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Consumer Reports: All you need are a few good knives

A few good knives are all you really need, says ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports. But if you’re into cooking, a few extras are a great investment.

ShopSmart offers this knife primer to help you pick just what you need.

• Chef’s knife. The wide, fine-edged blade is designed for slicing, dicing and mincing most foods, and the curve allows for “rocking” on a cutting board as you chop. The length and weight of the blade allows this knife to do most of the work for you.

Shopping tip: A 10-inch blade covers more ground in one stroke, but some home cooks feel more comfortable with 8 inches. While in the store, ask to hold the knife in your hand, and go through the motions. The handle should feel secure in your grip, and the knife should feel solid and balanced.

• Spear-point paring knife. The short, thin, pointy blade is great for doing precise, delicate work that a larger knife might ruin, such as deveining shrimp, de-ribbing peppers and hulling strawberries. The sharp edge can make quicker work of removing peels from fruit and veggies than a peeler might.

Shopping tip: It’s a kitchen workhorse, so buy a top-quality parer for everyday use and keep a less expensive spare on hand for times when you have kitchen helpers.

• Bread knife. Beyond baguettes and bagels, the long blade with sharp, tapered serrations is designed to saw through pastries, cakes, pizza and other foods with tough exteriors and tender insides without crushing or ripping the softer textures to shreds. It can even slice tomatoes into thin slices.

Shopping tip: You can spend less money on this knife without compromising efficiency, as long as the serrations are tapered deeply enough. But don’t go too short, ShopSmart warns. You need 10 inches for long, sweeping strokes.

• Slicing knife. A slicer’s long, thin, narrow blade slides right through cooked meat and poultry, which tend to stick to metal. So the narrower the blade, the less “drag” on meat.

Shopping tip: Look for a 9- or 10-inch blade that can be sharpened all the way to the handle without the heel or bolster getting in the way. A slicer with a reverse-scalloped edge never needs honing.

• Utility knife. This smaller version of a slicer is 4 to 6 inches – perfect for when your chef’s knife feels too bulky and your paring knife too small. Use it for peeling, coring and slicing fruit and vegetables.

Shopping tip: Look for slight flexibility in the blade so that it will conform to the shape of the food you’re cutting.

• Tomato knife. This is also called a sandwich knife. The tiny, serrated teeth can quickly slice through small, soft, smooth-skinned foods without crushing soft interiors. Beyond tomatoes and sandwiches, think rolls, sausages, plums, peaches and citrus fruit.

Shopping tip: These blades are very sharp! Some come with a protective sheath. Be sure to use it!

• Boning knife. The sharp, narrow blade easily maneuvers around bones and through joints. The edge is built to scrape every last bit of meat off a bone.

Shopping tip: If you don’t do a lot of butchering, you probably don’t need this knife. Instead, invest in a good paring or utility knife, which you can use for the task.

• Santoku. Smaller, lighter, thinner and sharper than a chef’s knife, this Japanese-influenced version has a straight edge. Cut straight down with this knife; it is not shaped for rocking like a chef’s knife.

Shopping tip: Look for high-carbon stainless steel, and don’t go shorter than 7 inches. If you are used to a rocking motion, look for a santoku with a slightly curved blade.