Being a great home cook requires a certain amount of skill sure but having the right tools makes the job that much easier. One of the most important tools every home cook should have is a really good set of kitchen knives. Knives can be purchased separately or in sets but the general rule of thumb is to get the basic pieces and then build a set from there with additional knives that fit your personal style of cooking.
The basic knives to start with are a chefs knife, a paring knife, a utility knife, a bread knife and a carver. These cover most of the jobs in the kitchen that a home cook will have. Buy the best knife you can afford at the time and think of it as an investment. A good set of knives that is well cared for will last not only your lifetime but can also be passed down to future generations as well.
Many people are afraid to get a good set of sharp knives because they think they will cut themselves when using them but it is exactly the opposite that is true. When using a dull knife to cut something, you are using more force and pushing harder which makes it more likely that the blade will slip and cause injury. A good sharp knife is not only safer to use but it also makes the job easier and faster too because it requires less work to achieve the desired results.
Knives can be made from various metals or even ceramics but the best choice for knives today are ones that have high-carbon stainless steel blades. They are easy to repeatedly sharpen at home, resist rust, stains and germs. Blades can be forged (molded and hammered) or stamped (cut from a single sheet of metal). Of the two types, most experts would say that the forged ones are the better choice of the two. They are usually more expensive but are heavier, less flexible which in a knife means it will not bend out of shape easily and also have what is called a bolster or a heel which is a piece that comes down between your hand and the blade. The bolster not only gives your hand a comfortable place to rest and more control when using the knife but it is also an important safety feature that protects the hand from accidental slips. Another feature to look for in a well made knife is a full tang. What this means is that the knife is one solid piece and runs from the tip of the blade all the way through the handle. This will assure that the blade is not just attached or soldered to the handle which over time can cause it to break off.
I have 2 sets of good knives that I collected in my days that I worked for Bed, Bath and Beyond. Of all the knives I have though the one I use the most is my Henckels Pro S Santoku . It is not one of the knives that are most recommended to own but I find that I use this knife for everything from slicing to chopping. It has a 7 inch blade and the balance is perfect in my hand which gives me plenty of control. It is made of high carbon stainless steel that was forged. It has a full tang and a bolster for safety. ASantoku knife had a unique shape almost like a small cleaver. It has a flat top that is rounded towards the tip and has a more squared off blade than a chopping or slicing knife. It has a point but the rounded top down to the tip makes it much easier to use. I have had this knife for almost 10 years now and while it does have a few scraps and scratches in the handle, it still works perfectly.Henckels has been making high quality knives for many years and they really know what they are doing. My next investment is to get anotherSantoku but in a slightly smaller size like a 5 inch and I think I will be using that one just as much as this.
The best way to choose a knife is to pick it up and hold it. Look for one that is well balanced between the handle and the blade, feels good to hold and fits comfortably your hand. The better the balance the knife has the better and easier it will work. Of all the knives in my collection, I think I used the Santoku the most because it does fit the best and gives me the most control. Next, you need to choose the type of handle you want. The most popular choices are molded plastics and wooden ones. Molded plastic ones have an advantage over wooden ones because they are easier to clean, resist germs and won't crack over time. Whichever you prefer, look for handles that are well rounded and bulge out some toward the blade for the most comfortable and secure grip. My Pro S Santoku has a black molded plastic handles that has 3 stainless dots that look like rivets on it. Unfortunately it does not bulge towards the blade but I have never had a slipping problem with it.
Once you have chosen the perfect knives, it is important to protect your investment and properly care for them. Sharpening them often with a steel that is the same quality as your knives will protect them and keep them sharp for many years. Use them only with wooden or plastic cutting boards since hard surfaces like glass, marble or granite will dull and damage the blades. Wipe them off as you are using them and clean them in the sink with soap and water drying them completely before putting them away. Do not put them in the dishwasher even if they say they are dishwasher safe. The chemicals in dishwasher detergent are caustic and could cause spots on your knives and if you have ones with wooden handles it will dry the wood out and damage it. In a dishwasher knives also get knocked around by the high pressure of the water and can get their blades damage plus it's not very safe to reach into a dishwasher where there are really sharp knives. This knife has never been in the dishwasher but I did have another Henckels knife that had been placed in there several times and the black on the plastic handle did begin to gray a bit. Lastly, be sure to store them properly. Invest in a wooden block or a magnetic strip which holds them on the wall. I keep mine in a block on the counter. They make a great decorative accessory in the kitchen and allow you to show your knives off to guests while keeping your knives and your family much safer them putting them in a drawer.