Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Best Affordable, Super Sharp Kitchen and Steak Knives Set

Sharp knives are the most important tools in any kitchen. A good chef’s knife, slicer (AKA carving knife), santoku, utility or prep, paring, and serrated bread knife (along with a boning knife, if you frequently debone bone-in meat or poultry) can help you accomplish any food cutting, slicing or chopping task faster and more efficiently.

Using only very sharp kitchen knives is extremely important, not just because they enable you to make faster, easier, more precise cuts but also because they’re safer. A dull blade that doesn’t slide easily into the food you are slicing, paring, etc., requires more force and is much more likely to slide off the food and slice into your finger or hand instead.

Fortunately, with a little effort, it is possible to find good quality kitchen knives that retain their sharpness well with just simple, routine maintenance. In this product review, I’ll share the well-made, affordable, super sharp kitchen and steak knives set I bought last month that also includes a wood storage block.

Photo of Astercook 15-piece knives and knife block set

True confession: I held onto our 30+-year-old Chicago Cutlery stainless steel kitchen knives for way too long. I received the set as a gift when I was too young to know that kitchen knives shouldn't go through the dishwasher (regardless of "dishwasher safe" marketing claims that benefit manufacturers and retailers by increasing both short-term and long-term sales, since blades with ruined edges needs to be replaced more often). The riveted wood handles had become loose and wobbly thanks to swelling and shrinking during dishwasher cycles, and the blades had become so nicked and dull that they couldn't hold an edge even with routine honing and sharpening. This made slicing, dicing, chopping and cutting slow and laborious and caused more frequent cut fingers. I don't know why I waited so long to replace them.

Not All High-Carbon Stainless Steel Knives Are Alike

Several years ago, I took advantage of an Amazon Prime Day deal for a kitchen and steak knife set with sharp blades and molded plastic handles. It also included kitchen shears and a wood storage block with a built-in blade sharpener instead of a honing rod (before I knew that frequent sharpening was a bad idea!).

I explained to my husband that, unlike our previous, beat-up set that had been through the dishwasher countless times (and had the beat-up, dull edges to prove it), our new one had high-carbon stainless steel blades that would need to be hand washed and towel dried thoroughly immediately after use to avoid rust. John is a wonderful cook who makes dinner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights (I am so blessed!). However, whereas I try to clean as I go when I'm cooking, he prefers to focus on the food and leave the clean-up until after dessert. Old habits are hard to break, and despite his best efforts, he often forgot to wash and dry the new kitchen knives right away. Predictably, the blades routinely developed light rust spots. Eventually, we gave the set to a young relative who was moving into his first apartment.

I bought a Victorinox Fibrox Pro 8-Inch Chef's Knife (model 45520), the winner of Cook's Illustrated favorite chef's knives under $75, which my husband and I really enjoy using. It has a molded, ergonomic, thermoplastic handle for a comfortable grip and sharpens very nicely. Best of all, it can be hand washed and left to drip dry in our awesome over-the-sink dish drying rack without developing rust stains, which makes both of us happy, and cost less than $40 on Amazon (as of this post's publication date). We love it so much that I gifted one to my brother when he started teaching himself to cook. It's still my husband's go-to kitchen knife.

We already owned an excellent handcrafted, serrated bread knife with a beautiful handle that I had purchased long ago at an upscale art and craft fair from the man who made it. Between it and our Victorinox Fibrox Pro, we made do just fine for a year or two. However, while a chef's knife is the single most useful size, shape and style, it isn't optimal for tasks like paring, carving, or making precision cuts or paper-thin slices. So, a few months ago I started looking for a new kitchen knife set that we could use without having to worry about rust spots developing if they weren't washed and dried as soon as we finished using them.

My first step was to check out Cook's Illustrated's knife block set reviews. None of the preconfigured sets they tested met their criteria for top picks. Instead, they put together two highly recommended sets that buyers could assemble but purchasing specific, individual kitchen knives and the testers' favorite knife block. The total cost of these two assemble-your-own "knife block sets" came to $440 and $224, respectively, well above my target price range.

Next, since I really wanted the sharpness and more refined edges of high-carbon stainless steel blades, I decided to look at moderately-priced high-carbon stainless steel kitchen knife sets with "dishwasher safe" marketing claims. Even though I would never put mine in the dishwasher, I reasoned that a set that claimed to be dishwasher safe might be less prone to rust or corrosion than our previous set.

After copious research and reading products reviews to see what customers experienced in terms of both performance and ease of maintenance, I found an affordable set with good reviews on Amazon and decided to buy it.

Astercook 15-piece kitchen knife block set
My Astercook 15-piece knife set with storage block includes kitchen shears, an excellent honing rod and six serrated seak knives (one of which is shown below the honing steel).

Astercook 15-Piece German High-Carbon Stainless Steel Knife Set with Storage Block

Our new Astercook 15-piece German high-carbon stainless steel kitchen knife block set has performed admirably since I bought it nearly two months ago. It is serviceable rather than fancy, which is exactly what we need, and it has not only the essentials but also several nice-to-have and bonus tools.

The Essentials

  • 8" chef's knife
A Western-style chef's knife, with its curved tip, is the most versatile and efficient tool for many tasks, especially those requiring a rocking motion. It's the one we use most often.

    • 8" serrated bread knife
    This versatile blade has many uses beyond just slicing bread. We like using it to cut through fruits that have a thick skin or rind (e.g., pineapple, watermelon) and delicate foods (e.g., slicing cake horizontally into layers).

      • 3.5” paring knife
      The blade is a great length for tasks like peeling, quartering and coring apples, while the sharp, pointed tip makes hulling strawberries a breeze.

        The Nice-to-Haves

        • 7" santoku
        This smaller, lighter, sharper Japanese-style chef's knife was designed for the more precise cuts used to prepare Japanese food and is nearly as versatile as its Western counterpart. I love it for cutting very thin slices of cucumber and other vegetables and prefer it to a serrated bread blade (which also works) for slicing tomatoes cleanly with minimal loss of the interior jelly and seeds. (Did you know that most of a tomato's flavor is in the "guts," i.e., the jelly and seeds?)

          • 8" slicer
          The long, straight blade makes this our tool of choice for carving large, even slices of meat, poultry or fish.

            • 5” utility knife
            Shorter than the chef's but longer than the paring, we love using this versatile midsize, mid-weight blade for slicing hard cheese or salami, mincing parsley, breaking down or deboning poultry and many other tasks.

              Bonus Items

              • Six serrated steak knives
              The 4.5" serrated blades slice effortlessly through cooked meats and stay sharp longer than blades with straight edges.They definitely add to our enjoyment of a good steak!

                • Honing rod (AKA honing steel)
                Like all blades, the ones in this high-carbon stainless steel kitchen knife set require frequent honing to keep them sharp and prolong the need for sharpening. The honing rod that comes with this set does a fabulous job and is far superior to the one from my 30+-year-old set. Just a quick pass or two lets me restore the edges from somewhat sharp to razor-sharp.

                Note: This stainless steel blade honing tool is often referred to as a "sharpening steel" or "sharpening rod." See "What's the Difference Between Honing and Sharpening?" (below) to understand why that's a misnomer.

                  • Kitchen shears
                  These have so many uses! I find it quicker and easier to use kitchen shears for things like making a chiffonade of fresh basil leaves (i.e., stacking, rolling and cutting them into thin strips), snipping fresh chives or scallions into small pieces, cutting up sticky dried fruits (oil the blades first to minimize sticking), and trimming excess pie dough, green beans, fat, etc. As a bonus, this thoughtfully designed pair also has a handy built-in bottle opener!

                  Tip: To help keep the blades sharp, reserve these kitchen shears for food use only and keep a pair of utility scissors in your kitchen drawer for non-food tasks, such as cutting open bags and boxes or cutting baking parchment paper to size.

                    • Acacia wood storage block
                    The wood knife block is not as well made or nicely finished as the tools it holds, which was a bit disappointing but definitely not a deal-breaker. The one we received is darker and has a less attractive wood grain pattern than those in the Amazon listing photos (but is very similar to the one in the product video) and the edges around the slots are a bit rough.

                    That said, it does its job of protecting the knives, kitchen shears and honing rod when not in use and, as you can see, it looks fine on our kitchen counter.

                      Excellent Value, Affordable Price

                      Here are some of the attributes that make this Astercook 15-piece knife set with storage block my pick for the best affordable, super sharp kitchen and steak knives set.

                      • 15-piece set includes everything a home cook needs to choose the best cutting tool for any task
                      • Comfortable in the hand, with enough clearance under the handles to wrap your fingers around them
                      • Forged (vs. stamped), seamless construction
                      • Extremely sharp, German high-carbon stainless steel blades that hold their edge well with frequent honing
                      • Rust-resistant (not rustproof)
                        • Even though the Amazon product listing claims this set is "dishwasher safe", that claim (for any knife set, not just this one) is a marketing gimmick. Believe the Astercook user manual that comes with the set, which clearly states that blades should never go into the dishwasher. That said, if you really don't want to wash and dry them by hand, you can run them through the dishwasher as long as you are willing to have them sharpened frequently and accept that they will need to be replaced much sooner than if you care for them properly.
                      • Lifetime warranty (note that a few Amazon reviewers had difficulty reaching the manufacturer)
                      • Impressive value—a full set of six good quality kitchen knives, six serrated steak knives, a honing steel, a pair of kitchen shears and an acacia wood knife block, all for less than $40 with free Amazon Prime shipping (at the time of this post’s publication)

                      How to Keep Your New Kitchen Knives Sharp

                      Frequent honing will maintain a blade's sharp edge(s) and prolong the its useful life, since most can only be re-sharpened a limited number of times.

                      What's the Difference Between Honing and Sharpening?

                      Honing realigns and smooths the metal along a blade's existing cutting edge to restore its sharpness. Since no metal is removed, you can hone a blade as often as you wish (some people do it either before or after each use) without damaging the edge, as long as you maintain the correct angle as you are sliding it across the honing rod. However, honing won't sharpen a dull blade, which is why it's important to hone frequently to maintain the sharp edge as long as possible.

                      Sharpening removes metal (with abrasives such as a whetstone, diamond sharpening block or manual or electric knife sharpener) to create a new cutting edge. Even with routine maintenance, a blade that gets a lot of use will dull eventually and will need sharpening. Creating the original cutting edge and sharpening the blade correctly when it becomes dull requires precision. For example, different types of blades have cutting edges at different angles, and some are beveled on both sides while others are beveled on only one side. A professional knife sharpening service will deliver the best results at a very reasonable price. However, it's also possible to do a creditable job yourself if you are willing to invest in a high quality knife sharpener, such as Cook's Illustrated's top picks, the three-stage Chef's Choice Trizor 15XV Knife Sharpener and the more affordable, two-stage Chef's Choice 315XV Knife Sharpener.

                      Side view of Astercook 15-piece knife block set
                      This attractive, well-appointed set would make a wonderful gift!

                      A Thoughtful Gift

                      This 15-piece set of high-carbon stainless steel kitchen and steak knives, kitchen shears, honing rod and knife block makes a great gift under $40! Here are just a few ideas for potential gift recipients:

                      • Engaged couples or newlyweds
                      • Cooking enthusiasts
                      • High school graduates headed to college away from home
                      • Anyone who is moving into their first apartment or house and needs to outfit their first kitchen
                      • A would-be home cook who wants to improve their knife skills
                      • Grandparents who haven't replaced their kitchen knives in many years
                      • Anyone with old, dull, or low-quality kitchen knives
                      • Someone who frequently cuts their fingers while prepping food
                      I'll bet there's someone on your gift list who would be thrilled to receive this set as a wedding, engagement, graduation, housewarming or "just because" present.

                      Also, if your current tools aren't as comfortable, well-balanced and sharp as you would like and prepping ingredients takes more time and effort than it should, consider this affordable, super sharp kitchen and steak knives set as a gift to yourself. Remember, dull blades are more likely to skip, slip and accidentally cut you instead of your food. A set that can maintain a very sharp edge with just routine honing makes food prep not just faster, easier and more enjoyable but also safer! 


                      The Best Affordable, Super Sharp Kitchen and Steak Knives Set by Margaret Schindel

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                      10 comments:

                      1. I remember the Chicago Cutlery knife set we had many years ago. This looks like an excellent set of knives. Both my sons, who each do a great deal of the cooking in their families, have super sharp kitchen and steak knives that they feel are a necessary part of a complete kitchen and their cooking prep. Thanks for your review, Margaret.

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                        Replies
                        1. Thanks very much, Elf! I agree with your sons that super sharp kitchen and steak knives are essential to any well-equipped kitchen, not only because they are fundamental kitchen tools but also because they make slicing, dicing, cutting and chopping safer.

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                      2. I've never tried the Astercook knives, but I like what I see. One piece of stainless steel with a shaped handle would eliminate that wood handle loosening you mentioned. Plus, I like the look of the overall steel. I am still using the Zwilling knives that my husband brought home from Germany many years ago, but I will certainly consider the Astercook knife if I need any replacements. Great review for quality chef knives at a wonderfully low price.

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                        Replies
                        1. Mouse, Zwilling knives are justifiably famous for their superior quality. What a wonderful gift from your husband! The Astercook knives definitely aren't in the same league, but they are surprisingly good quality given their very affordable price. The one-piece construction on the Astercook high-carbon stainless steel knives was definitely a selling point for me for the reasons you mentioned!

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                      3. I very much appreciate this review, and Margaret, I trust your product recommendations - your reviews are very thorough. It's good to know that the Astercook knife set is an excellent product. Our oldest son is very fussy about his knifes and strangely enough that was our Christmas gift last year because the knife set we had was horrendous! He's very fussy about sharpening and caring for his knifes - you pointed out care in your article, and I have to agree, it's important! I'll be saving this product recommendation so I can refer back should I want to buy this as a gift - really appreciated this review.

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                        Replies
                        1. Thank you so much for your very kind words about the thoroughness and helpfulness of my product reviews, Barbara. I admit to having been a bit skeptical about the quality of these knives because of their low price, but decided to give them a try after reading all the positive reviews and have been pleasantly surprised by how nice they are! I'm sure your eldest son appreciated your thoughtful gift of a set of good quality kitchen knives, which should serve him well for a long time since he is so conscientious about preserving and maintaining their sharp edges. A good knife set really does make a wonderful gift!

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                      4. As always Margaret, you have given me lots of information to "chew" on! Many years ago I worked in the meat department of a very large chain. The butchers had their favorite knives and you didn't dare to touch them. I can attest that a good knife is worth it's weight in gold for any serious cook. Thank you for bringing this set to my attention. When my current set is done, I will look for this one! It has everything you need and then some.

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                        Replies
                        1. Olivia, I know how protective professional chef's are about their knives (hands off, or else!), so I can easily imagine that butchers would feel the same way about their most important tools (other than their hands)! You're right about the value of good kitchen knives that retain their sharp edges with routine honing. I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of this comprehensive Astercook set of kitchen and steak knives, given the extremely low price. Time will tell re: the longevity of the sharpened edges, but so far I'm really impressed. When the blades in your current set can no longer hold a sharp edge or be sharpened successfully, I can definitely recommend giving this set a try!

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                      5. I do agree with you that it is essential to have an excellent set of knives in the kitchen. It can be difficult to choose a knife set and know all the important aspects so I do appreciate your in depth review and your experience with these knives. This set appears to cover everything you might need. They would make an excellent and very useful gift for anyone who enjoys cooking.

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                        Replies
                        1. Thank you so much for your kind feedback on my product review of this Astercook 15-piece knife set, Raintree Annie. Although I was skeptical about the quality of this set because of its very low price, I have been impressed by the kitchen and steak knives’ sharp cutting edges, ability to maintain them with routine honing, comfortable handles, balanced weight, one-piece construction and breadth of blade selection. I used the midsize utility knife last night to cut a head of cauliflower into small florets for a recipe and it was the perfect size and shape to make quick work of that task.

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