Forged knives a cut above in Consumer Reports' Ratings

Consumer Reports News: August 24, 2011 08:08 AM

Our product testers have just wrapped up the latest Consumer Reports review of kitchen knives. When all was said and done—all the celery chopped, the potatoes peeled, the salami sliced—nine models proved a cut above in terms of sharpness, precision, comfort, durability, and more. To choose the perfect knives for your kitchen, however, you'll need to carefully parse our Ratings of more than 50 sets.

Most of the knives we tested are made with steel, though we also added a pair of ceramic knife sets, which tout low maintenance since their blades can be especially adept at holding an edge. Steel knives, by comparison, require regular honing. The models we recommended are all forged from a single piece of steel, which typically results in a sturdy knife that's less likely to bend than one made from stamped steel.

German manufacturers Zwilling J.A. Henckels and Wüsthof, whose premium lines of forged knives have impressed us in the past, once again have several models at or near the top of our Ratings. But each manufacturer also has value lines of lesser quality, and the names can be confusing. For example, our Ratings includes models that begin with Zwilling J.A. Henckels, J. A. Henckels International, and Henckels Myabi. Some of these knives are excellent, but others are just so-so. Similarly, Wüsthof has two models on our recommended list, and two that fell short. So be sure to double check the model names and numbers if you decide to go German-made.

In general, paying more for knives gets you better quality. The exception to the rule in our latest Ratings is an 8-piece forged set by Ginsu that costs hundreds less than other picks and delivers the same excellent cutting performance. As with most sets, that number includes the block, honing steel, and kitchen shears. Along with standard items, many sets will include between three and six knives. A chef's knife, utility knife, slicing knife, and paring knife are all common, and cover a multitude of tasks, such as chopping, dicing, carving, and paring. More sets (including the Ginsu) now also come with a santoku knife, a cross between a chef's knife and a cleaver that you might prefer for chopping. Or you can often buy knives individually, adding new ones as needed.

Some manufacturers take a more-is-better approach, packing a dozen or more knives into their collections. Based on our Ratings, in which no set with more than ten pieces made the winner's circle, it seems that quantity often comes at the expense of quality. That's clearly the case with the Ronco Showtime Six Star from As Seen On TV personality Ron Popeil, which includes 26 pieces (52 when you throw in the Buy One Get One Free offer). Unfortunately, dismal slicing, dicing, and more sank it to the bottom of our Ratings.

Turning to ceramic knives, low maintenance certainly has its appeal, saving you the hassle or expense of sharpening your cutlery. But only one of the models we tested made our picks list, and the 5-piece set costs nearly $800. The other ceramic model, though more affordable, scored a poor for blade durability. Perusing the manuals, there's a lot you're not supposed to do with these knives, including trying to cut through harder foods or applying force to the side of the blade.

One final word of advice: While making your final purchase online is fine, you should always test the knives in a store to see how they feel in your hand. Our Ratings takes into account handle comfort and balance, but as with any hand tool, slight variations in design can make a difference depending on your hand size, especially if you use the knives every day.

Daniel DiClerico

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