Ginsu. Cuisinart. A thousand brands you’ve never heard of. With so many options out there, how can you choose a truly great (but reasonably priced) set of kitchen knives?
Knives are so important that many professional chefs bring their own blades to work, each hand-picked for durability, weight, sharpness, and shape. Even if you’re not a cook, your dinner knives could be so dull that you’ll struggle to carve up steak. Today, rather than covering exotic knives, I’m focusing on some great mainstream picks that anyone can afford and enjoy, starting with awesome steak knives from leading knife brand J.A. Henckels, which runs neck-and-neck with longtime rival Wüsthof in offering truly excellent cutting tools. Unlike the Ginsus, Sunbeams, and other mediocre brands out there, Henckels and Wüsthof knives have decades-long reputations for durability, long-term sharpness, and great design.
As Amazon’s #1 best-selling steak knife (with a 4.4/5-star user rating), a four-knife version of the J.A. Henckels set above has composite handles rather than steel, and sells for only $20. For $40, you can get eight Henckels knives with steel handles, a version that has an even higher 4.6/5-star Amazon rating. Having used both types of Henckels steak knives, I can tell you that the all-steel ones feel especially great in the hand and slice meat with superb precision; both versions use serrated blades that legitimately never need sharpening. Our steak knives are every bit as sharp now as they were when we bought them years ago.
More great steak and kitchen knife picks are below…
If you’re willing to spend more on your steak knives, Henckels’ competitor Wüsthof offers deluxe alternatives, typically at a premium. One of its best values is this eight-knife set with a wooden gift box, available for $50, combining high-carbon stainless steel serrated blades with steel handles. With a 4.3/5-star Amazon rating, the set is praised for its value, looks, and sharpness, but knocked a little for the lighter weight of the knives compared with Wüsthof’s fancier Classic series.
Wüsthof Classic Knife Sets sell for $189 as four-piece sets, or $299 as six-piece sets. The price difference versus Wüsthof’s entry-level knives is stark, but the Classic models have 4.8-star and 4.9-star Amazon ratings dating back more than a decade: superior balance, hand-honed (non-serrated) blades, and a lifetime guarantee make them special.
Chef’s / Kitchen Knives
Just like steak knives, if you’re shopping for a high-quality kitchen knife — or knife set — J.A. Henckels and Wusthof are top mainstream picks. Culinary genius J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats recommends Wüsthof’s 8″ Classic and J.A. Henckels’ 8″ International Classic as top picks for “the serious home cook who does a lot of heavy-duty prep and needs a single knife that will perform well at everything” except tasks calling for a tiny blade. Once again, there’s a huge difference in price: the Henckels knife is $55 with a 4.5/5-star Amazon rating, while Wüsthof’s is $127 with a 4.8/5-star rating. Both knives have excellent high-carbon stainless steel forged blades; the Wüsthof’s handle is made from composite wood rather than plastic, and the grip point between the blade and the handle is a little larger. I’ve been extremely satisfied with my Henckels blade.
Although it’s great to have one superstar knife in your collection, the sheer number of things that will need to be cut in your kitchen means that a multi-knife block set will make sense. Unfortunately, buying a bunch of high-quality knives isn’t cheap. If you look at Amazon’s five current best-selling block knife sets, the top option is a cheapo $20 13-piece set from Sunbeam, followed by $60 and $91 Chicago Cutlery sets, then two $29 and $45 Ginsu knife sets. The Sunbeam and Ginsu knives are effectively selling for $2 or $3 each. The low prices are appealing, but my advice is simple: don’t buy knives you’ll have to throw away. Put the money towards higher-quality products from long-established, reliable brands.
J.A. Henckels offers a Contour 10-Piece Forged Stainless Steel Cutlery Set that’s currently Amazon’s #1 new release in block knife sets, with a 4.4/5-star user rating. It includes a 8″ chef’s knife, 8″ bread knife, 8″ carving knife, 7″ Santoku knife, 6″ utility knife, 5″ serrated utility knife, 3 1/2″ paring knife, kitchen shears, sharpening steel rod, and a wooden storage block for $160. For $40 more, Henckels’ upgraded $200 Classic 16-piece version includes eight Henckels steak knives and uses the fancier, heavier 8″ Classic knife that’s so well-respected. By comparison, a seven-piece Wüsthof Classic Slim Knife Block Set will set you back $330.
For years, I’ve used (and loved) a now-discontinued version of the Henckels Classic set with four steak knives. I’d go with the same series if I was ordering again today. But I don’t have to: the Classics are still in excellent condition.
I’ve tested a lot of other kitchen tools, so if you’re hunting for something else to improve your daily home cooking, eating, and drinking, check out my Kitchen Tech column. You’ll definitely find plenty of choices to whet your appetite! We also offer frequent roundups of great home deals here.