- A good, reliable set of knives is essential to any kitchen.
- We consulted metallurgists, chefs, and butcher Pat LaFrieda to find the best knife sets out there.
- The Wusthof set is our top pick because it comes with every knife you need for most kitchen tasks, plus a honing steel and a pair of shears.
Whether you’re prepping go-to recipes in your home kitchen or working on the line at the latest Michelin-starred restaurant, having good knives is essential. But you don’t need many: between a chef’s knife and a paring knife, you can chop, slice, dice, cube, mince, brunoise, chiffonade, julienne, and more. Beyond those two, you’ll probably want a bread knife, and depending on how much meat and poultry you cook, you may consider a boning or utility knife as well. Tracking down the perfect kitchen knives individually can be a time-consuming and expensive task, which is why purchasing them as a set is often a practical choice.
I’ve done stints in restaurants and raw bars, served as a galley cook aboard a private yacht, and filleted and shucked more seafood while working on fishing boats than I can recount. For this guide, I tested eleven knife sets, focusing on balance between the blades and handles, quality of construction, and edge retention.
While sharpness was a given (any knife that wasn’t sharp out of the package was immediately disqualified), we chose to test edge retention by slicing tomatoes before running knives on a glass cutting board 200 times in order to dull them. After dulling, we tried slicing tomatoes again to determine which edges held up best. We also consulted a professor of metallurgy to provide insight into the pros and cons of different alloys, and to break down our contenders’ hardness ratings.
Below are the knife sets that passed our tests exceptionally well. You can learn more about our methodology here, and if you’re still unsure as to whether a pre-assembled knife kit will suit your needs, check out our list of the pros and cons of buying your knives piecemeal.
Here are the best knife sets in 2021
- Best knife set overall: Wusthof Classic Ikon 7-Piece
- Best knife set on a budget: Victorinox Fibrox Pro 4-piece
- Best knife set upgrade: F.N. Sharp
- Best knife set with a sharpening subscription: Knifey
Wusthof’s Classic Ikon 7-Piece Knife Block Set includes four well-balanced, durable, easy-to-grip knives, as well as a honing steel, kitchen shears, and a solid walnut block.
Pros: Great weight and balance, impressive edge retention
Cons: Wood block is on the larger side, bread knife could be longer
Wusthof’s Classic Ikon seven-piece knife set comes with a three-and-a-half-inch paring knife, a six-inch utility (or boning) knife, an eight-inch bread knife, an eight-inch chef’s knife, a nine-inch honing steel, a pair of “come-apart” kitchen shears, and a 15-slot solid walnut block for countertop storage.
This is the set for those who are building out a kitchen from absolute scratch and have a bit of money to do so. It covers just about every cutlery need, and should you decide to buy another knife for a highly-specific task, there’s plenty of room in that 15-slot block for extra additions.
These knives are all forged (not stamped out) from high-carbon steel, which is fairly easy to sharpen, but also holds an edge far longer than the X50CrMoV15 steel found in many of the more affordable options we’ve tested.
The handles are POM (polyoxymethylene), which has a smooth, satin finish. They’re on the small side, but every-so-slightly ergonomically shaped, making them comfortable to grip.
Some people may take issue with the serrated (or bread) knife, which, at eight inches, is a bit small. A 10 or 11-inch blade is preferable, especially when it comes to slicing a large peasant loaf, although a knife of that size won’t easily fit in a storage block. Take Wusthof’s serrated knife for what it is, or use it to slice meats and smaller breads and invest in a larger bread knife to store elsewhere in your kitchen.
These knives come with a limited lifetime warranty, which protects only against manufacturing defects. We’ve used these knives for nearly a year, and they’ve held up through many mishaps. We’re confident they can handle most anything your kitchen might throw at them.
The best knife set on a budget
The knives in Victorinox’s 4-Piece Fibrox Pro set are lightweight, easy to sharpen, and resilient as can be.
Pros: Resilient, good edge retention, easy to sharpen, comfortable handles
Cons: Not very well-balanced
Victorinox’s four-piece Fibrox Pro knife set comes with a four-inch paring knife, a six-inch utility (or boning) knife, an eight-inch chef’s knife, and an eight-inch serrated (or bread) knife. These are, arguably, the only knives you will ever need, and Victorinox’s versions are among the more resilient ones we’ve tested.
The knives in the Fibrox Pro set are made of the very same high-carbon steel as many affordable to mid-range knives (X50CrMoV15), but Victorinox cuts some corners with a stamped blade (rather than an individually constructed one), a molded plastic handle, and no real flair. However, those are precisely the correct corners to cut; if you’re on a budget, you definitely want to purchase a set of knives whose blade construction was the primary focus. Fancy handles are great, but not when they’re attached to insufficient blades.
If you’re looking to keep costs to a minimum, if your kitchen is fairly minimalist, if you share a cooking space, or if you’re looking to furnish a second home or rental, this is the knife set to purchase (and then never worry about). Even with heavy use, you’ll be able to bring them back up to snuff in short order, and butchers like Pat LaFrieda and commercial kitchens all over the world stock a smattering of Victorinox’s chef’s knives, which is a testament to the brand’s quality.
Could you stand to add a few knives to your quiver after buying this pared-down set? Maybe, but you can still prepare just about anything with these four basic tools, and if you’re trying to stick to a budget, less is more. You could find a 17-piece set for about the same price if you wanted to, but we’ve tried a handful of them over the years, and considering how little goes into each knife in such a set, you’d find yourself replacing them sooner than you would like.
The best knife set upgrade
F.N. Sharp knives feature 67-layer Japanese Damascus steel and riveted epoxy and fiberglass handles, which we find fit most hands best.
Pros: High-quality steel, great edge retention, exceptionally comfortable handles
Cons: A little difficult to sharpen yourself (but that’s what the sharpening service is for)
A three-and-a-half-inch paring knife, a six-inch Santoku (or Santoku Bocho, which translates to “three uses”: chopping, mincing, and dicing), and an eight-inch chef’s knife make up this elegant, if pared-down, triage of knives. If your needs would be better suited by a six-piece set, which also includes a bread knife, a boning knife, and a utility knife, that’s also available for $660.
Apart from looking unbelievably cool thanks to the VG-10 steel patterned into the blade, these knives are the most balanced and solidly built of any we’ve tried. We also like that three “sharpenings” are included with the purchase of every set, which should get you through a year to a year-and-a-half of constant use.
We put “sharpenings” in quotations because what the brand actually does — and this is pretty ingenious, we must say — is send you a replacement set of freshly sharpened knives in a box with a prepaid packaging slip into which you’ll put your used, dulled knives for return. After the first three sharpenings, though, the cost is on you and it’s admittedly steep: $60 for the three-knife set, $90 for the six-knife set, and $50 for a steak knife set. For comparison, most local services will charge you $2-$3 per inch of blade.
The best knife set with a sharpening subscription
For those that don’t want to spend a ton of money on a knife set but know in full confidence they won’t be sharpening their own knives, Knifey is the full-service knife set to meet their needs.
Pros: Surprisingly affordable, exceptional handles
Cons: Very sharp for the type of steel, might need sharpening (service) sooner than others
Knifey’s Essential Three-Knife set comes with a three-inch paring knife, an eight-inch chef’s knife, and an eight-inch serrated (or bread) knife, which is precisely everything most people will ever need in the way of kitchen cutlery, though the brand does offer a five-piece set as well as a single chef’s knife.
Made with what has basically become the standard steel alloy (X50CrMoV15) within the $100-$200 market, Knifey’s cutlery includes supremely comfortable G10 fiberglass handles, which offer heft and balance. The chef’s and paring knives have a respectable 17-degree cutting angle, and we found that the blades fell right through vegetables similarly to the way the Wusthof Classic Ikon knives did, even before and after chopping on a glass cutting board 200 times.
A lot of people will find Knifey’s service irresistibly convenient, and considering the price (starting at about $140 per year with two annual sharpenings), it’s not an unreasonable expenditure. Likewise, if you want to do your own sharpening, you can pay the one-time annual subscription fee, receive the knives, and keep them.
Knifey’s service works similarly, if not exactly like F.N. Sharp’s above: receive your knives, run them through their paces until they’re dull, and then let the brand know it’s time. They’ll rush a set of freshly sharpened knives over, then you place your dull knives in the empty box, slap on a prepaid shipping label, and carry on with your newly sharpened knives.
Too many people neglect their knives, which only makes chopping and slicing more arduous — not to mention more treacherous. If you tend to let your knives get dull, Knifey’s service could save you trouble, and maybe even a trip to the emergency room.
I’ve been using knives regularly — as most of us have — for the better part of my life, and on and off professionally. I relied on my own experience along with the unbiased and uninformed opinions of five others during testing.
Ahead of testing, I got in touch with butcher and New York City meat purveyor Pat LaFrieda as well as Mike Tarkanian, a research affiliate and a senior lecturer at MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE), to find out what their requisites are for great knives. Here’s what we settled on taking into consideration:
Edge retention: Our knife-testing process involved slicing a few fresh tomatoes, taking note of the ease with which the chef knife from each set handled the task. After we had sufficient data, we took each chef’s knife to a glass cutting board and ran it over the surface 200 times. Some knives held their edge, others not so much. We looked at the edges after running the knives and noted if there were any visible changes.
We then returned to the tomatoes, cutting a few more and seeing how much resistance we felt compared with the performance of the knives straight out of the packaging. Knives that held their edges passed on to further rounds of consideration.
Alloy, and the HRC (hardness rating): We consulted several experts in the field, but the most informative source we encountered was Michael J Tarkanian , a professor of metallurgy at MIT. With his help, we were able to cut through the marketing and the scientific terminology behind different alloys and what allows a knife to retain an edge.
We looked for a hardness rating of around 60 HRC, which offers great edge retention while still allowing for an edge of around 15 degrees (though up to 20 degrees, which is duller than 15, was still considered sufficient).
Ergonomics: For a knife to work well, you have to be able to hold it comfortably in your hand. We asked an array of people to pick up knives and decide which ones were the easiest to grip; across the board, they went for the ones with heavier, rounded, almost bulbous handles.
Balance between the handle and the blade is also key. Pricier knives almost always offer better balance because that extra cost goes into using denser and often more desirable materials.
A well-balanced knife with a good blade will cut through vegetables with minimal pressure, like our top pick from Wusthof. A not-so-well-balanced knife will take a little force to get started.
What else we tested and recommend
We tested 11 knife sets in total; here are a few of the others that we also recommend:
- Made-In: These are good knives and made of the same material as most of the ones we tested (X50CrMoV15). But the handles are a little small and somewhat awkwardly-shaped. Still, you won’t get a bad set of knives from Made-In. We wish the brand still offered three- and five-piece sets, though, because we think the six-piece is overkill for most.
- Material Trio of Knives: These are very well-balanced knives and we love how sharp they are out of the box. The magnetic block is a little unwieldy, and we found that these blades dulled more than others during testing, but that may be due to their exceptional 13-degree edges. The $35 Good Shears are a worthy addition, too.
- Potluck Knife Set: Also punched out of the same alloy as most knives we tested, these are about as affordable as a decent set of knives gets. The blades outweigh the handles, but they held up in testing and if you’re on a really tight budget, Potluck is a good choice.
- J.A. Henckels (Zwilling) Classic 7-Piece: We enjoyed using these knives almost as much as we did the Wusthof Classic Ikon set, but the handles were a little awkward to hold, and the blades didn’t retain their edges quite as well.
What we look forward to testing
Here are some knife sets we’re currently considering for future updates:
- Shun 2-Pc Chef’s Set: Shun is a favorite of some of the world’s top chefs, and this is one of their more economical sets. While we’d hoped to test them sooner, many of Shun’s knives have been out of stock due to Covid-19 complications.
- Shun 2-Pc Classic Set: A step up from Shun’s Chef’s Set, we’re preparing to test the brand’s Classic Set as a possible investment pick for minimalists.
- Global Classic 3-Piece Knife Set: This three-piece set, and the brand in general, is a favorite among chefs including the late Anthony Bourdain.
- Misen Essential Knife Set: Missen offers an attractive three-piece package with a sharpening service at a competitive price, and we’ll consider it for several categories next time around.
- MAC Professional Series 3-Piece Set: Mac is another chef favorite, and this one is lauded as a workhorse by Eric Ripert, co-owner and executive chef of the thrice-Michelin-starred New York City fixture Le Bernardin. It’s a little on the pricey side, but we’re curious to see how it stacks up to our investment pick.
Why you may want to put your knife set together piecemeal
Depending on your budget, you may want to consider other options besides a knife set. Any time you’re buying a set of something, the brand and/or manufacturer often adds in fillers (i.e. less than useful pieces) and cuts corners, and the case is no different with knives.
A lot of chefs we spoke with recommend keeping only one, two, or maybe three knives in a kitchen: a chef’s knife for most tasks, a paring knife for smaller jobs like peeling fruit or scoring dough, and a bread knife. You might also consider forgoing a knife block for a magnetic bar, which takes up far less space when stuck to the side of your fridge or mounted on a wall. Over time, you may want to add something like a utility or boning knife, but the truth is most kitchens will rarely find much use for one. If you do need one, you know who you are, and you probably carve a lot of poultry and/or meat.
Check out our other knife-related guides