Which one of the following statements should you make when buying cooking knives?
“Oh, this set has 7 knives! And it comes with a storage block!”
“Oh, this one is so cheap! Totally worth it!”
“This one has a pretty colored handle!”
Answer: None. Absolutely NONE of the above.
You don’t need to buy knives in bulk, you do not buy good quality knives cheap, and you most certainly should not purchase a knife simply because it looks pretty (especially just based on the handle).
You only need 3 knives in your kitchen. I’m talking for the most basic of basic cooking, all you need are 3: (1) 8 Inch chef’s knife; (2) Paring knife; and (3) Serrated knife.
And, to keep those knives sharp, you’ll also need a sharpening rod (you can’t use this on the serrated knife though).
8 inch chef’s knife
The chef’s knife is your multi-purpose cutting tool. You’re going to use it to cut, slice, dice, chop, and mince pretty much anything from herbs, fruits, and veggies to cuts of meat.
The paring knife is used for tasks that require more precision, like peeling fruits, finely mincing a single clove of garlic, or cutting/slicing smaller foods (i.e. shallots, limes, strawberries). Just try to prep strawberries using a chef’s knife. You’ll see what I mean.
The serrated knife is also known as a bread knife because of it’s excellent ability to cut…bread. But it’s not just great for bread. I use it to cut fruits and veggies that have a tougher outer skin but delicate flesh (i.e. tomatoes, very ripe peaches).
Sharpening Rod (aka “honing steel”)
Um….this is self explanatory…But just in case, it’s what you use to “sharpen” your chef’s knife and paring knife. I used sharpen in quotation marks because sharpening implies that you’re actually removing part of the steel to create a new sharper edge. In fact, the honing rod just realigns the edge of the blade. It’s kind of cool, and you can learn more about that here.
Next, how do you select the right/best knife for the task? I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here. America’s Test Kitchen (“ATK”) does a great job of testing all sorts of kitchen tools, and then giving honest reviews of those products. They recommend The Victorinox 8″ Swiss Army Fibrox Pro for the chef’s knife; The Wusthof Classic with PET 3 1/2 inch for the paring knife; The Wusthof Classic 10″ for the serrated knife; and (though not recommended by ATK) The Wusthof 10″ Sharpening Steel for the sharpening rod. I chose that last one based on reviews on Amazon, since I couldn’t find any reviews on ATK for a honing steel.
Are they pricier than buying a “set” of knives, half of which you’ll never use? Yes, they are. However, the quality of these knives means they will last you for years. I’ve had my Victorinox chef’s knife and paring knife for over ten years. TEN. YEARS.
In addition, a sharp, high quality knife will keep you safer in the kitchen. How? Less chances of the blade slipping off of the food you’re trying to cut and thus accidentally chopping your fingers. A good grip on the knife handle ensures that you have excellent control over the blade. There is nothing scarier than trying to cut a butternut squash with a dull knife and a slippery grip. Trust me on that one.
Now that you have the basic tools to get started in the kitchen, get cooking!