The 5 Best Knife Block Sets, Picked by Food Network Kitchen
These are the knife sets that make the cut for home cooks.
By Sharon Franke for Food Network Kitchen
Our Top Knife Set Picks:
- Best Overall: Wusthof Classic Nine Piece Block Set
- Best Value: Zyliss Control 16-Piece Forged Stainless Steel Knife Set
- Best for the Low-Maintenance Cook: Henckels Classic 15-Pc Self-Sharpening Block Set
- Best Asian Knife Set: Shun Classic 5 Pc Starter Block Set
- The Pro's Choice: Victorinox Cutlery Block with 8 Fibrox Pieces
Nothing is more essential for a cook than a good set of knives. Whether you’re prepping for dinner, grabbing a snack or carving a roast, you’ll need a sharp tool to get the job done quickly and neatly. When you go to shop, you’ll be confronted with a variety of knife styles and a wide range of prices. To help you cut through all the choices and find the one that’s best for you, we explain the differences and what to look for, and make knife recommendations for all kinds of cooks with all kinds of budgets.
What to Look for In a Set
Look for a set that contains what we consider the three essentials: a chef’s knife, utility knife and serrated bread knife. A chef’s knife is the workhorse you’ll use for chopping onions and celery, slicing tomatoes or eggplant, and mincing garlic and parsley. The curvier its blade, the better it will be at rocking back and forth for tasks like mincing herbs. Although paring knives were once considered must-haves, today we recommend a slightly longer one called a utility knife, which in addition to paring an apple, can be used for slicing small blocks of cheese or segmenting an orange. All good sets will include a long, serrated bread knife. A long thin slicing or carving knife is another good tool to have in your kitchen and we like sets that include one.
Many sets will come will many other pieces that increase the price. Don’t pay more for additional tools unless you know you’ll use them. For example, if you already have a set of steak knives you love, you don’t need more in a knife set. Keep in mind, the block itself is considered one of the pieces. It is a useful tool for storing your knives where they’re easy to access, their blades don’t get nicked or damaged, and you can’t accidentally cut yourself. A block will take up space on your countertop, though, so aim to choose one that fits your needs and space.
How We Picked
To select our best knife sets, we relied on our years of experience testing knives and using them both in the test kitchen and in our own homes for a wide array of tasks from dicing veggies, to hacking up chickens, to carving roasts. We scoured review sites to see what recommendations were made by other sources and also pored over user comments to find out what home cooks have to say.
In addition to considering how comfortable the knives felt in the hand and how well they cut, we considered what pieces were included in the set. Our picks contain a selection of knives that we think you will use often in everyday cooking.
Included: 8" cooks, 6" utility, 8" bread, 8" carving, and 3" and 3.5" paring knives, kitchen shears, honing steel, block
We think these classic knives are just about perfect and worth the splurge. Forged and full tang, they feel good in your hand, are easy to control and are neither too heavy nor too light. On the chef’s knife, called a "cook’s knife" by Wusthof, there’s a rounded blade that glides when you’re lifting it to cut a carrot or onion and that can be rocked back and forth when you’re mincing a mound of parsley into confetti. Right out of the box, it’s sharp enough to slice ripe tomatoes without squishing. Yet, it also has the heft to cut a whole chicken into quarters.
The knife handles are synthetic, so they’ll never warp or splinter and will always feel smooth in your grip. In the block, you’ll find a great assortment including all the must haves plus a scissors, and a honing steel. If you run your knives along the steel at the correct and consistent angle, you can use it to "tune up" the blades, but eventually you will need to resharpen them.
Included: 8" chef's, 5" santoku, 5.5" utility, 8" bread, 8" carving, 3.5 and 4.5 paring, 4.5" serrated paring, and six steak knives, shears, block
This set gives you a huge assortment of forged knives at an unbelievable price. In addition to all the basics, you get a small santoku, so you can test out this shape on slicing veggies like onions or potatoes. It also includes a small serrated parer that’s great for tomatoes, a full set of steak knives and a shears.
In designing this set, ease-of-use was top-of-mind. Regardless of how you hold a knife you’ll find these ergonomic to use. The handles offer a nonslip grip; if you prefer to pinch grip at the rear of the blade (a technique favored by the pros) you’ll find the blades rounded and comfy where you place your fingers. Zyliss is one of the rare brands that recommends dishwasher cleaning. All of the slots in the block are the same size, so you don’t have to think about where each knife belongs and the slots have removable inserts that you can take out and wash.
Included: 8" chef’s, 7" santoku, 5.5" prep, 4" paring, 5" serrated utility, and eight 4.5" steak knives, kitchen shears, block
As we’ve already pointed out, the best knife is a sharp knife. In the block that comes with this set each of the fine-edged knife slots has a mechanism that hones the blade every time you pull the knife out of and return it to its slot. You don’t have to worry about pulling out a steel or holding the blade at the correct angle to maintain sharpness and because you’ll be honing them regularly, you may be able to go longer before you need to put a whole new edge on your knives.
These forged well-balanced knives aren’t as heavy as the Wusthof's, which will make them more comfortable for some cooks. The only time the light weight is a bit of a disadvantage is when it comes to hacking through an acorn squash or a chicken leg.
Each of the knives has its own designated slot. The slots are labeled to make sure you place each piece in the correct one. You get a wide array of tools in this set including a santoku, a serrated tomato slicer, and eight steak knives. However, note that there is no carving knife so if you make a lot of roasts, you can either use the all-purpose chef’s knife or invest in an additional tool.
Included: 8" chef’s, 6" utility, and 3.5" paring knives, honing steel, block
This Shun set give you the very best in Asian knives. Crafted by hand in Japan, they’re forged of Damascus steel which is created by welding together different alloys and folding them into layers. The process leaves a beautiful swirled pattern on the blades and also gives them durability and keeps them sharp. You’ll notice the blades are highly polished and super smooth and carrots and potatoes fall away from the blades rather than stick to them.
Their construction also makes these knives expensive, which is why you get a highly-curated set. With their thin, lightweight gliding blades you can easily use them for carving or filleting a fish, but you probably won’t want to tackle a crusty loaf of sourdough or debone a leg of lamb with one of these beauties. As the bamboo block is small, it won’t take up unnecessary space on your countertop. If and when you have these knives resharpened, make sure you use a sharpener designed for Asian knives or bring them to a pro who’s familiar with them.
Included: 8" chef’s, 4" paring, 10" bread, 10" slicing, and 6" boning knives, sharpening steel, kitchen shears, block
This workhorse set was created for professional use. That means they’re not pretty, but can withstand the rigors of heavy use. Made of stamped metal, they’re razor sharp out of the box, stay that way a long time, and are easy to resharpen when they do inevitably get dull. Plus, they’re lightweight, which, combined with their textured handles, makes them comfortable to use, even when you’re doing tons of prep work for a party or holiday dinner.
There are no nooks or crannies to collect gunk and you can clean them in the dishwasher without damaging the blade or the handle. With 10-inch long blades, the slicing and bread knife can easily carve beautiful slices from a large ham and oversized whole grain loaf. As you would expect from a set designed for chefs, there is a boning knife included.
What to Know Before Buying Knives
How Does the Knife Feel?
A good knife should feel like an extension of your hand. It should be comfortable to grip and easy to control. Neither the handle nor the blade should feel exceptionally heavier than the other. Before you make a purchase, or make the first cut in your own kitchen, it’s a good idea to simulate slicing and see how a knife feels to you.
What’s It Made Of?
Virtually all high-quality knives today are made from high-carbon stainless steel. Although carbon blades are easy to sharpen and maintain their edge longer, they also discolor and can even rust so they need special attention. The addition of stainless steel makes blades easy to keep looking good with minimal upkeep.
Knife blades are either forged or stamped from steel. Forged blades are formed from a single piece of molten metal while stamped blades are punched out of a large sheet of steel. In general, forged blades are sturdier and hold an edge longer. They have comfortable handles with a bolster, or a band of metal, to ease the transition to the blade and provide protection to your hand. In addition, they have a full tang, which means the blade runs all the way through the handle to give you good control. However, forged knives are also pricier, heavier and less flexible. Some people prefer lighter weight stamped blades which are easier to maneuver, especially around bones or a small item like a mushroom cap.
Knives Come in Two Styles
Most knives in American kitchens are based on Western-style. They tend to be thick and heavy as they’re intended to cut through root vegetables and large cuts of meat. On a German knife, there’s a bolster and a curved blade to make it easy to glide and rock when you’re cutting and mincing. French knives have a straighter edge, which is better for slicing.
In the past decade or so, Asian knives have also become popular. Designed to prep delicate foods like fish and tender vegetables with an up and down motion, they’re lighter and thinner and have blades with less of an angle. While this makes them comfortable to use and helps them to make precise cuts, it also means they have to be handled more carefully and shouldn’t be used for tasks like cutting up butternut squash or through bones.
The most popular Asian shape in American kitchens is the santoku, which has a long wide blade. It’s designed primarily for slicing and can do pretty much whatever a chef’s knife can. However, because it has a straight blade, it’s harder to use for rocking back and forth or scoring vegetables.
Why You Still Have to Sharpen Your Knives – Even In a Set
When it comes to a knife, there’s one thing that’s more important than anything else, and that’s how sharp it is. The most well balanced, comfortable to hold, expensive knife in the world is pretty much useless if it doesn’t have a sharp blade. In addition to just doing the job for which it was intended faster and more precisely, a sharp knife is safer. With a well-honed blade, you are less likely to cut yourself than with a dull one. A dull blade can slip off of a tomato instead of slicing down. To test your knife for sharpness, try to cut a single sheet of paper vertically. A sharp blade will cut right through the paper leaving a clean edge on either side.
Inevitably, you will have to resharpen the blades of your knives. You can bring or send them to a sharpening service once a year or you can buy a countertop or electric model and do it yourself. Check out some of our favorite knife sharpeners here.
Sharon Franke has been testing and writing about kitchen equipment for over 30 years. Before becoming a cooking tools expert, she spent seven years working as a professional chef in New York City restaurants. In her free time, she's busy baking sourdough bread and rustling pots and pans on her own stove.