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Ask any professional chef and they’ll tell you that having sharp and durable knives is everything. A good set of the best carbon kitchen knives can last a lifetime if maintained and do it all, from slicing to dicing.
Carbon steel has been around for centuries, but stainless steel knives took the spotlight for a while due to their rust-free quality. Recently, carbon and high-carbon kitchen knives have made a comeback, though they do require more care: In short, experts recommend always keeping carbon knives clean and dry when not in use, as well as wiping off the knives periodically during use to make cleanup easier. Some also may require that you oil them.
Ready to upgrade your kitchen cutlery? Read on for our top picks and buying recommendations.
Buying Guide: How to Pick the Best Carbon and High-Carbon Kitchen Knives
Here’s everything you should consider when shopping for the best carbon steel kitchen knives:
Sharpness: In the kitchen, a sharp blade makes everything easier. If you’ve been using a dull, old set of knives, you’ll instantly see and feel the difference as you slice through foods with ease and efficiency. Sharpness depends on how thin the edge of a blade is, and what you’re cutting matters too. A narrowly angled V-shaped blade (about 10-15 degrees on each side) is going to slide right through instead of having to put your full body weight down on it.
Craft: Each knife-maker has their own “secret” recipe for their blades, but the strength and hardness of steel can be measured by what’s known as the Rockwell Scale, and the higher the score, often the better a knife will be for all-around use. A well-crafted knife can also handle the effects of time and frequent use, meaning you won’t have to sharpen it as often as a dull one. When steel is finely grained, the entire structure of the knife is stronger, and stainless steel can contain larger, skewed grains that poke out and cut unevenly compared to high quality carbon steel.
Handle: A blade may be the main attraction of why you’re interested in a particular knife, but don’t forget about the handle too. If it’s not comfortable, your hands will feel it fast. A handle can leave marks against your skin, be too small to fit your fingers away from the blade, or too large to get a good grip on. A handle with a smooth finish should be easy for everyone to grasp, and to slide out of its holding block without damaging the blade. Plus make sure your fingers have enough distance to stay out of the blade’s way.
What Are the Best Carbon Steel Kitchen Knives?
From brands like Material and Wüsthof, to Amazon Basics and Farberware, these are the top-rated carbon kitchen knives you’ll want for your next meal.
1. Material: The Knives + Stand
We absolutely loved this simple set for common kitchen needs. The excellently sharp Material trio is crafted from three layers of Japanese steel, heated at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, then quickly cryogenically frozen at -250 degrees Fahrenheit. The result is a knife that’s tough as nails, ready to chop, slice, and julienne for years to come.
The set includes a versatile 8-inch knife, a serrated 6-inch, and a pointy 3.5-inch knife for paring and small, detailed cuts. The matte, composite handle is stain-resistant, while the additional stand keeps them safe and organized when not in use. Though hand-washing is highly recommended (as with all of these), this set is relatively easy to care for, and ideal for all levels of home chefs.
2. Henckels 7-Piece Self-Sharpening Knife Block Set
Not all knife blocks are created equal, as this set from Henckels proves. A sleek sharpener is conveniently included inside each slot, keeping your knives in chef-ready condition each time you take them out. Sharpening is usually where amateur cooks don’t properly keep up their knives, and this innovative block takes care of that for you, allowing your full focus to be on food.
After nearly 300 years, Henckels has knife-making down to a science, with precision-honed, laser-controlled edges for the most balanced blades. These glide through meats and fruits with ease, can handle rough treatment by beginners, and are easy on your hands too, thanks to the lightweight polypropylene ergonomic handles and a bolster that protects fingers.
3. Wüsthof Gourmet 16-Piece Knife Block Set
Wüsthof has been a known brand of knives in kitchens all over the world for 200 years running, and this set has pretty much everything you’ll need. The triple-riveted synthetic polypropylene handles stand the test of time, resisting rust, fading, and intense heat. Each knife is crafted with a high carbon stainless steel blade that’s easy to upkeep and incredibly sharp. When you’re done, wash these knives by hand and stick them back in the 17-spot block to keep things clean and organized.
4. Farberware Stamped 15-Piece High-Carbon Stainless Steel Knife Block Set
This set of 15 carbon stainless steel knives is perfect for anyone setting up a new kitchen. An 8-inch chef’s knife is sharp and ready, while a six-inch bread knife along with Santoku and pairing knives are just a few of this mighty and shiny block. The blades are designed to retain sharpness over repeated use, and are comfortable to grip with their satin-finished, ergonomic handles.
5. Amazon Basics 14-Piece Kitchen Knife Block Set
If you’re on a budget but still need a decent set of knives for all your culinary adventures, consider this affordable 14-piece set. The blades are still made from high-carbon stainless steel, and retain their sharpness over time, while the triple-riveted black handles are easy to grip. Whether you’re slicing, peeling, boning, or paring, there’s a knife in this block for everyone’s everyday cooking needs.