Last Updated Feb 2023 – Knives can be pretty expensive. Depending on how much you cook, it can be pretty tough to justify spending hundreds of dollars on a fancy knife set. If you want to cook, however, you’ll need at least a few decent knives that you can use in food prep. So what should you do?
Despite what the internet might make you believe, you don’t actually need a super fancy chef’s knife or high-carbon knife set in order to cut an onion. In fact, nice knives don’t change the way your food tastes at all.
There are a lot of pretty tangible benefits in terms of edge retention, durability, access to advanced cutting techniques, and more pleasant handling, but a skilled chef can get by for a while with a cheap set of knives. You’ll definitely want to upgrade to a lower-priced chef’s knife like the Dalstrong Phantom at some point, but there’s nothing wrong with picking up a cheap knife block while you wait.
Ginsu is probably my favorite brand when it comes to cheap, effective knife sets. Unlike other manufacturers, they make fairly high-quality knives at an incredibly low cost. If you want to put a full knife block in your kitchen, these Ginsu sets are some of the most cost-effective options on the market.
Ginsu Knife Set Review
* Ginsu Essential Series Knife Set
This big Ginsu set comes with mostly serrated knives. It’s got everything you need to cook, including an 8″ serrated chef’s knife, a non-serrated 7″ santoku, several serrated utility knives, kitchen shears, and a full set of steak knives.
Ginsu is a proud pusher of the “never-need-sharpening” idea, which is both a blessing and a curse. The serrated edges of these knives are pretty darn difficult to sharpen. In fact, due to the undulating pattern, it would be hard to sharpen these knives even if you had the time, patience, and the proper tools. Luckily, however, these Ginsus do a pretty good job of cutting without being sharpened.
This isn’t because they’re sharp. Instead, it’s because the serration makes up for the fact that they’re dull. I can personally attest to the fact that a set of 5-year-old Ginsu knives cuts about as well as a brand new set. If you know you won’t take care of your knives, this is a pretty nice feature.
Of course, the serrated blades on these knives can’t be used to cut in quite the same way as a “real” knife. Luckily, Ginsu has included a 7″ santoku that cuts pretty well. While it’s made out of reasonably cheap stainless steel, it can be sharpened to a fine angle. If you take the time to care for this blade with a honing steel and an occasional touch up with a whetstone you can slice through paper and make transparent tomato slices with ease.
Now, this isn’t to say that you get a super high-quality knife with this set. Rather, you get an acceptable quality knife that you can practice your honing and sharpening skills on until you get something nicer. It takes a lot of attention to keep this knife-sharp when compared to something from Zhen or Cangshan. It’s also pretty hard to sharpen it to the ridiculously sharp angle that you’d expect from a genuine Japanese santoku.
For me, the best part of this set is the price. It’s quite refreshing to see a knife manufacturer put out an inexpensive set of stamped stainless steel knives and actually pass that discount on to the consumer. It’s all too easy to find lots of examples of other companies making a set of knives that perform exactly the same as this Ginsu set and then marking them up to three or four times the price. Instead, Ginsu saves money on the inexpensive construction of these knives and passes that discount on to you.
Should this be the primary set of knives for a professional chef? No. It probably shouldn’t be your only set of knives if you’re a serious hobby chef, either. It’s a great way to add some tools to your kitchen, however. I know at least one professional cook who has picked up this exact set for the steak knives and scissors alone.
She was pleasantly surprised with how well the other knives handled when she away her expensive chef’s knife to be sharpened. She said she was definitely glad to get her real knife back, but her experience with the Ginsus was far better than what she had expected.
Of course, if you’re more casual with your cooking, there’s no reason to qualify my recommendation. Buy this set. You will not be disappointed. It’s cheap, the quality is reasonably good, and you get a knife that you can use to practice your fancy knife care and maintenance. I still think you should save up for a Dalstrong Phantom or an inexpensive forged Cangshan, but the money you save by choosing this set of Ginsus will get you most of the way there.
* Ginsy Gourmet Chikara Series Knife Set
I was somewhat skeptical of this midrange Ginsu set for quite a while. It turns out that I was sleeping on a great product.
The 5-time Consumer Report “Best Buy” Chikara knife set is a pretty solid option for most households. While it doesn’t have the incredibly low cost of the Essential Series set above, this set of Ginsu blades is still very cost efficient, offering a pretty big jump in quality from the cheaper set.
So what makes the Ginsu Chikara set better?
If you read the Ginsu knife review above, you might notice my use of the word “stamped.” This term refers to how each knife is made. The Essential series is literally stamped out of a big sheet of metal, slapped in a handle, then sharpened.
By contrast, these Chikara knives are “forged,” which means that each blade is carefully crafted using a blend of techniques that increase the knife’s durability and sharpness. One of the primary things to look for in a nice knife is the fact that it’s forged. While a stamped knife might do an okay job of holding an edge, it simply won’t match a forged knife when it comes to many other important characteristics. Forged knives are stronger on a molecular level, they’re easier to sharpen (since they twist less) and they can have fancy design features like bolsters that make using them a little bit more pleasant.
The other thing you tend to look for inexpensive knives (and the most important thing, if I’m being honest) is the type of steel used. Nice knives are usually made out of high-carbon steel or one of a handful of expensive stainless alloys. These metals have the right combination of toughness and hardness to let you sharpen them to a fine edge without being brittle or fragile. If you’re spending more than $30 or so on a knife you should look for the exact type of metal that’s used in the knife’s construction. It’ll almost always be mentioned somewhere in the marketing material.
Ginsu does not name the metal that’s used in the Chikara set. This is normally a bad sign. Instead, they say that they’re made out of “premium Japanese stainless steel.” This means that if Ginsu was unscrupulous, these knives could be made out of a low-quality metal that does a terrible job of holding an edge.
Luckily, this is not the case. There are several kinds of nice Japanese stainless, including AUS6 through 10 and VG-10. While these knives are certainly not made from VG-10, there’s a decent chance that they’re made out of something like AUS6. In other words, they’re a bit softer than you’d want in a super-high-end set, but you’ll still have no problems as long as you take care of them properly.
This is important. Unlike the Signature set above, the Chikara knife block comes with fine edge knives. There’s no serration on the primary cooking blades. Instead, you’re expected to use an included honing rod to keep the knives sharp in between each use.
Those of you who are experienced with knives know that this is quite a lot of honing. A more expensive high-carbon blade might only need attention every couple of weeks in a normal home kitchen. This speaks to the idea that Ginsu has elected to use a low HRC metal that doesn’t do a great job of holding an edge for a long time.
The bottom line here is that these knives cut great. As long as you take the time to use the honing rod properly you’ll have no problems with any sort of home food prep with this knife set. You probably won’t be able to put an 8-degree single bevel on the knives in this set, but for most people, this won’t matter in the slightest. What you will get is a pretty sharp set of knives that are durable, comfortable, and easy to maintain.
The only small hiccup with this set is the cost. I’m totally a fan of the quality of knives you get for the price. My only issue is how darn good the Signature series is. This set is (at the time of writing this) more expensive than getting a Signature knife block and a Dalstrong Phantom or Cangshan X (or any cheap forged Cangshan). This means that instead of getting a full set of okay knives, you could get a set of acceptable knives and one really nice one.
I’m not sure which option I would choose, honestly. There’s something to be said for having a set of nice, quality utility blades. The Ginsu Chikara knives are nice enough that I don’t think you necessarily need to upgrade your primary chef’s knife to something nicer, either. I just think it’s definitely worth considering all of your options.
If you want a set of terrific knives at a remarkably affordable price, the Ginsu Chikara line is one of your best options. These knives will stay quite sharp with a little bit of proper maintenance. They’re an excellent way to get your collection of quality kitchen tools started off on the right food.
* Ginsy Gourmet Chikara Series 3-Piece Knife Set
I’d like to mention this 3-piece Chikara set briefly before we wrap things up. It doesn’t come with a knife block, steak knives, honing steel, or any other gimmicks. Instead, you get a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a utility blade.
Just like the full Chikara set above, the quality of these knives is simply excellent for their price. This set is very, very competitively priced, meaning that it’s an excellent way to replace the old worn-out chef’s knife in your old knife block or even as a way to “upgrade” the Ginsu Signature block above.
Personally, I think I’d rather go with a cheaper forged Cangshan, but this Ginsu set does have the added benefit of coming with two utility knives.
The bottom line? Don’t overlook this 3-piece set, especially if you’re looking for more than one knife. It’s a lot cheaper than a full Chikara set and you still get a couple of utility knives that you can use for paring and other delicate tasks.
Ginsu: The Best Budget Knife Brand?
My favorite part about Ginsu is the fact that they’re upfront with their customers. Ginsu doesn’t put on airs and try to claim that its knives stay sharp forever, or that their stamped stainless blades can compete with Zhens or Dalstrongs. Instead, they offer fair, low-cost options for the chef on a budget.
Their serrated Essential set is perfect for people who don’t like maintaining their knives, while their forged Chikara set offers a great entry-level knife for anyone who’s a bit more serious in the kitchen. While neither option should be used as the sole knife of a professional chef, they’re more than good enough for home use.
I bought a Ginsu set 20 years ago. The chefs knife is finally giving out after constant use.