Buying flatware 101: what to look for when purchasing long lasting, well designed utensils and what to avoid... and what those numbers in the description section actually mean.
We reached the point where it was time to retire our flatware from our college apartment and invest in adult flatware. We were looking for modern but simple, well designed, and most importantly long lasting, sturdy utensils. Utensils that won't rust or be ruined by the dishwasher. Ones that didn't require hand washing. Ones that felt great in your hands and looked good on the table. We were looking for flatware that was investment worthy that didn't cost hundreds of dollars per setting. And we learned these 8 major tips along the way. Scroll to the bottom of the post to see the flatware we purchased.
It's also worth noting, if you are SO overwhelmed by even figuring out what you like and don't like about flatware or what your style is, ask your friends and family what they use. Or, start with this Wirecutter article breaks down style by style the best flatware of what's available now and why they picked it.
8 things to think about when buying flatware
1. Everyday flatware needs to fit your real life
You are going to want to slap yourself if you optimistically purchase flatware that needs to be hand washed for day to day use. Everyday utensils will take a beating. Be real with yourself. If you are truly willing to hand wash every fork, by all means have at it. I however, have done that before and am not doing it again. It's also worth mentioning here that you should avoid lemon based dishwasher detergents which can harm your flatware. Now you know.
2. Classic is better for a reason
Look, we get it more than most people... there are some really cool looking modern sets out there. But utensils need to be functional and there some MOMA or modern patterns that look cool but are completely not functional or ergonomic. Frankly, they're weird to eat with. Classic patterns are flexible stylistically. If you decide all of a sudden you are a farmhouse QUEEN this year and then a loft-dwelling minimalist six months into that rustic dream, it's going to be fine. Classic flatware lets you use more unique dish ware or centerpieces or whatever your little heart desires. And usually, the patterns are classic because the ergonomics are good too. Embrace it.
Also worth noting, I know you really might be tempted by the brass or copper or black flatware at places like Target. They're fun and I have one or two sets I have that I use for work food photo styling. But I will never use them day to day. They don't hold up: they get water spots, rust and need hand washing. Treat them like theme or special occasion flatware, not your everyday.
3. purchase a set for a test run
You can edit out stamped logos and places of origin on photos online. That's just step one here. If there's a MADE IN CHINA stamp right where you look all the time it's going to drive you crazy. Seeing the flatware in person lets you truly see where the logos are. Part two is to feel the weight and balance. Good flatware should feel heavy but relatively even. One end of the fork shouldn't feel completely heavy and tip over every time you set it in a dish. Maybe most importantly: how does it feel in your bowls and yes, in your mouth. Are the utensils so short they fall into the bowl? Chris's mom had square bowls he still hates to this day for that reason. Does the curvature of the bowl match the flatware? For example if there's sauce in curve of the bowl, can the spoon get it? When you insert said spoon into your mouth is there a freaking weird bump that drives you crazy? Purchase a setting and live with it for a month. It will cost you way less than realizing you hate the set of 8 you bought in two weeks.
4. 18/10 is better than 18/8.
This is the section where I personally learned the most. When you're looking at product descriptions, you're likely to see a combination of numbers like this. They're actually important but usually buried in the description text. 18 is the chromium amount in the flatware. 10 is the nickel amount. You WANT 18/10. 18/8 is good too. Skip 18/0. 18/0 means your set isn't going to hold up long term.
5. The classic set you love may have changed metal quality
If you love your parents' flatware...be cautious. The brand may still make that set, but double check to see the quality of metal hasn't changed. We found many people recommended a certain brand and style, but upon further research, the brand changed the metal quality a few years later to cut corners, making the recommendations void. Refer back to part 4. This is likely what's going on if you see over time reviews change from 5 star raving love notes to 1 star comments like "GARBAGE UTENSILS- EATING WITH MY HANDS FROM NOW ON".
6. Find a set that will be in production for a long time
Find a flatware set that will likely be around for a while, not one that's trend driven (eg Target). Trend driven pieces will be out of stock and not be brought back after only a few months. Ordering a classic pattern from a retailer means you can order more place settings, replacements and serving pieces that match your investment years down the line.
7. The entire set won't be perfect: order separate steak knives
If reviews on a set say 'the knives suck' accept it. Know you are going to likely have to order separate serrated steak knives for a place setting. I'm not a fool who is going to believe the place setting knife can cut through steak. Also worth noting: don't spend a ton on serrated steak knives: they can't be resharpened.
8. Don't rush the purchase:
Listen, if you're going to bother researching how to buy the best flatware you're probably the person that wants to be sure it's worth it. Don't get impatient. Get something you really enjoy seeing and using in your house. I refer you to one of our favorite quotes from William Morris: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
What we bought:
We were looking for a brushed finished (not mirror finish for photography reasons), dishwasher safe, simple clean line set of utensils that weren't enormous. We haven't had enough months with this set for me to give it a full stamp of approval but so far we like it. We went with the 'Tower' flatware from CB2 which met our aesthetic and quality requirements, but also because we had a gift card for that retailer. As you'll see on the CB2/Crate and Barrel website, there are a TON of designs available so the gift card just happened to work out.
Future $$$ Purchase:
A possible future investment Chris would be into is a set of flatware from designer David Mellor who originally trained as a silversmith and was the youngest Royal Designer for Industry. And as you'll see, investment is the correct term here.
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