Cooking Tips · Techniques

Knives — which ones do you really need?

If you peruse many culinary websites, you are bound to see an article about what items you really need in your kitchen. Such a list is going to vary depending on how you like to cook/bake, the size of your kitchen and who compiled the list. However, one item that will be on everyone’s list is a few essential knives. What knives are usually included on this “must have” list is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

Almost all experts will agree that there are only a very few knives that all cooks should have. The first, and most important, is the Chef’s knife followed by a paring knife. Many will tell you that those are really the only two essential knives. The third most recommended knife is a serrated one. There are a few others, though, that are very useful to have if you have the space and want to spend the money.

Chef’s knife (aka Cook’s knife)

These are multi-purpose kitchen knives that are usually 8-10 inches long although you can find shorter ones. They are easily recognizable by the prominent point and a cutting edge that is a sloping curve. This curve is what allows the user to perform a rocking motion cutting technique, which means you “rock” the knife from tip to heel as you cut. Most people will probably find an 8-inch the most preferable size. Mine is a 9-inch and I love that size.

You can do almost any cutting task with a chef’s knife from cutting through a chicken, slicing/dicing veggies, cutting/slicing meat to chopping herbs. If you are going to splurge anywhere in your kitchen, splurge on an excellent chef’s knife. Splurging does not mean spending hundreds of dollars as very good chef’s knives can be found for much less.

Paring knife

A paring knife looks almost like a very small chef’s knife. Blade length can range from two to four inches long and it allows you to cut with more precision. This kind of knife is great for smaller tasks such as coring tomatoes, hulling strawberries, segmenting citrus, and for cutting smaller items such as shallots. If you just want to cut a lemon in half, reaching for a paring knife rather than a large chef’s knife is perfect. They can also be used for non-cutting tasks such as testing to see if a roasted beet is tender or if a cake is done. Although you want a sharp paring knife, you can certainly opt for spending less money here.

Serrated knife

A serrated knife has a serrated cutting edge that looks like a saw. The blade can be 5 to 10 inches long. The ones with longer blades are often called bread knives as they are the best way to slice through bread. They are not limited to slicing bread, though. They are also useful for slicing tomatoes, pineapples, watermelon, chopping chocolate or making cake layers. Because of their design, they are meant to slice food items, not chop them.

I have both a typical bread knife and a serrated deli knife. Because its blade is offset from the handle, it gives more room between your hand and whatever you are slicing,

Boning or fillet knife

When you need a knife that will bend to go around things such as meat joints, you want a boning knife. The blade is thinner and somewhat flexible so it can maneuver around bones and joints. Fillet knives always have a flexible blade, whereas boning knives can be either stiff or flexible. These knives are not designed to cut through bones, but rather around the bones and so are helpful in breaking down a whole chicken or removing bones from pieces of meat. They are also useful for skinning seafood as well as removing silverskin from meat.

There are many other kinds of knives including utility, carving, cleavers, oyster, cheese and santoku knives. Another piece of cutting equipment that is very helpful is a good pair of kitchen shears.

This Tip should help you equip your kitchen with the knives you will need. Other considerations are how to keep them sharp and how to store them. And, of course, knowing how to best use the knives is an important skill for safety and efficiency during your food prep. Consider booking a class on Knife Skills with me. I would love to show you just how to use those wonderful knives.