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Essential Kitchen Knives Everyone Needs - Home to Professional Cooks

Must-have kitchen knives and their uses

What makes a good chef? Is it the different recipes they use? Is it how well they cook? Is it the tools they use when they cook?

It ends up being a combination of everything from the environment to years of cooking experience, to the recipes you are trying to create that make for a good chef.

This is not to say that the tools used are not important.

Having the handle of the correct blade in your hand can make a huge difference in the success and overall quality of your recipes.

A quality knife set should last you a lifetime. Havingsharp knivesin your kitchen makes preparing meals easier. Making sure to use the right tool for the job also applies to kitchen knives. A good chef should know as much about their knives as possible, from what each knife should (or shouldn't) be used for as well as how to take the best care of them possible.

Getting a set of quality knives can make you feel like a real pro in the kitchen, but knowing what they are and how to use them is the mark of a true home chef. Once you can talk the talk and walk the walk, you're officially in the game.

Not all as-seen-on-tv Japanese knife sets are a solid investment, so it is important to know what knives are essential and which ones are mostly just for show.

Most essential kitchen knives come in sets or blocks. A standard knife block usually includes an eight to ten-inch chef s knife, a paring knife (or carving knife), a serrated bread knife, a boning knife, and a honing steel. Some blocks do include a Santoku knife along with other various carving knives, but the basics are the most important. A knife blade can usually be made of high carbon steel for durability, but knives made from other materials can be found in just about any kitchen store.

So, what purpose do these different types of knives serve?

Recipes don't typically list out the specific knife for each dish, so it's important for home cooks to know their own specific needs before purchasing any essential knives.

Vie Belles' List of Essential Knives Every Kitchen Needs

The Chef's Knife

The chef knife is usually an eight to ten-inch blade and is probably the most versatile knife in the knife block. The size may seem intimidating at first, but it is easy to get used to using it. Your guide toward choosing the length of the blade you plan to take home is to practice some chopping with it if you can and see what feels the most comfortable.

Chef's knives can be used for about 90% of all kitchen tasks. It is great for slicing vegetables, fruits, fish, and meats of all kinds.

A chef's knife is not meant for butchering meat, carving poultry, or for skinning anything. Nor is it meant to be used as a puncture-style can opener. You may laugh at the last one, but it happens often enough to warrant mentioning. Please don't try to use your chef s knife as a can-opener. You could break the knife or hurt yourself.

If there was any one knife to agree to a higher price point on, it would be your chef's knife. Since it is so versatile and can be used for so many different tasks, it is worth the investment to spend a little extra money on it if it is independently selected.

A chef's knife is your go-to essential in your kitchen if you are looking for a knife with the most uses that home cooks anywhere can use.

The length of the blade can vary based on the block you buy it in or the knife collection it belongs to, so you have multiple options and many different sized blades to choose from when finding a chef's blade,

The Paring Knife

Paring knives are your best bet for foods that require minute attention to detail. Some foods, like certain fruits and vegetables, are too small to comfortably use a chef s knife on. For slicing or mincing things that are too small for a chef s knife, we turn to paring knives.

A paring knife is great for mincing garlic, peeling fruits and vegetables, or for hulling strawberries.

You may want to stay away from using the paring knife on foods like parsnips, celery root, or carrots.

While paring knives come in an array of different materials, it is recommended that you avoid ones made of porcelain because of how delicate it is. High carbon steel is the best material for a paring knife.

The Serrated Knife

The serrated knife is most commonly referred to as a bread knife because it is the best tool a chef can use to slice bread. A serrated knife, or bread knife, isn't just for bread, though. This is an essential knife for a reason instead of a single-purpose blade.

It's time to stop thinking as a serrated blade as nothing but bread knives.

This type of kitchen knife is also a useful tomato knife. Any food with a waxy surface, like tomatoes, pineapples, citrus fruits, peppers, and watermelons, can easily be sliced by a serrated knife.

Its design also makes it especially useful for cutting through layers of cake. A serrated knife should only be used for slicing rather than chopping.

Using these knives in a sawing motion allows the teeth of the knife blades to grip and cut through items. This makes it ideal for a cake and a waxy fruit or vegetable.

Since chopping is not recommended for this knife, it is not the ideal tool to use for herbs, garlic, or berries.

It may always be popularly known as a bread knife, but the discerning cook knows that it can be used for so much more.

The Boning Knife

This kitchen knife is key for recipes that require fresh fish or meat.

The boning knife is meant to be used for cutting up or boning fish, meat, or poultry, whether it be something as small as an anchovy or as large as a full side of beef.

As its name suggests, this knife is meant for cutting around bones.

Where other knives are meant to cut in straight lines, this type of knife is designed to accommodate cuts that might curve unexpectedly.

While a good boning knife allows a cook to remove meat from bones and cut through joints and cartilage, it is not intended to cut through bones, just around them.

This knife is geared toward different types of meats rather than vegetables.

The Honing Steel

Of all the kitchen knives mentioned here, we do grant that this one is technically not really a knife.

It is, however, one of the most important items in the knife collection of any home cook if they plan to take good care of their knives and own them for as long as possible.

The honing steel is the tool used to refresh the edge of and sharpen your kitchen knives. This helps them stay as sharp as possible for as long as possible.

Any number of chefs can tell you that a sharp knife is a thousand times easier to use than a dull knife.

This tool works best on a straight-edged piece like a chef's knife or a paring knife. With any serrated blade, the teeth glide right over the steel, and no effect is had on either item.

UNDERSTANDING KNIVES BY TYPE - COMPLETE GUIDE

The following descriptions should serve as a basic guide for some of the most common types of knives.

Chef’s Knives

Also called a cook’s knife, this is the most important item in a knife set. The chef’s knife is one of the most versatile knives to have in your kitchen. With its broad and sharp blade, it is a multi-purpose knife used for a variety of kitchen tasks.

A chef’s knife has a blade between 6 and 14 inches long and 1½ inches wide. Originally, this type of knife was intended to slice large cuts of beef, but it's much more versatile than that. From cutting meat to chopping vegetables, this multi-purpose tool is a must-have

Not ideal for:
  • Cleaving meat bones
  • Carving dense meat
  • Disjointing some cuts
  • Slicing bread
  • Smaller precision tasks, such as peeling and mincing.

Santoku Knives

The Santoku knifeis a Japanese version of the Western-style chef’s knife. Santoku means “three virtues”, which are slicing, dicing, and mincing.

Santokus are sometimes made with a hollow edge, which allows them to cut through meat and other sticky materials faster, with more precision, and minimal tearing.

The Santoku knife is an all-rounder and can do almost everything a typical chef’s knife can. In fact, it’s used in place of the chef’s knife by some cooks, especially those with tender hands and prefer a smaller, lighter blade.

Utility Knives

Usually between 4 and 7 inches in length, the utility knife is most of the time treated as a mini chef’s knife. It can come straight or serrated and is good for cutting vegetables and meat that are too small for a chef’s knife. They are sometimes referred to as “sandwich knives”.

Not ideal for:
  • Cleaving meat bones
  • Slicing loaves of bread
  • Precision tasks such as peeling and mincing.

    Pairing Knives

    If you love making garnishes for your foods and drinks, the paring knife is a must-have.

    A pairing knife usually comes with a thin 3 – 4 inches blade and a very pointy tip. It can be used for cutting and peeling fruits, veggies, and trimming excess fat with precision and ease.

    The most common styles of paring knives include:
    1. Spear point paring knives are great for removing corn from the cob, breaking up heads of lettuce, peeling fruits and vegetables, cutting beans, and other similar tasks.
    2. Bird's beak or curved paring knives, also referred to as tourne knives, feature a downward arching blade that makes peeling round fruit and garnishing a breeze.
    3. Sheep's foot paring knives feature a rounded tip with a straight edge. These knives are perfect for chopping and julienning fruits and vegetables on a cutting board.

      Bread Knives

      Bread knives are used for cutting bread, cakes, and sometimes meat, poultry, and seafood. They are designed in a way that allows you to saw through the bread without pushing down or squishing it.

      Made to cut large chunks of bread, most of these knives are 7 to 10 inches long. The blades are usually narrow and always serrated, with big “teeth” along with it.

      Boning Knives

      The boning knife, as you probably have figured, is used for separating meat from the bone, making filet fish, and cutting up meat. It is also a well-loved item by a vegetarian – a small one can be used place of a paring knife for peeling and trimming veggies.

      Boning knives are typically about 3 to 8 inches in length, with slightly varying widths of blades. The blades can be flexible, semi-flexible, or stiff, with stiff blades being the most popular among home cooks due to the enhanced precision in the cut. A really bendy version called a filet knife is great for delicate fish.

      Carving Knives

      Measuring between 8 and 15 inches long, the carving knife looks like a thinner, stretched-out chef’s knife. Its length and very sharp edge allow precise, thin slicing of meat — especially denser, larger items like a roast.

      Not ideal for:
      • Small or delicate slicing of vegetables or boneless meat.
      • Simple or quick cutting for pastries or other smaller dishes.

        Slicing Knives

        The meat slicing knife features a long, straight blade that's designed for slicing cooked meats, sushi, and sashimi, as well as, breaking down large fish. Slicers are generally longer than a carving knife and often feature a Granton Edge and around blunt tip. Ham slicers feature a narrower, more flexible blade that makes cutting cold meat more efficient. A slicer should be long enough to permit smooth slicing action.

        Cleaver Knives

        A cleaver features a long, wide blade that is used to chop and cut through thick meat and bone.The cleaver is usually the bulkiest and weighted knife in the kitchen.

        A typical cleaver has a thick spine and a very strong blade, which allows it to cut through bones and meat in a chopping motion. It’s also very useful for choppings hard and thick materials such as squash or pumpkin.

        The wide, heavy blade makes it ideal for pulverizing cooked or uncooked meat, poultry and fish, and crushing garlic. Cleavers are also ideal for opening lobsters.

        Nakiri Knives

        The Nakiri is a Japanese style knife used mostly for cutting vegetables. It features a thin and wide blade and squared off tips. Its razor-sharp taper edges are best for seedless vegetables.As it is designed for chopping veggies, the knife has a straight blade that can cut through long items (think eggplants, carrots) as well as make super thin slices out of cucumber, bitter gourd, tomatoes, and the likes.

        Steak Knives

        Sometimes used as table knives, steak knives are small knives that are used for not only cutting meat and fish, but also cutting salads, other (mainly cooked) foods, and spreading butter.

        Steak knives can come with serrated or non-serrated edges. Serrated steak knives are generally more popular, as they can stay sharp for a longer time without honing or sharpening.

        Kitchen Shears

        Basically a pair of scissors. Except that since they’re for various uses in the kitchen, from snipping herbs, cutting veggies to sectioning chicken and even outdoor work, the shears usually come with extremely strong and sharp blades.

        Some shears that are designed specifically for fast cutting of green onion or other herbs may have more than one blade. However, the blades on those shears are usually thinner, weaker, and take more effort to sharpen than ordinary shears.

        Butcher Knives

        Butcher knives usually have heavy, wide, and slightly curved blades that are useful for cutting, sectioning, and trimming large pieces of meat.

        Breaking Knives

        Breaking knives are similar to butcher knives and are primarily used to break down large pieces of meat into smaller cuts. Their blades are usually around 10” and are curved to create leverage to break through tough skin, cartilage, and small bones. They are also excellent knives for trimming fat off of meat.

        Cimeter Knives

        A cimeter (or scimitar) knife is a cousin of the classic butcher knife. Its upward curving blade makes it well suited for cutting and trimming steaks.

        Deba Knives

        Often used as a light to medium duty cleaver, the Deba knife is ideal for cutting fish, meat, and hard vegetables, as well as for chopping.

        Flank and Shoulder Knives

        Flank and shoulder knives are types of boning knives that are excellent for creating flank steaks. Their straight, stiff blades are perfect for generating precise cuts while boning, trimming, and jointing.

        Petty Knives

        Comparable to a utility knife, the petty knife's thin, light construction allows for ultimate precision while dicing, slicing, or cutting small items, particularly softer fruits and vegetables.

        Sashimi Knives

        Equivalent to a western slicer, the Sashimi knife is perfect for everyday slicing and for cutting large pieces of fish.

        Fluting Knives

        With a short, straight blade that's 2 to 4 inches long, a fluting knife looks like a shorter, slightly sharper-angled version of a paring knife. This one's used for delicate peeling or creating decorations.

        Usuba Knives

        The usuba is a traditional Japanese style knife designed specifically to cut vegetables. The literal translation of usuba is `thin blade.’ Without this incredibly sharp and thin blade, the knife would break down the cell walls of vegetables, causing ingredients to discolor and decrease in flavor.

        Mincing Knives

        A mincing knife looks like a miniature version of the blade in Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Pit and the Pendulum." But in the culinary world, it's just meant to finely cut vegetables and herbs by moving the blade in a rocking motion.

        Peeling Knives

        Related to the paring knife is a curved blade known as a tourné knife. This short blade curves downward but is not as exaggerated as a hook. Use it to remove skins and blemishes from fruits or vegetables or to make a specific cut called tourné, especially popular with root vegetables.

        Trimming Knives

        The trimming knife looks like a miniature boning knife and is usually under 3 inches long. It can handle a variety of small tasks like removing meat from bone in small areas. If you want to get all retro and make radish roses, a trimming knife will let you do it.

        Cheese knives

        Cheese knives are designed for — you guessed it — slicing cheeses. Knives designed for soft cheeses will have perforated holes, which keep the cheese from sticking to the metal; sharper knives are used for harder cheeses.

        Decorating knives

        Designed to make elaborate cuts, decorating knives have a simple pattern in the blade. One of the most common decorating knives is adorned with a zigzag shape, which is about as much fun as it sounds.

        Grapefruit knives

        The grapefruit knife has a long, flat, dull blade that looks kind of like an artist palette knife with a serrated edge. This is used in the kitchen for separating the fruit of a grapefruit from the peel and pith. Some fancy versions have a double blade — one on either side of the handle — with one for the peel and the other for the inner membrane.

        Tomato knives

        The tomato knives are small serrated kitchen knives designed to slice through tomatoes. The serrated edge allows the knife to penetrate the tomatoes’ skin quickly and with a minimum of pressure without crushing the flesh. Many tomato knives have forked tips that allow the user to lift and move the tomato slices after they have been cut.

        Oyster knives

        Oyster Knives are used to shuck the oysters. These knives can be used for opening the oyster as well as removing the oyster from the shell.

        There are several common styles of oyster knives:

        A. New Haven: The New Haven oyster knife features a comfortable, pear-shaped handle and a short wide blade with a curved tip. It is ideal for use on small to medium sized oysters for half-shell consumption. The unique, curved tip offers two major advantages:
        • It provides excellent leverage for opening the oyster
        • The curved tip tends to travel high inside the oyster, above and away from the tender meat of the oyster, which avoids damaging the oyster meat. This allows you to easily spoon the oyster out of its shell to remove as much meat as possible.
        B. Providence: Features a shorter, wide, straight blade. This serves the same function as the New Haven style but does not have a curved tip. Thanks to its blade’s edge, the style is great for shucking any sized oyster from its shell, though is ideal for removing medium oysters. Plus, the contoured handle features an easy-to-hold design, as the end is thicker than the front.
        C. Boston: The Boston style oyster knife features a long, narrow blade and is extremely versatile and very effective at opening just about any type or size of oyster with a variety of shucking methods. Narrowing to a rounded, flat tip, the blade is moderately sharp but perfectly effective. It features a comfortable handle shaped like a pear with a narrow front and a wide, round backend. Topped-off with a small, front bulge, the handle promotes a secure, stable grip while also providing a convenient resting surface for the hand’s palm.
        D. Galveston: With its long, wide blade that narrows to a point, the Galveston style oyster knife is excellent for commercial use. This style is often used in processing medium and large Eastern oysters for meat gain and features the Boston handle for optimal comfort and maneuverability.
        E. Frenchman: The Frenchman features a short, wide blade that utilizes a sharp edge that is perfect for finding the crease between oyster shells.

        PICKING THE RIGHT KITCHEN KNIFE FOR YOU

        Choosing the right knives will depend on what level you’re at in the kitchen, as well as the types of meals you want to cook. To break it down, here’s what you need to know.

        For Everyday Cooking

        When it comes to everyday cooking, versatility is key. If you’re an everyday cook, you likely cook simple meals most days of the week, and occasionally bigger and more complex meals when you’re entertaining. Therefore, you’re not likely to need a full set of professional kitchen knives.

        The best knives to have in your kitchen area:

        • Chef’s knife
        • Paring knife
        • Utility knife
        • Carving knife

        Pastry Chef

        The pastry chef, who specializes in pastries, bread, muffins, cakes and more sophisticated baked goods such as mille-feuille and plated desserts will need a small yet versatile array of knives to approach a range of ingredients used in baking, as well as for slicing and cutting the finished products. These include a:

        • Chef’s knife
        • Paring knife
        • Bread/cake knife

        Aspiring Chef

        The aspiring chefs are those aiming to grow their skills, normally in the confines of their own home, but none would deny that they are normally quite proficient in the kitchen. They enjoy cooking on a regular basis, entertaining for friends and family, and experimenting with new dishes. The aspiring chef may not yet have all of the skills and experience of the professional, but they are still often knowledgeable and passionate chefs and will need a durable set of kitchen knives, including a:

        • Chef’s knife
        • Paring knife
        • Bread knife
        • Utility knife
        • Carving knife

        Apprentice Professional

        The apprentice chefs are someone's who get paid to learn the skills needed to become a professional. This means they will need a broad range of knives to cater to a wider spectrum of cooking techniques, styles, and dishes. In the kitchen, an apprentice chef needs at least a:

        • Chef’s knife
        • Utility knife
        • Paring knife (different varieties)
        • Boning knife
        • Carving knife

        Professional Chef

        A professional chef has completed an apprenticeship and works in a restaurant, café, or other food establishments. They have high-level skills and knowledge of different cooking styles, cuisines, techniques, and dishes. Therefore, any professional chef will need a wide range of kitchen knives in varying lengths, including a:

        • Chef’s knife
        • Paring knife (different varieties)
        • Utility knife
        • Boning knife
        • Carving knife
        • Slicing knife
        • Cleaver
        • Butcher knife

        The Takeaway

        Using the right knife for the right task is critical to the ease of trying out new recipes as well as extending the life of your knives. A good set of essential knives may last you a lifetime, but that's only if you take care of the steel. Make sure to use your knives for their intended purpose to prolong their lifespan and use the honing steel to keep them sharp and ready to use at a moment's notice.

        If you are serious about cooking and having the proper tools to do so, it is important to invest in the right knife set for your kitchen and your cooking style. Do a lot of research, visit a lot of cooking stores and look at a lot of essential knife sets before making the commitment to the one you are going to be using for a very long time.

        When you grip the handle of your new blade in your kitchen for the first time to start trying out recipes, remember a few words of advice to be your guide.

        The quality of the material of your blade and its handle is important. Steel is one of the most common materials for a kitchen blade, but other materials such as porcelain and ceramic are also available. Some materials are better than others for different types of knives.

        Be sure to learn some basic knife skills before taking the blade in your hand; all chefs in the kitchen should be in one piece by the end of cooking the meal.

        Make sure you brush up on your knife skills and use a cutting board when using your kitchen knives. Practice safety every time and handle with care.

        Get comfortable handling a blade. While it is important to be safe while brandishing steel, it is also important to not be afraid of it and be at ease using it.

        Most importantly, it is essential to enjoy your time in the kitchen. Learn the newest and latest recipes whenever you are able, never stop practicing, and never stop honing your skills as a chef!

        While some kitchen knives serve single purposes, others are used for a variety of reasons. With all the different styles, sizes, lengths, and brands, it can certainly get a little overwhelming. But with the right blade, you can control and conquer any high-performance cooking tasks.

        By reading this guide, whether you are already a professional or aspiring to greater heights, you can always hope to grow your knowledge of the purpose and best use of different blades, helping you master the culinary world, and make the best choices possible for your next triumph.

         

        Must-have kitchen knives and their uses

         

        Which kind of knives do you have? How is your experience with the knives? 

        SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS WITH US IN THE COMMENT SECTION.

        Chef Maryam Ghargharechi

        Chef Maryam Ghargharechi

        Proud mom, wife, and red seal chef with a passion! Member of WACS, CCFCC, and BC Chefs' Association.

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