In theory, sets of things are great. An assortment of items for one price seems like an easy way to save money while providing yourself with options. But when it comes to kitchen tools, sets—of utensils, pots and pans, whatever else—are often more of a clever sales tactic than a valuable investment.
Think about utensil sets—do you really need two different ladles or the same spatula in three sizes? Probably not, because you’ll find your favorite of each and the others will languish in a drawer, taking up space and getting in the way as you’re rooting around for the measuring spoons (one of the rare sets you should buy).
Knives are no exception to this questionable set rule. As tempting as knife blocks may be to ensure you’re covering all the bases for your slicing, dicing, and chopping needs, the reality is that you’re probably only going to reach for one or two of those knives on a regular basis. Instead, you’re better off choosing a few select knives that are sure to be put to use rather than serve as dust collectors.
A Chef’s Knife
The chef’s knife is the universal workhorse of the chopping board. So versatile is this knife that it’s worth investing in a quality one—and then learning how to properly maintain it—though you don’t need to break the bank.
We’ve tested lots of chef’s knives and while German-made Wüsthof unsurprisingly continues to top our lists, you can score an effective, well-made chef’s knife for under $30. If you can, go hold some knives in person first to see which feels best in your hand. After all, you’ll be using it a lot.
A Paring Knife
Yep, paring knives range almost as widely in price as chef’s knives, but our tests have once again revealed that you don’t have to spend top dollar to equip your kitchen with a quality model. In truth, you probably won’t use a paring knife all that often, but it’s worth having one in your arsenal for tedious tasks like peeling shallots. Or, you know, slicing a cucumber as you throw together a side salad while your partner takes their sweet time carving a roast chicken with the chef’s knife.
A Bread Knife
A serrated bread knife can be used on more than just a crusty loaf. Think tomatoes, wintry squashes, or basically anything you’d like the blade to sink its teeth into with confidence before completing that downward stroke.
Because of their serrated blades, though, we don’t actually recommend spending a lot of money on a bread knife. They’re tricky to sharpen at home (all those individual sharp points), so unless you’re committed to seeking professional sharpening, you’re better off buying on a budget.
A Carving Knife
While a carving or slicing knife isn’t totally essential—you’ll have a chef’s knife, after all—if you’re regularly preparing the likes of prime rib or roast lamb, it might be nice to have just the right tool for the job. Thanks to their ultra-slim blades, carving knives slice right through meats and allow for deft maneuvering around bones and cartilage.
Slicing knives are very similar to carving knives, minus the tapered tip. They’re useful for navigating delicate dishes like terrines or gravlax.
A Boning Knife
A boning knife—more specifically, a Japanese poultry knife—will prove exceedingly useful next time you’re deboning chicken thighs or breaking down a bird. Boning knives are defined by their short, triangular blades that are both sharp and strong, allowing you to really get in there and separate bone from meat.
A good cleaver can hack through thin bones (like a chicken’s) and tough vegetables like nobody’s business. The wide blade is also useful for smashing garlic, pummeling ginger, or scooping up whatever you’ve just chopped and depositing it swiftly into a hot pan.
Santoku knives are meant to be all-purpose—much like a chef’s knife. In fact, you might even prefer this Japanese classic over the Western-style blade, since santoku blades tend to be made of harder steel and feature a chiseled edge. In an ideal world, you can have both!
A Petty Knife
Also referred to as a utility knife, petty knives are kind of like the Goldilocks of multipurpose blades. They’re smaller than a chef’s knife, bigger than a paring knife, and just right for most tasks. Use a petty knife to prep vegetables, slice up a snacktime salami, or harvest fresh herbs from your overgrown windowsill garden.
Yes, we’re recommending a knife set in an article where we’re telling you not to buy a set of knives, but steak knives are different! Steak knives fall under the “flatware” category more than anything, because they’ll be right there with you at the dinner table and do a way better job of cutting through meats than, say, butter knives. We like this mid-priced set from Messermeister that blew away the competition in our tests.
What is the best kitchen knife set?
The one you make yourself! It’s totally fine to buy a set of knives if that feels like the path of least resistance, but you’ll get the most value—both in time and money—from selecting just two or three individual knives that you’re sure to use on a regular basis.
What are the top five best knives?
“Best” is always a subjective term, but since we rigorously test just about everything we recommend here, you can shop with confidence from any of our reviews; many of which have been linked above.
For an all-rounder chef’s knife, we like Wüsthof’s 8-inch. For a paring knife, you’ll be just fine with this affordable Victorinox. And Tojiro makes a great serrated bread knife! And, honestly? Three knives are all you really need.
How much should a good quality knife cost?
There’s no hard and fast rule for what a good knife should cost. Consider instead what the knife’s purpose is and go from there—it’s better to allocate funds toward a quality chef’s knife and save cash on the bread knife that will need to be replaced far sooner.