Laminated or forged high-carbon stainless steel blades hold sharp and durable edges.
Full tang construction ensures strength, rigidity, and balance.
Molded rubber and impregnated wood handles are durable, sanitary, and easy to grip.
Choose a set that matches your needs. There is no point in buying knives that will not be used.
Upright knife blocks take up less space and fit better into small kitchens.
As useful and multi-functional as many knives are, there is no single knife that can efficiently handle all the demands of food preparation. Professional chefs will often employ a variety of different knives over the course of a day, some for singular and specific tasks. Although the average person will rarely need the vast array of tools that professionals have at their disposal, they will ultimately find cooking easier and more enjoyable if they have at least a few knives to choose from.
In our opinion, the best way to acquire good knives is by purchasing a block set. Block sets package a number of different knives together with a knife block for attractive display and safe, convenient storage, often at a price significantly lower than the total value of the individual knives. Most include a basic array of all purpose knives, but many offer a selection of specialized knives and tools as well. The only problem with block sets is choosing the one that best meets your cooking needs.
The most important quality any knife will possess is its sharpness. A knife that dulls quickly is a knife that goes unused. We do not see any point in investing even a small amount of money in a set of knives if you're only going to end up using one or two while the others collect dust. A block set is cutlery's equivalent of a bulk rate and we recommend making the best of a bargain by purchasing the best set of knives you can afford.
Some of the best knives are forged from single pieces of high-carbon stainless steel. Forged knives are very sharp, will hold an edge for a long time, and will not rust, pit, or react with acidic foods. Laminated blades are composed of a piece of high-carbon steel sandwiched between two layers of softer stainless steels and are often sharper, though more brittle, than forged knives. Avoid stamped steel blades at all costs, as they are flimsy and will quickly grow dull.
The first thing to look for in a handle is a full tang. The tang is the part of the blade that serves as the core of the handle. A full tang can often be seen running down the center of the handle all the way to the hilt, though they are sometimes fully encased in molded rubber or altogether replaced with precisely weighted stainless steel handles. Full tang knives are strong, durable, and well balanced. Avoid partial tang knives entirely as they are top heavy will crack or break in time.
In our opinion, the best handles are made from molded rubbers and woods impregnated with hard resins (such as Pakkawood and Staminawood) as they are durable, sanitary, and provide excellent grip. Plastic and stainless steel handles are also acceptable, but many chefs find them slippery, especially when wet. Some manufacturers like Global compensate for this with uniquely shaped and textured handles. Traditional rosewood handles are still considered ideal in some circles, but they require careful attention and regular maintenance otherwise they will warp and crack.
There are three essential knives that should be included with every block set. With them, you can accomplish just about everything on the cutting board:
Chef's Knife — your primary all-purpose kitchen tool, this is the most important and most valuable knife in a set. We recommend purchasing a set that includes a chef's knife you intend to use.
Utility Knife — your medium sized all-purpose knife, this is perfect for small jobs or for secondary tasks when you've got a lot going on in the kitchen. Smaller 15 cm chef's knives and santoku knives make excellent utility knives.
Paring Knife — your small knife, this is essential for delicate tasks. Use it for peeling, coring, trimming and garnishing. You will quickly learn to appreciate the value of a good paring knife.
A number of other more specialized knives make welcome additions to any block set. Some, however, will rarely if ever be necessary in the everyday home kitchen. Whereas large matching sets may look nice on display, we believe it more sensible to invest in a basic set of high quality knives and fill in the gaps later with more reasonably priced knives. These are the ones we find particularly useful:
Bread Knife — if we could pick a fourth essential knife to own, the bread knife would be our shoe-in. Cutting bread is next to impossible without one and they double perfectly as pastry and tomato knives.
Carving Knife — for anyone who entertains or plates food before serving, the addition of a good quality carving knife to any set is a bonus.
Kitchen Shears — we really like having a pair of kitchen shears standing by on our counter top. They may not always see much use in terms of butchery, but there's nothing better than knowing exactly where the scissors are when you're in the kitchen.
Sharpening Steel — honing a hard blade on a soft steel will chew up and ruin a knife. By purchasing a steel from the same company that manufactured your knives, you will ensure that this will never happen.
The Knife Block
Although knife blocks make attractive displays, they do take up room on your counter top. If you have a small kitchen and you want to keep your knives in the open, we recommend either purchasing an upright knife block with a small footprint or throwing the block away entirely and investing in a wall-mounted magnetic knife holder.
If you do not intend to use your knife block, you must keep in mind that good knives can not be dumped in a drawer unprotected. There are a number of sheaths and edge guards on the market that will provide suitable protection without straining your wallet, and we recommend them highly.