When it comes to our kitchen knives, many of us settle for a knife block and set from the store. But do you really need all those knives (spoiler: probably not)? We’ll tell you which knives you should really invest in and which you should really have on hand if you’re serious about cooking.
1. Chef’s Knife
The chef’s knife is a must-have for serious and amateur cooks alike. This super-sharp all-purpose knife can be used for all kinds of tasks from carving chicken to chopping vegetables. These types of knives are typically tapered and measure from six to 12 inches. Some of these knives have shallow indents on the side—this is called Santoku-style—which allow for foods to slide more easily off the surface. A flat surface or Santoku knife are both good options.
Since this tool will be your go-to for most cooking, it’s worth investing a bit more in this knife. We recommend this set (which includes a pairing knife) from Wusthof.
When to use it: This knife is your kitchen workhorse and your go-to knife for most cooking tasks, such as mincing garlic cloves, chopping or dicing onions and peppers, and thinly slicing tomatoes or potatoes. Chef’s knives can even be used for breaking down larger items like whole chickens.
2. Paring Knife
Paring knives are small, versatile blades that allow you to cut with precision. They look like mini chef’s knives, with small, pointed tips and a blade that curves ever so slightly. They usually run three to four inches in length.
When to use it: This knife is well-suited for cutting that requires a little dexterity. It is most commonly used for peeling apples or potatoes but is also a fine choice for julienning small vegetables, deveining shrimp and segmenting citrus.
3. Serrated or Bread Knife
These blades are so widely known for cutting bread that some brands actually call them bread knives. The blade is long and flat, with little to no taper or curve. The blade consists of sharp, jagged teeth that easily cut through hard foods with soft interiors. They can run five to 12 inches in length. Here’s the one our Test Kitchen uses.
When to use it: Use the serrated knife for any cutting task that will benefit from a sawing motion, like slicing baguettes or other crusty bread. These knives can also be used for cutting produce with soft flesh (like tomatoes) or fruits with hard exteriors (like pineapples).
4. Fillet or Boning Knife
The blade of this type of knife is much thinner than those of other styles. The thinness makes the knife very sharp and most ideal for cutting raw meats. The knives can be called by either name, but a fillet knife always has a flexible blade whereas a boning knife can be either stiff or flexible. These knives are not designed to cut through bones, but rather around the bones. They are usually about six inches in length and feature long, tapered blades that sometimes curve dramatically.
When to use it: These knives are perfect for breaking down whole chickens or deboning bone-in pork or beef. The ones with flexible blades are well-suited to remove the skin from fish fillets. This type of knife is really helpful if you cut a lot of raw meat, fish or other bone-in proteins. If you don’t plan to cook a lot of meat, you may be able to skip this purchase and use a chef’s knife instead.
Once you have all of your blades, look into investing in a knife sharpener—here’s our favorite. If you want the professional touch, talk to your local butcher—many offer knife sharpening services. To keep your knives working well between sharpenings, be sure to avoid these mistakes. And always be sure to take care of your knives with these tips!
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