There are a few major items you use almost every time you cook. Personally, if I’m using it every single time I cook — I want it to be nice and make my life easier. Knives can do that. If you don’t have great knives, don’t fret, you can still cut things. But trust me, the second you hold the right knife in your hand? Oh baby. I went through my knife block and pulled out the important ones:
Paring Knife – stop using this knife to cut things. This is the number one no-no I see in kitchens. This knife is made ONLY for small, intricate, close to your finger cuts. Things like decorating lemons and deveining shrimp. It should NOT be used to cut a bell pepper. It’s dangerous and harder than it needs to be.
Chef’s Knife – This is my go-to knife. This one is about 6″ long. That’s probably the shortest I’d go. It’s made with a curved black to making rocking the knife back and forth easier. You should really never pick up this knife from the board when cutting, rock the knife back and forth and move the veggie (meat, etc) under the knife.
Santoku Knife – Technically this is made for things that are “tough on the outside and soft on the inside” and is great for sushi (doesn’t mess up the fish), tomatoes, etc. For me? It’s my second chef’s knife. That way when one is dirty I can use the other.
Bread/Serrated Knives – The front knife is a true serrated knife. It’s used when you have something like bread with a crust, it allows you to crunch through that without mashing the bread. I’d never use a chef’s knife on bread, unless you like mashed bread. Then — have fun! The back knife is the best bread knife I’ve ever used. It’s two sided, a small serrated edge and a larger one. If you see one — get it!
Carving Knife – Made almost exclusively for carving this is is made for roasts, chicken, etc. Make sure it’s sharp! It has a curve, like the chef’s knife, but is made to be smaller so you can cut around bones.
Steak Knives – If you cut with these knives I won’t tell on you…but stop. They are a good hand size on purpose (because you hold them and cut meaty steaks with them at the table). They tend not to be as sharp and are frequently serrated or slightly serrated.
Basic things to know about knives:
- Brand – unfortunately, brand does matter. I use Wusthofs but only because they have great steel and fit my hand. There are lots of other reputable brands like Chicago Cutlery and Henkel, but be aware you get what you pay for. Henkel has great knives (pressed in Germany) but they have cheap lines that are pressed in Brazil and Spain.
- Sharpness – I don’t sharpen my knives as often as I should, but I do get it done once a year. Or once every two years. Shut up. I’m bad at these things. Most supermarkets have a day of the week where you can drop your knives off to be sharpened. I, personally, do NOT trust those “sharpen your own knife” devices. Bring them in wrapped in a towel. It’ll protect them and people won’t run screaming because it looks like you’re a mass murderer.
- Fit – your hand, your knife. All of the major manufacturers have different lines of knives. They all have different “tangs” (the handle of the knife). Some will work for you and some won’t. Go to your local cooking store or Bed Bath and Beyond and see if you can test drive knifes, it’s sure worth it.
- Cost – You could spend thousands on knives. My set was about $300 but I got a set that with holes on purpose. It came with most knives, but not a nice chef’s knife or a bread knife. That left me room and budget to add in a nice chef’s knife of my own.
- Cleaning – DO NOT ever put a nice knife in the dishwasher. It’s too hot for them and will slowly (but surely) ruin your knives. It makes the handles all wonky and slowly crushes your blade.