Best Knives, Gift (for me) Edition
July 31, 2020 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I have a set of knives that is 6 years old, won't hold an edge, and I've realized they are garbage. For my birthday, my mom will get me a set of knives, but I need to decide what set of knives. I'm happy to order from anywhere but we do have Cook's Warehouse locally and I do favor supporting them over ordering from Macy's or whatever.

Furthermore, I have small hands (I am a small person). I would like a set of I think at least five knives -- Chef's, paring, and bread for sure. What set of knives would I like best? Let's keep it to $500 or less (understanding at the top of that, I will pick up part of the cost).
posted by Medieval Maven to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I know a lot of people who love the Victorinox Chef Knives and they are a great value, but I think they have pretty big handles and aren't ideal for smaller hands. I really like the handles on the Zwilling/Henkles Four Star line and that set is on a very good sale with few pointless pieces. I've had my Four Stars for twenty years now and they still bring joy.
posted by advicepig at 9:53 AM on July 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would suggest, if possible, building your own "set" from disparate knives rather than getting one of those comes-with-a-knife-block sets. Get something like the Mac MTH-80 ($145), the Victorinox bread knife ($55), a couple of paring knives (Victorinox is cheap and decent, Mac is like $60), some kind of kitchen shears (I like Messermeister, because the blades come apart for washing, so no gunk in the hinge) and a generic knife storage solution that works for your space (eg: if you have drawer space, go with those slotted drawer blocks).

...this way you get nice knives without the crufty "steak knife" crud that they always fill up on in premade sets.
posted by aramaic at 9:53 AM on July 31, 2020 [11 favorites]

Sent you a memail with some advice specific to your geography.
posted by BlueTongueLizard at 9:57 AM on July 31, 2020

I have the 8" Victorinox chef's knife and it works really well for me (small hands). They have a line of other knives as well, and they're what everyone used when I was in food service.
posted by marfa, texas at 10:06 AM on July 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

Another vote for the Victorinox knives from another small handed person! (I also have Globals, and the Victorinoxes are so much more comfortable in my hand.)
posted by rebeccabeagle at 10:13 AM on July 31, 2020

I'm a 5'4 with small hands (and short fingers!) and I like the 6" version of this Wüsthoff chef's knife. I have the shears, too, and really like shears as a kitchen tool--use them way more than a paring knife but YMMV. I have a Victorinox bread knife and it's perfect.

Global knives are unwieldy to me, I think it's the handle shape more than anything.
posted by assenav at 10:14 AM on July 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

How much time/money are you willing to invest into keeping your knives sharp? Do you already have a steel, sharpening stones, and the time/willingness to sharpen your knives? If not, I'd put aside some of that money for some knife sharpening tools, or pay for someone else to sharpen them.

It doesn't matter how much money you spend on a knife if you don't sharpen them. Dull knives are more dangerous than sharp ones. In which case, buying several cheaper knives and regularly giving away the old ones is probably a better plan.
posted by meowzilla at 10:26 AM on July 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would also look at Mercer Culinary knives. I find they keep an edge better than the Victorinox knives. I have their paring knife and santoku, and I love it, I use it every day. Mercer also sells sets of knives in a knife block.
posted by Lycaste at 10:51 AM on July 31, 2020

I agree that the best advice is to buy individual knives, though I know some people who like the Wusthof classic set. Aesthetically, I love the design of this set from Material Kitchen (also available just with the knives and not the other things).
posted by pinochiette at 10:54 AM on July 31, 2020

1. To add to the data on "you really do need to hold the knives in your hand and try them out to get the right knife for you (and no, I have no idea how this could be done in pandemic times, I'm sorry :( )," I have small hands (like, as in I can't even stretch a black note octave on the piano small hands) and I LOVE my Global chef's knife. I wasn't expecting to like the metal handle, but I find it so much less slippery than most other knife handles that it results in a better cutting experience for me. Victorinox was okay as a stopgap because cheap, but the handle hurt my hands if I was trying to chop something hard. I tried Wusthof and Henckels when I was looking to upgrade from my Victorinox, but the Global just fit my hand so much better that it wasn't even a question.

2. Seconding everyone saying "Buy individual pieces, not a set." Which individual pieces those are depends entirely on what you like to cook! Like, if you do a lot of Chinese meat cooking where you need a knife that can go cleanly through bone, I'd put a Chinese cleaver in your knife recommendations. Or if you cut your meat off the bone regularly, I'd look for a boning knife. The most "universal" pieces most Western chefs agree on is your chef's knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife; the rest is up to you and your habits.

It's incredibly personal.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 11:06 AM on July 31, 2020 [3 favorites]

Oops, pressed Post too soon; I meant to include that our current knife collection consists of: a Global chef's knife; a Wusthof paring knife; an OXO Good Grips offset bread knife (which has a soft, grippy handle I love! But is very different from any of the other brands); a perfect utility knife, brand unknown (I want a duplicate of it, I've been looking for years); and a set of Laguiole steak knives. Also a pair of OXO kitchen shears. But yeah, no one-manufacturer-set would've covered the comfort levels of all of the functionality we have with our motley knife crew.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 11:11 AM on July 31, 2020

I have a set of Yaxell Dragon knives and like them quite a bit.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:20 AM on July 31, 2020

I will also endorse the Victorionox Fibrox. All I own are two Victorionox chef's knives, a serrated knife and a buttload of cheap paring knives, and I don't feel the need for more.

If you want to round out the shopping list, two things that are knife-adjacent and wonderful if you don't have them are a Microplane, which turns garlic and ginger (even straight from the freezer) into the finest paste, shaves chocolate and hard cheese and zests; and a bench scraper if you do anything doughy and kneady (breads, pasta, etc).
posted by Superilla at 11:21 AM on July 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

P.S. I forgot to say that Material does a two-month trial period, so you can return the knives if you don't like them.
posted by pinochiette at 11:25 AM on July 31, 2020

Data point: I have had and loved a set of Wusthof Classic knives for about fifteen years now, but I have heard that they have declined in quality in the medium-recent past. I agree that you should feel them in your hands if possible before buying.

In terms of additional knives beyond the chef's, paring knife, bread knife trio, my set includes what Wusthof calls a "sandwich knife" which is essentially an elongated paring knife. I use it surprisingly often, and my wife, who has smaller hands than I, strongly prefers it to the chef's knife. My set also includes what Wusthof calls a "tomato knife" which is about 5", serrated, and has a forked point at the end. While you can use your bread knife for all your serrated slicing purposes, the tomato knife is a true joy at cutting citrus, tomatoes (of course), and fruits with strong skins and soft flesh like grapes.

Also, I keep seeing ads for something called a Misen Chef's Knife, which seems to have gotten some rave reviews and is nevertheless pretty affordable. It seems like a newer company so I don't know whether it will stand the test of time or not.
posted by gauche at 11:29 AM on July 31, 2020

I bought several Messermeister Meridian Elite knives about 25 years ago and they still keep an edge. A basic starter set is under $400 with chef's, utility, paring and bread knives, a sharpening steel, scissors and a block.
posted by leaper at 11:48 AM on July 31, 2020

Note that Mercer (and to a lesser extent Messermeister) brand knives tend to be on the heavy side and may feel unwieldy especially for people with smaller hands - I've got large hands and they're still heavier than I prefer. In contrast, some Japanese makers offer knives, even for their "western"-style designs, that are significantly lighter than typical knives from companies like Wusthof or Henckels/Zwilling.

Ideally you may want to take some time to actually hold whatever knives you're interested in so you can get a sense of how they feel to you.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:39 PM on July 31, 2020

Nthing that you’re almost always better off buying individual pieces. Like gauche, I bought a Wüsthof Classic set about 20 years ago, and they’ve been reliable, but there are definitely knives in the set that we just never use, and other forms that we’ve bought to supplement it.

For the way I cook, I reach for a santoku more often than a chef’s knife, prefer a bird’s beak for small work, have to have a boning knife, dig a long serrated bread knife, and rarely if ever use a sandwich knife, utility knife, or cleaver. And yes, there’s no substitute for feeling them in person—I hadn’t planned on buying the Wüsthofs, but on the day, their balance and heft just felt perfect compared to all the other brands.

Maybe consider including a sharpener in your knife budget while you’re at it.
posted by mumkin at 12:53 PM on July 31, 2020

I bought the 8" Victorinox Chef Knife with the fibrox handle that you hear so much about for my dad and I do not like it at all. The blade is stamped, not forged, and feels flimsy. I'm glad to have an 8" knife to use when I visit him, but I absolutely do not get all the love people give to this inferior knife. It wastes some of the energy I use to cut, failing to transfer all of it to the food I am cutting.

I much prefer the Calphalon Contemporary chef's knife I bought my son. It has a forged blade with a full tang that extends the length of the handle. It feels good to use. It's far superior to the overhyped Victorinox, at a similar price.

Given your budget of $500, I'd spend half of it on one good big knife and the remainder on a paring knife, a serrated bread knife, and some good kitchen shears.
posted by chromium at 1:58 PM on July 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

Agree on doing knives individually. Also if you get a Kapoosh knife block, it will hold all styles and sizes.
posted by emjaybee at 2:58 PM on July 31, 2020

I have the Wusthof 4193-7" vegetable cleaver and it is a fantastic all-around knife on the delicate side of things - vegetables, boneless meat etc. Excellent for small hands but it looks like the recent unpleasentness has effected the price in a bad way. I usually grab that one for most jobs, even though I own fancier ones.

I have the Shun 4" Paring and like it quite a bit too. The asymmetric handle makes it, I believe, an explicitly right-handed knife.
posted by Dmenet at 3:09 PM on July 31, 2020

This is all, as mentioned above, quite personal.

If you can get a vintage Wustof set I would consider it; the newer ones are meh. Not sure if that's an option based on your criteria. Misono is my favorite brand at this price point, but I don't think they do a bread knife. I personally can't stand Global handles. I don't love the rubberized Victorinox handles either, but I can't argue that they aren't comfortable to use. Their classic riveted knives are quite nice, I just like the Misonos better.

Overall, I am another vote for building your own set if there's a way to swing it (Cooks will certainly let you buy and return singles in that price range). After a couple decades of swapping, my two every single day knives are a 120mm Misono petty knife and an old Shun Nakiri, followed by a newer Wustof paring knife (with the cast composite handle) and a very nice carbon steel Carter Santoku.

I have a vintage Wustof chef's set and a couple Sabatier elephants, and while I like them aesthetically, overall I find European Chef knives somewhat cumbersome; only the specialty items like the boning knife and carving fork get much use. Turns out I like Japanese blades with European-style handles. YMMV.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:26 PM on July 31, 2020

Count me as another weirdo with tiny hands who loves her Global. It’s the only knife I can do tons of prep with and not have an aching hand afterwards. (Mine’s a santoku not chef’s but I wish I had both. My chef’s knife is a Chicago Cutlery which I also like and got on the advice of a professional chef like 20+ years ago.)
posted by misskaz at 7:24 PM on July 31, 2020

Global is supposed to be good for small hands but it’s also a brand people either love or hate.

There really is no substitute for going to a good cookware store where you can actually hold the knives in your hands and even, hopefully, mimic the motions you would make good using them. Not only is handle size, but also the shape of the handle, the length and weight of the blade and the balance of the knife overall. For example, whereas I might prefer a fairly heavy knife with a 12 inch blade that has German geometry (curved belly), you might prefer a lighter knife with a 6 inch blade that has French geometry (fairly flat belly).

Three words of caution:

First, make sure you are holding the knives correctly when you try them out. You should “choke up“ on the handle and your thumb and forefinger should be “pinching“ the blade so that only your middle, ring and pinky fingers are grabbing the handle. This provides much more control of the blade. I have seen any number of people have a very awkward and sometimes dangerous way of using a kitchen knife because they are only holding the handle, which is a great way to hold a knife if you want the blade to sometimes slip sideways and cut your other hand. YouTube and other Internet sites will have illustrations of the proper grip.

Second, resist the urge to gravitate towards unusual, “cool looking“ blade shapes such as a santoku. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with these knives, per se, and some people prefer using them. But they are really the sort of thing one should choose after already having some real experience using the standard shapes.

Finally, as others have said, resist the urge to get a big pre-configured “set“ of kitchen knives. All you really need is a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife. Of these, the one that’s really worth spending money for is the chef’s knife. Very good paring knives can be had for not so much money, and because serrated knives cannot be re-sharpened very effectively you should plan on simply replacing it once it starts to get dull.
posted by slkinsey at 6:52 AM on August 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I bought a set of Misen knives earlier this year (chef's, utility, paring); they sharpen to 15˚ and are the most amazing knives I've ever used. (I have a three-stage sharpener from Chef's Choice.) I bought a couple of their nonstick pans too, and they're fantastic. Recommend.
posted by heyho at 6:12 PM on August 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Misen knives weren't around the last time I was knife shopping, and I think they look awfully good.

With a Rockwell C scale hardness of 58-59, they are made of a harder steel than Globals, Wusthof, Henckels, etc; though I think Shun are around that too but I like the full tang design of the Wisens much better. Any harder than that and knives are probably too difficult for most people to sharpen easily.

I have only one reservation: if you look at this $200, 5 piece set (which seems like a bargain to me) you can see that the edges comes to pretty sharp corner points right next to the hilt where those edges are closest to the hand. I cut myself a couple of times at first on old Gerber chrome plated 'legendary ' blades with similar shapes, but I haven't had any problems since. The handles look slenderer than most of the other knives I'm familiar with which have been mentioned in this thread, and I see that as another point in their favor. That's one of the areas where modern knife makers gave people what they said they wanted instead of what the makers must have known would actually work better — along with squishy handles, which make knives harder to control in my experience.

Now I have to see whether they make a "Chinese vegetable cleaver"as Henckels called theirs.
posted by jamjam at 5:17 PM on August 9, 2020

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