Many people ask me about what knives I own, and what knives they should own.
I suppose it is time I address this for my readers.
The basic knives a home cook would need in my personal and professional opinion are a chefs knife, a serrated bread knife, a meat slicing knife (AKA carving knife) and a quality pair of kitchen shears.
Now, how much you want to spend on them and what you prefer is another friggin' story! Follow me.
My wife Erica is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, and I will use her as an example, because she is a tiny little thang with small hands and I am a large fur-tufted beast with hands the size of catchers mitts. Erica is most comfortable with a 6" or 8" chefs knife. Her personal set includes Lamson Sharp knives with a full tang and bolster (meaning the blade runs from the point right through the handle and is one piece with the bolster, a thicker part of the heel)...essentially a classic European knife.
I myself am of the same preference, however I go for Wusthoff Classics, a German brand that are heavier and I stay around the 8" to 10" range for my chefs knife. I was gifted my first Wusthoff knife when I was 16 and I still use it at home, I officially retired it from work use in 2009. They last a long time.
Size Matters. End of story. and that's going for chefs knives as well.
Maneuverability is what you are looking for. If you find it hard to negotiate your way around an onion it might be the size of your knife.
Weight is another factor. Most knives that are full tang and bolstered are on the heavier side. If you like a heavy knife and you want a similar knife to the ones my wife and I use, make sure they are a high carbon stainless steel ( or a derivative of) and that they have 3 rivets in the handle ( makes for a stronger and more balanced knife). Now here's the catch, Lamson Sharps will run you about $65 to $80 for an 8" chefs knife and Wusthoffs will run you about $95 to $120 for an 8" chefs knife. YIKES!
These knives are an investment.
"But Paul, you expect me to buy this and the carving knife, the serrated knife and the shears too?"
I'm not expecting you to do shit! I'm just giving you advice, and don't take that tone with me...I will kick you. Now listen up.
I have a large tool kit at work. In it is an exorbitant amount of kitchen gadgets (another blog all together) and knives. I have my Wusthoffs and I have my knock arounds...
"Well can I hear about the knock arounds?"
You will wait your turn! Let me finish!
My knock around knives are anywhere from $15-$40. They range in companies from Winco, to Dexter Rusell, Mercer, Kuhn Rikon, and Forschner.
Forschners are my favorites and I use them quite often. They are a great knife for a low to middle range price, their nicest line being their rosewood collection, these have a partial full tang with no bolster, and the blade is not as huge and thick as a European monster like the Wusthoff. It stays sharp and lasts forever. I bought my Forschner rosewood 8" chefs knife in the summer of 2004 and it is still in use today. As for your carving knife, your serrated knife and your shears, I would go with either Dexters or Forschners as they are cheaper, and you will use them less. As for size, they are pretty standard and any ol' size would do. Below is a $30 slicing knife from Forschner and a $15 bread knife from Dexter.
"Should I get one of those cheap knife sets from Target and call it a day"
Sure, so long as you have no expectations for yourself in the kitchen.
Knife sets do not have to match, look pretty or come in their own cool storage unit. They need to cut straight, keep a good, sharp blade, and not rust. Build your own knife set, one that you are comfortable with and keep them clean. It would be wise to purchase a good knife sharpening device like this one : http://noplastic.ca/accusharp.shtml it is cheap and they work, try using sparingly as it removes a good amount of metal. Also a honing steel such as this one: http://www.surlatable.com/gs/victorinox-swiss-army-sharpening-steel-13.shtml
Well there you have it...any questions please post them or send it to my new Yahoo mail account : firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading!