An Expert Recommended List of the 6 Best Starter Knife Sets

Published on 01/09/2024 · 9 min readBegin your culinary journey! Check out our expert-recommended list of the best starter knife sets, perfect for budding chefs and everyday cooking.
Di Doherty, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Di Doherty

Photo by Prostock Studio

TL;DR: A starter knife set usually has three knives: a chef’s knife, utility knife, and paring knife. The best knife sets will have forged knives with full tangs and comfortable handles, and this article recommends excellent starter sets.

I grew up learning to cook by helping my mother in the kitchen. But it was my father who encouraged my interest in knives. What they taught me naturally coalesced into a love for kitchen knives, and I’ve been curating my collection ever since. I’ve inherited some and even restored some carbon steel knives I found at a thrift store.

It still amazes me how much easier the right tool can make a task – for something as simple as chopping an onion to something more complicated like deboning a chicken. I’ve since tried to help others by making sure that they have the best tools for the job so that it’ll make their lives easier, too.

If you’re looking to get a starter knife set, then you’ve come to the right place.

How to Pick the Right Starter Knife Set for the Job

For most, a starter knife set will be the building blocks of a cutlery collection. Here are some things to look out for when choosing a starter knife set.

What Should a Starter Knife Set Include?

  • Chef’s knife: Pretty much every starter knife set will include a chef’s knife, be it a Western chef’s knife or a Japanese chef’s knife (sometimes called a gyuto knife). They’re multipurpose knives that slice, mince, dice, and chop. They’re typically 6-inch or 8-inch and work well for a variety of meats and vegetables.

A gyuto knife next to some chopped herbs. Photo by Kevin Doran

  • Paring knife: A paring knife is likely your next most used knife, which is why it's also ubiquitous in starter knife sets. These small knives tackle tasks that a chef’s knife is too large for, like coring strawberries, peeling apples, and mincing shallots.

A paring knife ready to peel some garlic. Photo by Heather Barnes

  • Utility knife: This is another very common knife in starter sets. They range from 5-inch to 7-inch but have a shallow blade, making them lighter than a chef’s knife and able to handle bigger tasks than a paring knife. These knives can be serrated or have a straight edge, depending on what you want to use them for. Serrated utility knives are excellent for cutting slippery fruits like tomatoes and citrus.

A utility knife next to a group of tomatoes. Photo by Onder Ortel

  • Bread knife: There are knife sets that include a bread knife instead of a utility knife. With a serrated knife, bread knives are on the longer side, usually around 8-inch, 9-inch, or 10-inch, though they can go up to 12-inch. Serrated blades excel at cutting baked goods, particularly bread, as the serrations allow them to grip what they’re cutting so that it slices rather than tears it.

A saw-shaped bread knife beside a braided loaf. Photo by Jametine Reskp

  • Santoku knife: This type of knife is not as common in starter sets, but some do have a santoku knife rather than a chef’s knife or a utility knife, like this one. Santoku knives are all-rounders that are great for slicing, chopping, and dicing. They have a flat blade and a curved spine, which gives you more slicing area but prevents them from being used for a rocking chop.

A 7-inch santoku knife compared to a 6-inch chef’s knife. Photo by Di Doherty

Features to look for

When looking for a high-quality knife, there are certain aspects that are important. Knowing the terminology makes it easier to be sure you’re getting not only a good quality knife, but also one that suits your cooking style.

Knife Construction

Different knives are going to be constructed differently. The best knife for you will depend on how much money you're willing to spend and if you prioritize durability or the knife’s weight.

  • Tang: Kitchen knives are typically made of one piece and then have a handle affixed to them. The part that attaches to the handle is known as the tang. There are typically two types of tang:
    • Full tang: A full tang is one that goes the entire breadth of the handle. This has two advantages: balance and durability. A well-balanced knife centers its weight where the blade meets the handle, and a full tang helps guarantee that. As this is considered superior construction, a full tang is often visible.
    • Partial tang: If the knife doesn't have a full tang, it’ll usually be listed as a partial tang. These go partway down the handle. As only part of the handle has a tang, the knife will be less durable. The tang is what takes the strain when the knife is in use. A shorter tang means that the force is more concentrated, making the knife more likely to break. That being said, these knives are usually still pretty tough, and they’re lighter than ones with a full tang.
  • Bevel: The bevel is where the knife has a sharpened edge. Western knives are usually double-beveled, which means both sides of the knives are sharp. Japanese-style knives are typically single bevel (depending on the knife), so they'll only be sharpened on one side while the other is flat. A double-bevel knife is more durable, while a single-bevel knife is more precise.

How the Knife Is Made

There are two primary ways to manufacture kitchen knives: forging and stamping. For most cases, a forged knife is going to be the better choice, but there are advantages to stamped ones as well. More expensive and higher-end knives will be forged, while the kind of inexpensive knives you find at a grocery store or department store will be stamped.

  • Forged: Forging is a process to manufacture knives. A forged knife is shaped from one piece of steel, enhancing its durability and allowing for a better steel to be used.
  • Stamped: This is a less expensive way to manufacture knives. Many stamped knives won’t have a full tang (though they can) and will be made of a less expensive steel. This means that they won’t hold an edge very well, nor will they be as strong as a forged knife. But they do have the advantages of being inexpensive and lightweight.

Blade Material

What the blade is made out of can determine how the knife will perform, as well as what you need to do to care for it. There really isn’t one superior option, but there will likely be one that’ll work best for you.

  • Stainless steel: The most common option for Western-style knives, stainless steel is durable, rust resistant, and practical. It holds an edge well, isn’t prone to chipping, and even holds up in the dishwasher (not that I recommend this).
  • Carbon steel: This alloy has been used in knives for centuries, as it predated stainless steel. It's still used in some modern knives because it’s an extremely hard, durable steel. It doesn't have any real resistance to rust, though, meaning that you can’t leave moisture on it for any length of time, or it’ll corrode.
  • High-carbon stainless steel: A cross between carbon steel and stainless steel, this alloy has a higher carbon content than most stainless steel, allowing it to be harder and, therefore, sharper. That does limit its corrosion resistance a bit in most alloys, though, meaning you have to be more careful with it than a standard stainless steel knife.
  • Ceramic: At this point, ceramic is a specialty material in knives. It's extremely hard, meaning that it can hold a very keen edge for a long time. That rigidity does make it easier to chip, though, meaning that these knives are delicate. It can also shatter if dropped.

Finding a good knife set can be difficult due to the number of options out there. In order to give you a place to start looking, here are what I consider to be some of the best kitchen knife sets out there.

1. Shun Premier Starter Block Set

Shun is known for making high-end Japanese knives, and this knife block set of a chef’s knife, utility knife, and paring knife shows that. It comes with a bamboo storage block that has extra slots for a knife and a pair of kitchen shears. The knives' handles are made of pakkawood, allowing for a slip-free and comfortable grip. The hand hammered finish is not only attractive, but makes it less likely food will stick to the blade. It even comes with a honing rod to aid in knife care. However, the block may be a bit small for those who want to continue to grow your knife collection.

2. Steelport Starter Set

Steelport makes knives in the USA out of carbon steel. The knives have maple handles that are coated with resin and caramelized, leading to a gorgeous, water resistant finish. The set includes an 8-inch chef’s knife and 4-inch paring knife, allowing you to tackle almost any task. They’re forged with a full tang, making them well-balanced and able to be honed to a razor edge. Their price tag means that you have to be either a knife aficionado or very generous with your gifts.

3. Zwilling Pro Starter Knife Set

Zwilling is known for its high-quality German-made knives. This starter set includes a chef’s knife, serrated utility knife, and paring knife. Between these three blades, you’ll be able to take on almost any task, though larger loaves of bread may be too big for the utility knife. The knives are dishwasher-safe, though the manufacturer recommends hand-washing for the knives' longevity.

4. WÜSTHOF Classic Starter Set

These forged knives are high-quality and made in Soligen, Germany by artisans. The set includes a chef’s knife, serrated bread knife, and paring knife. The knives have matte black handles that’ll match with any kitchen decor. The set is slightly more expensive than Zwilling’s, likely because the bread knife is a larger knife.

5. Cangshan TC Series Starter Set

Cangshan is a newer American company that makes their knives with Swedish steel. Their knives are forged and have a full tang, but are affordable, putting them in a midrange position like Misen and Mercer. This set includes a chef’s knife, serrated utility knife, and a paring knife. The knives come with sheaths made of caramelized ashwood, allowing you to safely stow them in a drawer. Note that they aren’t dishwasher-safe, and the raked design may not appeal to everyone.

6. Global Classic Knife Set

Global is a Japanese knife maker that makes affordable kitchen knives. This set includes a chef’s knife, serrated utility knife, and a paring knife. The knives are forged from one whole piece, then the handle is filled with sand to balance the blade. Texture is added to the handle to make it easier to grip, but I personally find the feel of the handles distracting, so it might not be comfortable for everyone.

Find the Best Starter Knife Set for You

Picking out the perfect knife set can be time-consuming. That’s why Curated offers an option to chat with a Kitchen Expert! Our experts are able to answer questions, make suggestions, and help narrow down the choices to what fits your budget and cooking style. Every one of our Experts would be delighted to help you find the best starter knife set for you!

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

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