The Best Flatware

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Choosing a set of flatware that not only looks appealing, but that also feels “right” in your hand—balanced, properly weighted—is a complex issue. And highly personal. But picking up a poorly designed fork or knife is like receiving a bad handshake—it causes an almost visceral negative reaction. Great flatware not only needs to be pleasant to use, but in a style that will be viable for decades and made of sturdy enough material to withstand daily use and washing. We spent more than 80 hours over the course of six months researching flatware, including looking at hundreds of sets and directly testing 23, judging them based on their visual appeal, how they felt in the hand and mouth, and their materials. We also gave a lot of people of varying ages, income levels, and design savvy a chance to weigh in.

Last Updated: February 24, 2016
You can now get individual items from our inexpensive mid-century modern pick from Muji online.
Expand Most Recent Updates
January 29, 2016: We have discovered that the Crate and Barrel Dune set we had recommended is no longer made with 18/10 stainless steel. We have moved it to the Competition section as we investigate how the change has affected the quality of the set.

Based on our research, it appears that this is the first proper review that includes extensive testing of a range of sets. Most articles we looked at on “great flatware” are basically shopping stories (that is, someone has picked a bunch of their favorites based on looks, but possibly never picked them up and certainly never ate with them). We did look at this information to see which sets showed up repeatedly, but we also wanted to provide a thorough and authoritative take on what makes a great set of flatware by conducting our own tests.

Our usual aim at The Sweethome is to suss out the absolute best choice for most people. But because choosing great flatware is such a personal decision, we have instead narrowed it down to 11 sets of varying styles that ranked highest in our tests. If one of the featured sets doesn’t suit you, it’s worth looking at the Competition section, which covers the other flatware we tried—most of which is also very high quality.

For an in-depth discussion of what makes a set of flatware great, see the How we picked what to test section.

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

silverware testing

Our testers first judged the sets visually, then by holding them.

We sifted through hundreds of sets, looking closely at those with high user ratings and that were discussed frequently in style blogs. Using a set of criteria including quality of materials and a range of styles, we narrowed the field down to 23 sets to thoroughly test in person.

In addition to personally taking home each set and eating with it, we put the sets we called in on display for Sweethome and Wirecutter staff members to look at and handle, collecting their votes for their favorite sets. We also held a dinner party for a group of design experts, serving each a multi-course meal, which each participant ate with their three top picks. Our panel included:

flatware expert panel

Our expert panel of dinner guests, from left to right: Nikki Chung, Alexandra Lange, Stephen Treffinger (the author), Michael Cannell, and Eddie Ross.

I also consulted “tastemakers” and other experts whose job it is to sift through the many flatware offerings and pick out (primarily based on style) those that are the most relevant and appealing. I spoke with Alexandra Lange about her search for the perfect fork and Nicola Twilley, host of Gastropod, a podcast about food and eating. (The first episode was about the history of flatware.) I also interviewed Paolo Cravedi, the design director of Alessi USA, about that company’s flatware.

I am something of a test drive fanatic, having done them for a range of publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Domino, Real Simple, and others. One boss called me “the product whisperer” for my bloodhound-like ability to sniff out just the right product from a large field. In my own life, I have undertaken the quest for a perfect, affordable set of cutlery.

What great flatware costs

A five-piece flatware setting can cost anywhere from a couple of dollars to hundreds or even thousands. After looking at hundreds of sets, we noticed a sweet spot of around $40 for a five-piece setting (meaning salad and dinner fork, knife, and soup and dessert spoon). Of course, you could spend a lot less—we found one great 20-piece set for $8—but typically, really cheap sets will be made with lower-quality materials. On our staff questionnaire, we asked how much people thought a great setting of flatware should cost, and around $40 was the most popular answer.

Our picks

Our recommended sets were either the most popular with our testers (who veered toward a modern aesthetic) or the most highly rated sets in different styles such as traditional or classic. We found testers varied substantially on what they liked, which makes sense given that choosing flatware is a decision based on personal style.

Simple & elegant

Aston Flatware Place Setting
Our most traditionally shaped pick features simple detailing without becoming too ornate. It’s a great choice if your taste veers toward classic European decor and antique-inspired table settings.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $50.

Why it’s great: When looking for a set that could work with the slightly more formal and elegant lines of traditional tableware and decor, we were frequently put off by an excess of curviness and/or ornamentation. Sets seemed to be trying too hard to be fancy and ended up being fussy instead. This set offers a more traditional outline with only the simplest of detailing—here, a graceful indent that traces the line of the handles. It is shinier than sets like Chelsea, but not mirror-polished like the Knifeforkspoon set, reining in the modernity. The handle shape makes it traditional without going for “ye olde.”

flatware aston

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Some testers didn’t like the ridge because it seemed too ornate, and some thought the set too traditional. But overall, we think that both of these aspects give it just the right character.

What testers said: Design critic Alexandra Lange noted that although she doesn’t typically like traditional, “this set looks good and the decoration is low key. The knife is perfect.” A staffer said, “I really like the weight. It feels like it would be very comfortable to eat with.” Another said, “It’s my favorite to hold—substantial and bold.” We liked its perfect proportions and long tines, which we think feel better in the mouth than shorter ones–Aero and IKEA Förnuft, for example. Its soup spoon was one of the most pleasant to eat with, with a curved top edge that makes it extremely comfortable to use.

Set specs: 18/10 stainless steel. Available in individual five-piece settings or a 20-piece set.

Timeless

Reed & Barton Pomfret
This set has a traditional shape but with cleaner lines than you’d find on more ornate sets. The fork and spoon handle shapes also make for easier eating than those with wider, less arched handles.

Why it’s great: We like the way this set incorporates classical flared handles and traditionally-shaped fork, knife, and soup heads but adds a few twists, including particularly thin “shoulders” at the juncture of handle and head and a high arch in the handle, which make for particularly good angles when putting pieces in your mouth. Flatter sets such as the Knifeforkspoon or the Aero didn’t feel quite so effective. The long fork tines and perfectly-shaped bowls are also comfortable. The spoons have a not-too-pointed, not-too-round middle that feels better in the mouth than a larger, full-on round, such as Aero or Chelsea. It has a slightly warm color that’s just off-silver, which is distinctive and more versatile than a high-polish finish.

flatware reed and barton pomfret

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Some testers didn’t like the way the knife is a completely different thickness than the other pieces (while others did!). The very skinny section of the handles appealed to most, but others thought they looked funny.

What testers said: Design critic Alexandra Lange liked the classic feel and “nice weight, heavier knife handle set off from the blade—and the color makes it a bit different.” A staffer said it’s “substantial, functional, and elegant.”

Set specs: 18/10 stainless steel. Available through Amazon as one five-piece setting or a 20-piece set.

Artisanal

Crate and Barrel Aero
More delicate and sculptural than other sets we tried, these pieces may appeal to those who like mid-century modern design or who want an ultra sleek table setting.

Why it’s great: This set is sleeker and more delicate than our other picks, and it also has some serious “wow factor” with its slender handles and exaggerated fork heads and spoon bowls. It was, by far, our most polarizing set, primarily because of its unusual looks and its light weight (it was the lightest set we tested). While it ended up getting the most votes in the top three choices of our staff testers and experts (in both the visual and touch categories), we almost didn’t call it in at first. In initial discussions, its spindly handles and oversized spoon bowls seemed too exaggerated. (And many of our testers—including me—concurred). But when we saw how popular it was, and how people really seem to like such thin handles on other sets as well, we included it. It’s certainly striking and definitely doesn’t look like anything else. It is extremely light and thin, which some testers appreciate. The fork and spoon heads are unusual but effective.

flatware crate barrel aero

Flaws but not dealbreakers: It is very bold and not for everyone’s taste. If you like more heft, choose a heavier set such as Aston, Pomfret, or Dune.

What experts said: Author Michael Cannell said it looked like “a two-toned tool for eating while watching Mad Men. A scaled-down, mid-century modern verve. A pleasingly light baton for eating—flatware for carefully considered cuisine.” Graphic designer Nikki Chung called the handles “delicate, warm, and lovely. Love the form of the knife head and the circular bowl of the spoons. The craftsmanship is fabulous!” Eddie Ross loved the proportions of the tines and bowls in comparison to the handles. “The lines and mix of materials are very sleek. I like the way the handles feel in the hand.”

Set specs: 8/10 stainless steel, Acetal polymer (resin) handles. Available through Crate and Barrel as individual five-piece settings or a 20-piece set. The set is made by the Portuguese company Cutipol (and available under the name Goa in other colors and metal finishes through their site).

Architectural

Alessi/Jasper Morrison Knifeforkspoon
The futuristic silhouette and high polish of Knifeforkspoon make this setting more unusual and stringently minimalist than others we tried. But it’s still very comfortable to hold and eat with.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $60.

Why it’s great: The mirror-polished finish and squared-off handles and spoon bowls give this set a more aggressively modern feeling than our others. It has a Pan Am or TWA kind of “the flatware of the future” silhouette. While we rejected a lot of sets with tricky spoons or other unusual features, this one was clean-lined and more comfortable in the mouth. As far as weight, it is right around the middle of our selects overall, with comfortable if slightly thin handles (for my giant hands). It’s designed by Brit Jasper Morrison, known for his minimal approach to form, and manufactured by Alessi, an Italian design company famous for housewares and kitchen utensils. (Some of their more famous products include the Michael Graves tea kettle and a Philippe Starck citrus juicer.)

flatware alessi jasper morrison knifeforkspoon

Flaws but not dealbreakers: The mirror polish shows fingerprints more than a less-shiny set. (Most of our sets are off-shiny or matte, but we wanted a very polished option because it’s very modern.)

What testers said: One staffer called it “clean, minimalist, delicate, sharp, nimble, and elegant.” Another termed it “clean, symmetrical, and stark. Looks very easy to take care of.” We were surprised that the soup spoon was pleasant in the mouth, especially if one uses it “end first” rather than “side first.”

Set specs: 18/10 stainless steel. Available through Amazon as a five-piece setting or by individual piece through Alessi’s site.

Economical

IKEA Förnuft
This is by far the best inexpensive set we’ve found. Although it’s a little lightweight, it’s solidly made and has a nice, modern design. It’s a great choice for outfitting a kitchen cheaply.

Why it’s great: We looked at a lot of very inexpensive sets at places like Target, but they left us with that “you spend almost nothing, you get almost nothing” feeling. Pieces were often super thin—sometimes easily bendable—and had no weight or visual presence. By contrast, this very (VERY) inexpensive option from IKEA has a lot more style than other sets in the beyond-affordable category. The shapes recall plastic picnic ware (in a pleasant, familiar way) and have a nice finish and color. They’re heavier than you might expect (which we suspected would be less than a feather) but were still the second-lightest set in our 11 finalists. The only lighter set is the Aero. If you entertain large groups rarely and don’t use more than a couple of place settings day to day, these are excellent to have on hand for holidays or other times when your guest list swells. Also great if you’re just moving into your first apartment, off-campus apartment at college, or simply can’t bear the idea of spending a lot of money on flatware. They’re the official flatware of the Sweethome offices.

flatware ikea förnuft

Flaws but not dealbreakers: These are pretty lightweight compared to some of the more expensive sets we tried, and compared side-by-side with some of those, the IKEA set does look a little cheap. But it feels and looks far better than some of the other very inexpensive sets we tried, such as the Cambridge Jubilee.

Set specs: 20-piece set available at Ikea.

Mid-century modern

David Mellor Chelsea
Although it’s expensive, this set from one of the world’s most prestigious mid-century modern flatware makers has the best balance and proportions of any we tried and is likely an investment that could be passed down generations.

Why it’s great: You could call this “artisanal flatware.” It is from the famous workshop of David Mellor, a British designer whose knives, forks, and spoons so captured the world in the 1950s that he was called “The King of Cutlery.” This particular set is designed by his son, Colin, who now runs the operation. It echoes his father’s mid-century sensibility, with shapes that have a pleasant weight and are streamlined but still comfortable in the hand and effective to eat with. In our opinion, it has the best balance of any set we tried. And the proportions are perfect. Pieces feel good individually and when held together (salad fork and knife, fork and knife). Everything is extremely comfortable in the mouth.

flatware david mellor chelsea

We also tested Mellor’s Classic set and found it surprisingly light for its appearance. Still great-looking, very balanced, and comfortable to use. But it seemed like it needed a little more heft. The flatware is made from start to finish in the company’s own factory near Sheffield, England, a center of cutlery production for centuries. Today, that’s a rarity unless you spend an incredible amount. No other set in our lineup has quite the pedigree.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: It’s our most expensive set we tried, but we think it’s worth it for heirloom quality.

What testers said: Another top scorer in the “touch” test and a perennial favorite on design blogs. Eddie Ross said, “ Love the size, style, hand, and weight. Can’t wait to buy this for my everyday use. Knife cut the pie well. My all-around favorite.”

Set specs: 18/10 stainless steel. Available through Heath Ceramics as individual five-piece settings.

Runner-up: mid-century modern for less

Also Great
Muji
For mid-century style on a budget, we like this set from Muji. Similar to the David Mellor set, it has a slightly unusual but sleek shape, although it also feels lighter and not quite as substantial.

Why it’s great: If you love a balance between sleek and sensual—a set such as the David Mellor Chelsea—but don’t want to pay a premium for it, this set from Muji is a great choice and a third of the price. It is a bit out of the ordinary, with a soft finish and (just a little bit) tweaked shapes. It is also available by the piece, so it’s easy to buy exactly what you need.

flatware muji

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Some testers didn’t like the feel of the rounded soup spoon. Muji sells only individual pieces of flatware online.

What testers said: Graphic designer Nikki Chung said, “The weight is perfect. The brushed finish lends a warmth to the metal—it feels good to hold. Tines seem well considered, and the curve of the handles sits well in my hands.” A staffer opined: “Spartan, utilitarian, practical, low-maintenance, disposable. Light but sturdy, compact, friendly, easy, balanced.” For a mid-weight set (it comes in right about the median), it feels substantial.

Set specs: Muji sells two flatware sets, one titled 18/8 and one that doesn’t have a name (or that doesn’t specify the grade of stainless steel it’s made from). We tested the latter. Pieces are sold individually (not in settings or sets).

Gold

Almoco Flatware (gold)
While its color makes this one of the most trendy sets we tried, its muted gold finish and clean lines give it a more modern style than ornate gold sets. It’s one of the only ones we found that would be appropriate for everyday use.

Why it’s great: Gold flatware is a “trendy” category, but people—including our staff and experts—really love it, so we wanted to include it here. What we looked for was a set that would be more versatile, pieces that could feel normal for everyday use rather than only for a special occasion. Many gold sets are either too flashy, overly ornate, or even a little bit tacky, so we like how this one is none of the above. The soft gold finish makes this set less fussy than shinier models, and the classic handles take it out of the “baroque” category. It received the highest vote count for appearance and was a top finisher in the touch test as well. The finish is soft and pleasant in the hand, the shape of the handles comfortable. It is a middle weight and nicely balanced.

flatware almoco

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Some testers didn’t like the very large soup spoon paired with the very small teaspoon. This is one of those soup spoons where it’s better (and even more efficient) to tilt the soup into your mouth, rather than fit the whole bowl in. We found both pleasant and didn’t mind this.

What testers said: One staffer noted, “Even though it’s gold, I would use it every day. I love how big the soup spoon is. The pieces look almost oversized – but I like how dramatic that is!” Another said, “The matte gold finish is attractive and I feel like it would look great as part of a table setting.” We found it nicely balanced and very comfortable in the mouth.

Set specs: Gold-plated stainless steel (knife is 420 and forks and spoons are type 304) and it’s also available in copper, black, or silver finishes. Available through Design Within Reach as a five-piece setting. The set is made by Almoco Flatware, another Portuguese company.

Slender

Villeroy & Boch New Wave
Narrow handles and a graceful twisting detail below the fork, spoon, and knife heads lend this set a more subtle and distinct look, but it’s still a very easy set to eat with.

Why it’s great: For someone looking for a set with a more “artistic” flair, this was our favorite option. The gentle twist at the “shoulders” (the point where the handles meet the fork and spoon heads) is more graceful and unusual than a lot of our top picks, but it doesn’t cause any interference while holding the utensil or eating with it. The handles are thin but more comfortable to hold than some of the wider or fatter options. The high polish gives it modernity and the lack of over-the-top tricks lends it a timelessness.

flatware villeroy boch new wave

Flaws but not dealbreakers: As with any special feature, some people like it and some people don’t. The knife is a little unstable when placed cutting-side-down and can fall over if the table is jostled. But how often are you going to shake your table?

flatware villeroy boch new wave

The New Wave knife can be placed with the blade on its side or pointed down, thanks to a gentle twist at the shoulder.

What testers said: One staffer liked that it offers “a straightforward style with a (literal) twist.” Another enjoyed the thin sleek handles and called the set “Elongated yet balanced. Simple and classic but not boring.” Another found it “Novel, artistic, attention-grabbing and fun.” I was surprised that the thin handles were easy to hold, especially in my large hands. The knife is the most unusual of any we tried. Because of the twist at the shoulder, it can be placed on the table with the blade either on its side or pointing blade-down.

Set specs: 18/10 stainless steel. Available in individual five-piece settings, but you’ll get a significantly better deal buying set of 64, which includes 12 five-piece settings, a soup ladle, serving spoon, serving fork, and slotted spoon.

Ornate

Oneida Louisiana
With flower details and scrollwork, this is the most elaborately patterned set we tried, and it feels a little more formal. But the design is still restrained enough to fit with a variety of place settings.

Why it’s great: If you’re looking for something a lot more decorative than our other options, this set is just ornate enough. It’s a great choice if you want something really traditional and old-school but don’t live like Marie Antoinette. It’s got a decent feel and balance to it, even if it’s a bit lighter than we might have liked, but the pomp and circumstance are restrained enough to make it a lot more versatile than many sets in its category. The proportions are nice, too.

flatware oneida louisiana

Flaws but not dealbreakers: It looks like it should be a little bit heavier than it is. But it is a perfectly respectable mid-range set, comparable in weight to the Muji and Alessi/Knifeforkspoon sets. It’s obviously quite ornate, which might make it too fancy to blend with some modern table settings.

What the experts said: Author Michael Cannell described it like this, “Dinner at grandmother’s house—if your grandmother is of a formal persuasion. Solid, stolid, and suggestive of a turkey platter served on linen. You might cast this one in a Norman Rockwell rendition of the Thanksgiving scene.”

Set specs: Available in as five-piece setting through Amazon or a 20-piece set through Oneida’s site.

How we picked what to test

flatware group

The 23 sets we brought in for testing.

A great set of flatware is one that is made from durable materials, pleasant and effective to use, and a classic style that will be appealing for years to come.

For us, a great set of flatware is one that is made from durable materials, pleasant and effective to use, and a classic style that will be appealing for years to come. In short, a set that won’t degrade with constant use and that you won’t cringe at (as in, “What was I thinking?!”) a decade or more from now.

That said, we realize that some of our readers might be looking for something a bit more edgy. So we also considered some very popular sets that skew more “fashionable” yet still met our quality criteria. This included gold sets and a few with less-classic designs.

In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, of course, individual pieces must feel pleasant in your hand. This can mean different things to different people. As designer Colin Mellor (son of legendary cutlery designer David Mellor) states: “There are many, many shapes and designs of cutlery, but ultimately, choose a design that aesthetically attracts you. The next criteria should be how that particular design works in the hand. Some people prefer a lighter, finer design … while others like the feel of heavier cutlery…” Our lightest winning set (Aero), for example, is about a third of the weight of the heaviest (Aston).

The pieces should absolutely feel balanced, neither top- or bottom-heavy nor in any way awkward. The handles should fit comfortably in your hand and feel secure while you are cutting, spearing, scooping, etc., and be effective at getting the food to your mouth. In the mouth, you should either barely notice them at all or they should feel smooth, gentle, and appealingly curved. No part of your mouth should feel scraped or scratched by edges or the finish. Great sets not only appeal to your eye but also meet all of the other criteria.

flatware comparison

Eddie Ross, one of our dinner guests, compares the pieces of a set. We found that the best sets feel balanced, with handles fit well in the hands, and they should feel secure while cutting, spearing, or scooping.

Dry, a set we tested (and that had a particularly good soup spoon) has a higher volume to allow for meat-based Italian soups such as minestrone.

The shape of each piece of flatware also plays a part. Paolo Cravedi, the design director for Alessi USA, told us that the soup spoon is the most important piece of a set because “it’s going to cause the most inconvenience—dribbling, etc.” Dry, a set we tested (and that has a particularly good soup spoon) has a higher volume to allow for meat-based Italian soups such as minestrone.

flatware soup spoons

Soup spoons are one of the most important pieces in a set, as a poorly-designed one can cause dribbles or feel unpleasant in the mouth. But a variety of shapes—from gently tapered to very round—can work well. From left to right: Crate and Barrel Dune, Almoco Gold, David Mellor Chelsea, and Crate and Barrel Aero.

Likewise, the length, width, and number of a fork’s tines contribute to how the fork performs and how it will feel in your mouth. In her search for the perfect fork, Alexandra Lang says a fork should never have three tines—always four. (Three is “too thick and less stabby.”) Several of the Sweethome staff also had a preference for four tines (as does this author), one going so far as to call three tines “the devil’s fork.”

flatware forks

Our staff and design experts tended to prefer forks with four tines. The shape and length of of tines varies widely. From left to right: Iitala Artik, Aero, David Mellor Chelsea, IKEA Förnuft, and Yanagi.

Stainless steel is an alloy: It is made of different metals combined together. (Brass and pewter are also alloys.) Different amounts of certain components can change the way the end product will perform.1 In the case of stainless, the presence of chromium and nickel provides brightness and corrosion resistance. Multiple sources claim that a type of stainless known as 18/10 (meaning it contains 18 percent chromium and 10 percent nickel) is the best and most corrosion-resistant. Except for the three manufacturers who would not divulge the makeup of their flatware (IKEA, Muji, and Almoco), all of our picks are 18/10.

Some sources say 18/8 (with 8 percent nickel) is equally good. A manufacturer will often use 18/8 if they want a less “bright” stainless. The Danish designer Georg Jensen’s stainless sets are 18/8 (the models we would have called in were too expensive for this test). Most experts agree that 18/0 stainless (zero nickel content) is to be avoided. This is often the material used in very inexpensive boxed sets available in big box stores. It is more susceptible to corrosion by its very nature, and the sets tend to be very cheaply made, i.e., the metal is very thin and can easily bend. (Some sources erroneously say that they bend because 18/0 is less strong, but that isn’t the case.)

The weight of cutlery can also affect how you perceive eating a meal, according to a study published in Flavour (a peer-reviewed journal focused on flavor). Participants were served the same food with either very light “canteen cutlery,” while the other group used heavier “banquet cutlery.” Those eating with the heavier flatware perceived the food overall as better tasting, more enjoyable, and “worth the price.” In our own testing, we generally found this to be true as well, although two of the most popular sets (Aero and IKEA Förnuft) were also the lightest.

Flatware weigh-in

Brand / model Salad fork Dinner fork Knife Soup spoon Dessert spoon Total setting weight Soup spoon volume (by weight)
1 Reed and Barton Pomfret 54 69 95 62 42 322 10
2 Oneida Louisiana 43 41 84 47 36 250 10
3 Alessi Knifeforkspoon 38 51 59 61 26 236 8
4 David Mellor Chelsea 68 74 71 89 75 377 18
5 Williams-Sonoma Aston 66 81 124 93 53 416 11
6 Crate and Barrel Areo 18 30 27 37 23 134 13
7 Villeroy & Bosh New Wave 33 51 85 63 30 262 12
8 Muji 13-0 34 45 73 62 41 256 13
9 Ikea Förnuft 23 35 49 38 21 165 9
10 DWR Almoco Gold 34 56 79 61 22 253 12

The weights of pieces in our winning sets in grams.

Although we initially looked at some sets with plastic handles, we rejected them as being too cheaply made or too likely to break/degrade with regular use.

What you sometimes (but not always) get for more money is an extra amount of hand work—especially polishing and finishing—which can make the pieces feel exceptionally smooth and sensual. Or you’ll notice amazing balance, which is often the result of lots of trial and error on the part of the manufacturer. The flatware might have also been created by a particular and possibly famous designer and have a particularly distinctive or unusual form.

In order to get a sense of what people like and rate highly, we looked at hundreds of sets on a great many sites, including Amazon, Home Shopping Network, Williams-Sonoma, Wayfair, Dwell, Cooking, Oneida, Cambridge Silversmiths, eBay, Crate and Barrel, Macy’s, Target and others. We were looking for brands and styles that showed up again and again. If there were strong brand preferences but too-low rating numbers or too many different styles, we went to the manufacturers’ own sites to see (where possible) which pieces scored highly there.

In addition to speaking with experts, we also looked at numerous blogs and the online components of print magazines, including Apartment Therapy, Remodelista, The Best, Real Girl’s Kitchen, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, the Home section of The NY Times, House Beautiful, Gourmet, Food & Wine, and the Wall Street Journal (plus a great deal more) to see what they had done in terms of coverage and testing. As noted above—and excluding the occasional blogger that talked about their own set—there was almost nothing in the way of actual testing.

We looked at books and research papers for a variety of information including: Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork; the biography of British designer David Mellor (known as the King of Cutlery); an interview with Corin Mellor, David’s son; a volume of the Everyday Art Quarterly (from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis) dedicated to flatware design (and recommended by Ms. Lange); and Charlotte Williamson and Maggie Davis’s 101 Things To Buy Before You Die (which lists only David Mellor flatware and extraordinarily expensive Puirfocat sterling in this category).

Since there were plenty of sets with high ratings, we had a wealth of options to choose from. We attempted to get a wide range of prices and styles, looking for pieces that were classic and timeless but nonetheless different from one another. We were also looking for sets made from 18/10 (or possibly 18/8) stainless, avoiding 18/0. (This is not difficult if you avoid very cheap boxed sets.) The idea for this review was not to find one or two sets that could work for most people, but an array of styles that could appeal to people’s varying tastes.

How we tested

flatware table setting

A handful of the sets our experts tried during a multi-course dinner.

At times during the testing process, I felt like a cross between Goldilocks and Henry VIII, looking for sets that were “just right” while consuming excessive, almost comical amounts of food in a single sitting. I’d sometimes have five or more sets of flatware on the table at once, fanned out before an entire roast chicken, several bowls of soup, family-sized portions of vegetables, and numerous sides. All for me! But it was the only way to really get a feel for the different models and what they offered, both good and bad. One day I sat with a salad bowl filled to the brim with four cans of Progresso Chicken and Orzo with Lemon soup just to compare soup spoons.

In addition to the gluttony test, we performed more scientific tests, such as weighing each piece and set and measuring the volume of each soup spoon. The idea here was to work backwards to see if popularity and/or pleasantness showed itself in hard data.

flatware competition

Our dinner guests and design experts analyzing the competition.

In the office, we put out all 23 of the sets around a large dining table, identified only by number. We asked 14 people to fill out a questionnaire, telling us which sets (their top three picks) they liked based 1) purely on looks and 2) after having had a chance to spend time handling each set. We also asked them to describe each set using a series of “titles” such as modern, traditional, sleek, industrial, streamlined, etc. Interestingly, these identifiers often caused conflicts. For instance, any time a set was labeled “masculine” by one person, another would call it “feminine.” But preference patterns began to emerge, with certain sets receiving multiple votes on both visual and haptic levels.

We then had a dinner party and invited four experts (see Why you should trust us), Sweethome senior editor (and former editor of bonappetit.com) Raphael Brion, and myself to eat a meal. Each participant was asked to fill out the same questionnaire as above, then choose three sets with which to eat. The meal included pureed soup, salad, roast chicken on the bone, roasted asparagus and carrots, quinoa salad, bread, and dessert of pie and coffee. These foods tested a range of scenarios with the cutlery. Participants were provided with notebooks in which to record their comments, some of which are included in our top picks above.

flatware testing

Alexandra Lange wields two forks and a knife during our dinner party testing.

Care and maintenance

Stainless steel flatware, especially of the 18/10 and 18/8 variety, is extremely durable and should last for years, if not decades. It is not, however, indestructible. Even the finest sets will suffer minor scratching if tossed around with abandon. (Highly polished sets will typically show ill treatment more quickly and more noticeably than matte ones.) And repeatedly cramming handles into dishwasher cutlery baskets will only hasten the process. In the long run, this will give your pieces “character” or “patina,” and that can be a good thing. In the short run, though, it will simply look dinged up. If you want your forks, knives, and spoons to stay pristine longer, we suggest the following:

flatware action

If you’re not going to wash flatware right away (either by hand or machine), it’s a good idea to at least rinse the pieces. Acidic ingredients, in particular, can eat away at the finish.

Never soak your flatware for long periods of time. 20 minutes is fine, but don’t go to bed thinking you can take care of it in the morning. Long exposure to detergent and water can dull the finish over time and cause spotting. Very long exposure can cause it to corrode.

By hand: Gentle hand washing with dish soap (we suggest Seventh Generation) and warm water will prevent almost any damage, but it is time-consuming. Soaking dirty sets for about 10 minutes before wiping should loosen most food. If absolutely necessary, use a gentle plastic scrubber. Thoroughly rinse and dry each piece quickly to avoid spotting.

In the dishwasher: Models with upper racks that prevent the individual pieces from touching are best. Be sure to use a gentle detergent. If your machine has a cutlery basket, make sure not to overcrowd. Put pieces in head first. When cycle is finished, crack open the door so moisture doesn’t linger. Wiping knife blades (which are sometimes made of softer, less-corrosion-resistant steel) is best. In all cases, make sure your pieces are completely dry before putting them away.

Even if you’re using a dishwasher, it is important to remove any excess food, especially if you won’t be running it right away. Certain foods—especially acidic ones like tomato sauce—can eat away at the finish. Give everything a quick rinse and/or give it a quick scrub with a sponge first.

If spots or streaks do form, you can use a stainless steel cleaner, club soda, or a bit of vinegar to remove them. Give a quick rinse (not necessary for club soda) and dry thoroughly with a soft, lint-free cloth.

The competition

We also tested the following sets. Some are quite good, but for various reasons testers didn’t like them as much as our top picks. Except where we’ve marked a specific flaw in design or materials, all of these sets are perfectly good and rated highly by users.

Crate and Barrel Dune

When we first published this guide, this set was our Versatile pick, and we recommended it as the one set to choose for most people. This set falls into a category that is often described as “transitional,” meaning it works well in more situations than most sets, able to share the table with both modern and traditional settings. But based on reader feedback, and initial investigation, we’ve learned that current models of the Dune are made with 18/0 stainless steel, whereas a now discontinued version was made of 18/10 stainless steel. As a result, we’re pulling our recommendation while we investigate further. We have reached out to Crate and Barrel to find out more about the current model.

flatwarecrate and barrel dune

Alessi Dry

While this set performed very well overall and we like the way it looks, there was an issue with the finish. The matte handles looked a little banged up after putting them through the dishwasher. Definitely a great set if you’re willing to hand wash.

flatware alessi dry

David Mellor Classic

Although the proportions are classic, this set surprised us because it doesn’t weigh as much as it looks like it would. If you like a lightweight set it’s a good option, but our testers prefered the David Mellor Chelsea set overall.

flatware david mellor classic

Lenox Eternal

This was another set that, in person, was more decorative than what we were after. That said, it has very classic forms and is nicely balanced. A great choice if the aesthetic goes with your other tableware.

flatware lenox eternal

Crate and Barrel Grand Hotel II

Another great set that looks classic without being fussy. The handles on Grand Hotel II flared out so much they were uncomfortable in some people’s hands. Overall, we preferred the Aston for a “dressier” but still casual set.

flatware crate and barrel grand hotel ii

Reed & Barton Dalton

The overall bowl and tine shapes are appealing, but we felt the extremely pinched necks threw the design off balance. The fork also doesn’t like to be used in the “European” style, i.e., in the opposite hand and tines pointed down—it flips over!

flatware reed and barton dalton

Iitala Artik

We thought the unusual design (irregular-length tines, for instance) could be interesting for someone wanting a highly modern, atypical set. But that unusual detail felt odd in the mouth. Otherwise the set is nicely balanced and weighted.

flatware iitala artik

Knork Glossy

Another “tricky” set we thought we’d try because it was popular online. And while the weight appealed to us and the balance was nice overall, the very curved fork tines caused some problems when trying to spear food like Swedish meatballs.

flatwater knork glossy

Mikasa Cocoa Blossom

Very popular online so we wanted to give it a try. But up close, the sweet pattern seemed like it might not really go with anything. We feel like the Aston gives you a nice traditional feel but is more versatile.

flatware mikasa cocoa blossom

Towle Magnum

This industrial-looking set has an interesting curviness. It is ergonomic and, as Michael Cannell put it, “expressive.”

flatware towle magnum

Oneida Vivanti Alessandra Gold

A highly popular gold pattern online. While it is nicely balanced and appealing, we didn’t like the finish color as much in person. It’s a little dull compared to the bright gold of the Almoco. The pattern is also a bit ho-hum.

flatware oneida vivanti alessandra gold

Yanagi

This is the top-selling flatware set at the Museum of Modern Art, which is saying something. The three-tined salad fork is a no-no in our book. And the knife—while striking in appearance—is more of a spreader. For something a little more edgy, you might prefer the Knifeforkspoon or the Aero. Some people rave about this set (including developer and blogger Dustin Curtis, who posted about his love of this set back in 2012).

flatware yanagi


Cambridge Silversmiths Jubilee

We were frankly very surprised this set is so popular online. While it does have a classic look (recalling Bakelite sets or even high-end models such as Laguiole), in person it is cheap and unpleasant. You can feel all the edges where plastic meets metal. The tines are even uncomfortable in the mouth. For much less, you can pick up a set from IKEA of much higher quality.

flatware cambridge silversmiths jubilee

The rest

The following sets are only a sampling of the hundreds we looked at. They are representative of the types of sets we looked at, but not an exhaustive list.

Diane von Furstenberg Night

Another gold set we wanted to try and that is highly rated by various design blogs, but it has been discontinued.

Canvas Home Domino (no longer available online)

Like the Night flatware, the Domino was a favorite gold set on design blogs, but it has also been discontinued.

Canvas Home Matte Black Madrid

Black flatware shows up often on design blogs and in print publications. While great-looking, we also felt it would seem dated in a couple of years.

CB2 Matte Black

Like the Madrid, this black flatware was appealing, especially with its matte surface. Again, though, we feared the “what was I thinking?” feeling after spending some time with it.

Sasaki Aria

Although we were attracted to industrial-looking sets for their clean lines and this set is highly rated on Amazon, we ultimately felt like it was too extreme and not versatile enough.

CB2 Pattern 518

Much of our research was done online, but we were also able to go to stores and look at/pick up the sets in person. Both this set and the 451 (below) felt off-balance and a little cheap in the hand.

CB2 Pattern 451

See above.

Cambridge Silversmiths Ivy Sand

In our search for something more decorative, we looked at many sets. While leaves and flowers are popular decorative motifs, this particular set’s decoration is a little heavy-handed for a set that’s versatile and will be appealing for years.

Cambridge Silversmiths Ammonite

Although the shell-inspired swirls on the handles are pretty, we felt this was another popular set that might be too specific for our purposes

Oneida Michelangelo

We wanted to include a very ornate set that had the look of an heirloom set, maybe something that would have been passed down from a grandparent. But the embellishment on this set was just too over the top for us. We prefered the slightly more subdued Louisiana.

Reed & Barton Sea Shells

Like the Ammonite above, we found the details attractive but too specific and limiting.

IKEA Kejsarkrona

We encountered several sets like this, with a pleasant enough shape but then, where did that decorative element come from? It seems like an afterthought rather than an integral part of the design.

Target Threshold Arkita

Hammered handles are a decorative element we ran across time and time again. But for our gold set we were looking for something a little more streamlined to go with a variety of table settings.

David Mellor Pride

One of our favorite sets is from David Mellor, and this set is very popular on design blogs. But we felt as if you don’t need to spend this much to get the attributes we liked—perfect balance, pleasing finish, effective shapes—from this brand.

Cutipol Rondo Dourado

In our search for popular gold sets, this one appeared often on design blogs. While it is certainly beautiful and the proportions are nice, we felt you could get a great set of gold flatware without spending this much.

IKEA Dito

One of our favorite sets comes from IKEA, so we also looked at their other flatware offerings. This set is certainly eye-catching, but perhaps too much so. We also feared the plastic handles would not hold up to repeated use and frequent washing.

Target Room Essentials Pharo

From everything we read, the best and most durable stainless is either 18/10 or 18/8. 18/0 can corrode more easily, so we thought it a bad option for the long haul, even at its low price.

Target Threshold Kayden

See above.

(Photos by Amadou Diallo.)

Footnotes:

1. The metal one’s flatware is made of can also affect the taste of the food. As reported in the Financial Times, scientists from the Institute of Making at University College London served 15 adults were served a meal of Indian food with spoons plated in seven different metals: copper, gold, silver, tin, zinc, chrome, and stainless steel. Different foods excelled—or were repulsive—when sampled from the different coatings. Gold, it turns out, can make many foods taste wonderful. (Mango sorbet in particular.) Zinc and copper were particularly bitter. Interestingly, silver came out near the bottom. Stainless steel was relatively benign overall. Jump back.

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Sources

  1. Episode 1: The Golden Spoon, Gastropod
  2. Sarah Lonsdale, Ask the Expert: Corin Mellor Talks Flatware (Make That Cutlery), Remodelista, March 21, 2014
  3. Alexandra Lange, The Search for the Perfect Fork, Gourmet, August 31, 2011
  4. Marietta Mifflin, Is 18/10, 18/8 and 18/0 Stainless Steel Flatware the Same?, About.com
  5. Fuchsia Dunlop, Spoon fed: how cutlery affects your food, Financial Times, May 5, 2012
  6. James Temperton, Heavier cutlery makes food taste better, WIRED.co.uk, July 23, 2015
  7. Maxwell’s Top Flatware Picks: Very High to Very Low, Apartment Therapy, 2014
  8. Janet Hall, 10 Easy Pieces: Everyday Stainless Steel Flatware, Remodelista, November 9, 2011
  9. Dustin Curtis, The Best, Dustin Curtis, November 7, 2012
  10. Max Chafkin, Remaking Tavern on the Green, One Fork at a Time, The New York Times, October 16, 2013
  11. Bee Wilson, Consider The Fork, October 8, 2013
  12. Fiona MacCarthy, David Mellor Master Metalworker, July, 2013

Originally published: December 4, 2015

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