Solingen, Germany isn’t known as “the city of blades” for nothing — they really do produce the best German kitchen knives you’ll ever use. In today’s guide, I’ll be covering three best-in-class German knife brands from Solingen, giving you the ins and outs on which one is right for your kitchen no matter your budget.
I’ve had broad experience with German knives during my decade in professional kitchens, and I’m excited to share that with you today. Let’s get right into it!
The Professional S Series of knives is Zwilling J.A. Henckel’s crowning achievement in cutlery.
A result of over 280 years of manufacturing experience and development, these knives are even a favorite of chef Gordon Ramsay! With their 7-piece set, you’ll be ready to tackle any kitchen task — without emptying your wallet to get your knives in order.
The proprietary steel formula used for Zwillings’ knives is the main thing that makes them a personal favorite for me. They’re incredibly sharp, won’t stain or chip, and retain their sharpness longer than almost any knife I’ve used.
Part of the secret to the Professional S Series knives’ performance is that they are ice-hardened using a Zwilling industry secret process. This gives them a refined and accurate edge that’s more durable than Japanese-style knives.
Add an equally impressive edge retention to that formula, and you’ll spend more time using your knives and less time sharpening them.
Zwilling was an early adopter of the full bolster handle style, giving these knives impeccable balance. It also acts as a finger guard, preventing painful slip-ups from turning into cuts and scrapes.
Included in this set is a chef’s knife, paring knife, prep knife, bread knife, kitchen shears, and honing rod, covering all of your culinary bases. I’m a big fan of the construction of the bamboo block, too, as it comes with extra knife slots for any specialty blades you’d like to add to your kitchen.
Overall, there’s no set of German knives I’d rather have for my kitchen, whether at home or professionally. The Zwilling Professional S Series knives truly live up to their name, and are easily deserving of becoming a staple in your kitchen.
What we like
- Truly professional quality knives
- Top notch edge retention
- Perfectly balanced
What We don’t
- Full bolster makes them harder to sharpen at home
Affordable Option: Messermeister Meridian Elite 3-Piece Starter Set
Anyone looking for a more minimalist kitchen setup would do well to consider Messermeister’s Meridian Elite 3-Piece knife set. It does away with the bulk of a knife block and situationally-specific knives to focus on the essentials: A chef’s knife, slicer, and paring knife.
Trading down to a more reserved selection of knives also means that you can invest in hand-finished tools without breaking your budget. This is where Messermeister’s knives really shine, as they’re hand-finished to create the sharpest blade edge possible.
The one-piece, hammer-forged design of the Meridian Elite series gives them an admirable combination of durability and balance. Combined with three rivets and a full, exposed tang, they’re also comfortable to use and easy on the hands and wrists.
In contrast to most German knives, Messermeister’s Meridian Elite series forgoes the use of a bolster. While this removes a layer of protection from slips and cuts, it allows experienced chefs to use the full length of the blade in making long, smooth cuts. And if you’re comfortable with honing your own blades, the lack of a bolster makes these knives much easier to sharpen.
In short, this knife set is an ideal choice for someone who is already comfortable with their knife skills and wants to pare down for an efficient use of kitchen space. They’re every bit as high quality as the other knives featured in this guide, and will last you for years to come.
What we like
- Most affordable high quality German knives
- No bolster means you can use the full blade for making cuts.
What We don’t
- Lack of a bolster can lead to small knicks and cuts
- Fewer applications than a 7-piece set
Upgrade Option: Wüsthof Classic Ikon 7-Piece Knife Set With Block
Sharpness and edge retention are the name of the game with Wüsthof’s Classic IKON series of knives. Using a proprietary method called PEtec (Precision Edge Technology), Wüsthof is able to make blades that are 20% sharper than standard knives, that last twice as long between sharpenings.
High carbon stainless steel provides the base for these sharp and durable knives. They’re precision forged with a full-tang, triple-riveted handle that gives them perfect balance. In my experience, this makes the Classic IKON series feel nearly weightless — a true joy to use that helps me look forward to meal prep time.
In their bolsters, Wüsthof seeks to have the best of both worlds. By incorporating a half-bolster at the blade, you get the double benefit of cut and scrape protection as well as being able to use the full length of the blade. A full heel bolster provides the final touch, complementing the natural balance of the full-tang construction.
With this set, you’ll have a full selection of knives for your kitchen: A chef’s knife, paring knife, utility knife, bread knife, kitchen shears, and honing steel. This will cover almost every kitchen task, but the acacia wood block also has extra slots for any specialty knives you might want to add to your collection.
At this price point, I also appreciate the attention to detail in the aesthetics of Wüsthof’s knives – a point which I recently examined more extensively in my review of all Wusthof lines. Their contoured handles give them both a comfortable fit and a modern touch, and they look great displayed in the included acacia wood block. Overall, it both looks and feels like a noticeable upgrade over other knife sets.
What we like
- Extra sharp, with double the edge retention
- Half-bolster design protects your fingers and allows for full blade use
- Aesthetically pleasing design
What We don’t
- Pricier than most 7-piece German knife sets
Runners Up: Great, But Not the Best
Any set of reviews is going to speak to the author’s experience — and their bias. I wouldn’t be unhappy to use any of these other German knives in my kitchen, but I don’t think they have the same combination of value, versatility, and quality as top picks.
I’m a big fan of the quality of Messermeister’s knives, but their Olive Elite Professional series just doesn’t impress me for the price. They’re crafted with the same care as all of Messermeister’s hand-honed blades, with the only major difference being the inclusion of natural wood handles.
A 4-piece set from this series costs nearly the same as a 7-piece set with a storage block from other producers. So while there’s no doubt that their solid wood handles look great, for the added cost I’d rather focus on aspects that improve knife performance.
How many knives is too many knives? The number will vary from kitchen to kitchen, but I can almost guarantee that 19 knives is too many for your home. It may look impressive to have an armory’s worth of knives on your kitchen counter, but I’d rather have a smaller set of top quality knives.
Even though I enjoy many of Zwilling Henckels’ knife series, this set focuses too much on quantity and too little on quality. Even for beginners, I would recommend investing the same amount of money in a smaller selection of higher quality knives.
Even when the quality of a knife set is there — as it definitely is with Wusthof’s Classic Series — I’m not a big fan of having more choices in your kitchen than you absolutely need. Cooking requires enough attention to detail without searching through an 18-piece knife block for the right tool for each job.
Unless you’re attracted to this set for its 6 steak knives, there’s better value to be had by trimming down to a set that’s more appropriate to your kitchen.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best German Knives
To choose the best German kitchen knives, you’ll need to know a fair amount about how they’re made. That way when you’re reading through a set of specifications, you’ll know exactly how that compares to the industry standards — and to what you need for your own style of cooking.
In choosing the knife sets featured in this guide, I took the following categories into consideration:
Type of Knives
How many types of knives you need for your kitchen will depend on your culinary skills as well as your aspirations for cooking. Don’t be fooled, though — a moderate selection of top quality knives is often better than having too many to choose from.
That’s why I’ve focused on 7-piece knife sets for this guide. They’re much more affordable than buying the knives individually, and will prepare you to cook 90% of all recipes you encounter. At the same time, a 7-piece set won’t weigh you down with redundant knives. In short, I believe a 7-piece set is the ideal combination of value and versatility.
If you’re on a tight budget or prefer a minimalist kitchen setup, though, a 3-knife selection is your best bet. Go for a chef’s knife, paring knife, and slicer — but keep in mind that it’s proportionally more expensive than a 7-piece set, even if the total price is lower.
Solingen, Germany is world-renowned for the quality of its knives. And the reason why? They’ve been making knives for almost 300 years, giving them the time to develop an impressive array of steel types and knife designs.
Since steel is an alloy — a combination of iron, carbon, and other trace minerals — all types of steel are not created equal. In German knife manufacturing each of the major companies has developed their own special variety of steel, giving them greater durability, sharpness, and/or edge retention.
German knife brands will usually combine their specialized steels with full-tang construction and riveted handles to achieve the best balance available. Look for those three elements to ensure the best quality and durability in your knives.
In addition to the use of proprietary steel blends to craft their finest knives, German knife makers will choose very different bolster designs to stand out from competitors. The main bolster falls where the knife blade meets the handle, providing extra strength and a guard for your finger.
There are three main styles of bolster used in the production of a German knife:
- Full bolster knives have great blade integrity and durability, and will prevent your front finger from slipping into the blade. They make it harder to use the full length of the blade, though, and harder to sharpen.
- Half bolster knives use a sloped design where the handle meets the blade to get the best of both worlds. They provide a small amount of protection against slipping, but still allow you to use the full length of the blade.
- No bolster knives completely eliminate any ridge at the handle juncture, favoring ease of sharpening and full use of the blade over added strength and protection.
Some knife makers will use a heel bolster, sometimes just called the heel, to improve balance on a knife.
Overall, the bolster style that you choose will be a matter of personal preference. If you’re not experienced with German kitchen knives, I would suggest starting with a full bolster or half bolster knife because of their added protection for your front finger.
In an effort to make their knives as sharp as possible, German knife brands put extra attention on how they achieve their final edge. There are two main ways that companies like J.A. Henckels and Wüsthof add the final touches to their blades:
- By hand. This can be done with a strop, on a stone, or on a sharpening wheel.
- With computer assistance. Proprietary methods of laser-cutting or machine-honing blades can lead to consistent sharpness from blade to blade.
But there’s one essential ingredient that will determine how sharp a knife edge can be: Whether it was forged, or stamped from a die. Forged knives are the superior choice for quality, sharpness, and edge retention. Stamped blades are a much less expensive production method, but won’t ever yield the same quality and sharpness as forged knives.
Keeping your German kitchen knives in great shape comes down to three things:
- Always hand washing. Fine quality knives should never be run through the dishwasher, as the high temperatures and harsh chemicals can damage their blades and handles. Always hand wash and promptly dry your German knives.
- Safe storage. It’s sad to say that plenty of kitchen knives have been put out of commission because of being tossed into a drawer, only to get scratched, chipped, or bent. A knife block is a safe and attractive way to store your knives, as is a magnetic knife holder or in-drawer storage system.
- Knowing when to sharpen your kitchen knives. A sharp knife is a safe knife, so keeping your knives in peak condition will help you avoid kitchen accidents. When your knives are having trouble slicing cleanly through vegetables, it’s time to sharpen them. Don’t sharpen your German kitchen knives too frequently, though, or their blades will not last as long.
Frequently Asked Questions About German Knives
Finally, let’s take a closer look at three questions that come up frequently about German knives:
Are German Knives Better Than Japanese Knives?
German and Japanese knives are the most respected pieces of cutlery in professional kitchens. Both types of knives are revered for the quality of their craftsmanship, but important differences set them apart.
The major difference between German and Japanese knives is the type of steel used in their blades. Specifically, Japanese steel has a higher carbon content — making their blades harder and sharper, but also more brittle. German steel is softer, less likely to chip, and holds an edge longer, at the cost of being slightly less sharp.
Outside of the materials used in their construction, Japanese and German knives feature markedly different designs. Whether you prefer the weight and feel of a Japanese santoku knife or a German chef’s knife is a matter of personal preference, so there is no “better” pick besides the one you enjoy using more.
In my opinion, both German and Japanese knives have a place in the home or professional kitchen. Neither is better than the other; they just offer different advantages that will appeal to different styles of chefs.
What Are the Advantages of German Knives?
The special steel blends used in German knives have three main advantages:
- Greater edge retention. You’ll sharpen German knives less often than any other type of knife.
- Enhanced durability. German steel blades resist chipping and cracking.
- Stain- and rust-resistant. Proprietary blends of steel are less vulnerable to water staining and corrosion.
What Are the Drawbacks of German Knives?
Despite their high quality construction, German kitchen knives still have two notable drawbacks:
- They’re expensive compared to American-made kitchen knives. This is due partly to import fees, but also because of the time-honored traditions and handiwork that go into making German knives.
- They’re not as sharp as high-carbon blades. The softer steel used in German knives won’t ever take quite as sharp of an edge as Japanese or other high-carbon blades.
As you can tell from my choices, I’m biased towards sticking with the classic and long-running German knife brands.
I can firmly recommend that you choose a 7-piece set for most kitchens. It will give you the best selection of knives at a discount relative to buying them separately — but not overload you with overly specialized knives.
The ZWILLING J.A. Henckels Professional S 7-Piece Knife Set With Block is my first choice, and Wüsthof’s Classic Ikon 7-Piece Knife Set With Block is a worthwhile upgrade. For anyone that wants to keep their knife selection as simple as possible, the Messermeister Meridian Elite 3-Piece Starter Set is the way to go.