Whether you’re setting up a new kitchen or you want an upgrade of the knives you currently own, kitchen knife sets might seem like the perfect option.
After all, with just one purchase, you’ll have a wide range of knives that will cover just about every cooking eventuality – plus (in some cases) add-on’s like honing steels and kitchen sheers to boot!
But while that may be an advantage, the question you need to ask yourself is ‘would your kitchen knife needs be better served by purchasing individual knives piece by piece?’ Let’s take a closer look…
Chef knife sets – More is not necessarily better
The bottom line is that you don’t really need a wide variety of kitchen knives to cook good food. In fact, if you check out my how to choose a kitchen knife page, it will give you a better idea of exactly what you do need.
In truth, having more knives than you need makes the task of cooking, far more complicated than it needs to be.
Look at it this way…
Whether you buy quality kitchen knife sets or cheap chef knife sets, they’re often packaged up in a handy storage block to feel like the real deal.
However, when someone is faced with a whole slew of knives to choose from, they may be compelled to pick a different knife, or instead, use the nearest knife that’s clean. Either way this might not always be the best tool for the job.
On the contrary, when buying individual knives, you can choose your knives based around your cooking needs. For example, if you buy your bread already sliced, do you really need a bread knife?
Alternatively, if you don’t eat pizza, you might want to question where and when you’d ever use a pizza cutter/knife. Yet, these are all implements that you might get when you buy a kitchen knife set.
So what does this mean for you?
You’ll spend less money
Okay, so this may seem strange given the fact that it is possible to buy quality chef knife sets with 15 different implements for under $200. Whereas the equivalent knives bought individually may be three or four times that.
However, in truth, you won’t need 15 or so quality chef’s knives or associated gadgets, so you can focus on paying for exactly what you do need.
That means buying just two or three quality knives that you can use several times a day for decades!
Chef knife sets don’t allow you to mix and match brands and types
Let’s say you like the lighter feeling or precision slicing of a Japanese chef’s knife but prefer the strength and rigidity of a European knife – you won’t be able to do this when you buy kitchen knife sets.
Although it’s true that some knife set brands like Zwilling do mix and match European and Japanese style knives, they are in reality a ‘westernised’ take on a Japanese original.
Here’s an example…
Typically the bevel or angle of the blade in a standard European knife is 50/50 (the exact same angle on both sides of the edge) A true Japanese knife on the other hand has a typical bevel of around 90/10. Japanese knife connoisseurs prefer this type of bevel because it delivers a cleaner, crisper and more precise cut.
Conversely, a ‘westernised’ take on a Japanese knife by German manufacturer Zwilling, holds a bevel of around 70/30. It’s easier to sharpen and is more hard wearing than its equivalent Japanese counterpart. Although, don’t expect it to deliver a clean ‘sushi-style’ cut.
Kitchen knife sets take up valuable space
If you have lots of counter top space then perhaps this isn’t such a big deal. However, if you have a small kitchen where every inch counts, it’s unlikely that you will want your counter space clogged up by a bulky knife block.
In these cases you’d be better off with a streamlined magnetic strip which can safely hold all the knives you’ll ever need – and then some!
In addition, when organising your kitchen knives this way, you aren’t going to end up with several or more kitchen knives that you’ll never use – especially those taking up valuable counter-top space in your knife block.
So now you know why kitchen knife sets aren’t always best option for you, the million dollar question is…
What are the knives that every cook should invest in?
While there is a chef’s knife for practically every task, you really only need three. That’s right! just 3 knives – less than a quarter of what you might get in quality kitchen knife sets.
Let’s take a closer look at what they are…
A pairing knife
This is a handy small short-bladed instrument with a typically curved edge and a pointed tip. The blade measures somewhere between 3.5 and 4.5 inches in length and is perfect for intricate fiddly jobs like:
- Peeling and fruit and vegetables
- De-veining prawns
- Segmenting fruit such as oranges or kiwi
- Decoratively turning vegetables like potatoes or turnips
A utility knife
This is around 6 inches in length and comes in flat or serrated form. As the name suggests it’s a good all-round utilitarian knife that is great for:
- Slicing or dicing raw or cooked meat
- Chopping vegetables such as onions, carrots, celery and mushrooms etc.
- Finely slicing herbs like basil, chives or tarragon
8 inch Chef’s knife
Your 8 inch chef’s knife is likely to be your ‘go to’ knife for many tasks. It’s also the knife found in pretty much all kitchen knife sets and the one you would use the most: It’s perfect for tasks such as:
- Finely slicing vegetables,
- Cutting up larger or tougher root veg such as squash and swede
- Dicing or cubing meat
- chopping nuts
That’s it! Once you have these 3 kitchen knives, you’re pretty much good to go. Moreover, I’m willing to bet that you won’t use any knives in your kitchen knife set, more than you will your paring, utility and chef’s knives.
All that said…
What about if you’re still not convinced and really do like the thought and convenience of a knife block set – what should you be looking for?
Kitchen knife sets – Key things to know before you buy
While it’s true that I’ve spent a good proportion of this post telling you not to buy a chef’s knife set, they can make a great gift for someone setting up their new home.
In addition, they provide an easy and convenient alternative for those who don’t have the time (or the inclination) to research every blade type and what they can do.
So taking these points into consideration, quality kitchen knife sets can make a good purchase in some circumstances.
However, before you rush out and buy the first knife set you like the look of, remember that there are cheap kitchen knife sets and there are quality kitchen knife sets.
This brings me to key point number one…
You get what you pay for
Like most things in life and chef knife sets are no exception, you tend to get what you pay for. You can pick up a knife set with block for under $50. While that may seem like a real bargain, you have to question how the manufacturer can make multiple quality implements plus storage for such a low price.
In all honesty, they can’t. Knives of this price range will normally feel flimsy, have moulded plastic handles and won’t be built to last.
Of course, cheap kitchen knife sets are okay if you are on a tight budget or are just starting out on your culinary journey, but consider that you might need to replace your entire set in the not too distant future.
Alternatively, there is no point in paying upwards of $1000 for a quality chef knife set, if you aren’t heavily into cooking; or are unsure whether you’ll get good use out of every knife. It isn’t ideal to pay that much if the majority of knives will remain in the knife block, never having come into contact with a piece of fruit, vegetable or meat.
So what should you expect to pay?
Anywhere between $150 and $500 is about right. This way, in return for your cash you should receive quality crafted knives from a reputable brand without paying over the odds.
Assess the knives you really need
As already stated, kitchen knife sets can come with as little as 4 knives up to 24. The key point here is that anything more than is likely to be used signifies that you’ll have knives that are gathering dust.
Moreover, there’s a strong chance that you’ll be settling for quantity rather than quality.
The other point to remember here is that it’s far easier to care for 4 or 5 quality knives than say 20, so assess the knives you really need and choose a quality kitchen knife set based around this.
If you want to know more about the knives that you need in your kitchen, I’ve put together this handy guide.
Finally, let’s talk about key point number 3….
Be aware of the tricks of the trade
When it comes to kitchen knife sets, buying well known brands doesn’t always guarantee the highest quality. It’s not uncommon for knife manufacturers to package their second or third line products in one handy set and sell it for an attractive price. While you may be buying Sabatier, Zwilling or Wusthof branded products, if the price is too good to be true, something has to give.
That ‘something’ is usually quality!
Another trick of knife set manufacturers is to load the set with slight variations of knives of the same size. So while you may have lots of blade for your buck, what you’re really getting is one knife type repeated several times.
The key here is to know your knives – in other words how to spot a quality knife and their uses. Once you can do this, it will make it far easier to buy a kitchen knife set that fits both requirement and budget.
If you’re a little unsure, then don’t worry, Seriously Smoked has a great in-depth guide on the 11 best kitchen knife sets and why
Whether you opt for individual knives or quality kitchen knife sets, a bit of knowledge should help you to make the right purchasing decision.
So what do you think? Leave your comments below…