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Kitchen Cutlery Sets for Tight Budgets

kitchen cutlery_core three

Ah, kitchen cutlery sets. It’s tough to stock a kitchen when you’re starting from scratch and don’t have a bridal registry to lean on. With so many things to buy—what’s worth spending money on, what’s not? In order to help those of you who like to cook, but may have a limited budget, I made a challenge for myself. If I only had $100 to spend on putting together a starter kitchen cutlery set, what would I buy?

First, some tips on strategy—then, some solutions:

1) Buy the core three—chef knife, paring knife, bread knife—and leave the rest for later. Please don’t be seduced by those handsome-looking woodblocks amply loaded with knives in a variety of shapes and sizes. Concentrate on the essentials. Ninety-nine percent of all kitchen prep can be done with only three knives. It’s all about quality over quantity. And choosing quality will give you better/sharper knives that will stay sharp longer and make your cooking easier and more fun. (Read How Many Kitchen Knives Do You Really Need?.)

2) Do NOT split your money evenly between all three knives. Your chef knife is king—the knife you’ll use the most and work hardest with. Thus, roughly, at least 50 percent (or more) should go toward the chef’s, 20 or 30 percent towards the paring, and 10 to 15 towards the bread knife.

3) Buy a ceramic hone and learn how to use it to keep your knives sharp. (Messermeister sells a great one for only $25. See My Favorite Honing Steels for more details.)

Now the solutions—three kitchen cutlery sets I recommend looking into that squeak under $100 (plus three more). . .

henckels four star_3 piece set

Henckels Four Star 3-piece set

BUY NOW @ Amazon: $99
8″ chef knife, 4″ paring knife,
and 5” serrated (bread).

The best price you can find for this chef knife by itself is $85. And the paring, $40. So getting both, plus a serrated, is quite a deal. These are forged, high-quality knives you could have for 20 years or more if you treat them right. (I still have mine.) A great core to build around.

You should still buy a hone and, like all good knives, you will still need to get them sharpened on a regular basis. But these should feel pretty good in your hands and be a pleasure to work with. The 5″ serrated is short for a bread knife of course. But as long as you’re not feasting on huge loaves of peasant bread every night, it should do the job fine.

PACKAGE #2 (you create yourself)Victorinox cutlery set combo-2

Victorinox chef knife;
Wusthof Classic or
Henckels Four Star paring knife;
OXO Good Grips bread knife

BUY NOW @ Amazon
Victorinox 8″ chef: $33

Wusthof Classic 3 1/2″ paring: $40
or Henckels 4 Star 3″ paring: $40
OXO Good Grips bread knife: $10

I’m disobeying my own advice with this package and not spending enough on the chef knife. But this knife at this price is sharper and will keep it’s sharpness better than many knives costing twice as much.

Victorinox has long set the standard for no frills, yet high-performance, chef knives. Both paring knives are at a higher level of quality than the Victorinox and, like the Henckels set above, could last for a couple of decades or more.

And, yes, the OXO bread knife is awfully cheap, but a bread knife is the least important member of your core three. (I’ve used an OXO peeler and a pizza cutter for years, so I assume their bread knife will be quite decent. And the Amazon reviews are impressive.)

The up side to this package is the cost—you could use the $17 left over to buy a Messermeister ceramic hone and break your $100 budget by only $8. Sweeeeet! The down side is that the Victorinox chef, though phenomenally sharp, will not feel as solid in your hand as the Henckels. It’s a stamped knife with a thinner blade and a plastic-y handle and to some will feel a bit flimsy. It will also not look quite as refined, and eventually, if you enjoy cooking, you’ll want to replace it with a higher quality blade.

Ginsu Chikara 8-piece setPACKAGE #3

Ginsu 7108 Chikara 8-Piece Stainless Steel Knife Set with Bamboo Block

BUY NOW @ Amazon: $85
3 1/2” paring, 5” utility, 5” serrated,
7” santoku, 8” chef’s, kitchen shears,
sharpening rod, and bamboo storage block.

In case you haven’t already noticed, I am not a huge fan of kitchen cutlery sets in general—especially inexpensive ones. I prefer to own quality knives that will last and not have to be sharpened too often. Plus, I can’t stand the thought of paying for more knives than I really need.

Buuuut, if you: 1) really really really feel you need more than just three core knives (for example if there are multiple cooks working in your kitchen) or 2) don’t cook that much and just want a set that looks really swish and will do a respectable job, then here’s the solution for you.

But please don’t fool yourself into thinking these knives will have the shelf life of a top-quality set manufactured by Henckels, Wusthof, Global and crew. Not going to happen. Which means eventually you will have to start all over again and probably need to replace every blade.

The main reason for this is the lesser quality steel the knives are made of. There is no free lunch as far as steel is concerned. And even though the Amazon reviews are stellar, I can only surmise they will 1) need to sharpened more often and 2) eventually perform sub par. That said, I definitely prefer them to the other inexpensive sets put out there by Chicago Cutlery, and even Henckels and Wusthof.

So, as long as you’re clear on exactly what you’re buying—go for it!

PACKAGE #4, #5, or #6

Wusthof 9655 Grand Prix II 2pc Starter Knife Set

BUY NOW @ Amazon: $120
Wusthof Classic 2-piece starter set

Wusthof 9755 Classic 2-Piece Knife Starter Set

BUY NOW @ Amazon: $150

Messermeister San Moritz Elite Chef’s and Paring Knife Set

BUY NOW @ Amazon: $150

Finally, I’m going to disobey my own rules (yes, again) and go a touch over budget with three discounted chef-and-paring-knife packages by Wusthof and Messermeister that would be great to build on if you wanted to start small, but stick with high quality. (Which I highly recommend.) All three of these sets offer top-tier German knives at great prices. (For more on this, read Best Chef Knives—Six Recommendations.)

You could add an OXO bread knife to complete the set. Or, if you preferred something that matched the other knives better and was a step up, get the best blend of quality and value with Henckel’s International Classic bread knife. Henckels’ International line is not manufactured in Germany, but in Spain. Still, the knives are drop forged, decently made (I own a chef’s), and this bread knife sports solid 4- and 5-star reviews on Amazon.

• • •

And that’s all she wrote! Remember—quality over quantity, start with the core three and build from there, and buy a hone and use it. Have fun cooking!

P.S. If you want more on cutlery sets, check out: Why I’m Wary of Kitchen Knife Sets and Three Kitchen Knife Sets I Recommend.

Protect your knives from getting banged up in drawers. The most inexpensive fix is a set of edge guards ($12)—but finding the right fit can be trial and error. A better way to go is to buy an in-drawer knife storage unit ($20) or a wooden knife block ($20).

Stay clear of cutting boards made of hard plastic, glass, or granite—they’ll dull your knives in no time. Buy two cutting boards—one wood (your main board) and the second plastic. (Read about the Two Boards Concept at Cutting Board Cleanliness.)

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