Knife block included
Knife names etched on handle end
Steak knives felt lightweight
Shears don’t come apart
Serrated knives aren’t self-sharpening
Knives are so important in the kitchen, which is why we were more than curious about the Calphalon Contemporary SharpIN 20-Piece Cutlery Set and its self-sharpening feature. To test out the top-rated knife set, we placed the block on the kitchen counter and used the knives daily, for everything from cutting lunch sandwiches to chopping vegetables to carving a roast. We tested the built-in ceramic sharpening feature and handled every knife in the set, slicing and dicing our way to a conclusion.
There’s no doubt about it, this is a sleek, elegant set that should be comfortable on any kitchen counter. The knife block features a very dark brown woodgrain that could easily be mistaken for black, with stainless steel over the self-sharpening slots.
The knives have black handles with visible full tang and a stainless steel cap at the end of the handle. The length and type of knife are etched on each of those caps so you can see which knife you’re grabbing without needing to slide it out of the block. Aside from the steak knives, all of the blades are fully forged and have a metal bolster. Here’s what’s included:
Chef’s Knife: We loved the heft of the 8-inch chef’s knife when we were making short work of a head of lettuce and when we cut a pizza into portions.
Santoku Knives: There are two in different lengths—5 inches and 7 inches—that can be used for some of the same duties as the chef’s knife, and we swapped between them as we made salads, chopped vegetables for recipes, and sliced steak for tacos. We loved the santoku for slicing cheese, which fell off the blade easily.
Slicing Knife: At 8 inches, the slicer was a nice length and felt good in the hand.
Utility Knife: The 6-inch utility knife lived up to its name. It was the perfect choice for everyday tasks when I was chopping some scallions for a garnish or slicing some ham and trimming some lettuce for a sandwich. It’s an all-purpose knife that felt good in the hand and cut well.
Paring Knife: The paring knife in this set has a longer blade, 4.5 inches, than we usually prefer, but it did its job well enough and it could double as another utility knife for small cutting jobs.
The length and type of knife are etched on the handle ends so you can see which knife you’re grabbing without needing to slide it out of the block.
Boning Knife: This one is just a little longer than the parer, at 5 inches, and aside from the shape of the tip, it’s very similar. Boning might not be a priority in most kitchens, so it could also be used as a utility blade.
Bread Knife: The 8-inch length made this knife perfect for cutting through focaccia or an artisan loaf of homemade bread. The serrations gripped and sawed through the tough crust, then sliced through the soft interior without tearing it. This knife would also be a great choice for leveling cake layers before frosting and stacking them.
Tomato/Bagel Knife: It felt a bit light compared to the rest of the set, but this serrated knife sliced both tomatoes and bagels with ease. The forked tip worked well to stab and lift tomato slices, which was certainly a handy feature.
Steak Knives: The serrated steak knives are stamped and don’t have their names on the handle, but since there are eight of them, it’s easy to figure out what they are and where they belong. While the rest of the set felt hefty, the steak knives felt lightweight in comparison. Since they’re serrated, they’re good for slicing tomatoes and similar foods when steak isn’t on the menu, so they can do double-duty in the kitchen.
Carving Fork: The 6-inch carving fork was a nice addition. It would look attractive at the table for holding a roast steady while carving with the slicer, and it would be just as good in the kitchen.
Shears: The included kitchen scissors were sturdy and had an integrated lift-off bottle opener as well as teeth to unscrew bottle caps. The one thing we didn’t like about the shears was that they didn’t come apart for cleaning, so if they’re used for removing the backbone from a chicken they’d require some serious brush-cleaning at the hinge.
As for the self-sharpening feature, it was something we had to consciously think about as we slid knives from their slots. After years of using a knife block, we learned to avoid dragging the blade’s edge against the slot. The self-sharpening feature relies on sliding the blade along the sharpener, so we had to think about doing that.
We appreciated the curved blade on the chef’s knife, which gave us a perfect rocking action when we minced scallions and capers and prepped everyday food.
However, knives don’t dull quickly enough that they would need a touch-up every single time they’re used, so it’s nice that the user can opt to use the sharpening feature only when they feel it’s necessary. Our only question would be how well it would perform after years of use. Note that the slots for the bread knife, tomato/bagel knife, and the steak knives do not have a sharpener since those are serrated knives.
Material: High-quality stainless steel
The steak knives are stamped from Asian steel, while the rest of the knives are forged from high-carbon German steel. The handles are a matte black material that’s smooth but not slippery, while the shape of the handle offers a good grip.
Performance: Slices, dices, and chops
Right out of the box, these knives were wicked-sharp, as we expected. While we used the knives for their intended purposes, we also tested the chef’s knife, utility knife, and santoku knives with tomatoes, which are notoriously difficult to cut, and they did that job well. The bread knife handled a loaf of freshly made bread well, making neat slices.
Right out of the box, these knives were wicked sharp, as we expected.
Later, we used the chef’s knife and slicer to cut bread, just to test them, and both performed well, although we preferred using the bread knife. We appreciated the curved blade on the chef’s knife, which gave us a perfect rocking action when we minced scallions and capers and prepped everyday food. Even though we didn’t love the light weight of the steak knives, they performed well at the dinner table.
Cleaning and Maintenance: Wash by hand
Like any good knives, these should be washed by hand, and they should be dried immediately to prevent water marks. We tend to wash and air-dry knives, and we noticed that these sometimes retained marks when water-dried. While the marks didn’t affect the performance and wiped off with a damp cloth, the knives looked much nicer when they were perfectly shiny. The knife block can simply be wiped clean as needed.
Since these blades are self-sharpening, you shouldn’t need to sharpen them separately, unless a blade gets damaged so much that the block’s sharpeners can’t handle the job. If you’re not using the sharpening feature each time, honing the knife regularly would be a good idea.
Price: High quality, high price
This is a high-quality item that comes with a matching price tag, but it is a complete set that covers all the normal food-prep and serving needs. Given that single knives can often cost upwards of $100, this price isn’t excessive. Meanwhile, the self-sharpening feature will save money, since there will be no need to buy a sharpener to maintain the knives.
If you’ve cared for the knives properly and encounter any defections in material or workmanship during normal household use, Calphalon will replace the item at any time.
Calphalon Contemporary SharpIN 20-Piece Cutlery Set vs. Henckels International Statement 20-Piece Self-Sharpening Block Set
Another 20-piece knife block set with a self-sharpening feature is the Self-Sharpening Knife Block Set from J.A. Henckels International. The Henckels set has an MSRP of $467 but can be found for as low as $200.
When it comes to the included knives, the sets are very similar as well, although the Henckels includes a second, shorter paring knife and a serrated utility knife and a prep knife rather than the second santoku, the tomato/bagel knife, and the carving fork that the Calphalon offers.
We do like that the Henckels knife block has labeled slots and that the steak knives are forged rather than stamped. We’d expect the quality of these two sets to be similar, making it a tough choice. Users should be happy with either, leaving it to personal preference, or perhaps a coin flip or price check.
Yes, “chop” to it!
Overall, we liked the Calphalon Contemporary SharpIN 20-Piece Cutlery Set a lot, besides just a minor quibble with the heft of the steak knives. Each blade performed well, and the inclusion of a carving fork, tomato/bagel knife, and built-in sharpener saves you those separate purchases.
- Product Name Contemporary SharpIN 20-Pc. Cutlery Set
- Product Brand Calphalon
- SKU 2023115
- Price $399.99
- Material Stainless steel blades
- Warranty Lifetime warranty
- What’s Included 4.5-in. paring knife, 5-in. boning knife, 5-in. santoku knife, 5.5-in. serrated tomato/bagel knife, 6-in. utility knife, 7-in. santoku knife, an 8-in. slicing knife, 8-in. chef’s knife, 8-in. serrated bread knife, 6-in. carving fork, kitchen shears, 8 serrated steak knives, and knife block