Why they’re a buy: Many knife makers have cut prices on fancy block sets to appeal to penny-pinching consumers. But Chad Ward, author of “An Edge in the Kitchen,” says you need only one high-end blade: an eight-inch steel chef’s knife, which costs about half as much as a set. Get either a forged European-style model (if you like to chop with a rocking motion) or a Japanese one (which is lighter and better for precision cutting).
The strategy: Pass on big names like Wüsthof. Some lesser-known brands offer higher quality for the same price, says knife retailer Mark Richmond. Many pros point to the German-made Messermeister Meridian Elite ($100) and, in the Japanese category, the Shun Classic ($120, with a lifetime warranty and free sharpening).