A good basic knife set should include:
- An all-purpose utility knife (5 inches)—used for a range of purposes; often a good choice for your first knife, as it can do many things.
- A chef's knife (7.8 to 9 inches)—used for chopping, dicing, mincing, and cutting. You will use this knife often for these recipes.
- A vegetable or paring knife (3 inches)—used for peeling, cutting, and trimming small food items that you hold in your hand (such as trimming small potatoes).
- A cleaver—used for meat, with a smaller version for chopping herbs, etc. Buy a cleaver only if you need to chop serious pieces of meat.
- A carving knife—used for getting thin and even slices of meat from roasts, roasted poultry, etc. Great for Thanksgiving but rarely used otherwise.
- Sharpening steel, knife-honing stone, or electric honer.
There are several considerations when choosing a knife, including weight, balance, and blade material. A lightweight knife is good for speed and precision, whereas a heavy knife requires far more work when chopping a lot of light ingredients. However, a heavier knife is better for chopping foods such as nuts, fresh ginger, and other harder ingredients.
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Quality knives tend to have very good balance, with not too much weight in either the blade or the handle. The way to test is to place your finger at the finger grip where the blade meets the handle, holding the knife horizontally with the cutting edge down. A quality, well-balanced knife will balance at that point and not fall off your finger—it is essentially the leverage point.
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The key reason to consider balance is that a well-balanced knife makes any cutting action easier and more effortless. If you are planning on using the knife for large quantities of ingredients, a balanced knife will impose far less strain on your arm. Good knives are often made of nonstainless steel (carbon steel), which can be sharpened to a good edge fairly quickly, but be sure to store them in a knife block so they do not rust.