Knife Set or Knives à la Carte?

1 min read

A La CarteIn the market for a new set of kitchen knives? If you’ve read our advice to only buy essential knives, you may find yourself wondering why you need a knife set at all. What about just buying a few good knives and filling in the rest as you need them?

It’s a great question, and both options are good ones. Here are some of the Pros of both:

Reasons to Buy a Knife Set

  • It looks nice. Cooks like to display their knives. Having a set of matched blades will fit in better in a good-looking kitchen.
  • It’s convenient. For many, the thought of researching the best Chef’s knife, the best paring knife, and several other great knives can be daunting. With a set, you can get great knives with just a single purchase.
  • It makes a good gift. If you’re giving a gift, you’re going to get some quizzical looks if you give a mismatched set. You’ll probably have to include a copy of this article to explain why you didn’t get a set. If the recipient doesn’t know much about knives, a set will let you rest assured that you’ve done them a favor without overly complicating things.
  • It can save money. If you find a set that has exactly the pieces you want, you may get a discount for buying in bulk. But if you’re buying knives you don’t actually need, this advantage disappears quickly.

Reasons to Buy Individual Knives

  • The knives are better. If you’re picking out knives one-by-one, you can choose the best chef’s knife, the best paring knife, the best bread knife, etc. In a set, you may find one knife is not as good as the others. Buying one-at-a-time ensures that each knife is top-notch.
  • It can save money. Yes, I realize I just listed this as a pro for knife sets as well. But it really can go either way. By buying one knife at a time, you don’t overpay for any single knife. And you won’t end up buying anything you don’t need, which can be the real money-saver.
  • You’re filling in the gaps. Perhaps you already have a set of knives you like, but it’s incomplete. Or maybe you just want to upgrade one or two knives from your existing set.
  • You’ll have cachet. Anyone who shows off a mismatched set of knives must know what they’re doing, right? The true chef will see your mismatched set and know that you’ve got the best tool for each job.

So buying a knife set may be the best choice in some circumstances, buying one-at-a-time in others. If you’re just starting out, your best bet may be to buy a small set of knives and then supplement with individual knives over time.

All of the advice I’ve laid out elsewhere — on sharpening, maintenance, and researching steel — holds true regardless of whether you decide to purchase a set or individual knives.

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