What to look for
- Generally, it is best to go with knives that are forged rather than stamped or laser cut.
- Higher-end knives are made from a solid piece of steel with no welding to attach the blade to the handle. If you look at the knife from the top you can usually see if the steel runs all the way through the handle, or you can look for this information in the product specifications if you are unsure.
- Quality knives are well balanced, so your knife should not feel like the weight tips too much toward the blade or the handle. Make sure you handle the knife to get an idea of how comfortable it is to use.
- When considering brands, there are many quality options on the market. Good Housekeeping recommends both Wüsthof and J.A. Henckels, which can be a good place to start if you are unfamiliar with quality knives. I swear by Wüsthof myself, but both brands are well respected and manufactured in Solingen, Germany, the "City of Blades." Both brands also produce a budget line of stamped or laser-cut knives that you may want to avoid if you cook frequently. The other advantage of focusing on Wüsthof and J.A. Henckels is that their popularity makes them very easy to find, which is key when you are hunting for a bargain price.
Consider your needs
High-end knife sets come in a range of sizes, and while the larger blocks are impressive, you may not really need all those specialty knives that drive up the price. Each person's must-have list will be different. For instance, I have to have a dedicated bread knife since I love to bake and go crazy if I can’t cut my bread without smashing it, but I can also get by just fine without a fillet knife. If you have a fisherman in the family, your needs may be reversed. I have ten knives in my block, but to be honest, I really only use three or four of them on a regular basis.
Since many people really only need a couple of basic knives, getting an apartment-sized knife block can lower your cost considerably. Macy's carries a Wüsthof block with the three most commonly-needed knives and a set of kitchen scissors that is frequently reduced to $89 from $188. The knives in this set are stamped, so if you want to upgrade to a hand-forged set, Wusthof's Grand Prix II includes the same knives and is also frequently on sale at $129 from $292. Considering that you could easily spend half this on a set of low-quality knives from your local big-box store, they are well worth the price and fully cover the needs of most home cooking.
Shop department stores
Though department stores may not seem like the best place to get good-quality knives, I frequently see them cut the price of their better kitchen knives by 50 percent or more. I was able to find a sale on a Wüsthof Classic 8-piece knife set at Macy’s for under $200, which is a fantastic price when you consider it retails for over $700. If you find a good sale at a department store, make sure you ask if there are any gift-with-purchase promotions. Even though there was no advertised deal when I bought my knives, Macy's included two cutting boards and three bonus knives. This can make it well worth your while to shop in-store rather than online. Other promotions can include free gift cards and knife sharpeners, which themselves can retail for as much as $100.
It’s no secret that you can get great deals at Kohl's. When you start combining a sale with a Kohl's cash promotion and a promo code, you can get some seriously deep discounts—it’s just a matter of waiting for the stars to align. Kohl's carries a range of J.A. Henckels sets and individual blades that can be matched with various promotions. I recently saw a nice 7-piece set that retails for $173.99 but could be purchased for $102 after promotions.
eBay has a great selection of used knives at reasonable prices. You should be able to get a decent-sized set for under $100 or good deals on individual knives to fill up an existing block. Since the knives are used, it will be worth taking them to get professionally sharpened, which will run you a couple of dollars per knife.
You may be tempted to check out one of the kitchen stores in your local outlet mall such as the Chef's Outlet. While they do carry good knives, they are generally marked down less than a relatively good department store sale. If you live close by, it may be worth your while to check it out, but you’re likely to have much better success at other locations.
Start with one
Before I could afford a full block of quality knives, I bought one good knife to add to my cheap set. Even though it generally costs more per knife when you purchase them one at a time, you may also be able to score a fantastic deal. I have seen both Wüsthof and J.A. Henckels knives at T.J.Maxx for as low as $30. I tend to see them more during the holidays, and the best part is they tend to be all-purpose chef's knives and paring knives, which are two of the types you will get the most use out of. When you upgrade to a full block in the future, you can always transfer this knife over. High-end sets are frequently sold as starter sets with extra slots, so you can add various specialty knives at a later date.
If German steel still seems out of reach, Good Housekeeping recommends Chicago Cutlery as a lower-priced alternative. These knives are generally well reviewed and are a good value for the price if you can’t bring yourself to sacrifice quantity for quality. I can generally find them at department stores and Kohl's, and they are often not excluded from online coupon codes like their better counterparts. After a sale price and a promo code, I was able to locate a 14-piece set of Chicago Cutlery knives that retails for $129.99 at Macy's for $62.
This is a guest post by April from Grand Blanc, MI
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