Three. The short answer is: you really only need three kitchen knives. Many of us started our adult lives with an all-in-one knife block/set that included a variety of knives. But how many of those knives did you actually use? If you’re planning to regularly serve Thanksgiving-sized meals, sure all of the specialty knives included in the set might be useful. But, on an everyday basis, most home kitchens only need three knives: a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife.
I’m likely not the first person to share this piece of advice. It’s become relatively common knowledge that a modern kitchen doesn’t need an arsenal of specialty knives. In fact the legend himself Anthony Bourdain suggested in Kitchen Confidential that one knife was sufficient for most homes: “Please believe me, here’s all you will ever need in the knife department: ONE good chef’s knife, as large as is comfortable for your hand.”
So beyond the large, sharp, comfortable chef’s knife, a small paring knife for more delicate tasks and a serrated knife should round out your essential knife lineup. If you’d prefer to stick with a matching set, there are definitely some solid options. We’d suggest checking out Misen or Wüsthof. But we think it’s a lot more fun mixing and matching the essential kitchen knives. Need some advice picking out these knives? We’ve got you covered.
The Chef’s Knife
Consider your chef’s knife the all-purpose tool of the kitchen. You’ll use a chef’s knife for nearly every cut. As such, as Bourdain said, this should be a large and in charge knife, but it shouldn’t feel unwieldy. You’ll use a chef’s knife for slicing, dicing, chopping, carving, and more. Make sure your chef’s knife stays clean and sharp.
The Best Chef’s Knives
When it comes to selecting a good chef’s knife, you shouldn’t downgrade. Invest in something that is durable and dependable, it’ll be doing the brunt of the work in the kitchen. From, there it’s a matter of personal preference. There are a variety of styles of chef’s knife though they typically all feature a slightly rounded, tapered shape with a fine edge. The handle is typically small and slender. Broadly speaking, there are German-style chef’s knives which are made of softer steel alloys and Japanese-style which are made of harder steel alloys. Neither is necessarily better, it’s just a difference of aesthetics and the way the knife feels in your hand.
Wüsthof Classic Ikon 8-Inch Cook’s Knife: This German-style chef’s knife is made by Wüsthof, one of the most trusted names in kitchen knives. The high-carbon stainless steel blade is strong and precise. It’s a touch hefty and you’ll want to sharpen it regularly. Buy: $180
Tojiro DP Gyutou: Priced at just $86, this chef’s knife is a steal. This thin, 8.2″ blade is perfectly balanced for a smooth cut and outperforms many more expensive knives. Not sure where to start? Just get this one. Buy: $86
Global 8″ Chef’s Knife: While the all-stainless steel design of the Global chef’s knife is unique, it doesn’t offer much on the practical side. Still, the blade’s high-tech molybdenum/vanadium stainless steel construction means it is both seriously durable and offers the smooth slicing of a Japanese knife. Buy: $100
The Paring Knife
For more precise cutting, peeling, or mincing, you’ll want to turn to a solid paring knife. Paring knives should be kept razor-sharp and squeaky clean. These smaller knives come in a variety of styles, many of which mimic classic pocket knife shapes. You might find ones that just look like mini chef’s knives or a paring knife with a sheep’s foot style blade. Keep in mind the use case and choose a paring knife that you’ll feel comfortable using either while cutting on a board or peeling fruit or vegetables in your hand.
The Best Paring Knives
Unlike the best chef’s knives, paring knives tend to run pretty inexpensive. So, when selecting a paring knife, you’ll want to look for a good steel blade that will stay sharp. The handles can vary from wood to plastic to steel and, as mentioned above, the styles can vary.
Misen Paring Knife: Buzzy cookware brand Misen offers a variety of simple yet effective knives. And the paring knife, with its AUS-10 steel ultra-sharp blade, will do the trick for years to come. Available in blue, black, or grey handles. Buy: $35
Victorinox 3.25″ Paring Knife: Inexpensive, yet high-quality, the basic Victorinox paring knife is one of the most beloved kitchen knives around. The plastic handle is comfortable to hold and easy to clean. Plus, the stainless steel blade is durable and extra sharp. You can also get the Victorinox paring knife with a serrated blade but more on that later. Buy: $8
MAC Professional Paring Knife: MAC’s paring knife is heftier than the others and a great deal more expensive. But, it functions more like mini chef’s knife meaning you’ll get significantly more out of it. Buy: $70
The Bread Knife
Finally, you’ll want a high-quality bread knife to round out your essential kitchen knives. If you aren’t slicing your own bread at home, we’d highly recommend you start now. Your bread will stay fresher for much longer. And, you’ll have more control over your sandwich slices. Your serrated bread knife should also be able to slice tougher food like tomatoes and pastry crusts. Bread knives can vary in shape and serration so ultimately you’ll want to choose a serrated knife that feels good to use and fits with your aesthetic preferences.
The Best Bread Knives
Opt for bread knives that have some heft to them. When you’re slicing through a seriously crusty bread, you’ll want a knife that can handle the job. Plus, you’ll probably prefer a longer bread knife to manage a variety of sized breads.
Tojiro Bread Slicer: This beautiful bread knife is sure to turn heads in your kitchen. Plus, its rounded scalloped teeth make this knife a decent meat slicer, too. Buy: $63
Mercer Culinary Millennia Bread Knife: The Mercer Culinary bread knife is a tad thicker than many of its counterparts but the price is too good to pass up. You might not find as much precision in your slices, but this bread knife will last you for many years to come. Buy: $22
Shun 9″ Bread Knife: Sure it’s wildly expensive, but would you look at this beauty? The razor-sharp unique blade design is only matched by the Pakkawood handle. If you’re going to splurge on one knife, make it this one. Buy: $160
The Best Way to Store Your Kitchen Knives
Now that you’ve acquired all the essential knives, you’re going to want to properly store them. Gone are the days of wooden knife blocks. Sliding your knives in and out of the block will lead to dulling over time. Plus, the interior slots can lead to mold and germ buildup if any water gets in.
Instead, opt for a magnetic knife block. Not only will they clear clutter on your counter space, they look great creating a handsome display in your kitchen. Otherwise, store knives with either a case/cover or resting on a towel in your kitchen drawers.