As many home cooks will tell you, nothing makes cooking more pleasurable than a set of great kitchen knives. They’re the unsung heroes of the kitchen, transforming the potential drudgery of day-to-day cooking into an enjoyable experience. Discover the three types of knives you need and the specific ones I recommend.
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From effortlessly dicing onions to delicately filleting fish, having top-notch versions of the three essential kitchen knives — chef’s knife, paring knife, and serrated knife — empowers you to unleash your culinary creativity.
In This Article
When it comes to buying kitchen knives, I don’t recommend buying them in sets. Here’s why:
- Quality over Quantity. Sets often contain several knives you’ll rarely use. Investing in a few high-quality knives catering to your needs makes more sense. Start with the three basic knives, then add specialty knives as needed.
- Personal Preference. Buying knives individually allows you to choose each one based on what feels and works best for you.
- Maintenance and Longevity. Some knives in a set may wear out or break before others, especially if you use them more often. Buying knives individually allows you to replace specific knives as needed.
Here is a rundown of the three knives you really need and my top picks for each category.
Jack of All Trades: The Chef’s Knife
A good chef’s knife should be your first purchase. This is your workhorse, the knife you’ll reach for most often. Here are a few of the many ways you’ll use a chef’s knife:
- Chopping. It’s the go-to tool for chopping ingredients like onions, tomatoes, bell peppers or apples.
- Slicing and Dicing. Its long, straight edge can easily slice or dice foods like cheese, sausages or potatoes.
- Mincing. Whether it’s garlic, ginger, herbs or shallots, your favorite chef’s knife can quickly mince them into fine pieces.
- Carving and Slicing Meats. Its large, substantial blade can carve a whole bird or slice meats into thin, even pieces.
- Crushing. Crush food items like garlic or lemongrass to release their flavors by using the side of a chef’s knife.
Wüsthof Classic 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
Home chefs often herald Wüsthof as one of the top knife brands, and their rock-solid, razor-sharp 8-inch chef’s knife is a testament to this reputation. This sturdy, versatile superstar easily dices, slices, minces and juliennes. It can break down a chicken or slice through a butternut squash without breaking a sweat.
Forging the blade from a single block of high-carbon stainless steel gives this German knife remarkable durability. And thanks to advanced tempering technology, this blade will stay sharp for ages. A full tang (the blade runs through the handle) gives it strength and balance.
I love the perfectly balanced weight and how good the 5-inch ergonomic handle feels in my hand.
Shun 8-inch Classic Blonde Chef's Knife
Shun’s beautiful chef’s knives effortlessly slice through everything from tomatoes to emu steak. Crafted with a delicate curve, the blade works well with a rocking-style cutting technique, and the slightly dimpled face prevents food from sticking to the edge.
These Japanese knives’ forged stainless steel blades are stain-proof, rust-proof, stick-resistant and flexible. The resin-treated birch handle feels great in my hand, making this the most-used knife in my kitchen.
If you want something more delicate, the Shun classic 6-inch chef’s knife has a smaller version of the same blade and a handle perfectly designed for smaller hands.
Fun Fact: In Japanese, “Shun” (pronounced “shoon” and rhymes with “moon”) is the precise moment during the year when any particular food is at the peak of its perfection.
Misen 8-Inch Professional Chef’s Knife
If you’re not ready to splurge on Wustoff or Shun, the exceptionally affordable Misen 8-inch chef’s knife won’t disappoint. For me, this knife combines the best features of Eastern and Western design to make a great budget-friendly alternative that can hold its own in terms of performance.
Mercer Culinary 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
Another affordable chef’s knife is the Mercer culinary 8-inch. With a high-carbon Japanese steel blade and an ergonomic handle, it offers tremendous versatility and value.
Paring Knife: One Great Knife for All Your Detail Work
Paring knives are small, versatile kitchen knives used primarily for peeling, slicing, trimming, shaping and other precision tasks. They usually have slim, pointed blades that are 3 to 4 inches long, making them your go-to tool for close, intricate work that’s hard to achieve with larger knives.
Here are a few ways you’ll use a paring knife in your kitchen:
- Peeling or Paring. Its thin blade and pointed tip make it perfect for peeling an apple or removing the eyes from a potato.
- Detailed Cuts. It makes small, precise cuts like hulling strawberries or deveining shrimp.
- Sectioning and Trimming. It’s great for sectioning citrus fruits or trimming fat off of meat.
Mac Knife Professional Paring Knife
The Japan-made Mac professional paring knife is an excellent option at a reasonable price. The 3.25-inch carbon steel razor-sharp blade is solid and elegant. You’ll appreciate the slightly downsized handle if you have smaller hands like me.
Shun Classic Paring Knife
Shun knives are always good investments in my book, and their 3.5-inch classic paring knife is no exception. It features a gorgeous Damascus-clad blade with a seriously sharp edge that’s incredibly durable. The sturdy handle has a classy, sleek look and feel that I love. I could peel apples with it all day!
Wüsthof Classic Ikon Paring Knife
Again, I always love a Wüsthof. Their classic IKON paring knife is a bit pricy, but I think it’s totally worth the money. Its 3.5-inch, high-carbon, stainless steel blade is durable, sharp and ergonomically designed, making it a joy to hold.
The Niche Knife You Need: The Serrated Bread Knife
You may think quality doesn’t matter much for a serrated knife, but you’d be wrong. A good, solid serrated knife is pleasant to use and less likely to result in bloodshed than a cheap substitute.
Sure, you use a serrated knife for a limited number of tasks — like slicing bread and soft fruits or veggies such as tomatoes. You can probably get by without a filet knife or carving knife, but I think a serrated bread knife is necessary.
Shun Classic 9-Inch Bread Knife
I admit I’m somewhat of a die-hard Shun fan, but I promise you that my devotion is warranted. Their 9-inch bread knife lives up to the brand’s reputation in every way. It feels great, looks great, and excels at its one big job — slicing bread, whether a crusty batard or a loaf of soft white sandwich bread. It even glides through an almost-too-ripe summer tomato.
The one downside of the Shun bread knife is its hefty price tag, but it’s comforting to know that Shun will always hone the knife for free.
Victorinox Fibrox 10.25-Inch Serrated Bread Knife
Because serrated knives are difficult to sharpen, many see them as short-term investments. The Victorinox serrated bread knife is an affordable alternative if you don’t want to drop a bundle on a knife that may not see you through to old age.
I like the sturdy, slightly curved blade of this one because it handles a multitude of tasks, from bread slicing to meat carving and more.
Mercer Culinary Millennia M23210 Wavy-Edge Bread Knife
Even more of a bargain than the Victorinox, the Mercer wavy-edge bread knife is an inexpensive option that’s sturdy and sharp enough to make slicing bread a breeze. It works equally well to slice squishy tomatoes or saw through watermelon rind.
Slice, Dice, and Slay in the Kitchen
A great set of kitchen knives is your most trusted ally in the kitchen, and the dynamic trio of a chef’s knife, a paring knife and a serrated bread knife will have your back on almost every task. Investing in individual, high-quality knives can make all the difference in how much you enjoy cooking, so it’s worth investing in the best versions of the few knives you need and use.
This article first appeared on Food Drink Life.