I know nothing about knives and am thinking of buying a set in a block. What kind do people recommend? I don't particularly need steak knives.
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I use Shun knives. They have a line that is made for home use that is very high quality. They keep an edge well and the handle is easy and comfortable to hold onto.
The butcher block is made from bamboo which is green and modern.
I don't recommend buying a set of knives in a block. The reason is that for most cooks, you don't need all those knives and although one of the knives in the set might feel right in your hand the rest might not!!
Better to go to a good kitchenware store (Sur la Table is great for this!!) and actually try out the knives - see which ones feel good in your hand and are comfortable.
To start out, you need two knives - a good chef's knife ( 8 or 10 inch depending upon which feels better to you) and a good paring knife. If you have a bit more to spend on knives, a good serrated knife (aka a "bread knife") is also a very versatile knife to own. Beyond that, you can add knives as you need/want. Again, choosing each knife based upon how it feels in your hand.
I own several Cutco knives and they are my favorites! They're expensive, but work great and come with a forever-sharp guarantee.
I agree with Nancy. I don't think a full block is necessary. I purchased several knives from Korin (http://korin.com/site/home.html). You can order online if you don't live in NYC. I think having one good chef's knife (preferably japanese made), a pairing knife, bread knife and maybe a boning knife are all you need.
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Don't buy "sets" of anything, and that includes pots and pans. Buy the ones that you will actually use. However it is a good idea to keep your good knives in a block and not just toss them in a drawer (or worse, in the sink with dishes on top of them). DO NOT BUY KNIVES on-line. You must hold them in your hand to get the grip right. Does it feel good? It's an extension of your arm. Japanese knives are fantastic (they have a sword making tradition) but care for them well. I'll second the Shun suggestion.
I never recommend sets to anyone - you'll wind up buying pieces you'll never use and waste money. You can buy a block on its own (get the kind where the knives slide in sideways). As far as knives themselves, get the ones that feel the best in your hand. Are they balanced? And buy the best that you can afford. Build your collection one or two knives at a time.