Skip the carbon-steel blades-unless you're willing to maintain them

When it comes to maintaining a sharp edge, it all starts with the blade you've bought. Japanese knives are often made from high-quality but harder steel, which can require more frequent sharpening, says Dave Nell, the eponymous knife expert at Sharpening by Dave in Chicago. Western blades tend to hold their sharpness for far longer—and they're often more affordable, too. "I’m not a big fan of the Eastern knives. They use softer metal, so more maintenance is required. Western edges are more forgiving,” says Nell. He points chefs toward brands like Wusthof (Germany) or industrial-quality Dexter (US) for affordable products that hold an edge. Richard Wattenberg of Ross Cutlery in L.A. disagrees: “When you have a good piece of steel you’re not going to be sharpening all of the time. It’ll hold the edge. To give you an idea of how good the Japanese knives are, [J.A.] Henckels has been in business since the 1700’s. Today, the best knives they sell are made in Japan. That kinda tells you something.” On the higher end, he suggests Global or Shun; for a more affordable option, he praises Swiss-made Victorianox Forschener for its excellent steel and durability.

The takeaway: Don't think East versus West—it's all about how long the blade holds its edge between professional sharpenings. Ask your salesperson to recommend a knife that stays sharper, longer.

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