4 Must-Have Kitchen Knives for Every Home Cook

Updated: Mar. 31, 2024

There are only four types of cooking knives you need in your kitchen—seriously! Here are our favorite must-have kitchen knives.

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Multi-piece knife block sets are a staple on many kitchen counters, but do you really need all those knives? (Spoiler: Probably not.) For most home cooks, you really only need four types of cooking knives. Here’s a guide to the must-have kitchen knives, as well as tips for when to use each type.

Psst! Keep your knives in tip-top shape by sharpening them regularly. Our Test Kitchen loves this electric knife sharpener.

1. Chef’s Knife

A chef’s knife is a must-have for serious and amateur cooks alike. Use this super-sharp all-purpose knife for all kinds of tasks, from carving chicken to chopping vegetables. These types of knives are typically tapered and measure from 6 to 12 inches in length. Some of these knives have shallow indents on the side (this is called Santoku-style), which allows food to slide more easily off the surface. A flat surface or Santoku knife are both good options.

It’s worth investing in a good chef’s knife. Our Test Kitchen loves Shun chef’s knives, which come in four different lengths.

When to use it: This type of knife is your kitchen workhorse and your go-to for most cooking tasks, such as mincing garlic cloves, chopping or dicing onions and peppers, and thinly slicing tomatoes or potatoes. Use a chef’s knife to break down larger items, like whole chickens, as well.

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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 3 to 4 inches in length. Our Test Kitchen prefers Zwilling paring knives.

If you’re looking for a new way to store your knives, these unique knife holders are a clean and convenient alternative to knife blocks, and a great way to keep your go-to kitchen knives handy.

When to use it: This type of knife is well-suited for cutting tasks that require a little dexterity. Paring knives are perfect for peeling apples or potatoes, and they’re also a fine choice for julienning small vegetables, deveining shrimp and segmenting citrus.

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3. Serrated or Bread Knife

Knives with serrated blades are so widely used for cutting bread that some brands actually call them bread knives. This type of knife has a long and flat blade with little or no curve. The blade consists of sharp, jagged teeth that easily cut through hard foods with soft interiors. Serrated knives can run 5 to 12 inches in length. Our Test Kitchen uses this Wüsthof bread knife.

To avoid damage, it’s always best to hand-wash all of your sharp kitchen knives instead of putting them in the dishwasher. (Avoid these other kitchen knife mistakes, too!)

When to use it: Use a serrated knife for any cutting task that will benefit from a sawing motion, like slicing baguettes or other crusty bread. These knives also work well for cutting produce with soft flesh (like tomatoes) or fruits with hard exteriors (like pineapples).

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4. Fillet or Boning Knife

Fillet and boning knives have thinner blades than other types of kitchen knives. This thinness makes these knives very sharp and ideal for cutting raw meat. Fillet knives always have a flexible blade, whereas boning knives can be either stiff or flexible. These knives are not designed to cut through bones, but rather around the bones. They are usually about 6 inches in length and feature long, tapered blades that sometimes curve dramatically.

Our Test Kitchen loves this 6-inch Wüsthof boning knife. For a more affordable option, they recommend this Victorinox flexible boning knife.

When to use it: These types of 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. A fillet or boning knife is really helpful if you cut a lot of raw meat, fish, or other bone-in proteins. If you don’t cook a lot of meat, you may be able to skip this purchase and use a chef’s knife instead.

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Before you start using your kitchen knives, make sure you know how to hold a knife the right way.

Teddy Nykiel, Taste of Home Associate Digital Editor, contributed to this article.