The Best Kitchen Knives for Every Budget

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William Henry Maestro CollectionAs a professionally trained Bladesmith I’m often asked for my opinion on affordable, commercially available cutlery that can be purchased locally. Since I’ve answered this question many times for friends and family I thought it might be useful to share here on the Blog.

Before we get started let me just say that there are a lot of different factors that go into the selection of a good set of knives, and if done properly there is no reason that a high quality kitchen knife can’t be put to service for 20 years or more.

Some of the factors that influenced my recommendations include steel composition, durability, “feel” or balance, aesthetics, and sanitary considerations.

I should note that I am focusing on sets of knives here because a matched set is always best. They’ll all fit in the same block together, they require similar care, they’ll have similar balance and feel, and they look best this way. I highly recommend purchasing a matched set and using the right knife for each particular job.

For the Extremely Cost Conscious

I’m sorry to report, but there is no set of knives that I can recommend below about $150. The main reason is that in order to make a good knife you have to start with high quality steel, then go through extremely high quality processes and frankly this is all quite expensive. The fact that we can purchase cheap knives today is amazing considering that just a couple hundred years ago it would have cost a pretty penny due to all the manual labor and specialized knowledge required of a Bladesmith.

So, if you’re on a tight budget the best option is to just get one or two knives at the moment then save up to purchase a block set. Here are the top three knives I recommend if I was only going to own one really good knife:

  1. Calphalon Katana Stainless-Steel 6-Inch Utility Knife ($60) – Although not ideal for all tasks, a 6″ utility knife would slice meat, dice veggies or help debone and skin a chicken.
  2. Calphalon Katana Stainless-Steel 7-Inch Santoku Knife ($80) – If I was slicing lots of beef or tomatoes or things that generally tend to stick to a blade, I’d choose a Santoku because the grooves on the side help the blade slide through. However, anything below a 7″ Santoku is just not going to be functional.
  3. Henckels Professional “S” 6″ Utility Knife ($70) – Again, this is the competitor for the Calphalon utility knife. If you prefer something more stain resistant this would be the choice (read below to see what I mean).

For the Average Household

Costco's Henckels 10 piece Knife SetActually, I’m assuming that if you’re reading this you’re a little more selective than the “average consumer”, but I digress. A good “value” set of knives is the Henckels 10-piece Forged Set from had at Costco for $188. I’m 90% certain this set is assembled from the TWIN Gourmet series of knives.

Features of the Henckels 10 piece set:

  1. 9 German forged blades plus a block for about $20 each. That’s a good value.
  2. Hygenic construction.
  3. Decent steel holds an OK edge. It’s easy to sharpen, and you’ll want to do it fairly often.
  4. Costco’s excellent return policy.

Drawbacks of the Henckels 10 piece set:

  1. No steak knives.
  2. A little “cheap” feeling compared to the ones that follow (still way better than less expensive sets).
  3. Don’t particularly care of the “balance”.
  4. Handles a little too narrow for larger hands.
  5. “Dishwasher safe” though not recommended.

For the Enthusiast

Calphalon Katana SeriesI personally own, and love, the entire Calphalon Katana 8-Piece Knife Set with Block (I’ve got all the other pieces too, not just this set). For the money I think this represents the best value of any commercially available set – currently $220.79 for the 8 piece set (6 knives plus 1 block and 1 steel)!

The Katana series has the following benefits:

  1. In my opinion it is the second most beautiful set here (behind the William Henry for 10x the price).
  2. The core VG Steel in this blade is about the hardest you can get, so it will retain an edge longer than any other blade here.
  3. They come from Calphalon with a fantastically sharp edge straight out of the box. Be very careful with these blades!
  4. There are no rivets, pores or openings on these knives for bacteria to collect in. This keep them sanitary.
  5. They feel good in my rather large hands (I’m 6’1″) yet my wife (she’s > 5′) has indicated that they work for her as well.
  6. Here is a little more info from Calphalon

The Katana series has the following drawbacks:

  1. Although the steel is very hard, high carbon stainless is “stain resistant” not rust proof. This means it will rust if left in water for say 1 hour. These knives need to be cleaned and put away immediately after use. Don’t leave them laying in the sink!
  2. Because the blades are so hard the edge could chip if abused. You need to choose a thick blade for heavy work like chicken bones. Of course, this is the same thing I’d say about any high quality knife.
  3. They do not offer matching steak knives.

This set is available from Amazon.com
.

For the Professional Chef

Henckels Pro SIf I had to rely on a set of knives for my profession I’d choose the Henckels Pro “S” knives, available at Amazon.com for $559.00.

You can see a great video on how these knives are produced on the Henckel Web site. Also, you may wish to peruse their other videos that cover things like use, safety and tips.
The Pro S Series has the following features:

  1. A huge selection of blade types will satisfy virtually any kitchen need.
  2. A good steel blend that holds an edge reasonably well and hones and sharpens quickly.
  3. No fears of potential rust if it remains perpetually wet (within reason).
  4. Sanitary and well sealed handles and construction.
  5. Reasonably non-slip handles.
  6. German quality and consistency.
  7. You aren’t going to cry if one walks off in a busy kitchen.

The Pro S Series has the following drawbacks:

  1. You’re not going to “wow” your fellow chefs.
  2. Fairly sharp out of the box, but need a little work before they could match the Calphalon Katanas.
  3. They feel a bit cold and soulless to me.
  4. Personally I’d still take the Katanas and just baby them as I worked.

If Price is of Little Concern

William Henry Maestro CollectionWithout a doubt the finest commercially available set of cutlery (if you can find one) is the William Henry Maestro Collection – $3,000 for 5 piece set:

A name befitting its stature “the Maestro Collection from William Henry. Called ‘the finest cutlery ever produced,’ this collection offers superb performance, timeless elegance, and a study in contrasts.

The blades are crafted from our Wave Damascus (patents pending) featuring a core of ZDP-189 surrounded by 44 layers of alternating stainless alloys. The 45 layers combine together to create a blade that is very sharp, exceptionally strong, and of incomparable beauty.

The handles are built from hand-selected cocobolo wood hand-finished to a beautiful luster. They join sculptural stainless steel bolsters that feature hidden weight reduction pockets for heft and balance.

Each knife features our engraved logo, a unique serial number, and a certificate of authenticity.

Although if you have the money to drop on the Maestro you could probably also afford a hand made set of cutlery from a professional Bladesmith. There would be a number of differences, not the least of which is the chance to own a one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted, highly customized and signed set made by a famous Master.

If you are interested in acquiring an heirloom quality set of knives you may contact me, and for a fee I’ll help design and either construct the set or introduce you to one of the Master Bladesmiths I trained under.

Please be aware that the cost will be more than those William Henrys and the wait could be 6 months for a hand forged matched set. But hey, if price is truly not the issue then is there really any option?

Article Written by
John P.

John P. is CEO of Livid Lobster and co-host of Geek Beat TV. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Comments

  1. John P. says:

    As I’ve stated in the past. Until you’ve physically forged a blade yourself, you are unqualified to contest my opinion.

    There is no such thing as “high carbon surgical stainless steel”. Moron.

    High carbon steel, like the steel a US Marine K-Bar is made from, has more than .5% of carbon in it. It is not allowed to contain more than 1.65% manganese, .6% silicon and .6% copper. That means that high-carbon steel contains greater than 95% Iron in it’s chemical composition. This steel makes for a long lasting, hard, sharp blade that you can rely on with your life. But it has to be cared for appropriately so as not to rust.

    Stainless steel, like your crappy little cutco 90%-margin trash, contains a minimum of 11.5% chromium, and often upwards of 26%. Guess what, chromium is very, very soft! Ahhh, but it doesn’t rust… Now, let’s do some first grade math shall we?

    • If you can only have 100% of total ingredients, and you use 15% on chromium, you only have 85% left for the stuff that makes real high-carbon steel.
    • If you require at least 95% iron and .5% carbon, you’ve only got 4.5% of other stuff you can fit in there.
    • 15% is greater than 4.5%. By a factor of over 300%

    So, unless you live in a world where you can fit 95% iron, .5% carbon and 11.5% chromium into the same piece of steel (total: 107%) – you aren’t getting “high carbon stainless”. Chump.

    The reason “surgical” tools are made from stainless steel is because they only have to be used one time, then they are disposed of or professionally sharpened. Single use knives are not something to brag about.

    So, how about this? Why don’t YOU do some research, talk to your chemistry professor, and get a college degree so you can support yourself with a real job. As for me, I’m shutting down the comments on this article because I’m way, way sick of you Cutco babies (and I’m sure all my other readers are too).

    “Oh, my Cutco knives are so great… Why? Because someone told me so!”

    “Double D edge”? Ha! Snapperhead.

    Love,

    John P.

  2. Patrick says:

    Your comments are ignorant. I am a college student, and i am the assistant manager of vector marketings alb office. you wanna test my set of knives against your shitty knives ill do it any day. first off cutco is high carbon surgical stainless steel. the double d edge is the best there is, shitty serrated edges are a joke and most straight edges require frequent sharpening. and for calling me ignorant about my product i say you are the ignorant one. do a little research. cutco is the best line of cutlery there is and doesnt cost 3000 for 5 knives… get over yourself

  3. Polentzi says:

    I’m sure you do have a general understanding of business. Which is why you don’t understand teh specific difference between an mlm and direct sales. People who know don’t dress up their knowledge in curses, insults, and rhetoric. You are un-necessarily rude, and you don’t respond directly. Rather you speak like a politician. If thinking you are right is so important to you, rather than having a conversation, so be it. Have a nice life.

  4. chip says:

    If you want to keep a really good edge on your expensive knife, take the extra 60 seconds it takes to wash it by hand.

  5. John P. says:
    1. You said that CATRA was worthless not me.
    2. Don’t try to dress up a MLM as a “direct selling organization”. I didn’t knock the marketing methodology, just pointed it out as a statement of fact. Which it is. A statement of fact.
    3. I sat through the Cutco demonstration and owned Cutco knives personally. Probably before you were born.
    4. There are NO known members of the American Bladesmith Society who would endorse Cutco knives as anything other than over priced pieces of cheap steel. (440a! Ha!)
    5. Not knowing that you have a crappy knife does not make you an expert. Being a trained bladesmith does make me one.
    6. I studied Finance and Economics at the University of Texas at Dallas. I also attended programs at Harvard Business School and Harvard Law. I am currently the Chief Marketing Officer for Layered Tech, and the CEO of iFusion Labs. I would wager I have a general understanding of business.
    7. Don’t waste your time selling shitty products. If you truly want to sell something good, go learn to sell Mercedes or something. Otherwise, go away and bother all your friends and family to sell them your crap. I don’t care.

      John P.

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