Knife Set Buying Guide
Purchasing a knife set isn’t as simple as some people may think it is. There is a lot to consider when making a decision such as this one. Like many people, I once assumed that most knives were created equally. I was well aware that expensive knives must be better quality than cheaper knives, but wasn’t exactly sure about the differences between all the knives and knife sets which existed in between.
When I moved into my first apartment, I was your typical twenty-something moving out into the big world. I was flat broke – a student and volunteer worker. My parents were unable to assist me in purchasing much for my new place, so I found myself scrambling around with a tiny budget, trying to accumulate the necessities. This was when I first realized the value of a good set of kitchen knives.
Working on a budget, I chose the cheapest set of knives I could find at my local discount store. For less than $20, I found myself the proud owner of a full 12-piece set of kitchen knives: a chef’s knife, a bread knife, a paring knife, a boning knife, a utility knife, a pair of kitchen shears, and six flimsy steak knives.
It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that this set wasn’t anywhere near what I actually required for my daily kitchen tasks. The steak knives struggled to cut through chicken, much less a tough steak. Despite being made from stainless steel, each and every knife rusted in my dishwasher. The blades came apart from the handles of a couple of knives. The bread knife was too stiff and the paring knife was too flimsy. The chef’s knife was barely curved which made it difficult to perform some of my favorite techniques.
I have written this article to help you avoid making the mistake I made. I hope that this article will assist you in selecting or building the best set of kitchen knives for your needs and your budget.
Know Your Budget
Before you even begin to think about looking at specific knife sets, it is extremely important that you know your budget. For some people, budget is of little concern. Either they have the ability to spend whatever they want on a knife set or they have prioritized their knives above other things to ensure that they can spend whatever amount is necessary. The rest of us, on the other hand, often find ourselves working within very specific budgets.
I suggest figuring out your budget before you begin looking for a knife set so that the appeal of certain sets doesn’t cause you to change your budget. Figure out what you have to spend and stick with it. If it helps, you can try automatically eliminating any set which falls above the maximum amount you have allotted to your kitchen knife set.
To Buy or To Build?
Many people have asked me whether it is better to buy a full set of knives or to build their own set. I never have a concrete answer to this question, because I truly believe that the answer is different for each and every person who asks it.
How important is cooking to your life? Do you get great satisfaction from creating a culinary masterpiece or do you enjoy throwing a few quick items together for a simple meal? Do you like to make your meals visually appealing, putting effort into each and every slice, or do you like to focus on efficiency in completing your kitchen tasks? These questions are important in helping you decide if it is best to build a set or buy a set.
If you put a lot of effort into creating meals, you may want to consider building a knife set. Different qualities are important for different knives. You may want a chef’s knife which is equally weighted between its handle and its blade, but prefer a paring knife with more weight in the handle. You may prefer stainless steel steak knives, simply because stainless steel is easy to wash – who wants to hand wash dishes after a dinner party, anyway? When it comes to your other knives, sharpness and strength may be more important, leading you toward high-carbon blades instead.
People who rarely hold dinner parties, who often order in and who place little importance on the actual act of cooking would be better suited to a knife set. Owning a set with customized pieces is less important to this group of people. That being said, budgetary constraints may force even the most eager and heartfelt home chefs toward purchasing a ready-made knife set, because pre-made sets are usually much more affordable than individually-assembled sets.
It is very important that you consider the size of the set you are looking to purchase and which types of knives you would like to be a part of that set. Typically, sets are available in a range of three to eighteen pieces. If you are looking to build a set but must work within a budget, purchasing a set of three to six knives may be helpful. This will allow you to get a few knives for a bargain price then add to the set later with individual knives. If you choose to go this route, I suggest figuring out which knives you would like to have the same qualities.
For example, imagine that you would like to own a chef’s knife, bread knife and utility knife with equally weighted handles and blades, made from high-carbon stainless steel whose handles are wrapped in silicone, but would prefer that your paring knife and boning knife feature heavier handles and your steak knives are all stainless steel. This would mean that you could purchase a set consisting of a chef’s knife, bread knife, and utility knife then purchase the other knives separately.
In selecting the size of the set you would like to purchase, it is also important for you to be honest with yourself about which knives you are likely to use on a regular basis. Let’s be honest, how often do most of us use boning knives? It took a long time for me to become comfortable using that sharp, thin knife. I certainly didn’t require it to be a part of my first knife set.
If you aren’t going to use every knife which is included with a set, look for a different set. For example, if you think you would use your chef’s knife to cut sandwiches and never actually slice or dice with it, you may want to consider purchasing a set which does not include a chef’s knife.
Material and Construction Concerns
Whether you are purchasing a pre-made knife set or are building one yourself, you will want to consider the materials from which your set has been constructed as well as the quality of that construction.
Consider the type of blade included with each knife. Is it stainless steel, high-carbon steel, high-carbon stainless steel, or ceramic? For more information about the different types of blades available for most kitchen knives, visit our page about Blade Types. On that page, we delve into the specifics of how each of these blade types will affect your ability to cut with and clean your knife.
Consider the type of handle included with each knife. How important are non-slip handles? What about ergonomics? Is it necessary for you to be able to submerge your knife in water or place it in the dishwasher? For more information about different types of knife handles, visit our Handle Types page.
Most knife sets come with some sort of storage. Some come with wooden, steel, plastic, or glass blocks; others come in a specially-designed knife apron and some even come with a magnetic strip. Your choice of storage container isn’t really all that important. What is most important is that you have one. Leaving your knives to bang around loosely in a drawer is not only dangerous but will also wear down and possibly damage your blades.
Your choice of storage container may be predetermined by the knife set you select, or may be part of what determines your choice. You may even purchase your set and your container separately. Either way, there are a couple of things to consider. Glass and steel blocks will actually wear down your blade over time if the blades rub against the blocks. For this reason, I suggest a wooden or plastic block, since wood and plastic are not known for dulling blades as easily.
I would like to share a quick word of caution to those who are building their own knife sets. If you are hoping to use a magnetic strip for storage purposes, be sure that the knives you intend to buy for your set are actually magnetic. There is nothing worse than thinking you have a well-thought-out plan, only to find that your pieces cannot work together.
Making a Selection
Making a selection is never easy, especially when the product is something you are likely to use almost every day. I suggest taking the time to educate yourself, as much as possible, before jumping in and making a decision such as this one. Feel free to peruse the various knife reviews and knife set reviews on this website, as well as the information pages and buying guides we have set up for each type of knife.