In our tests of cut-rate knives, Ginsu skewers Ronco

You can spend $150 on a single chef's knife or $75 on an eight-piece set. The pricier knife will likely make impressive claims—a blade forged from dozens of layers of steel, for example, or a handle carved from rosewood. But does paying more mean better cutting performance? Based on Consumer Reports' tests of more than 50 knife sets, in which we sliced and diced a variety of foods and had panelists assess handle comfort and balance, we found plenty of top performers at the higher end, though there were also some less expensive winners, including a CR Best Buy.

There are two basic types of steel knives on the market—stamped and forged. Ultra cheap knives, like the $40 Ronco Showtime Six Star+, with its 26 pieces, are usually made out of stamped steel. Even at the Ronco's bargain price, cutting performance isn't enough to make it a smart purchase. You're better off spending more on knives forged from a single piece of steel, as they typically result in a sturdier blade that's less likely to bend.

Of the eight steel-knife sets we recommend, all are forged. Five of them cost at least $300, and the priciest of the bunch, the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Profection #33049, sells for $600. Along with fellow German manufacturer Wusthof, Zwilling is a regular leader in our Ratings (the two brands currently claim the top four spots).

There is one CR Best Buy in our winner's circle, and it's the exception to the rule about spending top dollar for quality knives. If you grew up in the late 1970s, you might remember the Ginsu as-seen-on-TV ads featuring a blade sawing through a soda can and then delicately carving a ripe tomato. But Ginsu is a serious cutlery company, as evidenced by the Ginsu Chikara, an eight-piece set that sells for $75 and delivers excellent cutting performance.

The one common denominator with any quality steel knife is that it will lose its edge if you don't care for it properly. Forged knives need to be sharpened regularly, either with a honing steel or by a professional. Hand-wash and dry the blade right after use to prevent corrosion. Never soak a knife, as water can seep into gaps and corrode the steel, and wood handles can warp and splinter. Dishwasher detergent and excessive heat can also damage the handle.

We also tested a handful of ceramic knives, which claim low maintenance since their blades can hold an edge longer than steel knives. But only one of the models we evaluated made our top picks list, and the five-piece set from Kyocera costs nearly $800. The others suffered from poor blade durability. In fact, there's a lot you're not supposed to do with these knives, including trying to cut through harder foods or applying force to the side of the blade.

—Daniel DiClerico

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