Last Updated Jan 2020 – Any chef will tell you that kitchen knives aren’t all the same. There’s a world of difference between an expensive Wusthof or Shun and a cheap knife that you pick up in a department store. Better knives are made from finer materials to exacting standards, meaning they’re comfortable to use, extremely durable, and simple to maintain.
But what about midrange sets like Mercer Culinary Genesis?
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How do these less expensive sets stack up to their fancier competitors?
The answer might surprise you. Mercer is a well-respected brand that makes pretty good knives, especially given their price. While I don’t think that sets like Mercer Culinary Genesis are strictly better than sets from more expensive brands like Dalstrong or Zwilling, they’re quite competitive and arguably better value per dollar. This makes Mercer a great choice for anyone who’s starting out in the kitchen who needs some good knives on the cheap.
But which set should you get? Here are a some of the Mercer sets that I like the most.
Mercer Knife Set Reviews
This NSF certified knife set gives you the most important tools for kitchen work. It’s a no-frills set that comes with either a wooden magnetic strip or a glass knife block to store your blades in style. Each knife is crafted from high-carbon German steel and utilizes forged construction for superior balance and durability.
So why do I like this set so much?
The first reason is the steel. These Mercer knives are made from heat-treated X50 Cr Mo V15 steel. It’s one of the finer grades of stainless steel around and is the very same metal that’s used in several much, much more expensive knives. Some competing chef’s knives made from this steel can set you back more than the cost of this whole Mercer knife set!
This particular German steel isn’t just highly sought after. It’s also got terrific performance in all of the categories that matter. It’s flexible enough to resist breaking, strong enough to keep its shape, and hard enough to hold a fairly sharp edge. Despite this, it’s also soft enough to resist chipping or shattering when it encounters hard objects (like when you accidentally drop a knife), and it’s surprisingly easy to sharpen and maintain. Most importantly for home chefs, this alloy is extremely stain resistant, meaning you don’t have to worry about it rusting or baby your knives after you cut acidic foods.
These knives are all forged, which is a term that we use to refer to their thickness. Knives come in two styles: forged knives, like these, which often have thick bolsters that protect your hands from the blade while you cut, and stamped knives, which are made from pieces of metal with uniform thickness. Most professionals prefer forged knives due to their superior balance (because of the bolster), while many critics are keen to point out the slight increase in durability due to the increased thickness where it counts. There’s not a huge difference in terms of cutting performance, but it’s nice to know that this budget knife set is still made with the superior construction method.
As far as grip and balance go, there’s very little to be desired from these knives. They’re not quite as nice in your hand as a super expensive Shun, arguably, but they’re more than good enough for regular kitchen work. The extra-grippy synthetic handles are much easier on your hands than a dense hardwood, making them perfect for people who use their knives a lot. This set might not look as good, but it’s definitely very comfortable to hold. They’re also NSF certified, meaning they’re ready for use in any professional kitchen.
If you’re upgrading from a set of cheap department store knives, it’s worth noting that these knives won’t hold their edge forever. They’re quite sharp right out of the box, and the steel they’re made out of is very good at holding an edge for a while, but after enough repeated use the edge will roll over and gradually dull. This is a totally normal thing. Most chefs use a honing steel or a strop to slow this process down and sharpen their knives a couple of times a year, either with a kit they bought or by taking them to a local professional and paying a few bucks per knife. You should purchase honing steel to go with this knife block (if you don’t have one already) and figure out where the closest cutlery store is to your house.
This knife set does not come with any steak knives, scissors, honing steels, or other gizmos. For me, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s a sign that Mercer is interested in giving you a set of high-quality cutlery at an affordable price. You don’t have to pay for any extra things that you don’t need. This makes this set ideal for people who are trying to get serious about cooking as well as people who don’t want to shell out a few extra dollars for steak knives they don’t need.
I mentioned earlier that this knife set is available in several styles: with one of two magnetic board stands and with one of two styles of glass knife block. Be sure to check out all of the options to find the one that fits your kitchen and budget.
Overall, this Mercer knife block is absolutely perfect for people who want high-quality knives without spending a lot of money. The knives themselves are very nice for the price and you get the added benefit of having a tasteful display case that will liven up your kitchen. You really can’t go wrong!
If you’re not planning on cooking at home, this kit might be a better option than the knife block above. The knives are of a slightly different style: they’re made from Japanese steel, not German, and you get a different selection of tools, but the overall quality is still extremely good. Unlike the above set, however, you get a rollable travel case for your knives. This lets you stow them easily and take them to your workplace or school and then take them home each night.
The biggest upside of this kit, to me, is the inclusion of a few helpful extras. Mercer makes a 23-piece version of this kit that goes a bit too far with extras, at least in my opinion, but this set strikes a good balance. The included ruler, honing steel, and thermometer are fairly helpful, while the peeler will see some use. It’s a good way to pick up and carry the additional tools you might need for culinary school.
As far as downsides go, the only real disadvantage of this kit is the cost. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s worth every penny here. The problem here is that knives have a habit of disappearing when you go to culinary school. This set is expensive enough that you’ll really miss it if it’s lost or stolen. You may want to purchase a super cheap chef’s knife instead, like one of the options below.
It’s worth noting that this line (Millenia) is made from slightly cheaper “Japanese” high-carbon stainless. It’s also stamped, not forged, meaning the balance is arguably slightly worse. These two factors definitely make it slightly less desirable than the Genesis line above. They’re not dealbreakers by any stretch, however. The X30 Cr13 steel is a bit worse overall but still quite good at holding an edge, while the stamped construction is still perfectly durable. The lack of a bolster is even offset by creative handle design, meaning your fingers stay just as safe.
Overall, this Mercer knife set is a great option for people who want a travel roll, people who want a few extra tools, and culinary school students. Be sure to factor in your budget and how much trust you have in your fellow students before bringing this set into an unknown environment!
Mercer Knife Reviews
This is not the nicest chef’s knife on the market. Instead, it’s an inexpensive stamped blade made from a midrange high-carbon steel. It’s got a generic-looking NSF certified synthetic handle with a built-in finger guard that’s nowhere near as nice as the wooden handles you’ll find on higher-end chef’s knives.
That said, it’s excellent for actually getting work done. Sure, the stamped blade feels a bit light compared to a fully forged, full-tang Shun, but it’s still more than sharp enough to cut tomatoes. The X30Cr13 steel might be a few points too hard or too soft on the HRC scale for your ideal edge, perhaps, but it’s still quite easy to maintain at home and can take and maintain a standard grind with no problem. The aesthetics might leave something to be desired as well, but you’ll be able to deal with that when you realize just how grippy and comfortable the handle is.
The only real issue that you could possibly have with this knife is that it’s slightly (and provably) worse than your favorite chef’s knife from another brand. This is not going to beat an Elephant Sabatier in most head to head tests. It is, however, incredibly cheap, to the point where you could buy one of these knives for all of your family members and save money compared to buying a single fancy Shun. If cost is the most important factor in your kitchen, this knife is definitely the one to go for.
Personally, I’d spend a few dollars more and get a forged knife that’s made from slightly nicer, like the Renaissance chef’s knife below. While the advantages aren’t huge, the cost difference isn’t that big, either. As you gain more experience as a chef, you’ll learn more about what you do and don’t like in knives, meaning you’ll be able to upgrade to a more expensive knife that suits your individual cooking style and aesthetic preferences.
This Mercer Culinary chef’s knife is probably the best knife you can get in its price range. It’s made from high-end X50CrMoV15 steel, has an NSF certified synthetic handle, and features the improved balance and durability of forged construction. Most importantly, however, this is one of the few forged knives on the market that has a tapered bolster for easier sharpening. This helpful design feature makes the knife extremely easy to maintain at home since you can sharpen the full length of your knife by simply drawing it across a whetstone.>
The overall construction of this knife is quite similar to the Mercer Genesis set above. It’s made from the same steel with a similar synthetic handle. The biggest difference is the design of the bolster. Since I like to sharpen my knives myself, this seemingly small difference is a pretty major upside. It’s not just handy for sharpening your knives on a whetstone, either: you’ll find the tapered bolster makes stropping and honing the blade easier, too.
While the handles between Genesis and Renaissance are fairly similar, the Genesis handles are a bit softer and look less “traditional.” The Renaissance handles feature a “riveted” design that makes them look very similar to fancier wooden-handled knives. Personally, I think I prefer the Genesis handle in my hand, but the Renaissance handle is much nicer looking when your knives are on display. In any case, both handles are comfortable, grippy, and NSF certified.
It’s worth noting that you can actually find the Genesis knife with a short bolster, too. If you prefer the softer Genesis handle, you might find this knife to be a better option than this Renaissance blade.
Overall, I think that these short bolster Mercer knives (both the Genesis and the Renaissance) are top contenders for the best chef’s knives in their price range. They’re both very competitive with several $100+ dollar chef knives from top brands. If you want a high-quality tool without spending a lot of money, pick up one of these blades!
Where Are Mercer Knives Made?
While Mercer’s knives are made from high-quality German and Japanese steel, they’re manufactured in Taiwan. They’re very high-quality tools that go through a stringent QA process before arriving at your door.
Mercer Culinary: A Budget Choice For Serious Chefs
Mercer cutlery might not be as attractive as knives from brands like Shun, but each knife is well built, comfortable, and ready for use in a professional kitchen. They’re perfect tools for learning your way around a knife. When you get more experienced, you can pick up a 62 HRC+ carbon knife from a fancy brand, but in the meantime, the easy care, comfortable handles, and stain-resistant high-quality steel of these Mercer knives will do just fine.