I’m in the mood for knives

By Mir
November 20, 2006

Well, I’m in the mood to answer a question about knives, anyway.

Elizabeth writes:

Hi Mir
Do you have any advice on kitchen knives? I desperately need a new set, mine are dangerously dull. I’m hoping to not overpay for a set that will work for years. I don’t even know what a good brand is, so I can’t spot a deal. Do you have any ideas for me?

As is so often the case, there’s a number of things to consider before you start looking at brands and trying to scope out a deal. The best deal depends on your needs and wants.

Needs. Do you cook a lot? Do you know the difference between a trimmer and a paring knife? Do you need an honest-to-goodness cleaver for daily use? All of these things are matters to consider well in advance of your shopping.

  • How often you use knives: If you’re an infrequent chef or most of your food prep involves opening cans, you don’t need a vast assortment of cutlery.
  • How varied your knife use is: If you use your existing knives a lot, do you use one knife over and over, or do you truly utilize all the different types, and maybe even wish you had others? Determine whether you need one awesome, honkin’ blade or would be better served by an assortment.
  • What type of blade you prefer: Let’s face it—even cheap knives can be home-sharpened back into usefulness with a little time and care… if they’re a plain, straight blade. If you use serrated knives with regularity, you can’t sharpen them yourself.

Wants. This category encompasses everything not strictly utilitarian in your consideration.

  • Handles: There’s wood, there’s polymer, there’s metal; there’s just about everything. Do you have a preference? Some would argue that this isn’t a purely aesthetic choice, but I counter than unless you’re a world-class chef deeply attuned to a knife’s balance, it is. You’re asking me, therefore you’re not an elite chef. So just decide what you like.
  • Dishwasher safety: I’m putting this on here just in case you (or someone else) is thinking “I’d like them to be dishwasher safe.” No. No no no no a thousand times no. Knives get dull the dishwasher. Did you hear me? Do not put your knives in the dishwasher. And run away from any knives which claim to be dishwasher-safe. (And I am the queen of putting everything in the dishwasher, too. But knives need a little TLC.) Cross this off your list of considerations because you are not going to put your knives in the dishwasher.
  • Storage: Do you want a big fancy block? Would you like one of those metal magnetic strips? Will you toss them in a drawer? All things to consider. For most, a “block of knives” is the catch-all solution—a variety of knives complete with storage—but maybe you don’t care about a block, or maybe you’d rather spend the same amount of money but get better blades. Think about it.

Okay. Now that you’ve figured all of that out, let’s talk brands. Check out this tidbit of Consumer Reports goodness for a quick overview. Lots of good advice in there about popular brands, types of knives, and how blades are forged. Another reason I like that article is because it advises that you feel any knives you might want to purchase, and I agree. While I’m happy to find you a deal online, you should ideally have a sense of what feels comfortable in your hand rather than ordering something just because it seems like a good value.

The referenced article lists Calphalon, Cuisinart, Henckels, KitchenAid, Viking, and Wüsthof as “top brands.” While I agree that you can’t go wrong with any of those, be aware that even amongst the high-end brands there is a variance. For example: I have a block of Henckels knives. But they’re probably the cheapest knives Henckels makes. Why be aware of this? Well, don’t get suckered in by a brand name thinking you’re necessarily getting top-of-the-line. You’re getting something good, but pay attention. Even the elite manufacturers make so-so products.

It’s a little-known secret that I accepted my beloved’s marriage proposal because he owns a full assortment of CUTCO knives. (I am just joking, darling! Honestly! Pay no attention to how I lovingly caress the alluring handles!) CUTCO is to the cutlery world what Kirby is to the vacuum world—they’re great, but very expensive. They’re very nice, yes, but are they superior to everything else? Debatable. Plus you can only buy them through a home-sales representative. You have to decide if the hassle and price are worth it, or if you’re happier getting a deal on something else.

Go forth and shop in the stores so that you can feel and compare. Once you have a decent idea of what you want, start poking around online. There are a few choices at SmartBargains, though their selection isn’t great and the stock changes often. There’s also a variety of knife sets at Overstockicon (and they’ve been kind enough to make that 10% off coupon ongoing for a while now; let me know if you need help activating the coupon).

As you might imagine, there are roughly seven million options at Amazon. That’s another reason why trying things out and knowing precisely what you want is a great idea before shopping for real. It leaves less room to become overwhelmed by the choices.

Here’s a few bargains I picked out; they may or may not be along the lines of what you want, but they’re good sets at a discounted price:

Cuisinart 15-piece set (72% off)
Henckles 13-piece set (64% off)
KitchenAid 14-piece set (65% off)
Henckles 18-piece set (okay, this is a huge and expensive set including steak knives, suitable for if you want to go “whole hog,” and a good price at 54% off… but still a very pricey item)
Henckles 7-piece set (64% off)
Calphalon 15-piece set (57% off)

The point is, there are plenty of choices without paying full price. Get educated, go try a few things, and then go find your bargain. And watch your fingers; those things are sharp!


  1. I love my Cutco knives. And I put them in the dishwasher since they have the lifetime guarantee. If they get dull, they come sharpen them for free. If they break, rust, etc. from dishwasher use, it doesn’t matter as they replace it for free. And, no, I don’t sell them and never have so that is not why I endorse them. I just don’t like to wash dishes by hand!

  2. I just bought some knives for cooking school a while ago and I am up on the lingo. A good question is what are the blades made of. There is carbon steel, stainless steel, high-carbon stainless steel. Carbon steel will corode and stain and stainless is more difficult to sharpen. The combination of the two is a good way to go. Another thing about buying knives is how the blades are made. They can be stamped (cheapest), forged, or hand forged (best). How the handles are constructed is important too. Full tang (the metal of the blade runs the full length and width of the handle) is the strongest construction.

  3. Hmmm…I married my husband for the same reason…he was a Cutco rep and had a full set, then my grandmother gave us the steak knives and block for Christmas!

  4. seeing as this site is dedicated to frugality, my first question would be…. could you possibly just get your current knives sharpened? If they are decent quality and the only thing you don’t like about them is that they are dull, getting them sharpened may be a better option than buying new ones. Some brands (Cutco for example) will sharpen your old ones for free.

  5. I have a high end set of Henckles and they are great. I have one knife by Global and it is far superior to the Henckles. I’m surprised it was not in the top of the list. They are pricey but way worth the money.

  6. She didn’t want the incredibly humorous –um– knife “block” you linked to the other day?

  7. We have a set of lower end (still not cheap) Wusthof Trident that we were given for a wedding gift. Not full tang, but beautifully balanced, and they stay sharp for a long time after a good sharpening. In the years since, I’ve bought more Wusthof knives when they were on sale because I love them — and, here’s the deal: they are Guaranteed for Life. Two of our blades have broken due to our abuse and all you have to do is wrap up the broken knife & mail it off, and in days, days mind you, a new knife appears in the mail!!!!! My biggest rec, though, is a great knife sharpener. We have the Chef’s Choice 3-stage diamond-hone, which, again, we got as a gift. They now have a dizzying array of varieties and some are, sadly, expensive. But the manual one is good and only 19.95 at amazon. Keep even low-end knives sharp and you will be one happy cook!

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