Many people believe that a knife is just a knife, but the truth is that there are many different types of knives that perform various tasks. But that prompts the question “What knives do I need?” Whether you need to butcher a chicken, slice some bread, or filet a fish, chop some vegetables, or slice an apple, there is a knife that is best for the specific task at hand.
What Knives Do I Need: The Essential Knives for Home Kitchens
When shopping for knives, most home cooks have many questions they are thinking about in making their selection. What knives are essential to a modern family kitchen? Are there knives that you really shouldn’t skip? What would be considered all the bells and whistles?
Should You Start With a Complete Knife Set?
If you’re starting from ground zero, choosing a knife set can be a very convenient and efficient option. Knife sets will include various common knives that you are most likely to use in your cooking. In addition to cooking knives, many sets also come with a set of steak knives. Sets can have anywhere between eight and nineteen pieces, and the set you choose should be chosen based on what knives you will use most often.
Many experienced cooks say that, rather than purchasing a knife block set, it’s much better for you to invest in one or two high-quality knives that will last you for years. Then, combine that knife with some inexpensive knives that are perfect when you want to cut specific things. This way the high-quality knife will not be used against its limits and become damaged, while also saving money. Also, buying a complete set will not be as much savings as it seems, if you end up paying for a bunch of knives that you never actually use.
Some home cooks do not realize how many different types of knives there are or how each is used. Knowing the most common kitchen knives is the best place to start when you are beginning to look for the best kitchen knives for your family kitchen.
Most Common Kitchen Knives
If you decide to focus your knife budget on one high-quality knife, go for the chef’s knife. A chef’s knife can perform almost any task required of it. It can slice meat into thinner pieces to allow them to cook faster or just provide more surface area if marinating is involved.
A chef’s knife should not be confused with a cleaver. While a cleaver can be used for some of the same tasks as a chef’s knife, the chef’s knife is much more versatile.
A chef’s knife generally features a sharp point and an edge with a sloping curve. The knife cuts with a rocking motion from tip to heel with the food under the middle part of the blade. You can chop vegetables using the flat side of the knife or use the curved edge to rock back and forth for finer dice.
A chef’s knife comes in many different sizes, so make sure you know what size will work best for you. A 10-inch blade might feel awkward when chopping smaller items, while a 6-inch blade may not be big enough to cut certain larger veggies or meats with ease. If you’re not quite sure how you’ll be using it, an 8-inch blade is a safe bet.
Every kitchen needs a chef’s knife because they are multi-purpose. Some of the tasks most performed by a chef’s knife include chopping herbs, slicing meat, dicing onions, or julienning carrots. Most home cooks can get by using a chef’s knife with a paring knife and utility knife.
Very similar to a chef’s knife, a paring knife is just shorter, about half the size of the chef’s knife. Most paring knives will measure between three and four inches and are the perfect tool for peeling fruits or vegetables, very precise slicing, coring, taking out seeds, mincing herbs, segmenting fruit, filleting, or deveining fish, or scoring meat. A paring knife is one of the top three knives a home cook needs in their set.
Paring knives are small, lightweight, and inexpensive. As such, they’re the perfect choice for those who want to experiment with different styles of cooking without investing too much money. And, it’s a good idea to purchase more than one if you plan on having multiple people cooking at once.
The price range for paring knives varies greatly depending on the quality of steel used in its construction as well as its handle material (e.g., wood or plastic). The most expensive options will typically last longer than cheaper ones due to their superior construction, but inexpensive models can also do a satisfactory job.
There are a few different types of paring knives, however.
- Spear Point- These are the classic type of paring knives with a short, curved blade and a spear point. The cutting edge is small but perfect for peeling and coring.
- Bird’s Peak- The blade on a bird’s peak paring knife is concave and sickle-shaped with a very sharp tip. This type of paring knife is best for decorative work and trimming.
- Sheep’s Foot- The sheep’s foot paring knife features a smooth, straight blade with a rounded tip that is best for julienne cutting or cheese slicing.
- Western-Style Japanese- Similar to the classic spear point blade, the western-style Japanese blade has a flatter blade with a sharper edge. This style paring knife is known for its superb control and intricate cutting and carving ability.
A utility knife is a medium-sized knife between the size of a paring knife and a chef’s knife. They range anywhere between four and seven inches long.
They are best for slicing meat, chopping medium-sized veggies, or slicing fruit or hard cheeses. The blade is narrower than a chef’s knife, and some varieties are serrated. The serrated versions can also be a backup to your steak knife. Utility knives are very versatile!
A boning knife has a flexible blade that is long and thin with a very sharp point to pierce the meat and cut out ligaments and other tissues to remove bones from raw meat. Boning knives are perfect for taking bones out of fish but can also be used on pork, lamb, beef, and birds.
Some boning knives will have curved blades. Others will be straight. Curved blades are best for removing the skin and scales from fish. Straight blades are ideal for fine slices and sculpting.
Cutting bread can be very tricky if you do not use a bread knife. The bread knife has the longest blade of all the knives in the kitchen set. These knives are specifically designed for cutting through the soft texture of bread without squishing the bread.
Bread knives average eight inches long but can be up to fourteen inches. They also have a serrated edge that cuts by gently sawing with downward pressure.
The characteristics of a carving knife are like a chef’s knife; however, the blade is much thinner and narrower. A carving knife is used to make uniform slices in meats and carve large meats like hams, roasts, or whole birds. They are usually around eight inches long but can be up to fourteen inches long.
What Knives Do I Need? Forged Knives vs Stamped
There are two different manufacturing processes for making knives: forged or stamped.
Forged knives are made from one solid piece of steel that has been heated and hammered. Stamped knives are cut from sheet metal.
Forged knives are stronger but less flexible than stamped knives, although stamped knives are lighter and can be manufactured quicker. Forged knives are known to keep their edges sharper longer, be more balanced, and more comfortable to use. Forged knives are easier to sharpen than stamped knives because the blades are stiff and will not twist or bend while being sharpened.
Forged knives are often viewed to be of higher quality than stamped knives, but that has become less true in recent years.
Care & Maintenance: Knife Storage
Knives need to have proper care and maintenance if they are going to remain durable. You should avoid putting your knives in the dishwasher and wash them by hand instead. Dry knives thoroughly before putting them into storage; otherwise, the knives could rust.
The most efficient way to store your knives and save space in your kitchen is to store your knives on a magnetic strip. These strips can be placed high up on the wall, above the stove, or on your prep table.
Magnetic strips are great for displaying high-quality knife sets and keeping knives out of reach of children. They are easily accessible for adults, however.
There are in-draw systems for storing knives that are often the safest way to store knives. Knives can be individually sheathed and organized in drawers for easy access.
One of the best things about in-drawer knife storage is the ability to put child safety locks on the drawers or lock the drawers for ultimate safety measures. Before stowing your knives away in a drawer or sheathing them, ensure they are completely dry.
A knife block will be sold with many of the knife sets you will pick up online or at a department store. Knife blocks protect the edges of your blades and help keep knives organized with custom-fitted knife slots.
Knife blocks should be bacteria and mold-resistant with a skid-free surface, so the block stays put on the countertop. Many knife blocks are handcrafted and beautiful to display.
The safest way to store your knives is to keep them in a locked drawer, individually sheathed. Locking them in a drawer will help keep the knives away from children. Sheathing the knives adds another layer of protection that will stop handlers from getting cut if they can open the drawer and grab one of the knives.
What Else You Need to Know
Although this guide focuses on stainless steel kitchen knives for home cooks, there are other materials that kitchen knives can be forged from. This includes Damascus steel, ceramic, and knives coated with titanium nitrate—a gold, ceramic material that can strengthen softer metal materials.
Ceramic knives are much lighter than steel knives and are very hard and sharp. However, they are also brittle and can easily chip or become damaged if not used properly. Ceramic knives usually have a shorter lifespan in home kitchens than stainless steel knife sets, and they are dishwasher safe. However, most chefs will recommend hand washing only.
Ceramic knife sets are usually more expensive than stainless steel but can be repaired by manufacturers. Many of these sets include warranties.
If you have been pondering the question “what knives do I need?”, the best knives are the ones that you will actually use. It doesn’t matter what brand or type of knife so long as it does the job for which it was intended. The most commonly used knives that collectively cover a wide range of tasks are the chef’s knife, utility knife, and paring knife. If you’re not sure where to start with selecting a new set or starting a personalized collection, take some time to sit down and think about what tasks you do most often around the kitchen.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you clean or salvage rusty knives?
One of the biggest mistakes home cooks make is thinking their rusty knives cannot be cleaned or salvaged. So many knives end up thrown away because they become rusty, get stains, or have water spots. Many people do not know there are some effortless and convenient ways to clean knives so that you never have to throw one away. Simple cleaning methods include vinegar, baking soda, and citric acid.
Should a rusty knife be discarded?
Rusty knives do not need to be discarded unless they are so corroded that they break or chip or cannot be cleaned. The best way to keep your knives rust-free is to ensure that rust never begins. Knives need to be towel dried, not air dried, and put away correctly—in a knife block, sheathed, and stored in a dry place.
Can you wash good knives in the dishwasher?
The manufacturer of your knife set should let you know on the packaging or website whether the knives are designed to be dishwasher safe or not. Most professional cooks and kitchen experts, however, will tell you that even if the knives are recommended for dishwashers, it is best to always wash the knives by hand. Dishwashers use a lot of water and do not dry efficiently, which can cause rust if the knives are not unloaded and stored right away.
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