The best kitchen knife set - tested & rated
We handpicked 13 of the best-selling kitchen knife sets to see how established brands like Wüsthof and Shun compare to lesser-known brands. We put them to the test to assess performance and quality - but we also wanted to find out where the value lies. Read the full review to see the winners and losers. As a bonus, we've gathered our favorite knife collections to create the ultimate a la carte set.
Choosing the best set of knives for your kitchen can be a tricky task. You can save time and money by simply buying a pre-made set of knives. The potential downside to this is that you may end up with a cheap set of knives that are used as decoration rather than for cutting.
Your knives are the backbone of your kitchen, and they deserve careful consideration, especially since a good knife should essentially last forever. A good knife is more comfortable, better to use, and safer ------ It's easy to forget you have a potentially dangerous knife in your hand when you use it every day, but a well-maintained knife helps keep the blood off your fingers. It's easier to count the number of recipes in your library that don't start with you picking up a knife than those that do.
My background is that of a kitchen professional, restaurateur, and a passionate home cook since childhood. I have decades of experience working in the industry, with time in both the front and back of the house. This has given me the opportunity to work with some very talented chefs and spend many years in my own kitchen working hands on. As a result, I've had the opportunity to tap into some professional input when it comes to longevity and knife characteristics. This also brings up certain biases in testing knives. When you have a 25-pound bag of onions to chop, it makes a big difference to see how well a knife performs compared to preparing a dinner for four people. Hopefully, after doing both of these things, you'll have an idea of how well you can perform in the culinary realm.
How we tested
We evaluated all of the knives in each set, but the mainstay of any set was the chef's blade. Out of the box, we rated the first look; aesthetics, grip, feel and weight. These latter three areas, as well as blade, spine, bend and grip texture were all part of a deeper calculation.
Chopping onions is so ubiquitous in the kitchen that most professionals barely get through the onion fumes. In addition to chopping onions, we also cut carrots because the taper of the carrot allows you to move it closer to your hand as you cut. Getting this better leverage is a good way to judge the balance and edge of the blade.
We cut the whole chicken into slices. Breaking down the chicken involves slicing the skin - not as easy as you might think - slicing the meat, and slicing through the lighter bones. To test the boning knife, we removed the meat from the divided breast.
Finally, we sliced off some pumpkin and squash for the "hard" cut test. To see how they held up, we sliced the onion thinly and wrapped it up.
How we rated the set
All scoring was done on a five-point scale, with each set having a final scoring number. After the overall rating, we also rated the chef's knife only, the knife block only, and everything else in the box as a whole. Value is always a factor in our evaluation. In my personal set, some of these knife brands have been in use for decades, which also contributes to the value assessment of upfront cost versus longevity. As a rule, the score primarily reflects the money spent. In most cases, the higher the price, the higher the score, but not in every case.
Professional opinion: We do not evaluate rust and staining. These are the tools of our trade, regardless of cost, and you always hand wash and dry your knives, even if they say dishwasher safe. With proper handling and storage, rust is not an issue.
2021 Best Kitchen Knife Sets
1. Dalstrong Gladiator Series (18-Piece Knife Set) -- BEST OVERALL.
When you pick up one of these knives, you'll notice the weight and balance. With a solid shaft, spine and tail, they may be too heavy for some people. Add to the weight their carefully sharpened blades and it's easier to push through everything we throw at it when cutting. Even for delicate work, test the edge of the chef's blade after chicken and squash and you can peel paper-thin slices of onion. Dalstrong advertises a blade of about 16 degrees, which is a good combination of sharpness that is not too steep, which thins the blade and requires more sharpening.
This set is a great choice that covers almost all the basic styles and does have a fairly sharp looking block. This is the most versatile of the sets we reviewed. The Asian style blades are really cool, the Nakiri blade is a medium weight kitchen knife, and with the extended length of the Kiritsuke knife you really have options available. the 9" bread knife and slicer are long enough to offer more versatility, and the indentations on the slicer make it a dream to cut grilled meats. As a brand I was unfamiliar with when we started testing, I could see adding some of their products to my kitchen.
2. Mercer Cooking Genesis (6-piece set) - Best Value.
These are the stalwarts of the industry and you'll find their basic models in many kitchens. Running a restaurant makes you very frugal, and Mercer's basic models are durable enough to stand up to lazy cooks who throw them in the dishwasher, then hold their blades with stamina to provide long-lasting value. The "Cooking" series is only slightly more expensive than the basic model, and certainly looks better in this class. The handles are comfortable, with a soft grip that performs well in wet and most working conditions. Speaking of looks, the glass block is a nice touch to your countertop.
The blade shape is traditional, nothing fancy, they just get the job done. The heavy spine and forged blade holder make them durable. The boning knife has good flex and the paring knife has an even taper that provides good function. If you want to be picky, adding serrations to a utility knife will make it more versatile, and a longer bread knife is handy for many breads. But you almost have to look for the downside, and you'll forget all about it when you get these blades.
3. Emojoy Knife Set (18 pieces) -- BUDGET BUY
I may have laughed when I saw "professional" in the name. When I opened the box, I stopped laughing. All of the knives are forged, with sticks, full handles and tails, even the steak knives, and at this price point ...... There must be something wrong. Can't find anything wrong with them. Sure, there are a few knives that aren't needed, and we're sure I prefer the longer slicing and bread knives. But, these knives work well. The slicer did a great job on the pork loin, and the boning knife was impressive for the size and curvature of the shape.
Looking at many sets, it is clear that there are two ways to handle the handles. Keep them similar in size throughout the set, or have them reduced in size commensurate with the blade. While we didn't score in this area, Emojoy did a good job of matching the handle size to the blade. Well, these shears are just average. In a great value set of knives, that's pretty deep into finding flaws. Obviously, we can't say what they will look like in 5, 10 or 20 years, but they were very good to begin with. For these reasons, this is our choice for an inexpensive set or the best set gift.
4. Wüsthof Classic w/ Walnut Knife Block (8-Piece)
When all is said and done, these knives are tied for second place. They took first place not because it was the most expensive set, but because my 30 year old Wüsthof chef's knife still holds up to new knives. They have tradition and history and are a completely timeless knife product. During this test, I realized that I tend to favor the traditional handle shape with a bulge in the middle and a tip at the end. All the handles are of this shape and their size is adapted to the length of the blades. This set of scissors has 5 blades, which is a good choice. Our favorite scissors, which are split scissors, have metal teeth in the grip section and are weighted for cutting small bones.
The beauty of the engineering of these knives is that they hold their edges well, and our tests confirm this. If you trim them between uses, you can do so for years before they go to a professional sharpener. The next most striking feature is the balance. For quick chopping, their chef's knives are the equivalent of anything on the market. This set of knives has a nice knife holder and extra slots as you can expand the holder to the blade you need.
5. Zwilling J.A. Henckels Professional S Set (7-Piece)
In the early days, Henckels were the holy grail of restaurant chefs, only the most established chefs and the best chefs were featured in their knife rolls, and you were never allowed to touch them without permission.Zwilling, German for twin, has been their trademark for nearly 300 years, so they know their business.
For the high end, these knives are a workhorse in the kitchen. 15 degree bevels, full mortises and riveted handles provide functionality and the longevity of high carbon steel.
If blindfolded, you are unlikely to notice the difference between these blades and Wüsthof blades. Frankly, this combo is an entry level set of 4 blades. They're all good, but you'll need more than one type for most needs, and the knife block provides the slots to place them. Their 3-inch paring knife is particularly flexible and fun to use. It can be used to debone some chicken, but it's also ideal for peeling apples or peeling vegetables.
Hint: Twins denote the American-made series, while singles denote knives made in China.
6. Shun Cutlery Classic Starter Knife Set (5-Piece)
These are probably the best looking knives in the test set, with continuity of style through the 3 knives in the set. In addition to being beautiful, Japanese blades can command some very high prices. The carbon content and metallurgy is actually the biggest expense. The end result is very resilient blades that are lighter and more flexible than their western counterparts. These knives hold their edge, and if needed, Shun will sharpen them for you for as long as you own them.
In all cutting tests, these knives performed very well. In the random test, they were chosen by us to cut pineapples. The knife performed very well, with a slim profile and excellent blade that removed the fibrous skin and cut through the fruit in no time at all. The handle is the only downside to these knives. the "D" shaped handle means they are not dexterous. Combined with the fact that there is almost no taper, they don't work well for the hours of knife work you do and hand fatigue becomes a factor. They will make the actual working part easier because they are lighter in weight, have speed and maneuverability.
7. Calphalon Contemporary Knife Block Set (20 pieces)
I'm a big fan of Calphalon cookware, so I was excited to try out their knives. Don't let the middle ranking scare you off, it says more about the competition than the quality of this set of knives. The knife block says self-sharpening, even though the ceramic used in the block is usually a sharpening step in most sharpeners. It ends up being perfect every time you draw your knife. These knives have great weight, balance and style. The stamped tabs on the end caps in particular are very nice to touch. The shape of the grip also provides a nice rumble to hold on to.
This is a complete set for almost all your needs, including a nice set of steak knives. The steak knives and shears are the lightest weight part of the set, not quite the same quality as the "real" knives. Two Santoku knives may not be necessary, and longer slicing knives would be better. But these are functional knives that hold their edge well, and the built-in sharpener enhances them.
8. Chicago Knife Company Fusion Knife Set (12-piece set)
This is a good-looking set from a well-established company that has grown to cover a variety of price ranges. A stylish knife holder with side slots for kitchen knives comes with steak knives to match the set's design. The steak knives also have a straight edge, which means they can be easily sharpened. Like some others, it would have been nice to have longer slicing knives. The bread knife is of average length and has good serrations, and the paring knife works well. The utility knife is a bit small and homey, but does a good job at replacing the boning knife for chicken. The tapered grip is good for small hands and they have a nice rubbery texture.
The gray area of this knife set is in the construction. The handle of the knife is nice, grips well when needed, and feels solid. Disappearing in the rubber grip, it is impossible to discern the weight and strength of the handle that extends to the end cap. Hopefully it is strong enough to hold up over time. They are listed as having a 26 degree tapered blade, which means they have no bevel per se, and the tapered blade starts higher up and goes all the way to the edge. But you will most likely end up with a bevel because that is how home sharpeners work. This gives this set of knives a good life expectancy, but there may be some changes over time.
9. Victrola Rosewood Knife Set (7-piece set)
I wanted to like this set so much that I've passed on my decades-old blades of this brand and still use them. It's a perfect set of blades in great sizes like a 10" slicing knife and a 3.25" paring knife. Their boning knives are a classic design, sharpened all the way down to the tip of the blade. Even though the spine is not the heaviest in our group, the chef's knives perform well and all of them hold a good edge.
The only issue was the handle. Out of the box, the rosewood had a typical aroma of stained wood in an enclosed space, not a long term problem. Compared to the carving process found in contemporary knives, these handles seem square and bulky, even for a fairly large hand like mine. Admittedly, the use of composite materials and end caps makes balancing easier to achieve, so more wood is needed to get the correct equivalent balance. As a rule of thumb, rosewood will age well and require minimal attention to keep it looking good, as will the blade, but for heavy daily use, the handle becomes an issue.
10. Cuisinart C77TR-15P Triple Rivet Series (15 pieces) -- Just Right
This set scored the same as Emojoy, but they ranked higher due to the larger variety of blades. The set does include a decent slicing knife and bread knife, both in classic shapes, especially the bread knife which has a slight curve in its length. Interestingly, the steak knives are not serrated, which your guests may not be used to, but that means you can sharpen them. They also don't feel as sturdy as kitchen knives.
The chef's knife is moderately heavy and has a good grip. The blade shape is a bit chubby and has more curves than many blades. Not bad, but very unique. The blade was good out of the box and stayed sharp throughout the test. This is true of all the blades we have used. Again, no boning knife, utility knife was OK, but the sharp little paring knife pulled the chicken breasts off the bone very well. Not sure if this set of knives will last for decades, but it is a great starter or second set of knives for home cooking.
11. Cuisinart C77SS-13P Graphix Collection Block Set (13-Piece) -- Just Alright
Hollow-handled knives have always seemed cheap and potentially problematic. Coupled with the fact that Cuisinart is moving in and out of the value segment, this is another surprise in the group. The grip is nicely textured, looks great, and balances well with the blade. You can hold the knife very well when making hard cuts, as opposed to the smooth hollow handle. The steak knives are interesting in that their handles are slightly thicker, but still plain flat-bottomed cutlery rather than "real" knife handles, and they perform well.
With only four kitchen knives, the set did not perform well in terms of assortment, made less desirable by the knives chosen. There was no slicer, only a 5.5-inch serrated utility knife, and the mediocre black-handled shears looked out of place. However, their Santoku knife displayed well, being tall enough to cut nicely against your guiding hand, and it held its edge as well as the other knives. This set ends up being a good-looking set in a nice box with more form than function and some unrealized potential.
12. AmazonBasics Premium Set (18 pieces) -- not so good.
AmazonBasics has done a good job of building a brand known for quality and value, so there were good expectations for this set. They were only partially met. Right from the start, the chef's knife has a nice feel to it, with a firm grip and a sharp edge. the Santoku is also a nice size and shape of blade. The slicer was dull out of the box, really dull. A dragging sharpener couldn't give it an edge either. It was nice to see the boning knife, it has a good edge, slightly longer blade and is very stiff. It has a handle almost as big as a chef's knife, making it a bit awkward to handle. The bread knife is scalloped rather than serrated, which makes it less effective at cutting crusty bread.
Peripherally, the steak knife is quite good, with a good weight, all-steel, and can be used by eight people. The scissors can be taken apart for cleaning, have a shallow recess to hold bones for cutting, and a metal grip. The cutting board is also unique. It's generally a good idea to store the knives on their sides rather than putting the blades on the bottom to take the weight. All the slots, including the steak knife, are on the side; a nice touch. This set, with forged knife stems and full knife holders throughout, has a lot of things going in the right direction, just a little lacking in some of the execution.
13. Family Hero Kitchen Knives & Holders (7 pieces) - not so good.
This set seems to be an easy target to dislike. Pleasantly, it's better than expected, especially when you remember the value aspect. Yes, these knives are light, the handles are composite, and the cuts are unlikely to be more than a few inches deep. Because all of the blades have a sharpened section at the bottom, they won't have the staying power of a good knife. But all of these knives have a nice edge out of the box, and the included sharpener will help them stay that way. This is also a smart blade combo with a surprisingly good slicer and bread knife. Even the acrylic holder is cool.
They say they have a Teflon coating. Whether it might just be paint or not, it's unlikely to stay on the blade in the long run. When cutting carrots, the chef's blade made pieces of carrot because it didn't have enough weight to cut cleanly. But it was effective and did well on onions and chicken, and even forced its way through butternut squash. The utility knife deboned the chicken breasts and the bread knife didn't cut the bread. A college student I know bought the deluxe set with the vegetable peeler, pizza cutter, etc. It should serve the needs of these years well. In this case, it's a pretty good entry level set, and for the low price point, it's certainly worth every penny.
Knife Set Buyer's Guide
You want good knives. Don't have enough information? Good. In addition to the overall quality of the knives, go through the list of knives in the set and mark each knife as something you use all the time, something you might use occasionally, or something you basically won't take out of the holder. The more things in the last two categories, the less practical the knife set will be.
Key question: Does it fit on your countertop? Some knife holders are angled at 45° so that you can pull a knife out from under a wall cabinet. Others are vertical to save space, but need enough vertical space to pull out a 13" knife (including the handle).
You may not become a cookware junkie with four chef's knives like I am, but everyone eventually expands their knife collection. I like to see a knife block that has room for more knives than just the ones in the set. It gives you room to grow over time.
Types of Knives in Knife Sets
There are dozens of knife styles in the world. Here, we are looking primarily at knives that are common in American homes in the European tradition.
A chef's knife is your number one workhorse knife and can be used for almost anything. An 8-inch blade is normal for home cooks, though chef's knives come in a wide range of sizes and can reach comically huge. The main feature of a chef's knife is the slight curvature of the blade, which allows for continuous rocking and easy chopping. Your chef's knife should have some weight to it so that it can do its job while chopping, but look for a good balance to keep the weight under control.
A chef's knife is a big knife used for big things; a paring knife is a small knife used for small things. A paring knife usually has a 3-4 inch blade and is used for fine work such as peeling and shaping vegetables. It has a thin and light blade compared to a chef's knife.
Assuming you keep your regular knives sharp, there are few things that require a serrated knife, but slicing bread with a serrated knife is much better. The serrated teeth grab the crusty bread and saw a clean cut. The soft interior is sliced continuously by the small serrated blade, rather than being pulled apart by a smooth knife. Bread knives come in several different blade shapes - toothed or scalloped. I prefer the toothed shape.
This knife is not important for vegetarians, but a boning knife is a great tool to help you prepare meat. A boning knife is usually about 6 inches long, very thin, and has a very sharp point. The goal is to separate the meat from the bones and connective tissue, and you want a thin, sharp blade to take all the meat off of anything. I prefer a straight knife with some flexibility, but there are also curved knives, hard knives, or both.
In the kitchen, a utility knife is a knife that is somewhere between a chef's knife and a paring knife, and usually looks like a cross between them. In theory, they're good for medium-sized jobs, but your chef's knife and paring knife can handle almost anything with a little practice. Unfortunately, many of these knives look like they were put in to increase the size of the knife set, and the quality is often not as good as it could be.
As I said at the beginning of this post, we are looking at European style knives, but the Americanized version of the santoku is common enough to be an exception. The Santoku is a general-purpose Japanese knife that serves a similar purpose as a chef's knife, a versatile chopping and slicing knife. The edge is flat (or very slightly curved) so you use different cutting motions, and the tip of the knife is more rounded. American santokus usually use the same handle as other European-style knives. So, why did santokus become popular? My guess is that this is your best way to get an extremely high quality 6 inch knife. If you don't like the size of chef's knives, the santoku may become your knife of choice.
The slicer is a long, thin knife that cuts perfect slices in one stroke. When I have a roast, I pull mine out because it cuts perfectly thin slices. I also pick it up when I want to slice a cake into layers because it's long enough to slice the whole thing at once. A good slicing knife isn't essential, but it's very useful to have out from time to time.
Not a knife, but often found in your knife rack
Heavy-duty scissors are useful in the kitchen for more than just opening packages and cutting twine. A good pair of kitchen shears can get through chicken bones with ease and accuracy. They also do an amazing job of cutting through pizza. When you have a weird job in the kitchen and it's hard to hold up food with something, get the shears out because they cut by themselves and not by the cutting board.
A carving fork is a fork with two long ends that is used to stabilize roasted meat while carving. You can use a regular fork, but by driving the fork's tines deeper into the meat, you get a better grip and can more easily reposition the sharpened fork. A carving fork also keeps your hand further away from the blade of the cutting knife. It also looks cooler when carving at the table.
For safety and comfort, you need to keep your knives sharp, but honing steel is not the case. In between sharpening, honing steel realigns the edge of your knife to keep you sharp.
You need a place to put your knives, and a knife holder is far better than a drawer. The edges of your knives won't get knocked around, which will keep them sharper for longer. Other things in the drawer, including your fingers, will also be safer without touching the knife's edge. Finally, knife holders allow you to keep your knives on the counter so it's easy to grab the right one.
Building the Best Custom Knife Set
Now it's time to add some steel to your kitchen. Whether that means you're starting from scratch or moving on from your previous knives, change is about to happen. Maybe you know someone who is transitioning, graduating, or getting married. Are you buying a set or building a collection with a purpose?
Buying a set gives continuity to your chosen brand; edge quality, feel, durability, etc. If the grips work for you, they will likely be useful throughout the set. However, as we've seen, some sets bring a lot of clutter with knives that you won't use. When you use different shaped blades, you'll usually hold the knife differently, so variation is also a plus.
Building your own set gives you the versatility that will be helpful to your kitchen technician. The knives chosen will suit their respective purposes. It also allows for transitions, such as upgrading what you use most over time, without having to worry about everything matching.
The economic reality is that we may not be able to spend what we want for this project. If you can, we have a premium lineup that will serve you for decades. We will also have an economical lineup of knives that you can easily own for decades with a little attention. For more information on what makes a good knife, see our knife buying guide.
See how you plan to use your knives and consider upgrading your most popular blade choices. For most of us, this is the chef's knife, with the paring knife coming in second. Over time, you can take the other options to a higher level.
Our DIY collection will be chef's knives, paring knives, bread knives and boning knives. Due to their growing popularity, we will also present a Santoku recommendation in each category.
Premium A La Carte Knife Set
ZWILLING Professional "S" The chef's knife is the most important knife in your kitchen. Without a doubt, this knife deserves the title of a classic and is one of our favorite brands. It meets all the manufacturing quality requirements and is known for the sturdy spine on the blade, this knife will become the backbone of your collection.
DALSTRONG Gladiator Series. This knife is just a little heavier and a little wider than many paring knives, with an excellent grip. From slicing apples for lunch to making strawberry vermicelli, this knife will do an excellent job.
Wusthof CLASSIC. At 10 inches long, this knife will cut large round loaves or crusty baguettes with equal ease. Even bagels and smaller items can be easily cut the way you want them.
Zwilling J.A. Henckels Professional S Flexible. Your boning knife is most likely to get wet during use, including the grip. Therefore, the polymer grip of this knife will resist the sap that will eventually damage real wood. Add to that the curvature of the blade and the solid long handle that keeps your grip intact, and this knife will serve you well.
Shun Cutlery Premier. This is a particularly useful piece of art that may be passed down to your children. Shun also uses a slightly more ergonomic grip in this series than the extremely traditional tapered barrel of many blades.
Economical Order Knife Set
Mercer Culinary. It's amazing how these guys can pull off a knife in this price range, not to mention with durability that stands up to the test of a commercial kitchen. Starting with good steel, a heavy blade and an NSF rating, the handle is designed to provide a comfortable grip. With that kind of money, you can buy a knife sharpener.
Victorinox Swiss Army Cutlery. Lightweight, easy to grip, and holds its edge, this knife offers everything you want in a paring knife.
Winco KWP-121N. Again, great metallurgy and a great price. This brand is still migrating from the back of the commercial house to the public spotlight, based on durability and great value.
Mercer Culinary Millennia. The grip is made of two materials that are both waterproof and durable, and feels solid in your hand. Straight knives are very common, but they also make curved knives if you prefer, and their quality is also very good.
Henckels Statement Hollow Edge. This is not a name to expect on a value list, this is a more than decent knife. The blade is a bit light, which works for this knife and gives a nice balance and feel. Another affordable option is to look at the ceramic Santoku knives we tested and reviewed.
Note: This Henckels knife is made in China.
Knife Blocks& Storage
Now that you've got them, where are you going to put them?
For a classic countertop block, the Henckels 20-Slot Super Knife Storage Block is great all-around and value. The slots are oversized and lateral to reduce wear on the edges. They also provide room for everything from steel to shear.
The Mantello block is a universal block with a bundle of plastic rods in an open box, and they come in a variety of sizes and products. You put the knives where you want them and the friction of the rods holds them in place. This is easy to reconfigure if you want to change your collection, and it's easy to clean.
If counter space is limited, there are drawer storage options. The Bellemain Drawer/Block Organizer works well for both 5 long blades and 6 short blades. At just over 5 inches wide, you can easily put them side-by-side.
For drawers and travel, our friends at Mercer make a complete line of knife sheaths that are sturdy and reasonably priced, such as their Mercer Cooking Knife Sheath, 8" x 1.5". You'll see professional chefs putting their knives in rolls, and Shun Knife Roll, 8 Slot is a great value for a premium brand. If you're going to be traveling extensively, even if the knives are in many rolls or cases, a guard is recommended.
These four knives plus the knife block are your basic set, but here are some additional knives worth adding
Kitchen shears are precise and powerful when it comes to cutting bones, such as when cutting chicken. The Messermeister 8.5" does this and many other small jobs well, and is easy to clean.
This is not a knife, but it is often included with knife sets. Steel is not a substitute for sharpening your knife, but it can be used to dress your blade between sharpenings. Henckels 9″ has enough length at a reasonable price to make it worthwhile.
I might pull out this knife a half dozen times a year, but it's terrific for sliding over roasts or separating cake layers. The Victorinox 12" is definitely an extra, but very nice. Note: It doesn't fit anywhere. Get a knife guard that fits it before you get a cut from it.