Sharpen Up

Never Buy a Set of Knives. Here’s Why.

updated Dec 17, 2019
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(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

Whether you’re setting up a new kitchen or considering upgrading the tools you currently have, a knife set can seem like a good idea. The advantages are that you get a lot of knives (and, often, kitchen shears and a honing steel) at a reasonable price and you don’t have to think too much about it.

But are you really better off purchasing a block set? The experts agree: probably not, and here’s why.

When It Comes to Knives, More Is Not More

Bottom line: You don’t really need a lot of knives. And having more knives than you need or that you’ll actually use just makes the task of cooking more complicated than it needs to be.

Cara Mangini, chef, restaurateur, and author of The Vegetable Butcher, explains:

I’m not a fan of the big block sets. They are often packaged to feel like a deal, but I think they end up creating confusion when it’s time to pick up a knife. When faced with the block on a counter, people either feel compelled to use different ones, even if you really only need a few, feel paralyzed by all the choices, or just use whichever knife is clean even if it isn’t the best one for the job.

Taylor Erkkinen, founder of Brooklyn Kitchen, agrees. “[Knife blocks] often come with miscellaneous extras that are not necessary in the kitchen,” she says, adding, “We have not sold a lot.”

Knife Blocks Take Up Space

This might not be a problem for those with counter space to spare, but if you have a tiny kitchen and your counters are prime real estate, knife blocks are bulky. You’re better off with a more streamlined storage solution, like a magnetic knife strip, which can safely and comfortably hold all the knives you need (and then some).

They’re Not Actually a Good Deal

Knife sets feel like a bargain. A block with 18 knives may retail for $300, when, if you bought all those knives separately, it would cost twice as much — or more. But you probably don’t need (and won’t use) all those knives. “You’re paying a lot of extra money for knives that aren’t getting used,” says Eivin Kilcher, cookbook author and co-star of Discovery’s Alaska: The Last Frontier.

Josh Moses, co-founder of Misen, also suggests steering clear of knife sets: “In my opinion, investing in one or two higher-quality knives will get you a lot farther than that 12-piece set.”

So, What Should You Get Instead?

“Keep it simple,” advises Mangini. “I recommend an eight-inch chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a long serrated knife (eight to 12 inches).”

The 3 essential knives: The 3 Basic Knives Every Kitchen Needs

And if you have the basics and are looking to upgrade, she recommends a Japanese-style vegetable cleaver, also known as a Nakiri knife.

Unlike a long, pointed Western knife, it has a shorter, rectangular, almost completely squared-off blade. It is not essential by any means. I don’t need it, but I enjoy using it and rely on it for clean, smooth, and precise cuts. It’s a pleasure to work with and the broad surface is helpful for picking up and transferring just-cut vegetables from the cutting board.

Have a knife set already? Make it earn its keep! Here’s what’s in it: A Visual Guide to Every Single Knife in Your Knife Block

What do you think, readers? Knife sets — yay or nay?