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Nov 23, 2010 06:18 AM

My first 'nice' cutlery set

Hey all,

Haven't posted here in a while! So, right now, there's a Zwilling JA Henckles sale right now on Gilt Groupe. Several sets are sold out already, but I was able to get the 15-piece Twin Gourmet block set for $150 (it's $490 retail).

Which brings me to my question...

As a 20something who's just starting to build a kitchen for myself, good cutlery is one thing I've been seriously lacking. Just to have knives, I bought a cheap set from Marshalls or Ross, and they're just... blunt, and so difficult to use. I found one Henckles paring knife at a TJ Maxx one time (for $10!) and it made cooking so much easier for me... I use it for things I shouldn't use a paring knife for, just because those other knives aren't up to the task.

So, do you think this is a good starter set for someone like me, who's ready to toss out the cheapo knives but not quite ready for a pro-grade set? It's my understanding that their Gourmet line is more affordable than their Cuisine line, so I feel comfortable about this purchase as a nice way to segue into having nice things in my kitchen without going overboard :)

Here's what I got in the set --

TWIN Gourmet Block Set:

*One paring/utility knife, blade measures 4 inches in length
*One serrated paring knife, blade measures 5 inches in length
*One bread knife, blade measures 8 inches in length
*One chef's knife, blade measures 8 inches in length
*Eight steak knives, blades measure 4 1/2 inches in length
*One set of kitchen shears, measures 10 1/4 inches in length by 3 3/4 inches in width
*One sharpening steel, measures 9 inches in length
*One hardwood knife storage block, measures 10 inches in length by 5 1/4 inches in width by 9 inches in height

Does that sound like a good way to start?

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  1. First, I want to say that $150 is not a super deal. It is the default price at this moment, so don't worry that you are missing a great deal if you wait. You can probably get it cheaper still:

    Second, I am a not believer for buying a huge set of knives. A set of 3 knives, sure. A set of 15 is unnecesary if not wasteful. You will soon find out that all you need is about 1-2 knives for daily work. A good main knife (German Che'f knife, Santoku, Gyuto or Chinese Chef's), and a paring knife will handle 99%of your work. Feeling fancy a bit? then get a bread knife or a boning knife depending on your need. I use my boning knife more often, but I am sure many people use the bread knife more.

    Third, Henckels Twin Gourmet knives are stamped knives. If you like stamped knives, then you may want to consider Victorinox knives.

    Fourth, I would also advise you to look into harder steel knives like Japanese knives, like Tojiro, Shun,.... You may well hate them, but at least consider them first.

    I wish the best of luck to your knife purchase.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      This reply I wholeheareted concur with..

      Don't buy a set - and try out a few chef's knives (shapes - like the traditional Euro style versus a santoku). I have Henckles, but was really impressed with a friend's MAC.. in hindsight, not sure if I wouldn't have preferred it before I bought what I have. But explore and then spend a lot on a single chef's knife that you love to start. Buy the knife you want to keep, not the "intermediate set". Of course, don't go crazy and buy some $600 japanese knife from Korin, but you can get a lot for your budget.

      I generally use 3 knives - a big chef's knife, a smaller paring knife, and a serrated bread knife.. don't spend a lot on a serrated knife - you are using it to cut bread, not do surgery.

      I also agree, Gilt prices aren't necessary the greatest if you know how to hunt.

      Further advice - you want good knives, find a local sharpening service that doesn't just run them through a stripper. Buy a honing steel. And a personal rec, find a local cooking school that will offer you a knife skills class.. great foundational cooking skill. And if you have a good knife, NEVER put it in the dishwasher.

      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        +1, I (as always) concur with CK.

        I have 4 knives, a paring knife, a Santoku, a chefs Knife and a bread knife. The Santoku and chefs knife are pretty much interchangable.

        Unless you're going to be doing a lot of specialised preparation, 3 is fine. And spend most of the money on the chefs knife (or santoku, or whatever you'll be using 90% of the time).

        1. re: Soop

          I agree with grant.cook and you. Most of the resources (time and money) should be focusing on the Chef's knife or the Santoku, and not the paring, bread knife or boning knife... etc.

      2. Re-reading your post, even the best knife will stink if its allowed to go dull, and even a cheap stamped chef's knife can do a good job when its just been sharpened... get them sharpened once/twice a year.

        1. The set you described is actually not that large a set when you consider that eleven of the items are steak knives, a block, a steel and kitchen shears. You are really buying four knives to cook with, plus shears. I think Henkels is a fine starter set as long as you think you will like and use all of the knives you have listed.

          Personally, I use chef's knives, parers, shears, a bread knife and what you describe as a serrated paring knife, usually called a utility knife, all the time. The utility knife is used by my family to cut bagels rather than wield the large bread knife. I think the only thing really missing from this set is a slicer. You may want to consider buying one of those to carve a roast or turkey, and if you do, make sure it is at least nine inches long and very sharp.

          Chem always recommends Japanese steel as an option to his Victorinox, which are excellent, while I believe German or French knives are easier for beginners because you can actually use your steel to keep them sharp, supplemented by a simple sharpening gadget made for those blade profiles. Wusthoff and Henkels both have them -- they are pull-throughs and they work nicely on the soft steel of these knives.

          Japanese, in my opinion, is not for everyone. They are harder, are known to chip with regularity when trying to do things like take a chicken apart, and as a result of their hardness, maintaining a sharp edge is much more difficult. Only diamond steels are really hard enough to take any of their metal off when sharpening, and those are not really advisable. You will either need to learn how to use water stones or else send them to a professional sharpener or back to the manufacturer, in the case of Kershaw/Shun. Way too much of a hassle for someone just getting started. I have been cooking for 40 years and I have never sent a knife out for sharpening because I just can't be bothered. I sharpen myself. Japanese knives can be crazy sharp, though, because of their thin blade profile, and you may just fall in love. If you do, then the upkeep is worth it. However, don't get a set of them. You'll still need a tough 8 to 10 inch sturdy non-Japanese knife for heavy duty work. I have a mix of German, French and Japanese myself. My Shun slicer is the best, for example, and my favorite chef's knife is a ten inch Shun, but when I am working through a chicken and may catch some rib bones, I pull out my heavy duty forged Henkels eight inch chef's knife because it is tough enough for the job. I save the special work for my carbon steel French stuff, but I wouldn't recommend carbon steel to any beginner.

          Is it possible for you to visit a cookware store to try some of these out? No substitute for this experience. That said, your set could conceivably keep you happy for a while.

          2 Replies
          1. re: RGC1982

            "consider that ten of the items are steak knives, a block, a steel and kitchen shears."

            True true. I would now say that if the original poster desires for the 8 steak knives, then it is fine. If he can do without the 8 steak knives, then it is somewhat unnecessary.

            "Way too much of a hassle for someone just getting started. "

            Probably true too. So maybe original poster should not get the Japanese knives if he is uncomfortable about sharpening or maintaining the knives.

            Excellent inputs, RGC

            1. re: RGC1982

              On the old Japanese vs German knife debate, I think the biggest questions are:

              Are you interested in knives beyond a strictly functional dimension (in other words, does a knife that's super sharp and fun to use appeal to you more than a cheaper knife that gets the job done well and requires less maintenance?)

              Can you avoid abusing a knife (hacking through bones, using a glass cutting board, cutting on plates, opening cans, putting a knife in the dishwasher) or letting others in your home abuse your knives?

              Do you have any pre-existing bias towards the German shape, like from years of use?

              If you answered yes, yes, and no, then I feel even a beginner might as well go and try a Japanese knife from the get go. The prices anymore can be competitive with mid-range German knives.

              Also, it's not significantly harder to do a crappy job of maintaining a Japanese knife than it is to do a crappy job of maintaining a German knife. To keep either in top notch shape, you'll either have to learn to use a whetstone (or an Edgepro) or get it professionally sharpened very regularly. Most cheap/easy solutions are usable on Japanese knives with more or less the same predictably inferior results (plus a tiny chip here or there).

              The big difference is that there's not much point of buying Japanese knives in the first place if you're gonna maintain em poorly.

            2. I agree with those that said to avoid the knife sets. I think a good kitchen needs a few good knives such as an 8" chef knife, serrated bread knife, paring knife and a boning knife. That being said, we have a kitchen full of knives, some better than others. I recently bought a 9" Henkels Gourmet chef's knife at a thrift store for $2.40. The best part of the deal is that the handle is broken so I'll soon mail it in and get a new one as a replacement.

              1. Nthing no sets. Spend about 80% of your budget on a good chef knife or equivalent (Chinese cleaver or santoku could work, but I'd start with a 8-10" western style Chef's knife, either Japanese or German). Spend the rest of the money on a Mundial forged paring knife (not that expensive), cheap bread knife (restaurant supply store type), and some decent kitchen scissors, in that order of importance.

                If you are butchering meat / cutting through bones often, or deboning fish, you might need specialized knives.

                Also keep in mind that there's really nothing special about the lower-end lines from Henckels / Wusthof - and a lot of them are stamped rather than forged, and made in South America or Asia rather than Germany (not that there's anything wrong with that, but if you're going to do that, no need to pay for the name). Messermeister is similar to those two brands, but doesn't have the big bolster, which makes them a little easier to sharpen than many other German style forged knives IMHO. The Mundial forged line has a similar style to the German knives (actually, I think they used to make one of the lower end lines of one of the big German manufacturers), and is cheaper.

                1 Reply
                1. re: will47

                  "Messermeister is similar to those two brands, but doesn't have the big bolster"

                  Agree. Wusthof does have some expensive lines with reduced bolsters like the Wusthof Ikon lines. However, you are correct for the general cases.