Oprah's favorite knife set is $300, but is it worth the hype?
We tested the Cangshan Thomas Keller Signature Collection knife set.
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If you were to compile a list of recognizable names in the chef world, Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller would certainly be near the top of the list. Even if you don’t know his name, you’re probably familiar with his restaurants: The French Laundry or Ad Hoc in Napa Valley, Per Se in Manhattan, and Bouchon Bakery in Napa Valley, Las Vegas, and New York. In addition to killing it in the restaurant world, he’s also a strong promoter of cooking for home cooks. He’s published several cookbooks and most recently offered his culinary expertise to MasterClass.
So when he put his name on a knife set—the Cangshan Thomas Keller Signature Collection knife—and Oprah put it on her Favorite Things 2020 list, we had to know more. As a professional chef, I’m always game for trying out new knives. I’ve tested dozens of knives and knife sets over the years, but I wondered if these knives were nothing more than a promotional showpiece. Their sleek black or white handles and shiny stainless finish look more like a piece of artwork stored in a walnut block than a functional set. Could their performance hold up to their gorgeous appearance? We put them to the test to find out.
What’s included in the Cangshan Thomas Keller Signature Collection knife set?
There are several different options in the Thomas Keller Signature Collection by Cangshan, but this particular set has three pieces: an 8-inch chef’s knife, a 3.5-inch paring knife, and a two-slot walnut wood block. The knives feature a single large rivet (instead of the classic triple-riveted design) to connect the full-tang blades to the polymer handles, which are available in white or black. The walnut block features an open design that allows you to see the blades when they’re stored.
What does full-tang mean?
Buying a knife can be a little confusing because of all the terminology. The good news is the more expensive the knife set, the less you have to worry. The Cangshan Thomas Keller Signature Collection knife set features full-tang blade construction, and the knives are forged from Swedish Damasteel RWL34 powdered steel. This means they’re designed to hold their edge and last a long time with proper care.
Forged knives are made by hammering a piece of heated steel until it reaches the desired shape. These knives tend to be more durable and hold a sharp edge for longer because the heating process makes the steel stronger. They’re also thicker and heavier than stamped blades, which are punched out or shaped from a piece of stainless steel using lasers. Stamped blades are usually significantly less expensive, and they’re more lightweight and flexible. Some are heat-treated for durability, but they generally have a reputation for being of lesser quality.
Both types of blades can be full-tang or partial-tang, which refers to how far the metal extends into the handle. Full-tang knives (like this Cangshan set) are generally considered to be better because the knife features one continuous piece of metal from the tip to the end of the handle. If the knife is attached to the handle with three rivets, you’ll find the term “triple-riveted” on the packaging. Partial tang knives don’t weigh as much because the metal only extends through half the handle, but they also don’t have the same balance and durability as full-tang knives.
Finally, some stamped blades have no tang. They’re welded onto the handle, making them super lightweight and inexpensive. But they also won’t last as long because the handle can detach from the blade.
How we tested
To see how the Cangshan Thomas Keller Signature Collection knife set performed, we put them through the same testing procedure we used to determine best knife sets. We tested each knife on an individual basis as well as assessing whether its overall usability and performance provided a good value.
The tests were designed to evaluate value, performance, and ease of storage. With the chef’s knife, we chopped several onions to see how comfortable the knife felt in our hands. We were looking for a knife that was well-balanced and maneuverable, and it was important that it didn’t wear our hands out as we used it. We also thinly sliced basil to see if it was sharp enough to get through delicate herbs without bruising the edges.
Then, we moved on to the paring knife, peeling apples and segmenting citrus. The best paring knives work well on the cutting board—removing the peels from the citrus—but can also be used in the air to remove things like apple peels. They need to be light and maneuverable enough to get around the apple but sharp enough to take the peel off in a single sheet.
Unfortunately, this particular set doesn’t have a utility knife, serrated bread knife, or kitchen shears. So we skipped the serrated and shears tests and we used the chef’s knife to perform the utility knife tests: slicing tomatoes and blocks of cheese, assessing its ability to tackle a variety of textures, from tender tomato skin to hard cheese.
Along the way, we assessed the sharpness of each blade, the comfort of the handle, and the weight and length of the knife itself to ultimately determine if the set was worth its price tag.
What we like about the Cangshan Thomas Keller Signature Collection knife set
Incredibly sharp blades
Both the chef’s knife and paring knife tackled every test we threw at it with ease. Some chef’s knives struggle to get through the skin on tender tomatoes without tearing the edges, but this chef’s knife created paper-thin slices of tomatoes without any effort at all. There were no issues with hard cheese or chopping onions, and it sliced through delicate basil without the bruising you’ll find with dull blades.
The paring knife was similarly impressive, peeling the apple as easily as a vegetable peeler. We were able to remove the orange peels with precision, and the segments were so beautiful we’d expect to find them on a fancy restaurant salad.
The steel is high quality
There are two major categories of cooking knives: hard, durable German stainless steel (like Wüsthof and Zwilling J.A. Henckels) and ultra-sharp but brittle Japanese steel (like Shun and Global). We love that Cangshan has merged the two categories. These knives are made with Swedish Damasteel RWL34 powdered steel—a fine-grained, high-allow steel known for its strength and hardness. Then, they’re sharpened to a 16-degree Asian-style cutting edge to give them the best of both worlds: a sharp, durable blade that should last a long time with proper care.
We were pleasantly surprised at how comfortable these knives were, given their weight. The paring knife weighed a comfortable 2 ounces, but the chef’s knife weighed a little over 8 ounces—heavy when compared to my 5-ounce Japanese-style chef knife. That said, it didn’t feel that heavy as we used it. The polymer handle was contoured for a comfortable, ergonomic grip, and the knife’s balance was spot on to distribute the weight evenly. These knives felt like an extension of our arm and using them felt completely natural
These knives are certainly a showpiece. A lot of detail went into the design, from the tapered look around the bolster to the contoured handle design. The handle’s single rivet and stainless-steel end cap really stand out, giving the knife an overall sleek look. They won’t just provide great performance, but they’ll also look great on the counter.
What we don’t like about the Cangshan Thomas Keller Signature Collection knife set
The price is steep
The $300 price tag on this knife set is a bit of a punch in the gut. It’s sold as a three-piece set, but one of those pieces is the storage block. When we consider that a top-notch chef’s knife will run you $150, and a paring knife another $50, we can’t exactly justify paying an extra $100 for a walnut block. Of course, it doesn’t make sense to buy the knives separately, either. Together, they still cost $300, so you won’t save any money if you don’t need the block.
The storage block is tricky to use
The walnut storage block is beautiful, and we like that it takes up less space than a traditional knife block. That said, it’s also hard to use. There’s a gap between the knife slot and the area where the blade’s tip rests, allowing allows you to see the blade in storage (which looks pretty cool). Sadly, this design requires some precision when storing the knife. It’s easy for the blade to go in at an angle, missing the bottom notch. If you’re not careful, this miss could potentially damage the knife tips over time.
Cangshan knives come with a limited lifetime warranty that ensures the knives are free from defects in workmanship and materials under normal use and conditions. The warranty is void if the knives are used for anything other than cutting food, and damage (such as bent tips, chipped blades, or melted handles) isn’t covered if it’s a result of neglect, accident, or use on unauthorized surfaces like glass, granite, or stainless steel.
It’s important to note that the warranty is only valid if the knives are purchased from authorized dealers. Cangshan recommends contacting firstname.lastname@example.org before your purchase to ensure the seller is authorized to offer the warranty.
Is this Cangshan Thomas Keller Signature Collection knife set worth it?
We were super impressed with this knife set’s performance, and we had no complaints when it came to the design or ease of use of either knife. That said, we certainly dislike the $300 price tag for a set that only includes two knives.
We loved using these knives and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them if budget isn’t an object. If you’re looking to treat yourself or gift something incredible to the foodie in your life, the Cangshan Thomas Keller Signature Collection knife set is a fantastic option. Price being what it is, this set might not be the best choice for new cooks or anyone who doesn’t cook a lot. There are several affordable knife sets under $200 that contain high-quality knives and provide a lot more value for the money.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.