The value of a really good knife set
Growing up, our family had one set of knives that we used for 20 years. Mind you, it wasn’t a great set of knives, but we weren’t a rich family, so we just used the same knives over and over.
I didn’t really appreciate the importance of a good knife set until after college. I was sharing a house with a friend. We needed to open a can but we didn’t have a can opener. I grabbed a knife from the kitchen counter and I jammed it into a can and started removing the top. As I did this, I noticed her face turned white. She explained that I probably just destroyed a knife that cost a few hundred dollars.
I like to think she eventually forgave me, but it was from that moment that I realized that there was a whole world where people paid a lot of money for knifes. My only exposure to fancy knives were the Ginsu infomercials (and yes, that’s probably where I got the inspiration to cut the tin can, knowing that it could slice a tomato right afterwards).
Over the years, it became a dream and then an obsession of mine to own a fancy knife set. Then, one day Woot was selling some Shun Edo knives and I was hooked. Using a real piece of cutlery vs. the set I probably bought at K-mart in college was the difference of driving a Ferrari vs. driving a soap box derby car. I started to look forward to cooking so I could use the knives so slice meat, veggies, and fruit.
How hard is it to find a made-in-China knife set
There’s bad news and good news here.
The bad news is that if you’re looking to buy a cheap knife set, chances are your options will be limited to China. The aforementioned Ginsu is one of the top offenders, having shipped all manufacturing to China years ago. Other brands that sold out with their production of cutlery (just as they sold out with their production of flatware), include Cuisinart, Rachael Ray, Calphalon, and Chicago Cutlery (Rachael Ray even has the audacity to sell a “Japanese knife” that’s made in China). And of course, on Amazon you see an unending parade of fake China brands such as BLOOMBY, MCCOOK, BUBBA and HOBO, all with their rave reviews. And of course there’s AmazonBasics, which is pretty much always made in China.
But perhaps because people are still willing to pay a premium for good knives, many of the top-rated knife brands were still made in countries like Germany and Japan. Typically when I prepare lists like this, I’ll cross-reference the top consumer review sites like WireCutter, Consumer Reports, Good Housekeeping, and industry lists like Food And Wine and Cook’s Illustrated. If I’m lucky, then maybe one out of ten products I look at is not made in China. And yet I found the best of the best sets that showed up in multiple “best of” lists were not made in China.
And so I looked for the ones that consistently showed up in the most “best of” lists. Here’s what I came up with.
I’m mainly linking to Williams-Sonoma in these product listings, mainly because I appreciate how William-Sonoma is transparent with its manufacturing information (for example, in many of these cases the knifes are made in Japan or Germany but things like wooden blocks are made in China). But these sets can be found on Amazon, Walmart, and
1. Wüsthof Classic and Classic Ikon 7-Piece Knife Block Set
Between the Classic and Classic Ikon sets, these sets from Wüsthof were named to more “best of” lists than any other. Wirecutter named the Classic Ikon the best all-purpose knife set. CNN calls the Classic Ikon the “Best Luxury Set”. Food & Wine calls the Classic the set with “the best German steel”, and Consumer Reports named the 8″ Cook’s Knife that comes in that set the “Best Chef’s Knife for Lovers of Classic Design”.
The Classic features a bit more of a traditional handle shape, while the Ikon is a bit more modern. But both received rave reviews about their comfort, weight, balance, and durability, as well as their high quality and sharpness. They are all made in Solingen, Germany, the same city where Wüsthof was founded over 200 years ago. The German engineering comes through–each knife blade is forged from a single blank of high carbon stainless steel (hardness of 58 on the Rockwell Scale) and their “precision edge technology” yields a blade that is sharp and which retains its edge. They all come with a limited lifetime warranty.
Multiple site named this and the new Classic Blonde handle variation to their best of lists. Japanese knives in general tend to be lighter than German knives, but they are razor sharp, well-balanced, and easy to sharpen.
They are crafted in Seki, Japan using techniques that date back centuries to when the Japanese were making samurai swords. They feature Damascus-clad blades (created by folding 34 microthin layers of stainless steel that give it an attractive patterning as well as great durability and sharpness. It features a cutting core of Shun’s proprietary VG-MAX stainless steel.
This set contains all the basic knives you’ll ever need, including a paring knife, a utility knife, a chef’s knife, and a bread knife.
Like I wrote above, these are the knives I use every day. Even though they’re lighter, they’re super well balanced and as beautiful to look at as they are to use.
Several sites, including Wirecutter and Good Housekeeping listed these Victorinox knives as an excellent choice for the budget conscious; my personal favorite is this set that contains four essential knives, a sharpening steel, and a Swiss Army knife. Like Swiss Army Knives, Victorinox cutlery is expertly crafted in Switzerland, and has been since 1884.
If I could go back to college, this is the set I’d want to cut fruit, slice bagels, chop vegetables, and cut meat. They’re made from high quality lightweight European steel and–in a rarity for knives–are dishwasher safe.
If you only need the knives and don’t need the wood block, the sharpening steel, etc, you can purchase the knives by themselves. But beware of third party sellers who jack up the price.
This set was named by Good Housekeeping, CNN, and others as one of the best. Zwilling J.A. Henckels was founded in 1731 and continues to make kitchen knives for domestic and professional use. Like Wüsthof, they’re based in Soligen, Germany (the “City of Blades”).
This is another reasonably affordable set of knives. It’s actually the high-end knife set from the Zwilling JA Henckels range. The knives are made from robust, ice-hardened steel and were both razor sharp and easy to control. Lasers are used to ensure that each blade’s edge is at the optimal cutting angle for maximum sharpness. The ABS resin handles are triple riveted to the blades.
There’s a limited edition set being sold now called the Four Star 8-Piece Knife Block Set which was released in honor of the 40th anniversary of their Four Star line of cutlery, which is Zwilling’s best selling line of knives.
The knives are all made in Germany, of course.
Again these were the sets that were most frequently cited as the best, but there were plenty of other highly rated options not made in China, including the Global Classic 7-Piece Takashi Knife Wood Block Set (made in Japan), the Kramer by Zwilling Knife Block Set (made in Japan), the Mercer Culinary Genesis 6-Piece Forged Knife Block Set (made in Taiwan). You can’t go wrong with any of these.
Do you know of other great knife sets not made in China worthy of mention here? Let us know in the comments!