The 14 Best Flatware Sets for Dining at Home
A contractor friend once said that light fixtures and hardware are the kitchen's jewelry. I apply that same sentiment to flatware, as it is indeed the jewelry of the table. Surveying a range of avid hosts, designers, decorators, architects, restaurateurs, and chefs, I asked what their everyday flatware looked like and how they use it and care for it. I also peered into my own diverse and extensive (okay, cluttered) utensil drawer to weigh what I loved about each piece. While many of these experts discuss silver and silver-plated flatware, the sets in use in their homes and restaurants are heirlooms or sourced from antique stores. The vintage-loving experts recommend sets that look traditional, but as many modern sets in the market are made with stainless steel, they are far more durable and easier to maintain. Read on for all of our top picks for the best flatware.
Our Top Picks
Jean Dubost Laguiole
Hay's Sunday Set
Blue Pheasant Micah Flatware
Liberty Tabletop's Sheffield Collection
Oneida Golden Mandolina
Zara Home Golden Flatware
Cambridge Silversmiths Dare
Lenox French Perle
Mepra Due Flatware Set in Rainbow
Everyone's "everyday" flatware is vastly different from person to person. As much as personal style factors into our choices, material, and care became the utmost important factors in deciding what flatware suits our lives. Busy? Running a restaurant or hosting pop-up dinners open to the public? You'll need something stainless steel and sturdy like CB2's set. Hosting hundreds of dinner parties? You'll also need something stainless steel and sturdy but may want to opt for flatware imbued with history and with a story you can either tell your guests or use to accent your magnificent home cooking, like Kristina Brodie's favorite Jean Dubost Laguiole set.
Factors to Consider
Sometimes butter knives just don't cut it! Don't be afraid to mix and match, especially when it comes to integrating a specialty steak knife in with your flatware set. In Nicole Paloux's austere, Scandinavian-accented house, she combines two sets: "Vintage Ekco Eterna Muffin Canoe that I slowly collected a complete set of on eBay, and a mix of colored Bon Appetit Single Steak Knives from Opinel (my husband is French so throwing some Opinel into the mix is obligatory)."
Storage and Quantity
I have called upon TaskRabbits twice to fix my over-loaded utensil drawer, as I have a terrible habit of overloading it to the point of running it off its rails. With great heft in flatware comes even more storage woes if you're dealing with limited space, so ask yourself, how many pieces do I truly need? Do I host enough to require all these salad forks? Rucker's rule of thumb is to have enough pieces in his restaurant for two turns – that's restaurant-speak for filling the restaurant twice in a night. Translated to the home kitchen, I would have enough flatware to host a dinner party twice in one night, while only running the dishwasher once.
Material and Care
Most modern flatware is going to be made of stainless steel (typically 18/10 or 18/0, illustrating the percentage of chromium and nickel) though several on this list are mixed media, comprised of stainless-steel heads and wooden handles. The mixed media sets tend to be a little more on the delicate side and better for home use than restaurant use. I pine for a full set of Langiole olivewood flatware, but I'm fine with just pining – I rarely handwash anything besides the chopsticks that slip through the gaps of my dishwasher baskets, and having flatware that is handwashing-recommended in terms of care is impractical for my lifestyle. If you're going the stainless-steel flatware route, any dishwashing residue can be quickly rubbed away with a microfiber cloth. Silver and silver-plated flatware will require a bit more elbow grease or soaking with baking soda to shine. Choose a material that suits your lifestyle and cleaning habits.
Pro Panel Q+A
Q: How can you tell if flatware is good or heirloom quality?
A: Sterling silver pieces are always stamped with "925." But how else can you tell if it's a good piece? Well, you can ask the person you're buying it from. "The dinner sets at Elwood are all unique antiques we have found over the years when we put the restaurant together and were collected from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Washington DC," says Ko. You can always talk to the owners of the stores to see how pieces came to them. "People nowadays don't have any use for a formal 12-piece set, so when grandparents passed, they tended to be sold to the local antique stores. There are some real gems, and many, many spectacular one-offs."
Regarding restaurant-quality stainless steel flatware, there are generally two chrome/nickel percentages. "Chrome and nickel were introduced to restaurant and commercial stainless steel, to prolong it, so it doesn't need to be cleaned up constantly," says Rucker. "Stainless steel flatware generally comes in 18/10 and 18/0 variations. The amount of chrome and nickel render stainless steel easy to clean and almost smudge-free, which is important in a restaurant – nickel's presence makes it even easier to clean." The numbers refer to the amount of chromium and nickel content present in stainless steel. 18/10 stainless steel contains 18% chromium and 10% nickel content. 18/0 stainless steel contains 18% chromium and 0% nickel matter. If you're purchasing restaurant-quality flatware and want to avoid the task of polishing, look for 18/10 stainless steel.
Q: How many flatware settings should you have?
A: Rucker has about 75 sets of flatware at River Twice. "We made sure we had enough for one and a half turns and when adding outdoor seating during the pandemic, we have had to buy and add to our flatware collection," he says. "Ideally, we'd have enough flatware for two full turns, so with a 20-seat restaurant, that would be 40 sets."
Q: How do you clean flatware?
A: The answer to this question depends on the material of your flatware – is it stainless steel, silver-plated, or sterling silverware, which needs to be at least 92.5% silver? At River Twice, Rucker's team "presoaks the [stainless steel] cutlery throughout service, before washing. Then we run them through the dishwasher twice and polish them just with a microfiber towel. As for silverware, which I think is neat – my mom has a bunch – that are more heirloom items, you polish differently. In a restaurant setting, I can't imagine having to polish silverware every single day using chemicals." That is, chemicals such as the often recommended Wright's Silver Cream, which can be used on silverplate, flatware, sterling jewelry, antique silver, and anything containing real silver mentioned in this article. At about $7 per jar, it is accessible for home use but can be prohibitively expensive for a restaurant.
At home, I have an enormous collection of vintage silverware sourced from thrift shops and swap meets around the world. I run them through the dishwasher, and if I notice they're tarnished to the point of bothering me, I'll give them the same treatment as my silver jewelry, polishing them with Colgate toothpaste (you don't want to use a gel toothpaste) and a soft-bristled toothbrush. This method is debatable – there are many silverware aficionados out there who would bristle at this, and you're certainly encouraged to try other DIY methods, such as soaking with baking soda and hot water in an aluminum foil-wrapped pan.
Kiki Aranita is a chef, food writer, and recipe developer. She likes to brag about being able to cook absolutely anything with a pair of chopsticks, whether it be frying omelets or baking a cake, but she has a hopeless addiction to collecting antique silverware (especially teaspoons and salad forks). She has tested products for major publications like USA Today in addition to Food and Wine. She talked to designers, chefs, restaurateurs, and cutlery experts for this piece.