questionswhat's important when shopping for kitchen knives?

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They need to be really sharp.....

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A good knife isn't just a quality knife. It has to feel right and balanced in your hand. The best thing I ever did was go to an expensive cooks store and feel the knives in my hand. I was able to feel which suited me and my hand the best, and I absolutely love my knife.

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For that price range, you can try the Ginsu knives (different series at different price points for your budget). They are surprisingly good and come with a knife block: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_5?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=ginsu+knife+set&sprefix=ginsu%2Caps%2C632

I personally use Shun, but that's quite beyond your stated price range. I have had good luck with the Kuhn Rikon knife set that Home.Woot sold, so cheap, and so good. But it sounds like your father would not want something colorful. :)

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You could start him off with something like this..........http://www.amazon.com/Wusthof-9755Classic-2-Piece-Knife-Starter/dp/B00005MEGG/ref=pd_sim_k_29

Then get him a good wooden knife block that has plenty of room for future knives that you might buy him like this.............http://www.amazon.com/Wusthof-9-Slot-Beechwood-Knife-Block/dp/B00009WDSG/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1338851898&sr=8-9

You can shop around for better prices, they are out there.

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You need a good chef's knife in the kitchen, at least an 8 inch. I prefer forged knives with a full tang. I'm not a fan of mass produced stamped knives. I do like Wusthof Classic knives, but you need to maintain the blades, and protect them from nicks.

I cringe when someone pulls a good knives out of a drawer, that has just been laying in a pile with other knives and silverware. I would also get a good knife block or a protected magnetic strip to keep them from being damaged.

And........... never.......never........put a good blade in a dishwasher......if the banging around doesn't destroy the edge, the extreme heat can ruin the temper of the steel, or the handles.

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Keeping knives sharp - and I am not very good at it - is imperative. The best knives are not good enough after awhile without being sharpened. I have a set of Chicago Cutlery that has lasted fairly well. My fault that I don't oil the wood handles as often as I should.

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I bought a full set of Cutco knives back in the '90s. I can't recommend them highly enough, despite the price. I think I paid around $700. That got me a full set (~10 knives), with a block to store them in, and a set of 8 steak knives that also live in the block. I use them every day, and they haven't dulled one bit.

I know. They're expensive. You get what you pay for.

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Personally, I don't care for serrated blades (destroys cutting boards) and most blades are too thick for my tastes, bruising fruit asthey cut. I have been using the same no-name 9" bladed filet knife for 30 years. I've courted expensive blades, but I haven't found one long enough (filet knives are usually 6"), thin bladed enough, and smooth edged. I have taken to buying inexpensive knives (like the $20 set of four with stand sold here on woot in various animal prints a while back) with teflon coated blades that let them glide through food without damaging it. They come super sharp, and they are inexpensive enough that I just donate them someplace when they get dull and buy new ones. I still mostly use my good old filet knife, so the teflon coated ones last me a couple of years