening: their edges are insanely durable and sharp, and will last years in the hands of the average home cook. These knives by Tekut are also bolstered by the use of advanced Zirconium ceramic in the blades, which gives them a huge upgrade in the toughness department. This set includes a peeler, a paring knife, a utility knife, a santoku knife and three non-slip protective covers.

Whetstone 2 Piece Kitchen Knife Set - Paring and Santoku

whetstone knife set

There are a few features that make this colorful knife set from Whetstone a great gift for a couple or college student who's just starting out. Each of the blades is distinguished by a colorful non-stick coating that makes cleanup a snap. Their rust-resistance and lightweight design make them perfect for beginners who aren't quite ready to break down a whole hog just yet; they'll take care of the basics just fine.

This set includes a paring knife and santoku knife.

Chicago Cutlery Metropolitan 15-Piece Knife Block Set

chicago cutlery knife set

Chicago Cutlery is the stalwart kitchen knife brand that has been the favorite of many American households for decades. You've probably seen a block of these knives at more than a few relatives' houses, and for good reason. These are great, all-around knives that have a timeless look and awesome durability. Black really does go with everything, so this set would be at home anywhere, from the turquoise'd-out New Mexican kitchen to the Minnesotan Midwest-chic cabin.

This set comes with every stainless steel knife you need to pull off some great meals: two paring knives, a 4.75" Partoku knife, a 5.5" utility knife, a 7" Santoku knife, a 9" scalloped slicer, an 8" sharpening steel, kitchen shears, and six 4.5" steak knives.

Mercer 6-Piece Genesis Collection Knife Block Set

mercer knife set

Is your kitchen ready for a serious upgrade? Then you should definitely consider Mercer's 6-piece knife set from their Genesis Collection. These beautiful high carbon stainless steel knives are pro-level, with superior edges that will only need the most cursory sharpening once in a blue moon. Plus, these knives look great in their polished steel and tempered glass holder, which displays the blades in all their naked glory.

All of these features and more make this set the perfect gift for an ambitious home cook. The set includes one 3.5" paring knife, one 5" utility knife, one 8" chef's knife, one 8" bread knife, and a 6" boning knife. Drooling yet?