How sharp are your knife skills? No, we’re not talking about how you actually wield a knife, but instead about your knife knowledge. If you’re uncertain regarding which knives you need to execute all of your favorite recipes, you’re not alone. With so many options, it can’t be hard to keep up. We’re making it easy for you with this handy cheat sheet of four must-have kitchen knives for every home or professional chef.
Every professional chef’s best friend, the classic chef’s knife is the definition of “versatile.” According to Institute of Culinary Education Chef-Instructor Brendan McDermott, a chef’s knife in the 8- to 10- inch range is ideal for a whopping 90 percent of all day to day kitchen tasks. Slicing fruit? Dicing vegetables? Carving chicken? Trimming steak? A chef’s knife can do all of this and more. Whether you’re a beginning chef in search of a starter knife or a professional chef looking to upgrade your collection, the right chef’s knife can make-or-break your prowess in the kitchen.
One last tip? Reserve the largest portion of your knife-buying budget for a top-quality chef’s knife. When chosen well and with proper care, it can last forever.
While cutting bread may be the first thing that come to mind when you think of serrated knives, they’re good for so much more than that — and shine where knives with smooth blades fail. Whether you’re cutting into a juicy peach or tomato or slicing through fatty meat or a sandwich, a serrated utility knife allows you to pierce and penetrate tough or waxy exterior without damaging the more delicate insides. The end results are not only better, but the work is easier: serrated knives require less downward force meaning reduced effort for you, too.
One task for which serrated knives aren’t suited? Chopping. Serrated knives should only be used with a sawing motion. Leave the rest for your chef’s or paring knife.
Paring knives may look like pint-sized versions of chef’s knives, but they’re anything but. While chef’s knives are multipurpose, paring knives are very specific in their use: they’re ideal for all delicate kitchen tasks which require precision. Coring an apple? De-ribbing a jalapeno? A paring knife makes short work of these jobs, as well as other tasks which are simply too small to be handled by a larger blade.
A caveat? Because paring knives are lightweight they aren’t ideal for slicing small hard veggies, like parsnips and carrots. If you can’t pierce without applying pressure, you’re using the wrong tool.
Your knives are only as good as the condition they’re in, and knives which are not well maintained are useless. Over time and use, blade edges curl, causing knives to become dull. While not technically a “knife,” a honing steel is an essential part of any knife collection because it helps keep the blade in alignment. Contrary to popular misconception, honing — or sharpening steels — do not actually sharpen. However, they do serve a very important role in keeping your knives in good condition between sharpenings.
Whether you’re buying a complete knife set or planning on gradually adding to your collection, it’s also important to keep one last thing in mind. While these four listed above are the usual suspects on roundups of must-have knives, they’re far from the only options out there.
Butcher your own large cuts of meat? Then a cleaver is in order.
Frequently work with fish and other delicate proteins? A filet knife will come in handy.
Host family gatherings and parties? A carving knife will see you through from the slicing meat to cutting melon.
Shuck oysters? Oyster knife.
And the list goes on. The truth is that that every chef’s ideal knife collection varies depending on their own cooking styles and preferences. As you continue to refine your cooking skills, your knife needs will change and evolve. So before asking yourself, “What knife do I need?” you might first consider the question, “What kitchen tasks do I need to accomplish?”