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Cutlery guide to kitchen knives: A Buyer's Guide

A young cook's training begins with a good knife. It is her first and most important piece of equipment for as long as she cooks. She is trained to keep it sharp, keep it clean and keep it protected, so she can count on it to perform well. We like to think of cooking as an art, and it can be that, after some time. But first, it begins as a trade and the knife is your primary tool. Lots of people will go through life never experiencing the effortless and precise feel of a great chef's knife. But for those of us who are lifelong cooks, great knives are just a matter of time and once you've used one, there is no going back. Your culinary knives, particularly your essential pieces, should be an investment in your love of food and cooking. Quality knives will reward you with safe, enjoyable performance every day and inspiration over a lifetime. And all the while your skills will grow using the right tools for the right jobs.

Use this resource to help you find your next great knife. Remember that quality knives are available across many price points, and research is a necessary step, but the best way to decide if a knife is right for you is to hold it your hand. If it is right, it will feel right.

It's also important to remember that most high quality knives are not necessarily maintenance free. The proper storage, cleaning, honing and use are critical to ensuring that cutlery will last and remain a pleasure to use. So you have to consider the materials a knife is made with and any specific care it requires. No matter how fabulous a knife may be, if you find it a hassle to maintain, it's probably not worth it.

To make an informed decision about knife purchases, it is important to know the difference between the two methods for constructing knife blades: stamping and forging. The method of manufacture is the single largest factor in the selling price of any knife. Another factor is the quality (and inherent cost) of the materials used for the knife, be it stamped or forged.

Generally, stamped blades are considered to be of lesser quality and lower cost and forged blades of better quality and higher cost. Though stamped knives are machine made and often inferior to forged, there are some great stamped knives out there, appropriate for both professional and home cooks. The best examples boast high quality materials, full tangs, and well designed blades that hold a great edge. They can even be hand polished and honed, but the additional quality will be reflected in the price. Quality, riveted handles will also affect costs.

A forged blade is a more complicated process that requires the skill of a craftsperson, at least in part, to shape and finish the blade. Because forging is a slower and costlier process, it would make little sense to use lower quality materials that would compromise the finished product. Therefore, most forged knives are made from high quality materials. A forged knife is often better performing and easier to use. They are heavier than stamped blades, but because they are made with bolsters and achieve better balance, they do not always feel heavier. Many forged knives are like heirlooms, if you take proper care of them, they will outlast the cook! Also, because the entire blade can be shaped to support the edge, it should hold an edge longer. Not all forged knives are great, but it is fair to say that the best knives are from forged construction.

The takeaway is that knives are one area where price still matters. But the two types of construction can offer flexibility in the price you have to pay for the quality and performance you want. Almost every type of knife is available in versions both forged and stamped. Some of your knives are better off being the best quality, and some will see much less use. It's all about how you cook. Most professionals rely more heavily on forged blades but will likely also own several pieces of quality stamped.

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