It can be argued that a home cook can get away with just three knives: a chef's knife, a paring knife and a bread slicer.
Knife selection is indeed a personal endeavor. We all have different sized arms, hands and fingers so consider a boutique kitchenware shop, or a dedicated cutlery store, to test drive knives. And whatever knife you buy, be sure to have them professionally sharpened.
That said, here are my choices:
I tend to abuse my paring knives, so I go for durable and inexpensive. Forschner Victorinox is better known for its Swiss Army knives but professional kitchens have been outfitting prep chefs with these knives for decades. Thin, flexible and sharp, the Forschener is super light and quick and is my go to for any random, brief cutting task where pulling out the chef's knife would be overkill. Use it more as a utility item than a cooking implement, snipping butcher's twine, opening bags, shaving down citrus zest or cutting supremês. It holds its edge remarkably well for a $7 knife. Makes a great stocking stuffer.
You need a serrated bread slicer. It's that simple. Thick-crusted artisan loaves will murder the edge of a standard blade, and the sawing efficiency of a bread slicer helps prevent softer loaves from getting crushed because of the increased downward pressure from a regular blade. The Tojiro's nearly 15" length means it can double as a slicer for large roasts when needed and make quick work of a case of ripe tomatoes. Sharpening a serrated edge at home is an excruciating, difficult and largely ineffective process, so have it professionally sharpened. If your time is worth more than the $18 asking price, you could always just replace it as well.
A chef's knife should be the anchor of your kitchen cutlery team. Most of your heavy lifting is done with this blade so you want to be happy with your choice. Here's where you should shell out a little more, even with a starter's knife. What you'll be buying is quality of construction, ease of maintenance and performance. As cool looking as some of those 10" monsters are, most home cooks are best served with the 8" version. The Shun Classic is handmade in Japan, with a nice, stiff blade that holds a keen edge for months at a time with moderate use. The handle slopes elegantly from the bolster (the piece of metal where the handle meets the blade) into the blade, so that grip style remains comfy even for longer cutting sessions.
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