A dull knife makes everything a bit harder, and when it comes to mastering that meal a sharp edge really makes all the difference. Here's how to pick a knife that will up your culinary chops immediately.
1. Size Matters - The right size blade is important to the performance of a knife. Too small and it won't provide the leverage and heft to push through tough foods, but too large is just bulky and hard to work accurately with. Try a few sizes and see what feels right for your hand. Likely it will be about a 7-9" blade.
2. Steel Matters - The carbon content of a blade can make a big difference in how well the knife keeps an edge. Look for a high carbon stainless steel blade, as the carbon content helps the blade hold an edge longer then cheaper stainless steel. Stamped blades are cheaper than forged, but the forging process yields a harder metal so go for the forged if you can swing it.
3. Fit Matters - A certain handle might be completely confortable for one person and just not fit right for another. The handle is very personal on a knife, so get your hands on as many as possible to get a good idea of the right feel.
4. Balance Matters - A well-made knife should have a very central balance point, with the fulcrum resting on the index finger. This helps to make sure the cutting action is smooth and fluid without too much hefting of the handle.
5. Craftsmanship Matters - The thickness of the steel, and how it attaches to the handle is very important. Look for a nice thick full-length tang on the knife. The tang is the metal that extends into the handle. It looks like a backbone extending from the blade through to the end of the handle. This one-piece construction gives more control, and a much more secure attachment point for the handle. Watch out for blades that only extend about halfway into the handle, or that don't have the exposed tang at all and are just inserted into the handle.
Now that you know what to look for, go out there and find a good blade so you at least look like you know what you're doing the next time you whip up a gourmet meal in that kitchen.