knives and knife maintenance
I'm becoming a sophomore-level home cook and need advice on a reasonable knife set. what are cooking schools recommending to their students? what's a reasonable maintenance schedule? My old guys are really old and really tired. I typically deal with lots of beef, lots of pork, lots of fish. I spend more time prepping veggies than I care to think of.
thanks in advance.
as applehome said below, knife selection is personal. you should go to a reputable shop and try them out yourself. see how they feel in your hand. the knife needs to feel comfortable. personally, i like macs. as for a new set, dont get premade sets. you'll end up only using 2 or 3 of the set of 7. start with the basics and build from there. get a chef's/santoku, paring, and a bread.
for sharpening, if you go the self sharpening route, begin by practicing on your old knives first and then transfer over to your new equipment once you get proficent. otherwise, i would suggest talking with the knife sellers and ask them for reputable knife sharpeners. some of them, like sur la table, do knife sharpening on site, others recommend people. i found mine through william sonoma.
for maintenance, i hone my knives everytime i use them and take them in for sharpening once the knives cannot hold their edge. approx. 6-8 months.
As has been said many times before here and elsewhere, knife selection can be very personal. The best recommendation is to find a local source that carries many different brands and types and feel each one in your hands. Some folks like a lot of heft, which leads them to forged knives (Henckels, Wusthoff, Global), where others like the lightness of stamped knives (Forschner/Victorinox - which is the same knife, and many non-western Japanese knives. There are tremendous differences in the German Solingen steel and Japanese white and blue steels - differences that result in different edges, hefts, and maintenance requirements.
Aaron's post below is on the money for maintenance for most knives - use a steel, and use it often.
My personal recommendation is that you don't buy a set, but start with 3 basic knives - a large (8 or 10") chef's or santoku, a small paring knife, and a medium (6") petty or boning knife - if you feel that you will be boning meats (including chicken) a lot, get the boning.
Sharpening your own knives using whetstones is not that hard to learn, and can be very satisfying, but it can be very timestaking. If you use the German steel and decide on diamond stones, they can be quite expensive. Japanese steel is sharpened on water based whetstones, which are less expensive, but wear and require maintenance (flattening). If you have the time and want to have a new Zen-ish pursuit, go for it.
There are many places to find the popular German and western-style Japanese (Global, Shun) blades. Here is a site you might want to look at to find some Japanese style blades and some sharpening info.
Here are the classic recs that have served me well:
Hone your knife before each use, and before you put it away. (Just in case...that means use a steel).
Get your knives sharpened when they will no longer hold an edge. For the home cook, this typically means once a year, but for the knives I go to the most (and it sounds like you have some of those), I go every 6-9 months.
Find a VERY reputable knive sharpener in your area. Bad jobs can be disasterous.