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RH Forschner Chefs Knife
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How to Buy Kitchen Knives

By Tanja KernSHOP.COM For the Home Editor

If you spend any time in the kitchen, a good knife is one of the best investments you can make. Quality knives make food preparation more effortless, are easier on your wrists and will help keep your fingers cut-free. Invest in quality over quantity. Although many people request a big knife set in their wedding registries, top chefs say the home cooks really only need two or three good quality knives-unless you're cooking for a big brood and have a dozen chefs in your kitchen. Read on to find out which knives are a cut above the rest.

The Basics

Step 1Blade: Blades come in a myriad of materials, including stainless steel, carbon steel, high-carbon steel and ceramic. Strong blades are made of high-carbon stainless steel or high-carbon steel. Ceramic blades, which are somewhat new on the market, are light and super sharp, but can't be sharpened at home once they dull.
Step 2Handle: Handles can be made of steel, wood, rubber or plastic. The choice is usually personal preference and not related to price. Wood is a warm option, but check to make sure the handles are properly sealed and securely connected to the blade. Take care of them so that they do not harbor bacteria. Synthetic handles are often lighter and more ergonomic. Chose a knife with a handle that fits securely in your hand, not too large or small.
Step 3Construction: The cheapest knives have stamped blades that are punched out of sheets of steel with knife-blade-shaped dies. High-end knives are hand forged and take many steps to make.
Step 4Types of knives: There are a myriad of knives on the market, so choose the ones that best fit your cooking style. A home chef will get the most use out of a chef knife, paring or utility knife and a serrated knife.
Step 5Care: Wash your knives with soap and water and dry immediately. Never put your knives into the dishwasher because they could rust, depending on the quality, and the shaking could dull the blade. Sharpen using a sharpening steel or sharpenting stone instead of an electric sharpener, which could scratch the sides of the blade.

The Lingo

Stamped: Metal blades that are stamped are pressed out of metal. They are lighter, which is helpful for delicate jobs, but they are also less durable.
Forged: Forged metal blades are molded under a high heat. They are usually stronger and last longer.
Bolster: This is the piece of metal between the handle and the heel of the blade that shields your fingers from cutting edge. It's there for safety and to add balance to the knife. Not all knives have or need bolsters.
Tang: This is the part of the blade that extends into the handle. "Full-tang" knives are made out of one piece of metal that extends all the way back to the handle. These knives are usually the most expensive and the most durable, and a full tang gives weight, balance, and stability to the knife. The best knife manufacturers use full tangs in all sized knives.
Chef's knife: Everyone needs a chef's knife, which come in lengths of 6, 8 or 10 inches. They are an all-around tool that can be used for chopping and mincing. Price range from $20 to $200.
Paring knife: These are little knives, just 2 to 4 inches long, are used for peeling fruits and vegetables and cutting zests.
Serrated knife: A serrated knife is used to slice through food that is hard on the outside and soft on the inside, such as bread or tomatoes.
Boning and fillet knives: These knives have a curve to the blade and may be rigid or flexible. Flexible blades work well for boning poultry, while rigid boning knives work great on larger pieces of beef. Lengths range from 5 to 7 inches.
Carving knife: These have a long thin blade perfect for slicing Thanksgiving turkeys or holiday hams.
Cleaver: There are three types of cleavers that are used for different tasks. Heavyweight cleavers help cut up meat and chop through bone. Lightweight cleavers are used for slicing soft foods, and a medium-weight cleaver will work on both big and small jobs.
Santoku: In Japanese, "santoku" means "three virtues," and a santoku knife are known for their ability to slice, chop and mince. They usually have 5- to 7-inch blades and a well-balanced grip.

The Experts

Bon Appetit said the "6 1/2 inch Superior Santoku by MAC knife has a fine edge that is very sharp and strong. It works well for tasks ranging from chopping tomatoes to slicing fish."
ConsumerSearch.com says "Wüsthof Classic knives beat the competition in nearly every comparative review. These top-quality, high-performance kitchen knives are the default choice of professional chefs and cooking enthusiasts. They have fully forged, high-carbon, bolstered-steel blades that hold a razor edge. Plus, the tang extends the full length of the handle for balance and durability."

The Brands

Wüsthof is a reputable German company known for knives that are durable and heavy. The blades are made of high-carbon stainless steel and sharpen easily.
Shun knives are made of VG-10 super steel, which makes them nonstick.
Henckels, another German brand, makes knives with stainless steel blades that retain their sharp edge for a long time. The handles are ergonomically designed.
Global is a brand of cutlery products made by Yoshikin of Japan. The knives are known for one-piece, molybdenum/vanadium stainless steel design.
Sabatier knives are manufactured by Theirs-Issard, a 150-year-old French company. Made of pure carbon steel, the blades are very sharp, but you have to sharpen these knives more often.
Misono makes a high quality knife in Japan. The blades offer lasting sharpness and the handless are made of water-resistant wood.

The Price

$: Stamped knives, which have blades made of pressed steel, are affordable entry-level options for the beginning chef. Try the Miu France Utility Knife
$$: Mid-priced knives will have forged or stamped blades, have more ergonomic handles and better balance. Try the Global Forged Peeling Knife
$$$: A high quality chef's knife will run you at least $100. They are made of forged steel, have good balance, are ergonomic and remain sharp for a long time. Try the Wusthof Classic Iron Knife