After more than 60 hours of researching knife sets and testing 11—chopping, slicing, and peeling over 20 pounds of fruits and vegetables—we’re confident that you won’t beat the Wüsthof Classic Ikon 7-Piece Walnut Block Knife Set.
These forged high-carbon stainless steel knives are very sharp, and they’re heavy enough to tackle tough, fibrous vegetables such as butternut squash better than the competition. Among all the knives we tested, the Wüsthof set’s grippy, ergonomically shaped handles were the most comfortable to hold. For the price, performance, and durability, we think the Wüsthof Classic Ikon is the best set to meet your home-kitchen needs. Alternatively, if you prefer to assemble your own custom-made knife set, we recommend buying knives piecemeal.
If you’re looking for a cheap but decent set, we recommend the Victorinox 4-Piece Knife Set with Fibrox Handles. The stamped, high-carbon stainless steel blades remained sharper and held their edge better than any other set we tested under $200. The Victorinox knives are lightweight and well-balanced, while the Fibrox handles are comfortable to hold and provide a good grip even when wet. Though this set lacks shears, a honing steel, and a storage block, it offers the most basic knives you’ll need in the kitchen for a bargain price.
If you’re looking for a high-end, truly superior set, we recommend the Messermeister Royale Elité 10-Piece Knife Block Set. The forged German blades are extremely well-balanced and sharp. Though they will require more frequent honing than some of the Japanese knives we tested, they were far more durable than all the other sets we tried in this price range. This Messermeister set was one of the only sets we tested not to be cluttered by unnecessary filler. Our testers found the smooth, ergonomic American-walnut handles a pleasure to hold, as well. We’re confident that this knife set will make a beautiful and lasting addition to any kitchen.
To gain some insight into which knives would be best for the average home cook, we spoke with chef Brendan McDermott, an instructor at Kendall College in Chicago and the co-owner/bladesmith of Ravenswood Hand Forged. We also consulted with chef Joseph Simon, an instructor at the International Culinary Center (ICC), who tested all of our knife sets in person. And we asked some Sweethome staffers to try out knife sets in our New York City test kitchen.
Additionally, we examined reviews from Cook’s Illustrated, Consumer Reports, and Cooking For Engineers. We also looked for knife sets at kitchen-supply stores such as Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma. We scoured online knife sellers such as Cutlery and More, and we searched for popular knife sets sold on Amazon.
Christine Cyr Clisset, who wrote our original knife-set guide, has spent dozens of hours researching and testing knife sets. Michael Sullivan, who contributed to our 2016 update, researched over 50 knife sets and tested 11 for this guide.
If you’re seeking a gift for a wedding or a college graduation, you might consider buying a knife set. If you’re setting up a new kitchen for the first time and unsure of what knives you’ll need, buying a set will cover the basics. If you already own a set of knives that struggle to maintain a sharp edge or have cracked handles, it’s probably time to upgrade.
If you’re not into tracking down the perfect individual knives and just want something that’s sharp and cuts well, a set makes buying easy. However, if you don’t mind having knives with mismatched handles and prefer a custom-made collection that suits your exact cooking needs, we recommend buying knives piecemeal.
To determine the most essential knives for home cooks, we turned to chef Brendan McDermott, an instructor at Kendall College in Chicago. “I would suggest most home cooks have three or four knives,” said McDermott. “Most essential is a chef’s knife; that’s the one you really want to focus on.” (See The Sweethome’s top choice in chef’s knives.)
We took McDermott’s advice and searched for sets that had the most necessary knives. We concluded that a good set should include the following pieces:
Not necessary, but useful:
Finding sets that included what we considered the most necessary knives was no easy task. Most sets have additional knives as filler to make them seem more valuable. “Ninety percent of people don’t know what to do with all those knives,” said McDermott. “They end up getting a big block, and half the knives end up collecting dust.” Any additions, such as the ubiquitous utility knife, are gravy because they are more limiting and not as versatile as most other knives (however, they are unavoidable and almost always included in block sets). We did our best to avoid sets with lots of filler, including those containing steak knives. In our research, we found that most steak knives included in sets are subpar. You’re better off buying those separately to get your money’s worth (see our recommendations for the best steak knives).
According to America’s Test Kitchen, manufacturers often skimp on the knives they include in sets. A classic example: Such sets usually offer an 8-inch bread knife, when a 10-inch one would be optimal (an 8-inch knife won’t always cut across a rustic country loaf). Manufacturers do this to keep the overall price of the knife sets affordable. Some sets even include suspiciously short chef’s knives for the same reason.
Most important, perhaps, we looked for knives with sharp blades that could maintain their edge after constant use. We also sought out knives that were comfortable to hold and felt well-balanced between the handle and the blade. The handle material, shape, and length also played a role in our decision making. Of course, comfort is a subjective quality, and it’s the reason why experts recommend trying knives in person to see which ones feel best in your hand.
People frequently debate the merits of a full or half tang—the piece of metal that extends from the blade into the knife’s handle, which can affect a knife’s balance. A full tang goes the entire length of the handle but only part of the width, while a half (or push) tang has a much shorter extension and is glued into the handle. Contrary to popular belief, however, one isn’t necessarily better than the other. We’ve discussed tangs in detail in our guide to the best chef’s knife, but ultimately deciding upon knives with a full or half tang comes down to personal preference. We tested knives with both full and half tangs for this update.
To help winnow down our selection, we tested only those sets with half-bolster chef knives. (The bolster is the metal cuff located between the blade and the handle, which acts as a counterweight for heavier knife blades.) In our experience testing chef’s knives, we’ve found that a half bolster allows for easier sharpening, while a full bolster only prevents you from sharpening the full length of the knife.
Knives are either forged or stamped, but one method isn’t necessarily better than the other. (Both methods can produce high- or low-quality knives; for more, see our guide to chef’s knives.) A forged knife, which is pounded from a piece of steel, tends to be heavy and usually designed with a bolster. A stamped knife, which is cut from a sheet of steel, weighs less and usually lacks a bolster. Which type you prefer may merely come down to whether you want a heavier or lighter knife. We included both forged and stamped blades in our latest roundup.
Every steel alloy that manufacturers use to make most kitchen knives is “high-carbon,” which is strong and takes an edge well. However, you should look for blade material listed as “high-carbon stainless steel,” or else it will be prone to rusting. You can find many grades of blade steel, which a true knife geek could spend hours expounding upon (if you’d like to know more, read this article by master knife craftsman Jay Fisher). For this guide, we considered only knives made from high-carbon stainless steel.
We avoided knife sets containing ceramic knives, since those aren’t as durable or easy to maintain as carbon-steel knives. Ceramic blades tend to be notably sharp and will hold an edge for a long time, but they can also crack or shatter if you’re too rough with them.
We also took knife storage into consideration. Some knife blocks are an eyesore or take up more counter space than they’re worth. Blocks with extra slots are nice because they allow space for you to grow your knife collection. For small sets including two to four knives, we thought a knife block wasn’t necessary, since you can use blade covers to safely store your knives in a drawer.
For this update, we tested 11 knife sets:
We tested knife sets by evaluating the overall sharpness of the knife blades. We also tested whether the knives were comfortable to hold and evenly balanced. For larger knives, we noted whether they had enough hand clearance to prevent our knuckles from hitting the cutting board. We tested chef’s knives by chopping carrots and onions. We tested paring knives by mincing shallots and peeling and coring apples. We tested serrated knives by cutting through wide, crusty country loaves and thinly slicing tomatoes. We used the honing steels to see if they could effectively hone blade edges. And we cut parchment paper and butcher’s twine using the kitchen shears.
For sets that included utility knives, we used them to slice apples and cut orange segments. For sets that came with a knife block, we checked to see whether the knives slid easily into and out of their slots without snagging.
The best knife set for home cooks is the Wüsthof Classic Ikon 7-Piece Walnut Block Knife Set. The knives in this set were the sharpest compared with all the others we tested in this price range. Since the Classic Ikon knives are extremely durable, they can take more abuse in your kitchen. The ergonomic knife handles provided a superior grip next to those knives with slick handles, which became slippery when wet. Unlike most sets, the Classic Ikon set comes with the most basic and useful knives without a lot of unnecessary filler. And the handsome walnut block gives this set a classic look that will fit the aesthetic of almost any kitchen.
The Wüsthof Classic Ikon set comes with a 15-slot walnut block (also available in other finishes), pull-apart kitchen shears, a honing steel, and four knives: a 3½-inch paring knife, a 6-inch utility knife, an 8-inch chef’s knife, and an 8-inch serrated bread knife. Though some of the Japanese knives we tested were sharper (and double the price), the Classic Ikon knives still cut with excellent precision and seemed more durable than the competition. Chef Joseph Simon, a culinary instructor at the International Culinary Center, noted the heft of the Classic Ikon knives and said, “They’re sturdy, they will last forever, they’re going to keep an edge, and they will be easy to sharpen.”
Although the Wüsthof Classic Ikon set is weighted more in the handle than the blade, our testers still found the knives to be a comfortable weight. Among all the sets we tested, this set’s grippy POM (polyoxymethylene) handles were also the easiest to hold. The ergonomic shape of the handles provided more support than the wide, round handles on the Shun Classic knives, which some of our testers with smaller hands found to be too long and wide.
The chef’s knife, a pleasure to hold, rocked smoothly while chopping carrots and onions, which wasn’t the case with the straighter bellies on the Shun chef’s knives we tested. We preferred the length of the Wüsthof Classic Ikon’s 3½-inch paring knife over the Wüsthof Gourmet set’s 4-inch paring knife, as it gave our testers better control over intricate tasks such as peeling apples and mincing shallots. Though we generally don’t like utility knives (their size makes them more limiting and not as versatile as most other knives), we were surprised to find the Classic Ikon utility knife to be an ideal size for tasks like segmenting oranges and cutting cheese. The pull-apart kitchen shears felt comfortable to hold and glided through parchment, unlike the shears in the Global 10-Piece Knife Block Set, which snagged repeatedly while cutting.
The block has extra slots for both kitchen and steak knives, which allows you ample room to grow your collection. The block is only about 4½ inches wide, narrower than most blocks we tested, so it takes up less room on your counter. This smaller block is ideal for people with tiny kitchens or limited counter space.
We’ve previously recommended the Wüsthof Classic Ikon chef’s knife, and we use it regularly in our test kitchen. Several people on the Sweethome staff own knives from this set, and they say that the knives have kept their edge and performed well for years. All of the knives in this set come with a limited lifetime warranty. This means Wüsthof will replace the knives in the event of a manufacturing fault, not for regular wear and tear or improper use (so, you know, no knife throwing). If you encounter any problems, contact Wüsthof for a replacement.
The only weak link in this set is the 8-inch serrated bread knife. We’d prefer a couple of extra inches, which would make cutting through a wide country loaf in one smooth stroke easier. That said, the Wüsthof Classic Ikon’s 8-inch bread knife is very sharp and gets the job done.
Chef Joseph Simon said he wished this set included a slightly longer steel. Also, some of our testers noted that the steel’s handle doesn’t match the rest of the knife handles in the set (though some of them preferred that it didn’t match, because it stood out and was easier to identify).
The inexpensive Victorinox 4-Piece Knife Set with Fibrox Handles makes a great set for both beginners and pros because anyone can use these knives, they’ll take a beating, and they’re sharper than most competitors in this price range. These Victorinox knives are comfortable to hold, lightweight, and well balanced. Although this set doesn’t include a knife block, kitchen shears, or a honing steel, it remains a great starter set with proven longevity.
Included in the Victorinox Fibrox set are four knives with high-carbon stainless steel blades: a 4-inch paring knife, a 6-inch utility knife, an 8-inch chef’s knife, and a 10¼-inch serrated bread knife. At first glance these knives may look and feel cheap, but don’t be deceived by their light weight and chunkier handles: These knives were sharper than the ones in the Mercer Culinary Renaissance 6-Piece Forged Knife Block Set, which was about $20 more expensive at the time we checked. Culinary instructors Brendan McDermott and Joseph Simon both told us that the communal knives most pro kitchens use are typically Victorinox Fibrox knives. Simon said, “If I was working in a restaurant, this is the set I’d want to have, because it’s easy to sharpen and can take a beating.”
The chef’s knife is lightweight and well balanced, so our hands didn’t tire after chopping with it for a long time. While the chef’s knife cut paper-thin slices of apple and chopped onions with ease, our testers encountered some resistance when chopping large, fibrous carrots. Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) includes the Victorinox Fibrox chef’s knife in its picks for a budget à la carte knife set.
This set also includes our pick for the best serrated knife, which at 10¼ inches is the longest of all the bread knives we tested and thus capable of making the easiest cuts through wide country loaves. “I love the serrated [knife] because it has a nice curve and the teeth aren’t huge. I love this knife. Always have, always will,” said Simon.
As with other sets, the Victorinox Fibrox utility knife was nice for smaller tasks such as cutting apples, cheese slices, or orange segments.
The main drawback to this set is the shape of the paring knife, which has a dramatic curve toward the tip of the blade. We found that the curved tip requires you to hold the knife at a slightly awkward upward angle when mincing shallots. However, Simon pointed out that the shape of the paring knife could allow it to double as a small boning knife. He told us, “This is my favorite knife for boning. When I’m breaking down meat, this is exactly what I like to use.”
The Victorinox knives come with a limited lifetime warranty, so contact Victorinox if you need a replacement.
If you’re looking for a truly superior knife set, we recommend the handsome Messermeister Royale Elité 10-Piece Knife Block Set. Made from high-quality German steel, the forged Messermeister knives are very sharp, and they tackled every type of chopping task we attempted with precision and ease. Since these knives are perfectly balanced between the handle and the blade, they had the most comfortable weight among all the sets we tested. The beautifully crafted ergonomic walnut handles provide a firm grip and are a pleasure to hold. Unlike most knife sets, the Messermeister Royale Elité set is one of the few that aren’t plagued by a lot of filler. We’re confident that with this deep, rich walnut block knife set, you’ll have exceptional knives that will last for years to come.
The Messermeister knives are extremely sharp, though some of our testers said they were slightly resistant when cutting through large, fibrous carrots in comparison with the Shun and Miyabi knives. However, we’ve read reviews indicating that the Shun knives we tested chip easily if not treated delicately, since they’re made from super-hard steel. The Messermeister blades, in contrast, are thicker and have a softer steel, which makes them more durable. But this means they won’t hold an edge quite as long as most Japanese-style knives and will require more frequent sharpening. That said, if you have kids and they like to help out in the kitchen, you won’t have to worry about whether the Messermeister knives will hold up under some abuse.
Our testers found that the chef’s knife cut through onions easily and had a nice curve to the blade, which was more convenient for chopping than that of the corresponding Shun knife. The Messermeister paring knife is lightweight and the perfect size for small hand tasks such as peeling or mincing shallots.
The Messermeister bread knife was one of the sharpest serrated blades we tested, and at 9 inches it’s longer than most other bread knives typically found in sets. The serrated blade provides excellent precision and cuts paper-thin slices of bread without breaking off too much crust. Chef Simon told us, “The [Messermeister] serrated bread knife is actually sharper than the Shun bread knives. It cuts right through a tomato.”
Because the Messermeister shears are razor-sharp, they glide through parchment paper with ease. While the all-metal shears aren’t as comfy as the plastic-handled shears in the Wüsthof Classic Ikon set, they are more aesthetically pleasing.
Since the handles on these knives are American walnut, you’ll need to treat them with care. Simon said, “I think the handles could damage easily, especially if left in water to soak for a long time.” As with all knives, never put these through a dishwasher, which can warp and crack the wood or damage the blade. Dry the knives immediately after washing them.
Among all the sets we tested, the Messermeister knife block was the most narrow. Since the block is smaller, some of our testers thought the knife slots were arranged too closely, causing the knife handles to appear crowded. If you have a small kitchen, however, we think the crowded handles aren’t a dealbreaker since the block occupies less space on a kitchen counter. Our testers also noted that the kitchen shears fit loosely in their designated slot, but this is only a minor issue.
We did notice that one of the tines on the carving fork was slightly dull, but we’re willing to assume this was a manufacturing flaw and not a consistent issue with this set. The Messermeister knives have a limited lifetime guarantee; if you encounter problems, contact Messermeister for returns or replacements.
If you don’t want to drop a chunk of change all at once, you can buy many of the pieces in this set individually (or in smaller sets) at stores such as Williams-Sonoma. Messermeister sells four styles of knives within the Elité collection: Royale, Meridian, Oliva, and San Moritz. The steel blades in all of these collections are the same; the only differences are in the handle material and the length of the tang (the Meridian knives have full tangs, while the knives in the other sets have three-quarter tangs). Keep in mind that the kitchen shears, knife blocks, and knives included in each set will vary depending on the style of the collection you choose. We think the 10-piece Royale Elité set is the most handsome and the best of the bunch.
Regardless of how much money you spend on a set of knives, practicing good knife maintenance will keep them sharper and help them last longer.
You can find a lot of debate about the best way to store your knives. Some people say a magnetic strip is best, while others swear by a wood block. Both methods can be good for storing knives, as long as you’re using them properly.
According to Kendall College instructor Brendan McDermott, magnetic strips can be great if you have a small kitchen, but you should never place the edge of a knife blade against the strip, or you might bend the edge (always place the dull spine of the knife against the strip). Likewise, a wood block can keep your knives tidy; just don’t ding the knives’ edges against the wood. McDermott also recommends using simple plastic or wood sheaths. Each sleeve goes directly over a blade, and you can then store the knife in a regular cutlery drawer. In-drawer knife blocks, such as this one, are also great for storing knives and don’t take up space on a counter.
McDermott recommends using cutting boards made from softer materials, such as wood, which won’t dull your blades (at least, not so quickly). He says to avoid cutting on boards made of glass, ceramic, or plastic. The exception to this rule is when you’re working with raw meat; you should always use a plastic board for that task, so you can easily disinfect it in the dishwasher or with a bleach solution. (See The Sweethome’s top choices in cutting boards.)
When it comes to washing knives, never put them in the dishwasher. The high heat and detergents in a dishwasher can compromise the blade and cause wooden handles to loosen or crack over time. (Sharp blades may also cut through the plastic coating of your dish rack, potentially causing rust.) Always hand-wash knives and dry them promptly to prevent rust from building up on the blade. Along the same lines, you should never leave a knife in the sink to wash later or submerge it in water—not only do you risk dulling the blade this way, but doing so is a safety hazard.
No matter how nice your knives are, if you don’t sharpen them, they won’t do you much good. Most home cooks can get by with sharpening their knives professionally about once or twice a year. Unless you’re a particularly experienced knife sharpener with a whetstone or grinder, you’ll probably just take the edge off your knife if you try it yourself. If you’re determined to sharpen your knives at home, check out our picks for the best sharpening tool. Remember, the honing steel that comes with a knife set is really meant only to tune up your knives by taking sharp blades and straightening out the little bends in the edges that develop after regular use.
For more information on knife care and honing technique, see our guide to the best chef’s knife.
If you prefer Japanese-style knives, the Miyabi Artisan SG2 Collection 7-Piece Knife Block Set is the way to go. Chef Joseph Simon praised this set for its well-balanced, razor-sharp knives. Some of our testers with smaller hands, however, complained that the handles were too wide. Also, this set’s thin blades are more delicate than those of the Messermeister Royale Elité or Wüsthof Classic Ikon sets, so you have to treat them with care.
We used to recommend the Wüsthof Classic 8-Piece Knife Set with Block, but we found the full bolster made sharpening difficult. We also preferred the grippy handles on the Wüsthof Classic Ikon set more than the smooth handles on this set.
The Tojiro DP 6-piece Knife Block Set contains sharp knives, but some of our testers hit their knuckles when chopping with the chef’s knife. We also found the sheep’s-foot paring knife to be awkward for most small cutting tasks.
Although the Global 10-Piece Knife Block Set is very sharp, it has a lot of filler knives that we thought weren’t especially useful for the home cook. This set was polarizing for our testers, mostly due to the metal handles, which can become slippery when wet and difficult to hold.
The knives in the Shun Kaji 8-Piece Knife Block Set are finely crafted and razor-sharp, but our testers found the handles to be too heavy and long for home use. The blades are also more delicate and not as durable as the ones in the Messermeister Royale Elité set.
The items in the Shun Classic 9-Piece Knife Block Set have lighter handles than those in the Shun Kaji set, but some of our testers found these knives to be too large and long for cooks with smaller hands. The Shun Classic chef’s knife requires a bit of a learning curve because it requires a back-and-forth sliding motion when you’re slicing, versus the rocking motion most people are familiar with when using German knives.
The Wüsthof Legende 7-Piece Knife Block Set had sharp blades, but the pebbled thermoplastic handles looked and felt cheap. Our testers preferred sets with heavier, more durable handles.
The Mercer Culinary Renaissance 6-Piece Forged Knife Block Set is a decent beginner option, but our testers weren’t fans of the glass knife block, which many of them said resembled an ant farm. Some of our testers own Mercer knives and told us they dull more quickly and require frequent sharpening.
The Wüsthof Gourmet 2-Piece Prep Set includes a paring knife that we thought was a little long, making hand work such as peeling apples more difficult. Our testers preferred the shorter paring knife blade in the Wüsthof Classic Ikon set.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: September 13, 2016