Being a Linux geek, I often find myself obsessing about the right tool for the job, and this extends to the kitchen. Knives are one of those critical components, a dull or bad knife makes cooking just annoying.
My recommendation would be to get quality (say, $35 to $75 in 2011) knives with a regular (non-serrated) edge. You will also need a sharpener, I recommend a ceramic 12 to 14 inch rod sharpener, which requires some skill, or one of those ones that you draw a knife through (manual, not electric).
The primary benefit of the non-serrated steel knives is that you can spend 10 seconds sharpening them every time you use them (a couple of swipes on the rod, a couple of pulls through the block-type), and you’ll have a great edge every time you use it.
Serrated and ceramic knives are good for longer without sharpening, but eventually they do need sharpening.
For a regular steel, non-serrated knife, sharpening is going to be a part of your life with the knives. Every time you use it, that’s my recommendation.
I tend to prefer the ceramic rod-type, though I’ve also used the ones that have slots you put the knife in and then draw the knife through and they work just fine. The rods are cooler. :-) I was told by a knife shop once that their steel rods would maintain an edge but not put one on, and the ceramic would put an edge on. I ended up getting the ceramic one, even though I had a very good sharpening kit, and I’ve been very happy with the results.
The primary thing is to use it every time you use the knife. If you do, the edge will be great when you are using it.
I used to use a really serious sharpening kit put an amazing edge on the knives, but it would take 20 minutes per knife and I’d only do it every 6 to 12 months — usually on the longer side. So, for a month or so the knife was great, but then for 5 to 10 it was not. Now, I always have a good edge, not quite so good as right after I sharpened it before, but better than the 5 to 10 months…
Unfortunately, the ceramic “steels” (rod-type sharpeners) are much thicker than the metal ones, so the knife block I have, which has a hole for a steel, is too small. But seriously, keep the steel right by your knives and use it.
These things are amazing, for around the first year. But, they really aren’t meant to be sharpened at home. You need to send them back to the manufacturer to have them sharpened. Plus, they’re brittle — I broke the tip off our really good one within a month of buying it. They’re also very expensive.
They’re probably a good choice if you’re going to have the discipline to actually send them in and do without them, every year for sharpening. And you treat your knives very well (hand washing, and you’re very careful). However, I’d recommend a serrated knife over a ceramic, for similar length of wear but much cheaper.
These are great when they’re new, and tend to be much better for much longer than a non-serrated edge. But, you just can’t really sharpen them at home.
Unless, they have very “gentle” serrations. We have a bread knife that I just love which has maybe 4 serrations per inch, and I basically just draw it slowly over my “steel” and it sharpens up nicely. For most uses though, you probably want much more aggressive serrations, and those are going to be hard to sharpen yourself. So you’d probably want something that you can send back to the manufacturer to get re-sharpened.
However, I will say that I prefer serrated steak knives. I usually pull a steak knife when I’m ready to use it and don’t want to go sharpening it then. So, I prefer the $5 stamped steel serrated steak knives to the $50 forged ones, though admittedly I haven’t tried a set of $50 ones for fairly obvious reasons. :-)
Super Expensive Knives
I’ve been fairly happy with middle-of-the-road knives. It’s pretty easy to spend $100 or more per knife, but I’ve been quite happy with knives closer to $50. I’ll admit that I haven’t spent much time with the high end forged knives, but I really have been quite happy with the more mid-range knives.
A Word on Handles
I prefer the solid plastic molded handles over the riveted wooden ones. Definitely, get one with the blade running through the handle, if you are going with rivets. A comfortable shape is good, but also consider the texture. My favorite knife has a slicker handle than I’d like, and it works well for small cutting jobs but when I’m preparing for a big meal like Thanksgiving with friends, I find that I really wish I was using the pairing knife that has a diamond-textured handle.