How To Choose The Best Knife For Your Kitchen

Sharp advice on how to select the best kitchen knife

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Nothing is more important to a chef than his or her knives.

And thanks to a dad who worked in sheet metal manufacturing, chef Tim Kolanko grew up with an appreciation for steel craftsmanship years before he went on to culinary school or trained under renowned chefs like Stuart Brioza and Charles Dale.

Now the executive chef at Stake Chophouse & Bar in San Diego, Kolanko lets guests begin their meal by selecting a steak knife from makers including F. Dick, Shun, Wüsthof and Global, the same brands who craft his chef knives. We asked him for tips for home cooks looking to invest in a good knife or two, and he gave us some sharp advice.

Length matters. "You have no reason to have a 10-inch chef knife when you're working on a small cutting board. I think a seven to eight-inch Santoku-style knife with the hollow ground blade is a great home kitchen knife," Kolanko says. (This Japanese-style knife features a flat edge and a handle in line with the blade, with equal weight distributed throughout.)

Budget accordingly. "When budgeting for your first 'good knife,' it's safe to set aside anywhere from $50 to $100," Kolanko says. Sets, like the Wüsthof classic set, often offer a good value, too.

Pick your provenance. "When it comes to picking a favorite, I've gone back and forth between German and Japanese knives. Western-style Japanese models came into vogue because they had a finer edge. German knives soon followed suit, and many companies started producing knives with that same edge. Today, it's less about style and more about the steel and the feel of the individual knife in your hand," Kolanko says.

Play favorites. "My favorite German knife brand is Wüsthof, while my favorite Japanese brand would have to be Hattori. Forschner knives provide the best bang for your buck," Kolanko says. "Good steel, basic design, no-frills solid knife."

Ask the right questions. "The first thing to ask when shopping for a quality knife is whether it's a forged or stamped blade," Kolanko says. "Generally, forged blades have a reputation for being better quality, since forging makes the steel stronger. If you can afford to spend a little extra, opt for forged. However, if you're trying to stick to a more affordable price point, J.A. Henckels and Wüsthof offer lines of stamped knives as well."

Get the essentials. "Every kitchen should have a paring knife, boning and/or utility knife, and a chef's knife," Kolanko says. "I usually buy more affordable serrated knives for bread, and a serrated paring knife is a handy, cheap knife to have around. I love having a really nice slicer [a long, thin, straight-edged slicing knife]—regardless of style; it's a special-occasion knife that's nice to have when you're presenting a beautiful roast."