When it comes to kitchen knives, a few are absolutely essential for meal preparation. This guide will help you find the right knives and cutlery for your kitchen.
While there are plenty of different types of kitchen knives for different uses, the most important ones are a chef’s or cook’s knife, a paring knife, a carving or slicing knife, and a bread knife. Also, these aren’t technically knives, but a pair of quality kitchen shears and sharpening steel are both equally essential kitchen tools that are worth considering.
The four most important knives in your kitchen:
- Chef’s or Cook’s Knife (8″ or 10″)
- Paring Knife (3″ or 4″)
- Long Serrated Bread Knife
- Slicing or Carving Knife (10″)
Each of these knives serves specialized purposes before and after you prepare your delicious meals. Let’s break down these knives and why it’s important to have them.
Chef’s knife: An absolute must
The chef’s knife, also known as the cook’s knife, is the workhorse of the kitchen. This type of kitchen knife comes in varying lengths and has a fine, curved blade. Chef’s knives are particularly useful for slicing and chopping vegetables and for cutting boneless meat. It is an absolute must in your kitchen.
An alternative to the chef’s knife that’s worth considering is the santoku knife or Asian chef’s knife. The santoku serves the same purpose as a chef’s knife, but it’s made for those who prefer an up-and-down chopping motion, rather than the rocking motion traditionally used by western chefs. They have a straight blade edge that allows you to cut down to the flat surface of your cutting board. You can read about the differences between chef’s vs. santoku knives on our blog.
Paring knife for perfect peeling
The paring knife is for smaller items such as herbs and smaller foods. This type of kitchen knife is especially useful for peeling fruits and vegetables. I use my paring knife at home for peeling cucumbers, garnishing carrots and other vegetables, and even for cutting cheese. They’re helpful because they’re small and easy to use.
Slicing knife for carving meats
The slicing knife is for carving roasts, hams, poultry, and other meats. Expert chefs say that when you’re carving, you should slice each piece with one smooth motion to achieve the best texture. Sawing motion isn’t recommended. Slicing and carving knives are extra long to make them ideal for this that single motion.
Bread knife serrated for thick crusts of bread
The bread knife is designed to cut through hearty crusts without damaging the soft insides. It’s difficult to slice fresh-baked bread without this type of knife, especially if the loaf is still hot. The key is the bread knife’s long, serrated blade which can penetrate the hard crust. To slice bread, you slowly saw through the whole loaf, instead of applying downward pressure it. The sawing motion will maintain the shape of each slice without crushing it, leaving the soft insides intact. A quality serrated edge allows you to do both.
Kitchen shears for snipping and trimming
Kitchen shears can make working with certain things a snap! They’re handy for all types of jobs, including cutting open packages that won’t tear, snipping herbs, and trimming fat from meat. For example, instead of trying to cut up the slippery poultry with a knife, kitchen shears can complete this task much more quickly. They’re so versatile in the kitchen, you’ll wonder how you got along without them.
Sharpening steels maintain the sharp knife edge
A sharpening steel, or honing steel, doesn’t actually sharpen but keeps the blade aligned to prevent the knife from becoming dull. The most useful sharpening steel is one that’s one inch longer than your longest knife blade. These are also usually are offered in a block set. To properly use a steel, give your knife an even number of swipes on each side of the knife blade. Once on the right and once on the left side of the blade, or 2 times on each side, etc. This will straighten out any burrs on the blade that have been created from regular use and keep your blade properly aligned. We recommend that you use a sharpening steel whenever use your kitchen knives. Just be sure to rinse the knife after honing so any metal dust generated is removed from the blade.
Our kitchen knife sharpening guide provides excellent information on how to care for your knives.
A knife block set for substantial savings
A knife block set is the best way to acquire all of your cutlery basics. A block set will usually save you 20%, compared to buying each item individually. It’s just like eating at a restaurant; if you order a la carte, you will pay a lot more than if you order a multi-course meal. Many block sets include all the kitchen knife basics we’ve covered in this post to prepare you for all your cooking needs!
We reviewed the Shun Premier Knife Block Set, a beautiful collection of all the essentials.
Forged vs. Stamped Knives
Forged knives are constructed from a single piece of steel where a stamped knife is cut from a steel mold. Forged knives are sturdier than their stamped counterpart but are more expensive. Read our guide on forged vs. stamped knives which breaks down the advantages and disadvantages.
Once you have purchased your amazing kitchen knife collection, read our guide on how to properly maintain and safely store your kitchen knives.
What are your essential knives for your kitchen? Put them in the comments below: