Experts and professional chefs often pooh-pooh knife sets, saying you only really need three knives in your kitchen: a chef's knife, paring knife and serrated bread knife -- all of which are covered in their own sections in this report. However, many typical users love these handy collections. They usually include the three "must-have" knives, but they also often have specialty knives for slicing, utility knives, and both a standard chef's knife and a santoku knife -- which is not overkill since many cooks prefer having one of each. They also often include a good set of kitchen shears and -- best of all -- a storage block or rack that solves the question of where to keep your knives.
Once again, the race for Best Reviewed honors was almost too close to call between Wusthof and Victorinox, with the Wusthof Classic 8-Piece Cutlery Set (Est. $380) coming out on top. Yes, it's pricey, but reviewers say it's a knife set that has everything you need and will last a lifetime; and it has the lifetime guarantee to back that up.
This Wusthof 8-piece set includes a chef's knife, paring knife, bread knife, utility knife, sandwich knife, shears, honing tool and storage block. The specific knives included in Wusthof sets may vary depending upon where they are purchased, but this is a fairly standard selection. Even professional testers who are loathe to recommend knife sets say this Wusthof set is a great quality set at a good price if you consider what it would cost to buy each knife individually. The forged steel knives are well-balanced, with a sturdy, full tang construction that reviewers say results in a good heft that requires hardly any additional effort when cutting. The blades will stay sharp for a long time, and can be sharpened either with a home sharpener or by a professional.
The Wusthof set is panned by some for its short, 8-inch bread knife -- most bread aficionados prefer a 10-inch knife for ease of slicing larger loaves with one cut. However, people who use the serrated knife more as an all-purpose knife for slicing tomatoes or melons actually prefer the 8-inch size. Some also say that the 4.5-inch utility knife and 6-inch sandwich knife are unnecessary if you have a paring knife and chef's knife, but plenty of people who are intimidated by larger 8-inch chef's knife like using those smaller versions, or just like having a selection of knives for different size jobs. The bottom line is, if you like a knife set, this is a long-term choice. The knife block also includes slots for steak knives, but the set doesn't include those. See our recommendation below for how to fill those empty slots.
As they are in each of our categories, Victorinox and Wusthof were neck-and-neck here. The Victorinox 8-Piece Knife Block Set (Est. $190) includes 4-inch paring, 6-inch boning, 8-inch chef's, 8-inch bread, and 10-inch slicing knives as well as a 10-inch sharpening steel and a pair of kitchen shears. It gets equally good ratings as the Wusthof set on consumer review sites, and is a very close second in a couple of professional reviews that we saw. The block itself, however, is panned for durability, with reviewers saying slipping the knives in and out made the grooves look sawed away and ragged. Some also say the knives seem flimsy and they prefer heavier knives.
To fill the empty steak knife slots in your Wusthof Classic 8-piece knife set block, we recommend the Victorinox Rosewood Straight Edge Steak Knife Set (Est. $160). Because they're used at table and often used by company, steak knives should be attractive as well as functional, and these knives, with their comfortable, classic rosewood handles, deliver, say reviewers. The straight edge, as opposed to serrated edge, cuts cleanly through meat without "sawing" or leaving ragged looking slices.
In testing, this Victorinox set cuts effortlessly through even thick, tough or stringy cuts of meat, holding up well even after hours of cutting and slicing. They also managed to do so without leaving cut marks in the plate -- something a more poorly balanced or too-sharp steak knife set will do. This means that these steak knives will keep their edge for quite some time.
Experts also praise the great balance of the Victorinox steak knives, saying that, with a handle and blade of almost equal length, they felt comfortable and easy to control. One expert testers says the knives are so well-balanced, and slice so well they resemble a paring knife in ease of use.
If you prefer a steak knife with a less casual look, J.A. Henckels International Stainless Steel 8-Piece Steak Knife Set (Est. $40) is a very close runner up to the Victorinox in both professional testing and with users. The J.A. Henckels set knives have a serrated edge, which some experts say is preferable for long-term durability. Serrated knives do tend to hold their edge better than straight-edge steak knives, but they also don't cut quite as cleanly, so it boils down to a matter of preference.
This Henckels set is made from forged, high-carbon steel that will stay sharp for quite some time and users say they feel extremely well-balanced and well made. Several say they've had these steak knives for years and they're still sharp. Some complain that they seem too small and light -- and the slim, one-piece design does result in a smaller profile than some other, plastic or wood-handled steak knives. However, they are very attractive, all agree.
Still, the Victorinox set, while more casual-looking, is still nice-enough looking for company, and comes out on top in the expert reviews and professional tests we evaluated. And, unlike the serrated Henckels knives, the Victorinox knives are easy to sharpen if they get dull.
Elsewhere in this report: