Let me begin this post by admitting that I'm far from an expert on knives. Until quite recently, we had few that were worth even picking up, but I invested in two winners and Santa left one under the tree so things are starting to look up around here. Knives can be a tricky thing to buy because department store sets often include repeats of what you already own, or knives that may not be useful for your cooking style. And then there are the choices, the brands, the pricing. There's so much to know.
I think the key to buying new knives or updating what you have at home is not to buy the sets. Think about how you cook and what you'd use most often and buy per piece. Some would argue that you save far more money when you purchase them in sets and this is certainly true if you're likely to use them all equally. But what's the use of a discounted knife if it sits in the drawer? I also am a fan of buying knives slowly. You don't have to jump in all at once: buy one, see how you like it, and live with it for awhile before buying another. Then in addition to researching online, I always ask my friends what knives they have and love, especially friends who really cook. Home cooks always have great advice that you won't find on major kitchen retailer's websites.
You'll notice that the list I've put together for you here is lacking a big chef's knife. That's not an oversight; we don't eat (and therefore, don't carve/slice) much meat at home, so I find these three knives get me around pretty much any task that comes our way. (Note: If you do want/need a chef's knife, check out a roundup of our picks here.)
3 Top Knives for 2013
1. Opinel Bread Knife : Produced in the French Alps since 1979, these knives are handsome and completely utilitarian. The bread knife is something that's often an afterthought for people, but once you have a good one, it changes things. From crusty baguettes to softer english muffins, this knife has made things a lot smoother in our kitchen lately.
2. Zwilling J.A. Henckels Pro Slicing Knife: This will become your official tomato-slicing knife, sandwich cutter, and meat-slicing knife. It's an all-purpose star in the kitchen.
3. Wustoff Classic Serrated Paring Knife: A paring knife is something I use everyday for smaller kitchen tasks like dicing onions, quickly peeling vegetables or chopping garlic. From baking tasks to cooking projects, this is a knife that will likely get the most play in your kitchen.
Related: Chefs Show Off Their Favorite Knives
(Images: Elizabeth Passarella)