Good knife set: the Misen three-piece knife set on a cutting boardThe three essential knives in a good knife set are a chef’s knife, a serrated knife, and a paring knife.

  • Every knife set should have the three essentials — a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife.
  • A knife set can range from 3-18 pieces.
  • If a knife set is right for you, each piece will actually be useful in your kitchen. 

Think of a kitchen knife set as your everyday carry (or EDC for those who are familiar with the minimalist movement). Your everyday carry are the essential items that fill your bag, tote, or pockets on a daily basis. It includes the basics (phone, keys, wallet), but also a few personal lifestyle variables (notebook, headphones, hand sanitizer).

In the same manner, a knife set should contain your kitchen essentials. But it should also have some pieces that — while not everyone needs them — you prefer to keep on hand. A good knife set equips you for all the things you expect to do in a day, as well as some of the things you didn't expect. It's your everyday carry — for your kitchen.

Required Cutlery

Every component of your knife set should serve a purpose — at least one specific function in your kitchen. Otherwise, it’s just eating up space.

There are three knives most chefs and home cooks can agree are key in the kitchen. These are a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife.

Chef’s Knife

A chef’s knife has been described as one of the most versatile knives, an important foundational piece, and the single most important tool in any kitchen. In other words, you need one in your cutlery set.

If you’ve spent much time cooking, you know that all cooks multitask. Well, the chef’s knife is a multitasking tool, perfect for cutting everything from artichokes to zucchini. With its curved blade, sharp tip, and convenient size (an 8-inch chef's knife is the most useful for home cooks), it’s a tool that can take you from prep to plating. It can be easily used to create almost every dish, making it a truly multipurpose piece.

Paring Knife

This is the perfect sidekick to a chef’s knife. Smaller (usually 2-4 inches), lighter (under 100 grams), and nimbler than most other knives, the paring knife is the smallest piece in most kitchen knife sets.

Its blade is curved, sharp, and precise, making it excellent for small tasks, like peeling garlic, paring apples, or slicing blocks of cheese. Use a paring blade for tasks that may be too small or detailed for a chef’s knife.

Serrated Knife

In the rare instances a chef’s knife can’t cut it, a serrated knife will have you covered. Now, these tasks may not come up often, but for a particular set of tasks, a serrated knife is superior. When you want to slice soft layers of cake, crusty bread, or any food with various textures — pineapples, tomatoes, large sandwiches — the serrated knife makes quick work of these tasks and is a great kitchen tool.

Cutlery Considerations

Good knife set: A chef cuts a tomato with a Misen serrated knifeThe best kitchen knife sets are ones with only pieces that will be useful in your kitchen.

Kitchen knives come in a wide range of specifications, varying in weight, length, and overall design, based on what’s characteristic to the manufacturing brand. You have the heftier, solid designs from Germany, as well as the lighter styles that incorporate Japanese sensibilities.

Purchasing your knives as a complete set means that all your cutlery will be of a similar style. So make sure you take the time to read about the company and the quality of knives it produces before making your purchase.

In addition to the knives, a set often includes other pieces, like a pair of kitchen shears or a knife sharpener, as well as a knife holder, usually a wooden block or plastic stand. Are these pieces you want in your kitchen? Perhaps you already have a better means of storage.

All these are important points to take into consideration to find a knife set that offers key pieces, good quality, and comfortable use.

The Knife Sets That Made the Cut

A good knife set will have the three knives described above and maybe a few more specific pieces to round off your cutlery needs. Below, we outline a few of the best knife sets to equip any kitchen.

Best Knife Set With a Block: Cuisinart 15-Piece Stainless Steel Hollow Handle Block Set

As Amazon’s best selling knife set, this offers a whole kitchen’s worth of cutlery. It includes a comprehensive 15 pieces — 12 of which are knives. In addition to an 8-inch chef’s knife, two paring knives (regular and bird’s beak, both 3 1/2-inches), and a 5 1/2-inch serrated knife, you also get an 8-inch slicing knife, 7-inch santoku knife, 6 steak knives, an 8-inch sharpening steel, kitchen shears, and a stylish black block.

If you or those in your household cook a lot (a lot) and require an array of cutlery, this is a good option to consider. All the knives are made completely of high-carbon stainless steel, for a sleek, modern appearance and very easy maintenance.  

Best Knife Set Without Block: Misen Essentials Knife Set

This is perfect for those who want a no-nonsense set of quality knives, for one of the best prices on the market. Without the block (which can accumulate dirt and germs), without the shears, without the steak knives — just high-quality pieces that you’ll use everyday. This Misen set comes with all three must-have knives, an 8-inch chef knife, a 3-inch paring knife, and a 10-inch serrated knife. You can also opt for the 2-piece knife set — without the serrated knife — if you don’t need a serrated knife or if you’d like to add an extra paring knife and chef’s knife to your kitchen.

Cutting out all the extras, this set was created to tackle all your daily cooking tasks with just a few pieces. The knives are crafted from premium high-carbon Japanese stainless steel with a sharp edge (honed at an acute 15-degree angle), and incorporate sloped bolsters and ergonomic handles.

You can also have your choice of handle color, either in slate blue, black, or dove grey.

Best Splurge: Wüsthof Classic 7-piece Slim Knife Block Set

Greater in price but fewer in pieces than the Cuisinart set, the iconic Wüsthof includes only the most-used knives in this set. These are an 8-inch chef’s knife, 3 1/2-inch paring knife, 5-inch serrated knife, as well as a 6-inch Kiritsuke prep knife, 8-inch bread knife, come-apart kitchen shears, and a slim wood block.

All the knives are made of high-carbon stainless steel with a forged, full-tang bolster, and triple-riveted handle built to resist fading and discoloration. This results in cutlery that is sharper, heavier, and practically does the cutting for you (rather than you resorting to arm strength).

The slim block not only saves on counter space, it also comes in multiple colors — from acacia to walnut — perfect for those who prefer a knife set that matches their kitchen.

Best Budget Knife Set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 18-Piece Knife Block Set  

This set is great and not just for those on a budget. (Although at $149 for 18 pieces, it goes for a pretty budget-friendly price.) The 18-piece set includes the essential 7 3/4-inch chef’s knife, 3 1/4-inch paring knife, 7 3/4-inch bread knife, as well as a 7-inch santoku, 3-inch peeler, 5-inch utility knife, 8-inch slicer, 5-inch partoku, 8 steak knives, an 8-inch stainless sharpening steel, and a wood block.

The high-carbon stainless steel blades resist stains and are easy to sharpen, and the black poly handles offer a comfortable grip. Contrary to what you might expect, however, these knives are not made in Chicago — they’re made in China, which may explain their affordability.

The Final Point

Good knife set: the Misen paring knifeParing knives are useful for small, precise kitchen tasks, and are essential in every complete knife set.

Caption: Paring knives are useful for small, precise kitchen tasks, and are essential in every complete knife set.

To have a good knife set is to be prepared for any kitchen situation that may come your way. This doesn't mean it has to be expensive or from a high-end brand. While kitchen essentials vary from cook to cook, as long as you have the three key knives — a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife — you should be all set to start cooking.