If you’re in the market for kitchen knives, you might be a little overwhelmed by the number of choices out there. New cooks often just need a set to get them started, while seasoned cooks understand the importance of good kitchen knives.
If you are a long-time home cook or a professional chef, chances are you’re going to have some strong opinions about knives. And that’s understandable: you want the best to streamline meal prep and perform well every single day. However, if you’re just starting out, it’s hard to know what knives you need, let alone which knives you’ll love.
We have compiled this buying guide to help you determine what you need to buy to get cooking right now. We’ll cover the best sets and we’ll take a brief look at storage and care of you knives to help them last a long time.
What Knives Do You Need?
There are a ton of articles out there that tell you that you only need 4 (or 3, or 5, depending on the author) knives. And for some cooks, that might be just fine. However, you also need some cutlery if you ever eat meat that needs to be cut. And, some home cooks actually use knives beyond the “only” ones you supposedly need. Sure, you can probably manage with just a few knives, but the better question to ask is what knives you need for the types of cooking you want to do.
Here are some basic knives you might see or need:
- Chef: The classic, multipurpose knife that you’ll use every day
- Paring: A small, multipurpose utility knife for jobs that require accurate cutting
- Serrated: A long knife with teeth most commonly used for bread
- Boning: With a sharp tip and a narrow blade, this is smaller than a filet knife
- Butcher: Long, broad, and heavy-duty, this is designed for cutting through meat
- Carving: Commonly used for roasts, this is a long, thin knife for slicing
- Cleaver: This has heavy, broad blade most commonly used for chopping meat
- Santoku: Similar to a chef’s knife, this has a different tip and handles differently
- Steak: Individual knives used at the dinner table for cutting steak and other meat
While the decision to pick up any of these is personal (especially if we look at santoku versus chef’s knives), nearly everyone recommends a chef knife, paring knife, and serrated knife. It’s also a good idea to have some steak knives for dinners. We also strongly recommend a good pair of kitchen shears. The rest is up to you!
Check out this article on Knife Den, which has a ton of information about types and materials of kitchen knives.
Buying Sets vs. Buying Individual Knives
Some cooks swear that knife sets are a waste of money, but if you have 0 knives right now, a set might be appealing. Sets come with basics (and oftentimes knives you’ll never actually use) and typically have a block to store them in. Not sure what to do? Here are some situations where a knife set might actually be best:
- You are new to cooking (or don’t cook often)
- You don’t know much about knives (including care and use)
- You have limited drawer space
- You are on a budget
- You want to get/replace everything at once
A knife set can be great for a beginner, and it can get you by for a few years while you learn more about cooking, knife use, and what you like. Inexpensive knife sets are not going to last forever, and their quality can be hit or miss. But investing in a more expensive knife set can also be a good way to get every knife you need all at once, and it will last you a long time. Plus, a set gives you a good foundation and you can pick up single knives to add to it at any time.
On the other hand, buying individual knives lets you find the very best for each kind of knife. You’re not restricted to one brand, and you’re less likely to have a bunch of knives that never get used (unless you go on a buying frenzy, of course). But spending more on knives doesn’t always equate quality. Be sure to do lots of research and read user reviews before you buy.
Best Knife Sets
Here we’ll offer a few different options for three different price points: Budget (up to $150); Mid (up to $400), and Splurge ($400+).
Amazon’s top-seller in knife block sets comes with 15 pieces, including a chef’s knife, paring knife, and 6 steak knives. It also has shears and comes in a wood block for easy storage.
These stainless knives look nice and feature a well-known name, but they are not going to last a lifetime. While they are dishwasher safe, hand-washing them will extend the life of the set (and reduce rust). This is a basic set that will work just fine for a new cook.
For under $75, you get a set of basics including paring, chef, and serrated knives, plus 8 steak knives and a sharpener. J.A. Henckels is a well-known and trusted brand that’s been around for many years. The inexpensive sets are not quite as highly rated as some of the top-tier knives out there, but they are solid sets with a solid reputation.
Most reviews are positive, though some customers report quality issues (mainly about the sharpness of knives and construction). However, if this fits your budget and you go into the purchase with reasonable expectations, is a great option for a wallet-friendly knife set.
Another respected name in cutlery, Mercer is known for durability and dependability. This set is reasonably priced and includes everything you need to get started: chef’s knife, bread knife, and more. It comes in a tempered glass block that makes it easy to see (and adds a bit of style to the countertop).
Mercer knives are used by many culinary students, and they are renowned for being comfortable and easy to handle. You’d be hard-pressed to find higher quality at this price point. The main potential drawbacks for this set come from the style of the block — the knives sit up a bit high, and the glass can become dirty fairly easily.
The Swiss company best known for the Swiss Army Knife also makes excellent kitchen knives, like this set that comes with a beautiful walnut block. It includes all the basic cooking knives you’d need, such as chef’s knife, bread knife, and paring knife, plus six serrated steak knives.
Fans comment on the sharpness of the Victorinox knives, and the handles are non-slip and comfortable to hold. If you’re new to knives, the price tag might feel a bit high. However, this is actually an excellent value considering the quality of this set.
This is the higher-end set from the Henckels brand (you can identify it because of the name: “Zwilling” always indicates the high-end stuff). This particular set includes the basics (chef, santoku, paring, etc.) as well as shears and steel.
A lifetime warranty covers this incredibly well-crafted cutlery. The knives are precision forged from a single piece of high-carbon, no-stain steel exclusive to the brand. Twin Pro knives are known around the world and favored by plenty of chefs.
If you have a $400 budget, you have a lot of options for really great knife sets to choose from. At this price point, buyers tend to be very particular (as they should be!) but I have a few recommended sets to get you started.
Wüsthof is a top brand in cutlery, and both of these sets are worth the money. Both run
just under $400 and are made in Germany. The 8-piece includes chef’s, paring, utility, bread, and sandwich knives, plus shears and sharpening steel. The blades are formed through a blend of high-carbon steel and alloy.
The Ikon 7-piece comes in a walnut block and includes parer, utility, bread, and cooks knives, as well as shears and honing steel. This set’s handles have different look and feel, which for some is more comfortable or attractive. The knives included are very similar, so here it’s mostly a matter of taste and handle preference. Both of these Wüsthof sets are exceptional.
Other $400 sets to check out:
- Shun Classic 6-Piece Slim Knife Block Set: Crafted in Japan, this features Damascus-clad blades with D-shaped ebony PakkaWood handles
- Dalstrong 18-Piece Gladiator Series Colossal Knife Set: This huge set from Dalstrong is crafted with German high-carbon steel and features a lifetime warranty.
Splurge on These Sets
These fine German steel knives come in a set of 9, including chef’s knife and santoku, bread, utility, and paring knives, sharpening steel and kitchen shears. Their construction is stunning, and the lifetime warranty covers any manufacturing defects.
This set comes in at just under $500, making it a “splurge” but still priced well for elite, hand-crafted knives. If your budget is around that price, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better set for the money.
Hand-crafted in Japan and beautifully designed, the Shun Classic set is an excellent option for an under-$1000 set. It includes a Paring Knife, Honesuki Knife, Hollow Edge Nakiri Knife, Utility Knife, Santoku Knife, Chef’s Knife, Hollow Edge Carving Knife, plus honing steel and kitchen shears.
Shun knives are world-class and are notable for their Damascus-clad blades and elegant, comfortable handles. This is a set to last a lifetime, which Shun assures with their lifetime warranty. They even warranty the wood block for 90 days (which most manufacturers don’t do). This is truly an amazing set of knives.
If money is no object, this stunning 22-piece set from Wüsthof gives you everything you need and more. It includes all the cooking knives you could possibly need, plus 8 steak knives. These are crafted in “the cutlery capital of the world,” Solingen, Germany, and come with a lifetime warranty.
You’re looking at a price tag of nearly $1800 on these, but buyers who have shelled out the cash have not been disappointed. This is a top-of-the-line set of knives that will stand the test of time. You really shouldn’t need any other knives besides what comes in this set.
Caring for Your Knives
If you’re buying the best you can afford (no matter how much that might be), you want to get the most out of your purchase. When it comes to knives, how you care for them matters just as much as how much you spend. Caring for your knives correctly will prolong their life, keep the knives sharp, and ensure you’re ready to get cooking at any time. Here are some of the most important things you can do for your knives.
If you’re buying a set, you’ll probably get storage with it. If not, consider investing in a magnetic block, magnetic strip, or some other form of knife-specific storage. Never throw knives into a drawer where they will be mixed with other utensils.
For best results, all knives should be washed by hand, even if the manufacturer says they are dishwasher safe. Never leave dirty knives in the sink or wet knives in a dish rack. Wash and dry your knives immediately after use.
You should hone and sharpen regularly (check the manufacturer’s guidelines for how often). Learn how to do it yourself or find a professional.
Proper handling and use helps you stay safe in the kitchen; it also helps you be a better cook and treat your knives right. Take some time to learn how to use your knife (especially the chef or santuko knives) and always use a cutting board. We recommend sticking to wood.