Nine pieces of matching cutlery, plus a block for easy storage? It could be a bargain—or a rip off.
Published Nov. 1, 2011. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 13: Meat and Potatoes à la Francaise
We can’t help but be skeptical about knife block sets. As with cookware sets, their biggest selling point has always been the number of pieces the manufacturer can cram into the package, not the usefulness or quality of the blades themselves. Most collections are loaded not only with superfluous pieces but also with ones that are impractical or even useless. In the test kitchen, we’ve always maintained that there are just three truly essential knives: a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated bread knife. Beyond that, a boning knife, a slicing knife (for carving meat), and a good pair of kitchen shears can make certain tasks easier. But anything other than these six pieces is filler.
At the same time, we know that there are occasions (particularly during gift-giving season or when you’re outfitting a kitchen from scratch) when an attractive, all-in-one set of cutlery—complete with a block that keeps everything neatly housed and within easy reach—could be a nice convenience. Hoping to find that we’d been a bit hasty in our cynicism, we went shopping and returned to the test kitchen with eight knife block sets that contained anywhere from six to nine pieces and spanned a broad price spectrum: $97 all the way up to nearly $700. We would evaluate these sets against one another as well as against an à la carte selection of our test kitchen favorites. Our criteria would be as follows: how comfortable the pieces were to use and how well each performed; how many pieces in the collection were essential and how many extraneous; and of the extraneous stock, how much of it was actually useful. If the right package was out there, we’d gladly give it our stamp of approval.
The Big Three
The only way to assess the efficacy of a set was to put each piece through the paces. First, we singled out the core blades from each set—the chef’s, bread, and paring knives—and went about our everyday tasks. We diced onions, minced herbs, and broke down a whole chicken with each of the chef’s knives. We sliced large, crusty loaves and then diced soft Wonder bread with the serrated bread knives (the latter test would reveal the knives’ ability to make clean, precise cuts without squishing the food). We peeled, quartered, and cored apples with the paring knives. Later, we’d examine the other pieces to see if they offered any additional value to the set or if they simply took up space.
The good news was that all but one of the chef’s knives in the sets boasted our preferred length of 8 inches, and five out of the eight scored well. They were easy to handle and slipped effortlessly through food as we worked. The poorly performing specimens had a c...
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