Flatware Buying Guide

It's been said that receiving your first set of flatware is a rite of passage into adulthood. After all, you can't live off the disposable plastic utensils you used in college forever! Whether you're moving into your first apartment and need a good starter set, or you're ready to upgrade from plain silverware to something nicer, there is a set that's right for you!

Field Guide to Flatware

You've probably seen most of these pieces before, but in case you need a reminder, here are the different pieces you might encounter in your search for flatware. They are presented in roughly the order you would expect to see them on the table. The plate goes between the forks and the knives/spoons. For more information, check out "Using Formal Silver" from ''HGTV'' and "Guide to Table Settings" from ''Better Homes and Gardens''.

The Basic Place Setting

Most flatware sets include four to twelve settings. Very basic sets may only include one knife, one fork and one spoon per setting. Some manufacturers also sell flatware by the place setting instead of or in addition to pre-assembled sets.

Formal Flatware

Most of these are now only sighted rarely, if at all. But like my mother always says, it's good to know in case you're invited to dine at the White House. These pieces are presented roughly in the order in which they would appear on a table from left to right. Keep in mind that you can create your own traditions -- my family uses my mother's cocktail forks to eat the cheese course that we have added to the Thanksgiving feast. Check out "Flatware" from ''BH&G'' for more info.


For all your cutting needs, here's a comprehensive list of knives. 


Rare Species

Nowadays restricted to a limited habitat of antiques shops and homes of collectors.

Serving Utensils

Many flatware sets will come with matching serving utensils, but not all do. Depending on how much entertaining you do or plan to do--you may only need two or three serving pieces, or you may need many of them.

Flatware Factors

* '''Stainless'''
** Stainless steel is designated with a pair of numbers, frequently 18/10 or 18/8.
** The first number is the amount of chromium, the second is the amount of nickel.
** Chromium increases the rust resistance, while nickel increases the luster of the flatware.
* '''Silver'''
** Silver is the old-fashioned, but elegant choice for special occasion flatware.
** Silver needs a little more care than stainless, since it can tarnish over time if not properly cared for.
* '''Dishwasher Safe'''
** Most stainless steel and silver flatware made today is dishwasher safe.
** Look out for finishes or accents, such as gold plate, that can be damaged in the dishwasher.
** '''Never wash stainless steel and silver together. '''The metals will interact and can cause spotting on the silver.
* '''Durable'''
** Solid construction.
** Choose pieces that will be stylish over the years, not just hip for right now.
* '''Warranty'''
** Just in case a knife breaks, a fork bends, or the stainless gets tarnished.
* '''Returnable'''
** If you're not 100% sure that a set is right for you, make sure you can return it to the store.

How Many Pieces Do I Need?

* '''20-24 '''piece sets are ideal for homes of '''one or two. '''Otherwise you won't always have enough for both breakfast and dinner without running the dishwasher.

* '''42-53 '''piece sets will serve '''eight. '''A good choice for everyday use for families of up to '''four'''.

* '''65-89 '''piece sets will accommodate up to '''twelve''' diners and are a good choice for larger families for daily use.

* '''90+''' piece sets generally include settings for '''twelve''' plus other odds and ends.
** The largest sets might include a dozen extra teaspoons and/or salad forks so that you don't have to wash the silver between dinner and dessert when you have a large party.
** Large sets may also include a dozen steak knives.
** They might also include a few serving pieces beyond the basics, like a flat server or a gravy ladle.

* When deciding how big a set you should get, keep in mind how many guests you might entertain at one time. Don't forget to factor in how often you wash (or want to wash) your dishes and the size of your kitchen drawers and your dishwasher.

Major Manufacturers

* Oneida: Decent quality for a decent price. Since it isn't fancy or expensive, it's ideal for a starting out set. You can easily find up to a 53-piece set for less than $100.
* Yamazaki: Higher quality than Oneida, and is slightly more expensive. While the flatware is dishwasher safe, using detergent with lemon in it is likely to cause rust stains. Luckily, Yamazaki offers a lifetime warrantee again defects.
* Pfaltzgraff: Another step up on the flatware scale. A high-quality 25-piece set usually goes for anywhere between $50-$100, but they have lower quality models available at a cheaper rate.
* Lenox: Well-known for being both expensive and high-quality. A 20-piece setting usually sells for anywhere between $130-$300. Ideal for everyday use and stylish enough for special occasions, this just might be the right pick for someone willing to invest in an elegant flatware collection.

Related Guides

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