What the best kitchen knife has

  • A sharp edge. A sharp knife is a safe knife, experts say, less prone to slipping and accidents. It also requires less time and effort to use. Look for a knife that's very sharp right out of the box and holds its edge well over time. You should be able to sharpen it when it does dull, either at home with a knife sharpener, or by sending it to a professional.
  • Solid construction. There are two types of blades, forged steel and stamped. Forged steel is heated and shaped from one piece of metal. Stamped knives are "stamped" from one larger piece of metal. Most agree that there is no difference in long-term quality, but some prefer the lighter feel of stamped steel, while others like the heft of forged steel.
  • A comfortable handle. Experts say that, counterintuitively, "ergonomic" handles may not be the most comfortable because they don't fit as large a range of hand sizes. Look for a grippy plastic or textured steel handle that doesn't have too many bells and whistles. It should fit your hand well without slipping or twisting, especially when you're working with ingredients that may make your hand greasy.
  • Good balance. The best knives balance evenly in your hands, they do not seem to lean either toward the blade or the handle. This makes it easier to control the knife with a minimum of effort.
  • A long warranty. Most of our recommended knives come with a lifetime warranty.

Know before you go

How long and how often will you use the knife? Professional chefs and home cooks who tend to have long food prep sessions (such as home canners) say they prefer lighter, stamped or ceramic knives because they don't get as fatigued. Those who do heavier jobs or use one knife -- for example a chef's knife -- for a wide range of tasks prefer the heftier feel of a forged knife. If you don't use your knives very often, a decent set of stamped steel knives will start sharp and stay sharp at a very reasonable cost.

Do you mind hand washing? Putting your knife in the dishwasher is a no-no, professionals say --- even if the knife bills itself as dishwasher safe. The heat and harsh chemicals can change the composition of the metal, shortening its life, and the banging around in the flatware basket may cause dings. However, many people buy highly rated, less expensive knives, toss them in the dishwasher for convenience sake, and then just buy new ones when they dull.

Can you keep up with maintenance? In addition to hand washing, a high-quality knife will also need regular honing with a sharpening steel to maintain its edge. It will occasionally need to be sharpened as well, either with a home knife sharpener or by sending it to a professional. Some manufacturers provide lifetime sharpening services for a small fee -- although some customers say your knives will be gone for several weeks.

Where will you store them? Once you get a good set of knives, you don't want to just toss them loose in a drawer, say experts. It's not safe, because you're sticking your hands in there. It's also not good for knives to be knocking against each other or other flatware. There are plenty of storage options -- wooden blocks, stands, drawer organizer and wall strips, to name just a few. Each have their pros and cons. You need to be sure your storage solution will fit whatever knives you may have as well as your available space.

Buying tactics and strategies

Many experts and professionals agree: you only need three knives. They are an 8-inch chef's knife, a 3-1/2-inch paring knife, and a 10-inch bread knife. Buy the absolute best model of each of these that you can afford, they say, and you'll be set with knives for life.

However, plenty of people like knife sets. They like matching knives, they like a greater variety and they like having a dedicated storage unit. It tends to be less expensive to buy a knife set than each individual knife, but it's only worth it if you think you'll use all of them. Also, our advice on individual knives still apply, buy the best you can afford and they should last for years.

You can buy some very high quality knives fairly cheaply -- Victorinox is a great example of this. Many experienced cooks and professional chefs recommend buying these and not worrying too much about care and maintenance -- when they get dull, just toss them and buy new.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Reviewed Kitchen Knives: The six best kitchen knives, as identified by professional tests, expert and owner reviews, and our own analysis.

Best Chef's Knife: Your chef's knife will be your kitchen workhorse, so be sure to get the best. We review steel and ceramic chef's knives as well as santoku chef's knives.

Best Paring Knife: A sharp, well-balanced paring knife is a must for intricate kitchen tasks. These knives will do the jobs that a chef's knife are too big to handle.

Best Serrated Bread Knife: If you're a lover of artisan bread, you'll need a great 10-inch serrated knife; we also discuss shorter, more versatile serrated knives.

Best Knife Set: Knife sets are very convenient and a good value for those who like to own a wide variety of knives. They also come with their own storage. We also take a look at the top steak knife sets.

Our Sources: Links to the expert and user reviews we use to select the top kitchen knives, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.

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