Last updated 12.12.21 — True confession: I have never owned a chef knife set. All those perfectly matched blades, all from the same knife maker and the same line—their uniformity seems excessive. And they often encourage you to buy knives you don’t need, without offering you the variety that might be more useful. On the other hand, they can look quite handsome—especially in a gift box—and make your shopping much simpler, and sometimes save you money. Sooo, lets take a look. . .
(Above: Shun Classic Blonde 7-piece set.)
Best Chef Knife Sets Overview
- Starter Chef Knife Sets ($180—$365)
- Intermediate Chef Knife Sets ($350—$860)
- Deluxe Chef Knife Sets ($990—$1,200)
- Super High-end Chef Knife Sets ($1,900–$2,500)
If you care about quality, my article Best Chef Knives — Six Recommendations can serve as a guide as to which chef knife sets are most worth investigating. Especially when you consider, no matter how many knives are in the set, odds are you’ll be wielding your good old chef knife 75 percent of the time. So that’s what we’ll do. We’ll concentrate on just six high-quality brands and their top-level lines. Suffice it to say, the German knives will all be made in Germany (not Spain, or elsewhere) and the Japanese knives will all be made in Japan (not China).
I highly recommend skimming over Best Chef Knives to get a better sense of the kitchen knife universe and your place in it. Joking aside, it will help you familiarize yourself with some of the major brands, understand the differences (and similarities) between them, and figure out what details are important to consider (and which are not) when buying your best-est buddies of the kitchen. . .er, your kitchen knives.
German vs. Japanese Chef Knife Sets
One key concept good to touch on briefly before we blast off is the differences between German and Japanese knives.
Because of the nature of the steel they are made of and the way they are constructed, German and Japanese knives can vary quite a bit in their look and feel. They can also perform differently and require different care/treatment.
German-style knives tend to be made of tougher, but softer steel, and are thicker and heavier. Japanese-style knives tend to be made of harder, but brittler steel, and are thinner and lighter.
German knives are warhorses that can put up with an amazing amount of abuse. It will take a lot to chip the edge of a German knife. Japanese knives are thoroughbreds which must be handled with more care. You can’t get away with powering through a chicken joint with a Global santoku.
Japanese-style knives will tend to take a finer (i.e. sharper) edge and hold it longer. They will more consistently come out of the box blisteringly sharp. Contrastingly, German knives will often not hold as fine an edge and require sharpening more often.
But we’re talking generalities here—for as of late, there’s been a lot of blending between both worlds. And there are numerous exceptions and hybrids—which I will try to point out along the way.
For the record: I own and use both German- and Japanese-style knives in my kitchen and love them both. In general practice—cutting up veggies, slicing up a flank steak—I don’t notice a humongous difference in their sharpitude. And. . .because I handle all my kitchen knives with TLC, there’s not much difference between how I treat each type.
(Above: Miyabi Birchwood 7-piece set.)
The Core Three
Ooops, I lied. There’s one other key concept I should expose you to as well, just in case you’re not familiar with it—the Core Three.
An overwhelming majority of all kitchen prep tasks can be accomplished with just three kitchen knives—a chef, a paring, and a (serrated) bread knife. Yep. Other types and styles of knives may make your work faster and easier, but these three will do the trick.
Thus, when I choose a chef knife set, I’m always looking for these three blades to be in the starting line up. The rest can follow. So if you scroll around on Amazon and see perfectly good-looking name-brand sets that aren’t on my recommended list, this might be one of the reasons.
The only exception to this rule would be a two-piece starter set. For folks on a tight budget, you can save moola by starting off with a high-quality chef and paring knife and adding in an inexpensive bread knife. Knives with serrated edges, like bread knives, are not as dependent on high-quality steel and manufacturing to do their job. (It has to do with the nature of serrated edges and is not worth delving into here.)
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Recommended Chef Knife Sets
It makes the most sense to organize these knife sets into three broad categories according to the number of knives. Then, in each of these categories, we’ll split them into German and Japanese.
The prices range from $180 to $1,200 per set, most falling somewhere in the middle. Although kitchen knife prices seem to bounce around like the stock market, I’m still going to list approximate numbers—because I know that can help speed your shopping along. But please don’t call me on it!
Are you ready. . . ?
Starter Chef Knife Sets ($180—$365)
A starter set might be perfect for an off-campus college student, a young professional, or anybody else just beginning their sojourn into the world of cooking. As already mentioned, my picks come in two- or three-piece sets—with either a paring and a chef knife (2), or with a serrated bread-type knife folded in (3).
German Starter Sets
Zwilling J.A. Henckels
Zwilling Professional S 2-piece / $180 @ Amazon
Includes: 4” paring, 8” chef
Zwilling Professional S 3-piece / $250 @ Amazon
Includes: 4” paring, 5” serrated utility, 8″ chef
Zwilling Professional S 5-piece, Studio Block / $269 @ Amazon
Includes: 4” paring, 5” serrated utility, 8” chef, scissors, 6-slot narrow block
(Above: Wusthof Classic Ikon 3-piece Set.)
Wusthof Classic Ikon 2-piece Set / $230 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 8″ chef
Wüsthof Classic Ikon Asian Cook’s 2-piece Set / $245 @ Amazon
Includes: 3″ flat-cut paring, 7″ hollow-edge santoku
Wusthof Classic Ikon 3-piece Set / $365 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 8” chef, 8” bread
(Above: Kasumi 3-piece set.)
Japanese Starter Sets
Kasumi is one of the two brands that are not covered in my Best Chef Knives article. But, they carry a Seki City, Japan, pedigree coming from the Sumikama family who’s been crafting knives for 27 generations.
Because of the current scarcity of options in Japanese starter sets, I’m glad they came my way. Although their three-knife starter set lacks a bread knife, it’s such a great value I couldn’t resist recommending it. All you need to round things out, is an inexpensive bread knife (Tojiro Bread Slicer).
Kasumi Chef Knives, 3-piece Set / $256 @ Sur La Table
Includes: 3” paring, 6” utility, 7” chef
(Above: Global 2-piece chef/paring set.)
Global 2-piece Chef/Paring Knife Set / $150 @ Amazon
Includes: 3” paring, 8” chef (G2)
Intermediate Chef Knife Sets ($350—$860)
These kitchen knife collections are probably the most popular sets—the ones your average home cook will find meets most needs. All contain the core three and then usually add a utility/prep knife, scissors, honing steel, and a block. (Yes, the honing rods are usually steel and I would much prefer ceramic—which some of the Japanese do brands supply. Yay!) The largest (and priciest) sets in this category also add a santoku or an extra paring knife which, to me, is a big plus.
With only a few exceptions, all of these sets come with a block. But please double check that the block is in the wood you want!
(Above: Messermeister Olivia 5-piece set.)
German Intermediate Sets
Zwilling J.A. Henckels
Zwilling Professional S 7-piece Knife Set, Natural Block / $350 @ Amazon
4” paring, 5.5″ serrated utility, 5” hollow-edge santoku, 8” chef, honing steel, kitchen shears
Zwilling Pro 7-piece, Acacia Block & Rustic White / $350 @ Sur la Table | Amazon
Includes: 4″ paring, 5.5″ prep, 8″ chef, 8″ bread, honing steel, kitchen shears, 16-slot block
In-Drawer Knife Tray (instead of block) / $340 @ Amazon
Same 7-piece set as above, but in a wooden tray designed to fit into a kitchen drawer.
(Above: Zwilling Pro 7-piece set.)
The last two of these Wusthof sets are nearly identical except that one comes with a santoku while the other comes with an extra paring knife. Your choice. . .
Wusthof Classic 7-piece Set, Natural/Maple Block (Model 7417) / $450 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5” paring, 6” utility, 8” chef, 8” bread, 9” honing steel, kitchen shears, 15-slot storage block
Wusthof Classic Ikon 7-piece Set, Walnut / $550 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 6″ utility, 8″ chef, 8” bread, 9″ steel, kitchen shears, 15-Slot block
Wusthof Classic Ikon 7-piece Set, Slim Acacia Block / $600 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 5″ serrated utility, 5″ hollow-edge santoku, 8″ chef, 8” bread, kitchen shears, 6-slot block; slim block to maximize counter space (9.5 x 3.5-inch footprint)
Wusthof Classic Ikon 8-piece Set, Acacia Block (1090370807) / $650 @ Amazon
Includes: 3″ flat-cut paring, 3.5″ paring, 5″ serrated utility, 6″ utility, 8″ chef, 8″ bread, 9″ honing steel, kitchen shears, 17-slot block
Messermeister Oliva Elite 4-piece / $425 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 6″ utility, 8″ chef (stealth), 9″ bread, no block
Messermeister Oliva Elite 5-piece, Acacia Block / $600 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 8″ chef (stealth), 9″ bread, 10″ steel, 10-slot block
(Above: Global Sai 7-piece set.)
Japanese Intermediate Knife Sets
Global 7-piece Ikasu Set, Bamboo Block / $400 @ Amazon
Includes: 3” paring, 4.25” utility, 5” chef, 5.5” vegetable, 8” chef (G2), 8.5” bread, Ikasu bamboo block
Global Takashi 7-piece Set, Bamboo Block / $500 @ Amazon
Includes: 3” peeling, 4.5” paring, 5.5” vegetable, 8” chef (G2), 8.5” bread, 8.5” ceramic hone, 8-slot block
Global Ukon 6-piece Set, Black Metal Block / $600 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5” paring, 6” serrated utility, 7” santoku, 8” chef, 9” bread, 5-slot block
Updated design, very similar to original. You’re paying a premium for the new design.
Global Sai 7-Piece Set, Stainless Steel Block / $700 @ Sur La Table | $800 Amazon
Includes: 3.5” paring, 6” serrated utility, 5.5” chef, 7.5″ nakiri, 8” chef, 9” bread, 14-slot stainless steel ship-shape block
As with the Ukon line above, Sai is a new design. . .and you pay a premium for it. For whatever it’s worth, I find this line sexier than the Ukon.
These two sets are identical except that one has the classic dark handles and the other has the newer “blonde” handles. If you like the lighter-colored handles, grab them while they last—they’re a bargain!
Shun Classic 5-piece Starter Set / $551 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5” paring, 6” utility, 8” chef, honing steel, 6-slot block, no bread knife
(Above: Miyabi Koh 7-piece set.)
Miyabi is the other of the two brands that appear here that I did not cover in my original Best Chef Knives article. My bad, and I’ve been trying to find the time to add Miyabi ever since.
Miyabi is a boutique Japanese knifemaker acquired by Zwilling J.A. Henckels in 2004. They are well-known for making high-quality kitchen knives in Japan, but not so much outside the country. Using top-notch materials and exacting standards, Miyabi has hundreds of years of Japanese blademaking behind them. They are centered in Seki, Japan, one of the knifemaking capitals of the world. (Think Samurai swords.) Many of the kitchen knives they manufacturer are a blend of East meets West, Japanese meets German.
Miyabi Fusion 7-piece Set / $530 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 5.5″ santoku, 8″ chef, 9″ bread, 9″ honing steel, kitchen shears, block
Miyabi Kaizen 7-piece Set / $530 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 6″ utility, 8″ chef, 9.5″ bread knife, 9″ honing steel, kitchen shears, bamboo block
Miyabi Koh 7-piece Set / $530 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 5.5″ santoku, 8″ chef, 9″ bread, 9″ honing steel, 9″ honing steel, kitchen shears, 10-slot bamboo block
Miyabi Artisan 7-piece Set / $860 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 7″ santoku, 8″ chef, 9″ bread knife, 9″ honing steel, kitchen shears, bamboo block
Deluxe Chef Knife Sets ($990—$1,200)
For the serious home chef (you know the type) who can carve up a pineapple in four minutes flat or skin a salmon while telling a joke—gift them one these. They’ll thank you forever. Or buy one for yourself. . .heck, you deserve it!
In addition to the core three, these super-sizers can include a boning knife, a slicer, a santoku or two, plus the all-American crowd-pleaser—steak knives! Party on. . .
(Above: Wusthof Classic 16-piece set.)
German Deluxe Knife Sets
Zwilling J.A. Henckels
Zwilling Professional S 16-piece, Acacia Block / $970 @ Amazon
Includes: 3″ paring, 4” paring, 5″ serrated utility, 5.5″ prep, 7″ santoku, 8″ chef, 8″ bread, 4.5″ steak knives (6), shears, sharpening steel, 16-slot block
Wusthof Classic 11-Piece Set, Acacia Block / $750 @ Sur La Table | Amazon
Includes: 2.75″ trimming, 3.5” paring, 4.5” utility, 4.5” Asian utility, 5” serrated utility knife, 6” utility, 8” chef, 8” bread, 9” honing steel, kitchen shears, 17-slot knife block
Wusthof Classic Ikon 11-Piece Set, Acacia Block / $995 @ Sur La Table | Amazon
Includes: 3″ flat-cut paring, 3.5″ paring, 4.5″ utility, 5” hollow-edge santoku, 5” serrated utility, 5” boning, 8” chef, 8” bread, honing steel, kitchen shears, 17-slot block
Very chefy—with boning knife, santoku, and second paring knife.
Wusthof Classic Ikon 12-piece Set, Natural Block / $1,115 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 4.5″ utility, 6″ utility, 8″ chef, 8″ bread, steak knives (4), 10″ honing steel, kitchen shears, 15-slot block
Wusthof Classic 16-piece, Acacia Block / $1,100 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 4.5″ utility, 5″ serrated utility, 6″ prep, 8″ chef, 8″ hollow-edge offset carving/slicing, 8″ bread, 4.5″ steak knives (6), 9″ honing steel, kitchen shears, 17-slot block
Japanese Deluxe Knife Sets
Global makes one of the finest ceramic hones on the market. (At least, that’s what a professional sharpening service once told me.) And unlike many of the steel hones that come with German knife sets, they’re not cheap to buy by themselves. So if a set comes with one, it’s a serious kitchen bonus.
Global 10-piece Set (G-79589AU) / $600 @ Amazon
Includes: 3″ peeling, 4” paring knife. 4.25″ utility, 5.5” vegetable, 6.25″ boning, 8” chef (G2), 8.5″ bread, kitchen shears, ceramic hone, 9-slot block
Global 10-piece Set, Silver / $950 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5” paring, 4.25″ Asian utility, 5.25” chef, 6″ serrated utility, 7” hollow-edge santoku, 8” chef (G2), 8” carving, 8.5” bread, ceramic hone, 9-slot block
Global 20-piece Set, Walnut Block / $1,200 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 4.25″ Asian utility, 5″ chef, 5.5″ hollow-edge nakiri, 6″ boning, 6″ serrated utility, 7″ hollow-edge santoku, 7″ hollow-edge nakiri/vegetable, 8″ chef (G2), 8″ hollow-edge carving, 8.5″ bread, 4.5″ steak knives (6), 8.5″ ceramic hone, kitchen shears, 19-slot block
Ceramic hone! Crazy complete—only thing missing is an extra-long slicer.
Miyabi Kaizen 10-Piece Block Knife Set / $1,100 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 4.5” paring, 5.5” santoku, 6″ chef, 8″ chef, 5″ bread, 9.5″ slicing, 9” honing steel, kitchen shears, 11-slot bamboo block
Super High-end Chef Knife Sets ($1,900-$2,500)
If you bought a chunk of Amazon stock in the 90s, or just scored the lottery and love to cook.
(Above: Kramer stainless Damascus 7-piece set.)
Bob Kramer Stainless Damascus 7-Piece Block Set By Zwilling J.A. Henckels / $2,000 @ Sur La Table
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 5″ utility, 8″ chef, 10″ bread, 9″ slicer, Kramer’s double-cut sharpening steel, dark-walnut block
Miyabi Black 8-pc Knife Block Set (5000MCD67) / $1,900 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 5.25″ prep, 5.5″ santoku, 8″ chef, 9.5″ bread, 9” honing steel, kitchen shears, magnetic easel block (red oak with walnut stain)
Miyabi Birchwood GS2 7-pc Knife Block Set / $2,486 @ Amazon
Includes: 3.5″ paring, 7″ santoku, 8” chef, 9” bread, 9″ birchwood honing steel, kitchen shears, 12-slot bamboo block
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