I have a bit of a kitchen knife–buying obsession. It helps that I can justify many of my purchases for work (how else am I going to write comprehensive reviews of chef's knives, bread knives, and paring knives?), but I'm still stuck trying to deal with the consequences of all those purchases: How do I store so many knives?
Even if you don't purchase knives for work, there's a decent chance that you, too, have a collection that's in need of proper storage. There's no one right answer—it depends on your needs, and often it helps to use a few different methods. Here are the knife storage solutions that have worked best for me in a variety of scenarios (along with one that hasn't).
The Best Knife Block: No Knife Block
I know I'm coming out swinging here, which may seem strange because...what has a knife block ever done to me? Nothing, really. They're fine—if you have the counter space and a perfectly matched set of knives to fit the limited number of different-sized slots. But that's not the case for me, and I don't think it's the best solution for most other people, either.
I generally don't recommend investing in a knife set, which forces you to overpay for some knives that don't warrant the expense (like paring knives) and underpay for the knives that do (like chef's knives). Instead, I think it's usually a smarter approach to build a knife collection piecemeal, investing most in a chef's knife or two, possibly splurging on a santoku or a good slicer, and saving money elsewhere on inexpensive paring knives and bread knives. (My absolute favorite bread knife costs less than $20, so why spend more?)
Without a knife set that's matched to the number and size of the slots on a block, the block quickly becomes a problem. Factor in the counter space that the block sucks up—something in short supply in most kitchens anyway—and its would-be virtues soon evaporate. And even if you do own a knife set that fits the block, where do you put any additional knives you pick up? No matter what, you need other options.
Let's look at some better ideas instead.
The Best Quick-Access Knife Storage: A Magnetic Knife Holder
Instead of a knife block, consider installing a magnetic knife strip on your kitchen wall. These come in a range of lengths, so you can buy one that will hold the right number of knives for you, whether it's a short one that'll keep only your most-used knives accessible, or a long one like I have, so you can really load it up. Need more storage space? Simply buy two and either run them end to end, stack them vertically, or, if you have a couple of workspaces in your kitchen, place one near each.
Some people worry that the strips that leave the magnetic rails exposed can ding a knife's blade when you're attaching it to the holder, but I've never noticed a problem. Still, there are good wooden rails in which the magnet is hidden inside, offering a more blade-safe surface; in the Serious Eats test kitchen, we're using magnetic blocks made by Benchcrafted, which you can order from directly. They come in a range of lengths and wood options, but expect them to cost a bit more.
My only warning: Be thoughtful about where you place the magnetic strip. You don't want the knife handles to be dangling where you might bump them, lest you accidentally knock a knife off and have it come tumbling down on your foot. The magnets are pretty strong on knife strips, but not so strong as to guarantee that a blade can't be jostled off.
The Best In-Drawer Knife Holder
The magnetic strips in my home and at the Serious Eats test kitchen are fully loaded, and yet there are a lot more knives kicking around. If you have the drawer space, an in-drawer knife holder can do wonders for storing an odd assortment of knives.
I've used several, and the one I like most is this cork-lined box with cork dividers. The cork protects the blade, and the dividers are thin enough to allow for maximum flexibility in terms of the number, size, and type of knives you pack into it.
The Best Mobile Knife Storage Solution: A Knife Bag
Most professional cooks own a knife bag so they can tote their knives around from one job to another. Years ago, I used a cheap canvas one—it's possible it wasn't even real canvas, just a canvas-like synthetic material. One day, while on the subway home from the restaurant where I was working, I noticed people staring at me. I looked down and saw that blood was dripping from my hand to the floor: One of my knives had sliced its way through the knife bag and into my hand, and I hadn't even noticed. Sharp knife. Cheap bag. Bad combo.
But knife bags are still really useful storage options, even if you're not a professional cook. They're compact, they can hold many knives, and they can be moved around as needed, which means you don't necessarily need to have a dedicated knife drawer as long as you can find somewhere safe to stash your knives. And if you do head out the door, it's easy to bring your knives with you—an especially tempting proposition when you're heading somewhere like an Airbnb, where the supplied knives tend to be god-awful.
Since my subway incident, I've switched to a sturdier bag made by Messermeister, which has firm sides and lots of room for knives and cooking utensils.
Sohla, meanwhile, loves her canvas knife roll, which is made of real, natural canvas that almost definitely won't let a blade slice through so easily. Sohla is also smart and keeps blade protectors on her knife-bag knives, which is never a bad idea.
There are a lot of other options out there, so shop around and find a knife bag that works best for you.
For Individual Knives: Get Some Blade Protectors
Sometimes, even after you've mounted knives on your magnetic strip, packed more into a drawer holder, and rolled up the rest in a knife bag, you still have some extra knives that need a home. Well, I do, anyway. Surely there's someone else out there like me.
At a certain point, you need to give up on proper knife storage and just think safety: How can I toss this knife into a drawer and not cut myself on it later when fishing around for matches? The answer is blade guards. It's smart to put them on knives in a knife bag, as already mentioned, but they're also essential if you're keeping any knives in a place where they're free to bang around—they'll protect the blade edges and you.
For most knives, some basic plastic blade guards are all you need, though do pay attention to size, since you want the blade fully protected, without the sharp tips sticking out.
If you own Japanese knives, I highly recommend paying the extra $20 or so from the vendor to get a saya—a wooden sheath, perfectly sized for the knife, that provides maximum protection. It's like an individual knife block for each knife. With the saya on, you can safely keep a knife in a drawer, and then toss it into a day bag for a picnic without having to tote around a full knife roll. You can find sayas for traditional Japanese knives, like the nakiri pictured here, as well as for Western-style Japanese knives.
At the very least, these tips should help you organize and protect a pretty large knife collection. But if you procure knives at the rate I do, we may need to start discussing warehousing options.