The quality of flatware -- like china or dinnerware -- varies by its composition, the finished edges, and the handle construction. In an everyday setting, flatware takes the place of silverware, which is usually reserved for special occasions or holiday meals.
Since flatware needs to stand up to daily abuse, look to these components to determine its quality:
- Alloy quality
- Knife construction
- Design and pattern availability
Quality flatware includes a series of numbers on its packaging that indicates the percentages of chromium and nickel in stainless steel flatware. These numbers do not refer to the weight of the utensils:
- 18/10 = Flatware with 18 percent chromium and 10 percent nickel
- 18/8 = Flatware that contains 18percent chromium and 8 percent nickel
- 18/0 = Flatware with 18 percent chromium and no nickel
- 13/0 = Flatware with 13 percent chromium
Obviously, flatware marked 18/10 contains the largest amount of chromium and nickel, which makes it the highest quality flatware. For family use, both 18/10 and 18/8 offer superior shine and rust resistant. For sturdy, restaurant-quality flatware, choose 18/0 or 13/0 instead, as these utensils are available in more options.
The construction of the handles of the flatware also help determine to the quality of the utensils. Manufacturers make handles three different ways:
Of the three, the hollow-handle piece usually has the highest quality blade on the knife, for example, since the blade is made separately from the handle and fitted and welded to it. The stamp method is the cheapest method of manufacturing and results in a lower quality utensil. The drop forge method involves pouring the metal for the knife, fork or spoon into a mold; it offers a mid-range utensil with a moderate performance.
Edges, Tines and Handle Finishes
After considering the alloy content and knife consideration, pay attention to the flatware's finish. The attention to detail by the manufacturer is a direct result of its finish.
- Avoid flatware with squared rough edges, as this indicates a lower quality utensil.
- Look at the tines on the fork and feel them for smoothness. If they seem rough and uneven, this indicates low-quality workmanship.
- Also pay attention to handle roundness; the rounder the handle ends, the higher the quality in the flatware.
- Hold individual pieces of flatware, one at a time, in your hand. High-quality flatware is well-balanced and has some heft to it. Lightweight flatware is a lesser quality product.
Design and Pattern Availability
One of the drawbacks of flatware is that many manufacturers make a certain design and pattern for a number of years, and then completely quit making that particular pattern. This makes it hard to replace individual pieces when partners or children don't return the utensils they took to work or school. Higher quality flatware doesn't come in boxed sets; you must buy the individual place settings that are needed. If you buy a boxed set, more than likely, it won't be around in a few years, while flatware that you buy by the number of place settings may be. Price is often a good indicator of quality, but not always, especially during sales.