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Unlike many of the gadgets found in today’s kitchens, knives are essential. While there is no universally perfect knife—it needs to fit the cook’s hand with the right heft, balance, and grip—there are a handful of standouts and types that every home chef needs. It’s generally smarter to buy your knives individually, but there are times when opting for a set makes the most sense. For example, you might be starting a new kitchen, upgrading a lot of worn-out cutlery at once, or stocking a vacation home.
If you already have an established inventory and are looking for, say, a santoku knife only, then obviously a set doesn't make sense. Luckily, we've got you covered on both fronts. We researched and tested everything from chef's and paring knives to serrated bread and steak knives, so you can seamlessly slice, dice, and chop with high-quality blades that fit every budget.
Here are the best knives and knife sets.
Included sheath may be too thin for storage
Rough handle surface grabs debris
Blade is stamped rather than forged
A chef’s knife is a multipurpose tool and must-have in every kitchen. It’s used for chopping, mincing, and dicing. If you don’t have a slicing knife, you can use this to slice your roast, and the wide blade makes it perfect for smashing garlic before mincing. Our reviewer tested it out on tomatoes (which are particularly difficult to cut clean) and ended up with "perfect slices without snagging or tearing."
This knife is made in Switzerland by the same company that makes Swiss army knives. They use a special tempering process that makes it easy to re-sharpen the blade when needed. It has a high-carbon stainless steel blade that's laser-tested to ensure the best cutting edge. The handle design is patented and has a textured, slip-resistant grip and ergonomic design.
Unlike more expensive knives, this does not have a full tang (meaning that the handle is in two pieces around the knife blade, which extends into the handle), but it's still well-balanced and easy to hold, according to our tester.
"There’s not much this knife can’t do, so if the budget is tight, it would be a great first knife until there’s room in the budget for a companion or two, like a paring knife or serrated blade." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
Handles aren't the smoothest
Doesn't include a case
It’s great to have a set of steak knives that look good and perform well. These have 5-inch blades that have an upswept boning tip that helps separate the meat and bone, while the cambered long blade helps cut through the meat.
They're constructed of German high-carbon stainless steel that gives them a sharp edge that lasts a while, making them a mainstay at your home for years to come. They're made in China, which helps bring you a good option for everyday use at an affordable price. What's more, the brand has a lifetime guarantee from manufacturing defects, so if you have any issues, they'll offer you a refund.
Contoured handle offers great control
Comfortable, nonslip grip
Not as sharp as more expensive knives
A paring knife is a kitchen essential, and this one from OXO offers great performance at an affordable price. It has a fully forged blade, bolster, and tang made from high-carbon German stainless steel for good edge retention, so you won’t need to sharpen as often.
The knife has excellent balance and a contoured handle for great control while performing small tasks like peeling, slicing, or chopping small amounts of food. The curved bolster offers support for the thumb and forefinger to obtain a proper hold that's both comfortable and efficient, and the handle has a nonslip grip, so you’ll feel confident when using it. This knife should be washed by hand.
Easily slices through tough crust
Won't ruin soft breads
While a bread knife isn’t essential for every kitchen, if you bake your own bread or buy unsliced bread from a local bakery, you know the frustration of trying to slice through a fresh loaf that has a crisp or chewy crust and a soft interior. A bread knife is designed to do exactly that, leaving you with perfect slices and a loaf that isn’t ruined in the process.
This 8-inch knife, made in Germany, is a good length for slicing through almost any size of bread loaf. The serrations grab and cut through tough crusts easily, while treating the soft inside of the bread gently. The synthetic handle offers a good grip and balance, too. Besides using it for bread, this knife also works well for slicing cakes into layers, however, you might want a 10-inch serrated knife if you use it frequently for 8-inch round cakes.
Ergonomic handle is comfortable to hold
Protective finger guard and nonslip grip
Might have to sharpen often
While a boning knife might not be the most-used type of knife, it’s exactly the tool you need when you’re deboning meats. Cut up your own chicken and save money over pre-cut pieces, and this knife will pay for itself. Made from Japanese high-carbon steel, it has a razor-sharp edge and is easy to resharpen. It also resists rust and corrosion.
The ergonomically designed handle is made from Santoprene for comfort and polypropylene for durability, and has a colorful inset in seven different hues. Textured finger points improve your grip and the finger guard keeps you safe while cutting.
Blade covers come included
Colorful, attractive design
Not the most durable
Buying a set of knives can be a burden on your wallet—that's when ceramic knives might be a smart option for your college dorm room, second home, or main abode. Ceramic knives get the job done efficiently and often in a brightly hued style.
This set comes with five knives and five sheaths, so you could travel with these if you plan to cook on vacation. While the price is low, these don't sacrifice performance. They do a stellar job at chopping, dicing, and slicing your way to mealtime.
These knives from Wüsthof are best sellers and much-loved by cooks. They’re made in Germany to exacting standards for perfect cutting right out of the box, along with lasting sharpness to minimize maintenance.
This set includes pieces that everyone needs in the kitchen: a 3.5-inch paring knife, 6-inch utility knife, 8-inch bread knife, 8-inch cook’s knife, 9-inch steel, kitchen shears, and knife block. The knives have sturdy black handles with three rivets for security and a comfortable grip. The block has 15 slots, so there’s room for the knife collection to grow when the cook wants to add specialized knives or a set of steak knives.
Comes with a large variety of knives
Knives could be sharper
Block arrangement isn't intuitive
This entire set costs less than many single knives and includes a block for easy storage, keeping your blades safe within arm's reach on the counter. It includes an 8-inch chef’s knife, 8-inch slicer, 6-inch boning knife, 6-inch cleaver, 5.5-inch serrated utility knife, 5-inch santoku knife, 4.5-inch utility knife, 3.5-inch paring knife, 3-inch serrated paring knife, 3-inch bird’s beak paring knife, eight 4.5-inch steak knives, a carving fork, and shears. Great for new cooks who don’t have a sharpener, the block self-sharpens the non-serrated knives as they’re pulled out of the block, so maintenance is minimal.
May need to sharpen often
Some say handle is slippery
There are plenty of santoku knives available, but why not get one that’s made in Japan, where the style was born? This handcrafted knife has hollow-ground indentions for reduced friction, so food is less likely to stick to the blade during cutting. Better yet, the Pakkawood handle is infused with resin, creating a water-resistant finish that will hold up to years of use in the kitchen.
This knife has a 7-inch blade that’s perfect for all kinds of kitchen prep work, slicing, dicing, and chopping. It's made from proprietary steel with extra carbon, cobalt, tungsten, vanadium, and chromium that's stronger and more durable with better corrosion resistance and sharpness. The design on the blade isn’t just etched on, either. The metal is folded multiple times, and then bead-blasted to reveal the beautiful pattern.
What to Look for When Buying Knives and Knife Sets
Kitchen knives are an essential item for anyone who wants to cook—even if that cooking is very basic. Knives are used for food preparation prior to cooking, they’re used before serving to present the food in an appealing way, and they’re used at the table or on the buffet. When you’re equipping a new kitchen, you don’t need to buy the most expensive knives on the market, but it’s wise to budget for a few good-quality essential pieces. At the minimum, a chef’s knife, santoku, or utility knife can be used for most kitchen tasks, while a paring knife comes in handy for peeling, paring, and working with small food items. Eventually, the cook might look for other knives, as well as higher-quality knives, to make kitchen tasks more pleasant.
Well-made sharp knives are safer to use in the kitchen than poorly-made and dull knives. A good-quality knife will have a handle and grip that puts the user’s hand in a proper cutting position. Knives might be made with a full tang, which means the metal continues all the way to the end of the handle, and the handle is attached with rivets, which gives the knife better balance for more comfortable cutting. A sharp knife will slice easily through the food, making contact with the cutting board at the end of the cut.
Poorly-made knives can put your hand into an improper and uncomfortable position, making cutting tiresome, while slippery plastic handles can be difficult to hold onto. Dull knives can be dangerous in the kitchen since they can slip unexpectedly rather than slicing cleanly through food. Those slips can cause injuries.
Like many kitchen items, the price range for knives is wide. Inexpensive paring knives can be found in grocery stores for just a dollar or two, while high-end or specialty knives might cost several hundred dollars each. Knives are generally categorized by their intended use. Chef’s knives are all-purpose knives and are one of the most important knives in the kitchen. Other types include slicers, paring knives, utility knives, bread knives, filet knives, and more. At the table, you might find steak knives, while cheese knives might find a home on the cheese board or buffet.
With such a wide price range, you might question whether expensive knives are worth spending so much more. The answer depends on your needs. If you’re buying knives for a vacation cottage or dorm room, you don’t need the best knives you can buy. Low-end knives may have plastic handles and cheap blades and can be considered disposable. Mid-priced knives are fine for most cooks, while experienced cooks might appreciate the features of slightly more expensive knives. High-end knives might have handles made from special woods or knife blades with layered steel that looks unique and attractive, which adds to the price.
Most kitchen knives are made from some version of steel, whether it’s basic stainless steel, specialty stainless steel, or high carbon steel. Stainless steel blades won’t stain or rust and are easy to care for, while high carbon steel blades might require extra care to keep them from rusting—like making sure to wash and dry them right after each use. Each type of steel has its own properties. Some knives hold their edge better, requiring less sharpening, while slightly softer metals will dull more rapidly but are easier to sharpen. Ceramic knives are also quite popular. They are extremely sharp and won’t corrode or retain odors, but they are brittle and can break if dropped. Also, ceramic knives can be difficult to sharpen and require sharpeners that are made specifically for those super-hard blades.
Most types of knives come in a range of lengths. Chef’s knives, for example, are commonly found in 8- or 10-inch lengths, while paring knives are typically from 3-4 inches long. There’s no right or wrong length—the right knife is the one that feels best in the cook’s hand. In general, cooks with large hands might prefer longer, larger, heavier knives, while those with small hands might prefer the smaller, lighter, shorter knives.
Straight or Serrated
While some types of knives come in just one design, other knives offer both straight or serrated versions. Straight knives slide easily through foods and are also preferred for chopping and dicing, when it’s preferable to have the entire blade make contact with the cutting board. Serrated blades can saw through harder outer surfaces while not damaging a soft interior, so they’re great for slicing foods with multiple textures, like tomatoes or bread. They’re also great for slicing sandwiches or neatly slicing cakes into thin layers. Heavy-duty serrated blades, like meat saws, can saw through bone. Inexpensive knives often have serrated blades, since they can saw through foods without being super-sharp, but you may not be able to re-sharpen them.
Granton or Flat Edge
You might have noticed knives with shallow divots along the blade of the knife, near the edge. Those knives have a Granton edge, and the purpose is to promote the easy release of cut food from the knife. Those shallow divots break the suction that makes food stick to a flat knife, so the food is more likely to fall away on its own. It’s not a guarantee, though, so food can still stick to the blade of a knife with a Granton edge. Knives used for dicing and chopping don’t need a Granton edge, but Granton edges are often found on santoku and cheese knives, as well as some chef’s knives.
Handle Material and Design
While the blade is the working part of the knife, the handle can be just as important. There are a variety of materials available, from the slick plastic of cheap knives to non-slip plastic on restaurant knives to the beautiful hardwoods found in high-end knives. Handle shapes can also make a difference. While any knife can be comfortable for dicing a single onion, if you spend a lot of time in the kitchen it’s wise to choose a knife that fits your hand perfectly. Full-tang knives are made so the blade material continues all the way to the end of the handle, with rivets through the handle material and metal. Full-tang knives offer better balance, which means they tend to be more comfortable and graceful to use, but they also tend to be heavier than knives without a full tang.
Types of Knives
Chef’s Knives and Santoku Knives
The very familiar chef’s knives and santoku knives are the workhorses of the kitchen. While the blade shape of these two knives is different, they can be used for the same tasks, so cooks might choose one or the other rather than owning one of each. Chef’s knives have a curved cutting edge, while the edge of a santoku tends to be straight. There are also hybrid knives, with characteristics of both knife styles. Of the most common kitchen knives, these are the largest, heftiest ones. They can be used for the most common kitchen prep tasks like slicing, dicing, and chopping, and the blades are wide enough to be used for safely smashing garlic cloves. While they’re not specifically designed for the task, they can also be used for slicing roasts, cutting up chickens, and slicing bricks of cheese.
Slicers have long, thin blades and are designed for slicing roasts, ham, and other meats. The long blades let them make the cuts in one smooth movement, without sawing through the meat, so you end up with attractive slices for serving. A properly sharpened slicer can make super-thin slices that are perfect for sandwiches, or they can make thicker slices with ease. While slicers can be used for any type of slicing task, you can also find specialty ham knives.
Paring knives have short blades and short handles and are designed for peeling fruits and vegetables. They’re designed to fit into the palm of your hand in a variety of holds, so you can pare an apple, then remove the core of a strawberry. They’re also useful for other small tasks, and for times that pulling out a large chef’s knife seems like overkill—like when you need to slice a single lime in half or you want to slice a single radish for a salad. Bird’s beak paring knives have a uniquely shaped blade that is specifically designed for efficiency when peeling round fruits and vegetables.
Serrated Bread and Utility Knives
While there are plenty of knives with serrated edges, that edge is particularly useful for bread knives and utility knives. Serrated knives are designed to work with a sawing motion rather than a slicing motion and are designed to work well when cutting foods that have a variety of textures. The serrations grip, pierce, and cut through the tough outer skins of tomatoes without squashing the softer interior, and they work just as well for cutting through the crunchy or chewy crust on a loaf of bread without smashing the loaf or tearing the pillowy interior. Bread knives tend to have long blades, much like slicers. Utility knives have medium-length blades and are designed to be all-purpose knives for general kitchen use like slicing sandwiches, sausages, and vegetables.
This category includes filet and boning knives, cleavers, cheese knives, cake knives, and more. There are knives for almost every purpose, and no one needs all of them. However, if your cooking hobby would be easier with a specialty knife, it’s a good investment. While you can filet a fish with a slicer or utility knife, it will be easier with a filet knife. If you often design cheese plates for parties, a selection of cheese knives will make that job much more elegant. If baking is your jam, a cake knife could take your cakes to a whole new level.
Your flatware set no doubt came with knives, but they may not have sharp blades. There’s nothing worse than seeing your guests sawing through a perfectly tender steak with a dull knife, which is why steak knives exist. With either a straight or serrated blade, they’ll slice through steak at the table like it’s butter. They’re not just for steak, though. You can use them any time you serve a roast, chicken, or other meats that require diners to do a little cutting at the table. Steak knives can also be handy in the kitchen, slicing sandwiches and doing small tasks, just like a utility knife.
A well-known brand with knives made in Germany, Wüsthof offers an impressive selection of quality knives sold in complete sets or individually. The knives are available at several price points, from affordable to medium-high, so you’re sure to find one that will fit the budget.
A Japanese brand, Shun has a variety of both Japanese-style knives and western ones. These tend to be on the higher end of the price range, although some are available at a mid-high price.
Youll find a selection of good knives at affordable prices with Sabatier. One of its most interesting innovations, though, is the self-sharpening features on knife sheaths that are included with some of its knives.
From the same folks who make Swiss Army knives, you’ll find affordable knives as well as some in the mid-priced range. These are quality knives available in a wide range of styles.
Probably better known for its cookware, Farberware also makes affordable knives and knife sets. One interesting option is the dishwasher-safe nonstick knives that are great for new cooks and new kitchens.
If you’re looking for ceramic knives, Kyocera is the brand to look at. This brand has been making them for a long time and will sharpen them for you if you’re unable to sharpen them at home.
Sharpening and Care
No matter which knives you buy, they need proper care. Non-serrated knives benefit from the cook having and using a sharpening steel, which doesn’t actually sharpen and might not be made from steel. The sharpening steel realigns the edge of the knife, smoothing out tiny imperfections, so the knife doesn’t drag through the food as you cut. Professional chefs might use a steel every time they use a knife; home cooks should get into the habit of using the steel regularly as well.
When it’s time to sharpen the knife, there are plenty of options for sharpening at home, from simple sharpening stones to electric sharpeners. The tricky part about sharpening a knife is getting the angle of the edge correct. Using a sharpening stone requires practice to learn how to hold the knife at the proper angle, and it can be a time-consuming process. Electric sharpeners are easy to use, so they’re easy to over-use, taking too much metal off the blade when it’s not necessary. However, they have guides that help you keep the knife at the correct angle, and some have multiple guides to accommodate knives with different edge angles. There are also many styles of manual sharpeners that help you keep the blade at the correct angle as you pull the blade through the sharpening material.
When it comes to storing knives, you have a few good options. Knife blocks often come with knife sets and can also be purchased separately to hold your mismatched collection. They’re great for holding a variety of different knives and may even have slots for scissors or a sharpening steel. The advantage is that you can keep the knives handy on your counter, and keeping knives in dedicated slots means you’ll always reach for the correct one the first time.
Magnetic knife racks let you hang your knives on a wall, where they’ll be handy without taking counter space. You can see exactly which knife you’re choosing, and you can keep them in any order that makes sense for you.
Knife sheaths cover the blade of your knife, so it can be stored safely in a drawer. While you might not want to store your most-used knives in a drawer, a sheath is a good option for knives you don’t use often.
Knife rolls let you collect your knives for travel and keep them safe in storage. They’re used by professional chefs to keep their knives with them but are less practical in a home kitchen.
While some knives are dishwasher safe, many brands recommend hand washing and many cooks prefer that as well. Even if the knife’s blade and handle won’t be damaged by the heat and detergent used in dishwashers, there are other reasons to avoid the dishwasher. First, utensils in a dishwasher can move around during cleaning. That means the carefully honed knife blade can be nicked, bent, and scratched as it bumps and crashes into other items, so it will need to be sharpened more often. Second, if you’re not careful unloading the dishwasher, you could grab the sharp blade instead of the handle. And last, although it might not damage the knife’s usefulness, the detergent can dull or change the look of the knife handle, making it less attractive.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Donna Currie is a food and recipe writer and cookbook author so she spends a great deal of time in the kitchen chopping, slicing, and dicing. She writes roundups and reviews kitchen products for The Spruce Eats and personally tested two of the products on this list.
While she's somewhat partial to Wusthof knives, her knife block is currently a hodgepodge of brands from crazy-expensive to dirt cheap. She recommends finding knives that you're comfortable cooking with—no brand is going to be a fit for every person.