Best Kitchen Knife Sets of 2020
The best kitchen knife set we tested is the J.A. Henckels International Statement. With superior balance compared to every other set in this review, you'll feel the knife weight working for you, rather than against you. The sharp blades offer excellent precision for everything from slicing translucent cuts of tuna to turning cilantro to dust. These are the knives we reach for first. The quality is evident in the flawless joining of the steel and handle material and a knife block that seems to be made of a harder wood, so it doesn't show wear and tear as quickly as many others we tested.
The Henckels collection offers high-quality models of just the knives you need, namely the essential chef's knife, santoku knife, and paring knife, but the total set includes fewer pieces than many in our test. It lacks a utility knife and kitchen shears, and the included knife block doesn't have space to add them later. As far as the general feel of these knives goes, we mostly loved the ergonomics of the handles and the stability that the squared-off edges offer, but they can dig into your palm when cutting large quantities of tougher food items, such as cubing butternut squash. Take it easy on mass quantities of root vegetables, and we think you'll fall in love with the J.A. Henckels knife set as quickly as we did.
The knives in the Marco Almond Set excel in ergonomics. The rounded oval-shaped handles are comfortable and don't spin in your hand. The relatively heavy weight of these knives can be helpful when cutting tough foods like potatoes or pineapple. While most shears in the sets we tested were small, the Marco Almond shears have spacious holes that can fit all fingers inside for maximum leverage when cutting through bone.
Based on our side by side tests, the Marco Almond blades rank above average in sharpness, but they're not top of the line. The santoku knife is reasonably sharp, but it's short and can't handle larger cuts of meat. The serrated knife is also on the small side and won't be slicing a loaf of fresh bread, but it excels on tomato dicing. Keep this set in mind as one that offers high value with decent performance, great shears, and multiple color options all for a moderate price.
Just shy of taking our top award, the Cuisinart Classic Kitchen Knife Set performs all slicing, dicing, paring, and mincing tasks admirably. We love the comfort and balance offered by the hollow stainless steel rounded handles that transition seamlessly into the stamped blades. These blades lend precision for cutting paper-thin onion slices or mincing minuscule pieces of garlic. The bird's beak paring knife is a nice bonus included in this set and is perfect for peeling and slicing apples right in your hand. We were also impressed with the hot-forges steak knives that come with this set. Their performance didn't outshine any other steak knives in our test, but because of their construction, they should stay sharp much longer.
On the downside, bread bakers will scoff at the serrated knife. With just a 5.5-inch blade, this model is clearly not meant for slicing crusty sourdoughs. However, the sharp teeth bite into a soft tomato effortlessly for perfect slices. Considering the high-quality performance and feel of the rest of the set, we were disappointed in the apparent shoddiness of the kitchen shears. This set may not be cheap, but we feel that the quality, number of knives included, and durability mean that you get more for your money if you buy the Cuisinart set.
We had our doubts about this set based on its price but we're happy to report that if you are looking for a very inexpensive entry-level knife set, the Amazon Basics 14 Piece Set is a solid choice. The full tang, not usually seen in budget knives, adds strength and leverage to these blades. We appreciate that in addition to the standard chef's knife, serrated knife, and paring knife, the Amazon Basics collection includes an 8-inch slicing knife and a 5.5-inch utility knife plus 6 steak knives, kitchen shears, and a knife sharpener, all of which store neatly in the slim pine block.
As you might expect from a bargain-basement priced set, the quality is mediocre. The edges don't line up quite right where the handle material joins the knives, and the spine of the knife blades is narrower and therefore more flexible than many pricier knives. Additionally, the lightweight materials put the knives somewhat off-balance, leaving the blades heavier than the handles. The sharpness and precision of these knives are not top-notch, but we found that they can execute basic kitchen tasks just fine. For beginner cooks, young adults moving to their first apartment, or for furnishing an Airbnb, this Amazon Basics set can do the trick for less.
If bright white kitchens devoid of color aren't your thing, the Amazon Basics Colored Knife Set is an inexpensive way to add a pop of rainbow colors to your space. We appreciate that this collection comes with individual sheaths rather than a block, so you can choose to stash your knives away in a drawer, purchase a knife block of your choice, or prominently display them on a magnetic strip. These fun blades cut decently for the price, but overall, they're not very sharp for precision tasks like thin cuts of meats or slicing slippery onions paper-thin.
Rather than opting for a full tang construction where the blade material extends the length and width of the handle, the Amazon Basics Colored Set encases the tail end of the blade in a rounded plastic handle, sabotaging the balance with almost all the weight resting in the blade itself, and making it harder to control your slicing and dicing. This set doesn't include steak knives, so if you plan to be hosting any carnivorous dinner parties, you'll need to purchase those separately. But, for an almost absurdly low price, this fun collection can be a perfect addition to a new cook's first kitchen quiver.
The Emojoy 15 Piece Kitchen Knife Set performs well across the board, and we thoroughly enjoyed using these knives. They are sharp and supply the precision needed for thin slices. While the serrated knife wasn't the top performer on crusty bread, it is long and gets the job done well enough. When slicing tomatoes, the serrated blade cuts through like a laser beam with almost no resistance. The heavier weight of these knives lends a hand when cutting hearty fall vegetables such as butternut squash or beets. We love both the look and feel of the handles. They are generally rectangular in shape for control in the hand, but the edges are nicely rounded for comfort. The wood grain adds a unique look for kitchen decor with natural textures.
Our only real complaint about this set is in the kitchen shears. Our initial impression was that they appear more like a gardening tool than a kitchen tool. Unfortunately, they may be better suited to pruning work or cutting bones, because when we tried to cut vacuum seal bags, the shears struggled to bite and ended up folding the plastic between their blades. The Emojoy knives run on the heavier side, which you may find to be either a pro or a con of this set. Knife weight is a personal preference, but if you like the substantial feel of a heavier knife in your hand, the Emojoy set is a great choice.
Another set we enjoyed using is the McCook Stainless Steel Knife Set. With above-average performance in all metrics and high marks for ergonomics, we wouldn't hesitate to reach for these knives for many applications. The rounded stainless steel grips are comfortable in hand even during extended chopping sessions. While the blades aren't the sharpest we tested, they outperform many of the lower quality models in our test. In addition to the precision gained by the sharp blades, the knives also feel fairly well-balanced. We also like the sharp blade, smooth action, and rubberized handles on the kitchen shears.
Although we generally like this set, some of the knives have blades that are shorter than average, so they don't offer quite the desired leverage when cutting bread or tough vegetables. Due to its 5-inch length, the santoku blade doesn't work well on larger cuts of meat, and its curved blade compromises its usefulness for quickly chopping herbs or mincing garlic. The serrated knife is also short and has a small handle, so it's not quite up to the task of slicing rustic artisan bread. However, it slices tomatoes like a champ.
The Home Hero Kitchen Knife Set may not be our favorite collection we tested, but we think it fills a certain niche. The modern plexiglass storage block could be perfect for certain kitchen styles and offers a lighter look than a heavy wood block. Also, no other set we tested included so many pieces. Unique to this set is a pizza knife, cheese knife, and included vegetable peeler, plus the knife sharpener includes both a coarse and a fine sharpening slot.
Overall though, the performance of the Home Hero knives is mediocre. For all that they offer in the selection, they lack in sharpness and quality. We were disappointed with the precision offered by their less than sharp blades. In our side by side tests, the Home Hero knives consistently scored near the bottom for their poor performance biting into onions, penetrating bread crust, and slicing thin cuts of beef. The partial tang construction keeps the knife off-balance, and the absence of a hook at the end of the rounded handles means that they're hard to control. Their performance is on par with some of the budget sets we tested, so if the modern look and sheer quantity of knives attracts you, you can expect these knives to get your kitchen jobs done, just not as well as those of the highest quality.
If you need a pop of fun color, the Farberware Multicolor Set has that going for it. We also like the versatility of the individual sheaths, so if counter space is limited, these knives can be safely stored in a drawer or on a magnetic strip.
These blades, however, disappointed us time and again during our tests. First, the plastic handles are narrow and uncomfortable when cutting. The blades were consistently the dullest of any models we tried, and while we try to ignore the worst reviews that we read, we too noticed the colorful finish coming off after only a couple of uses. This occurred despite our efforts to immediately hand wash and dry all knives during our tests. The price is low, and the colors are fun, but we think there are better options on the market.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our lead tester, Elizabeth Paashaus, is a self-taught home chef who, over the past 15 years, has reveled in the joy of researching and mastering new cooking and baking techniques, as well as teaching others. She spends hours in her kitchen each day not only cooking fresh meals for her family but also stretching and folding her sourdough breads, creating dried meals for the backcountry, and meeting her cravings with made-from-scratch desserts. Her love for spreadsheets and analyzing data pairs nicely with the testing she has done for GearLab, which spans the gamut from camping hammocks to kitchen knife sets. Elizabeth brings a wealth of real-world knowledge and expertise to help you find the best set of knives for your home kitchen.
Our process began with research into the top knife sets on the market, what others are saying about their performance, and which features are essential to a good knife. We selected 9 sets and got to work chopping, slicing, dicing, and you better believe — eating! We measured the weight of each knife, the length of their blades, and the length of their handles. Side-by-side sharpness tests were performed on paper, vegetables, meat, and herbs. We balanced knives on our fingers and shook them in our hands to find the center of gravity and the difference that makes for the feel of balance when cutting. We even put the chef's knives on a sharpener at the wrong angle to intentionally dull them to test for durability. Finally, we used the data gathered to select the top performers so we could tell you more about why some knives outshined others.
Analysis and Test Results
To determine which knife sets are best, we had to individually test each knife within the set against its intended function because qualities that make a good paring knife aren't always the same as those that make a top santoku knife. We compared the sharp edges of each blade, found the balance point of each knife and felt how it aided or hindered our cutting ability, assessed the quality of construction and durability, judged the ergonomics based on shape, feel, and size of the handles, and appraised the size and usefulness of the included storage systems.
When it comes down to it, a knife isn't a knife without a sharp blade to cut with. Sharpness is really the essence of a knife, so we put a lot of focus on this aspect of performance. Across the board, the unquestionably precise J.A. Henckels International Statement and the Cuisinart Set had a clear edge on the competition. Overall, when a set had one sharp knife, the rest of the set fell in line, but because there is some variation in performance, we will break this category down by type of knife.
It is hard to discern sharpness by just looking at a knife or even feeling its blade. We performed a paper test with each chef's knife to compare sharpness based on how ragged the cut was and learned that even this test would require precise scientific instruments to differentiate. The best test, in the end, was how they performed when cutting actual food.
When cutting tough foods like butternut squash, the top performers were the sharpest but also the heaviest knives. The J.A. Henckels and Cuisinart gave us the most control when pressing through this dense vegetable, while the Marco Almond chef's knife surprised us with its excellent cutting ability and control. As the heaviest chef's knife we tested at 8.3 ounces, we believe this extra weight aids in cutting when force is a key factor.
When precision is required for mincing garlic or slicing thin pieces of meat to sear for taco night, the J.A. Henckels and Cuisinart again stand out above the rest. The Emojoy chef's knife came in as a close runner with an excellent bite, even into slippery onion skin. The lightweight and less sharp budget knives were noticeably less sharp, struggling to get and maintain bite on onions, and squishing meat before finally slicing in. The top performers among the budget models were both sets from Amazon Basics.
We tested Santoku knives on almost everything we tried our chef's knives out on, except for cutting beef away from the bone. The pointed chef's knife was clearly the better choice for that job. When using the santoku to slice thin cuts of beef or tuna without crushing the meat under the blade, again J.A. Henckels and Cuisinart stood out with the cleanest, smoothest cuts. McCooks santoku blade also performs admirably here though the 5-inch length is a bit short for larger cuts of meat. The same three knives make the cut for creating translucent-thin onion slices and the Emojoy showed excellent bite here too.
Do you know that tap - tap - tap kitchen sound that makes you think of Japanese restaurants and cooking shows? That's the santoku knife. The relatively flat blade edge makes it perfect for quick chopping motions rather than the rocking motion more commonly used with a chef's knife. After pulverizing bails of cilantro and a few dozen green onions, we can say that this task is a true differentiator between sharp and very sharp santoku blades. Unsurprisingly, the J.A. Henckels and Cuisinart blades gave us the cleanest cuts while the McCook and Emojoy knives came in second. Even moderately less sharp blades like the Amazon Basics Colored Knife and the Marco Almond left the green onions connected by their bottom layer of skin unless we chopped very deliberately.
Some might call this a bread knife while the more general term is a serrated knife. To evaluate the performance of these blades, we tested their abilities on crusty sourdough bread as well as on delicate, soft tomatoes.
J.A. Henckels has the best knife for smoothly slicing through crusty bread without snagging or tearing the soft interior. Our second favorite knife for slicing bread - because everything seems to come second to the Henckels - is the long serrated knife from Emojoy that cut through the crust with just a slight struggle.
Some sets we tested offer serrated knives that don't perform well on bread due to their short blades and small handles, but you shouldn't discount these sets because many of them are handy for a multitude of other kitchen tasks. The smaller knives from Cuisinart, Emojoy, and Marco Almond might be your perfect tomato knives. These bite immediately into tomato skin with the bare minimum of pressure on the soft flesh, and they slice through with almost no resistance. The J.A. Henckels serrated knife, however, ranks highest in both bread and tomato tests and therefore is the best all-around serrated knife in the line-up.
Beyond the chef's, santoku, and serrated knife, the paring knife might be the most used blade in the kitchen. Its small size makes it handy for peeling or cutting up small quantities of food. We tested the paring knives' performance peeling apples and potatoes as well as slicing them up afterward. In addition to the consistently high performing Cuisinart and J.A. Henckels knives, we loved the sharpness and control of the long, sharp blades from the Marco Almond and Emojoy sets. Only the Cuisinart knife set offers a bird's beak paring knife, which curves downward, making it ideally suited to peeling tasks. This may be one knife you didn't know you needed.
After a few taco nights to eat up all the thinly sliced beef we created, it was time for steak night. It's a matter of opinion, but we believe we perfectly seared a sirloin steak for our steak knife test. Maybe the true test would have been an overcooked rubbery piece of steak, but who shops for knives specialized for cutting overdone steak?
Honestly, we noticed very little difference in the performance between most steak knives in these sets. It seems that many kitchen knife sets focus their quality on the rest of the cutlery and include less expensive steak knives as an afterthought. Of course, there were a couple of standouts. Cuisinart is the only set to include hot-forged steak knives. Although they're heavy and smaller than others, they seem to offer a leg up on cutting.
Included with the largest collection in our test, the Home Hero Knife Set, is a unique knife: a cheese slicing knife. This cheese knife is thin and has voids cut out from it to reduce drag when cutting through thick blocks of cheddar. It tends to drift out when slicing so holding it at the right angle is critical, but it glides through cheese noticeably easier than the paring knives we tested.
The balance of a knife is basically a function of how the weight of the blade compares to the wight of the handle. Depending on which knife you're using, the ideal balance might be found in different places. With a longer knife like a chef's knife, santoku knife, or long slicing knife, you want the balance point to be right where the blade connects to the handle. When the blade is heavier than the handle, you have to work harder to control your cuts. With a short knife like a paring knife, the handle should be heavier than the blade to give you ultimate control for the intricate movements you usually make with a short knife.
We tested the balance of each chef's, santoku, and paring knife by finding the balance point when pinched between two fingers, and also by feel as we chopped, sliced, and peeled. Every time we tested sharpness, we also made note of how the knife felt in use. For the chef's and santoku knives, the Cuisinart, J.A. Henckels, Emojoy, and McCook tested with balance points closest to the joint of the blade and the handle. In use, the J.A. Henckels and Cuisinart felt balanced in our hands. The McCook knives come in a close second for balance. The only knives that truly felt off-balance were both Amazon Basics Sets, the Home Hero knives, and the Farberware Colored Set. These have very light handles, so their balance point rests an inch or more forward of where the blade joins the handle.
In our balance tests with paring knives, we didn't feel a huge difference in use even though the balance points varied from knife to knife. The notable exception is the J.A. Henkels paring knife with its bulky grip and balance point over halfway toward the butt of the handle. Because of all the weight in the handle, this one felt awkward to use for peeling when you tend to choke up on the blade for control.
Quality & Durability
While we didn't test these kitchen knife sets long enough to wear them out naturally, we banged them around, intentionally dulled some of their blades, and went over each one with a fine-toothed comb to see what potential failures we could foresee.
One indication of quality and durability is the construction and handle material. Knife sets like the Cuisinart and McCook have stainless steel handles that are all one piece with the blade. With this design, there are no additional parts or points of weakness where something can loosen or break. Sets like the J.A. Henckels, Marco Almond, and Amazon Basics 14 Piece Set sport a plastic or resin composite handle attached with triple rivets. These vary in quality with the Henckels and Marco Almond being smoothly attached with no discernable joint. The Amazon Basics handles don't line up smoothly, so it's easier to imagine them prying loose in the future, though we saw no evidence of this in our testing. Emojoy uses an engineered wood resin composite called Pakkawood for their handles that they claim improves durability and longevity. Finally, the lowest quality construction seems to be the blades that use a plastic handle formed around as an extension of the blade. These feel low quality to us, and we know that knives whose blade material doesn't extend the full length of the blade tend to be less reliable and more prone to breaking over time.
The knives we tested are on the lower end of the price range for kitchen knife sets, so they're primarily constructed by stamping a single piece of steel into shape, then honing the edge to sharpness. Some knives are formed by hot-forging, which makes the metal stronger, so it holds its edge longer. In our test, the only knives made this way are the steak knives in the Cuisinart set.
In our commitment to bring you the most comprehensive kitchen knife set review out there, we performed a variety of measurements and testing. Some experiments don't yield useful results, but we still want to report what we found. As mentioned earlier, we performed a sharpness test with the chef's knives on thin magazine paper when we first got the knives to use as a baseline after we dulled them. When the rest of the testing was complete, we intentionally dulled some of the knives by swiping them 200 times each on a honing rod at an angle between 75 and 80 degrees. This extreme angle does the opposite of what the honing rod is intended to do. Despite our assumption that the dulled knives would perform significantly worse against the paper, they did not. We could feel the dullness of the edge with our fingers, but the paper sliced almost as smoothly as before.
Some aspects of the ergonomics of a knife handle are going to depend on your hand size, while others supply consistent performance regardless of how big or small your paws are. We tested these knives in the large hands of tall men, medium hands of women, and small hands of children — don't worry, we gave them free rein to test as they pleased without supervision *wink*.
One design aspect of a kitchen knife that can detract from the comfort of the grip is the lack of a smooth transition between blade and handle. When cutting, most people will naturally extend their forefinger for additional control. Knives like those in the J.A. Henckels, Cuisinart, Emojoy, Amazon Basics 14 Piece Set, McCook, and Marco Almond sets ALL have no palpable seam where the blade joins the handle. Knives like those included in the sets from Home Hero, Farberware, and Amazon Basics Colored Knives are constructed in a way that leaves a drop from the handle to the blade, which makes it uncomfortable to exert pressure with your finger.
Another aspect that affects the ergonomics is the width of the blade spine. This is the blunt backside of the knife blade where your fingers rest. Wider spines mean bigger surface area for your finger and better comfort. Emojoy and J.A. Henckels offer the broadest spines in our test while Home Hero, Farberware, and the Amazon Basics Colored Set have the narrowest.
J.A. Henckels has the most prominent hook and also very squared-off corners. These corners add stability but can dig into your palms when cutting quantities of tougher foods like root vegetables. We like the balance of round and square that the Emojoy handles have struck, and their hooked end makes the handle that much more secure. The knives in the Amazon Basics 14 Piece Set are similarly sharp-cornered to the Henckels.
Size matters when you want your knives to feel like an extension of your hand in the kitchen. For folks with larger hands, the Emojoy, J.A. Henckels, or Cuisinart are likely to feel the best. Emojoy feature the largest diameter so they won't fit smaller hands as well. The other two, whose diameters are smaller even though the grip is long, will fit a variety of hand sizes. Unfortunately, the smallest handles are those that also have the poorest ergonomics. We recommend the mid-sized handles of the Marco Almond set for cooks with small hands. These are a smaller diameter oval-shape, with a small hook on the butt to offer some stability. The joint between the blade and handle is also pleasantly smooth.
There are generally three ways to store your knives to protect the blades from damage: a knife block, sheaths, or a magnetic strip. Draw inserts are like a horizontal block. Most of the blocks that come with the kitchen knife sets we tested are similar in design. They are made of wood, set at an angle, and have slots for individual knives. The Cuisinart block stood out to us because of its material. It seems to be a resin type material, and even when we sawed on it, the damage was hidden because there isn't a lighter color below to expose. We really liked the lower angle offered by the J.A. Henckels block. This low angle makes it easier to remove the knives if the block is stored on a counter underneath upper cabinets.
Knives can safely be stored in a drawer or even on a magnetic strip. Sheaths are handy when counter space is limited, and you opt for drawer storage. We were pleased to discover that even while using the plastic sheaths on the Amazon Basics Colored Knife Set and the Farberware Colored Set, there was enough magnetic force to keep them on a strip.
The Home Hero set presents a modern take on the knife block with a plexiglass stand that arrays the knives out for you. While unique, the block takes up a lot of real-estate because it's designed to be viewed from the broad side. The knives also have to be removed vertically, meaning you can't use it beneath upper kitchen cabinets. It is also a magnet for dirt and crumbs, all of which will be on full display through the clear plexiglass.
Picking the right kitchen knife set amid all the choices can be quite the task. We won't tell you that there is one right set for everyone, but we can make your job easier. We did all the research, tested each knife out, and provided you with all the information we could so you can make the best selection for your unique needs. After taking the time to think about how your needs line up with the performance and features of each of these knife sets, we hope you feel ready to select your perfect knife set.
— Elizabeth Paashaus