The 7 Knives Every Kitchen Needs

Spyderco Santuko

A little while back I compiled a list of the best chef’s knives, but today I thought I would go over what styles of knives I think every kitchen should have, a brief description of each, and what they are good for. In my opinion, I think every home kitchen should have these basic 7 knives: a chef’s knife, a paring knife, a serrated knife, a boning knife, a cleaver, a utility knife, and a honing steel. With these options you will be able to do and create any food masterpiece with ease.

Spyderco Santuko
Spyderco Santuko

The Chef’s or Cooks Knife:

For starters, every single kitchen should have a chef’s knife. These are some of the most versatile knives in the kitchen and can really stand up to most tasks. If you could only have one style of knife in your kitchen, I would recommend that you choose this style. The best size for a chef’s knife is usually between 8 to 10 inches long, which does seem a little bit long especially to newbies in the kitchen. However, with the extra length comes extra efficiency and more versatility. Plus, the longer the blade is, the faster you can cut with it. However, chef’s knives also come in 6 and 12 inches, the smaller the blade is the more control you can have over it. Chef’s with smaller hands should go for one of the smaller sized blades. Commonly found on chef’s knives is a broad blade that has a gentle curve upward toward the tip, because this allows it to rock which helps for mincing. A spine on the perfect chef’s knife should be thick because the thicker the spine, the more durable the blade is. Another great thing to look for on your chef’s knife is a bolster, which is the metal collar that sits between the blade and the handle. Not all chef’s knives have a bolster, but a bolster prevents the knife from slipping. Chef’s knives can seem expensive at first look, however, when purchasing a quality chef’s knife, they will last for years and years. Chef’s knives pay themselves off in the long run.

Best for:

  • Slicing
  • Dicing
  • Chopping
  • Mincing
  • Great for using on vegetables, fruits, meats, and fish.

Not to be used for:

  • Skinning large vegetables.
  • Butchering or carving meats.
  • The length and broadness of the chef’s knife does not make it ideal for cramped tasks, where you’re better off with a smaller style of knife.

 

The Paring Knife:

Paring knives are designed for intricate tasks because they have a thin blade of 3 to 4 inches that tapers to a point. They can be used for these more intricate tasks because the user has much more control over them than they would by using a larger knife. However, paring knives can be used for many of the basic utility tasks in the kitchen, just as the chef’s knife can be. These are ideal for cutting garlic and small berries, for peeling fruits and vegetables, and for slicing smaller food items. Unlike the chef’s knife, the paring knife comes in many different styles, so we’ll go over the most common styles of paring knives.

The Boning Paring:

This style is mainly used to remove meat from the bones of what you are working with. Plus, it is great for other detailed cutting jobs.

The Wavy Edge:

This type of paring knife works great to cut things that have an outer layer and then are soft on the inside, such as tomatoes.

The Clip Point or Granny:

This style of paring knife excels at removing eyes from potatoes, pits from olives, and are great for peeling fruit and vegetables.

The Chef’s:

This is really just a tiny chef’s knife and can be used for the same things that a chef’s knife can be used for.

The Bird’s Beak:

I would say this is the most unique style of paring knife, because instead of the regular tip, it has an extreme trailing point tip. This style is great for peeling round fruit and for precise carving.

The Sheep’s Foot:

Lastly, this style has a straight cutting blade. This one is perfect for peeling or paring food.

 

Really a simple paring knife would be able to complete most of these tasks just as well as the special paring knives. I would only get one of the special styles if I was a trained chef. But there they are just in case. You can find a good paring knife for much less than a chef’s knife, so there is no need to splurge on this style.

Best for:

  • Peeling
  • Trimming
  • Slicing, especially the smaller fruits and vegetables, such as garlic and berries.
  • Food that needs intricate detail.
  • Coring foods

Not to be used for:

  • Harder vegetables, because the knife doesn’t carry enough weight behind it to actually slice the food without applying too pressure.

 

The Serrated or Bread Knife:

The serrated knife is most commonly known as the bread knife, because it does excel at cutting bread. However, limiting this knife to only bread does it a great injustice. Because the serrations can grip surfaces so well instead of squishing them or digging in, this style of knife is great for slippery and waxy foods, such as tomatoes, peppers, and citrus. When using a serrated knife, use a sawing motion instead of a chopping motion. This style of knife is best on larger food, because the blade is longer than a paring knife, it is not ideal for berries, herbs, and garlic. You can find serrated blades between 5 and 10 inches long, but one of the most common is a 6-inch-long serrated knife. Because serrations make the knife harder to sharpen than a straight edge, many chefs’ will choose to spend less on each serrated knife and just buy new ones more often. But, serrated knives should stay sharp for years if you treat them right.

Best for:

  • Bread
  • Waxy or slippery foods such as tomatoes, peppers, and citrus.
  • Larger food sizes.

Not to be used for:

  • Smaller foods, because the long blade does not give you the control you need.
  • Never use a chopping motion, always saw with this knife.

 

The Boning Knife:

This knife is ideal for boning fish, poultry, and meat. It also excels at cutting up those meats. A good boning knife should be able to perform on truly any size of meat. This is a unique knife because it has a narrow blade that curves inward that allows you to control the knife perfectly while removing meat from the bones. The blade should be around 5 or 6 inches. While most knives are made to cut in straight lines, bones are not always straight and you have to have a knife that can accommodate those bones. A boning knife is a little more flexible than a regular knife so that it does give and flex when needed. The smaller the meat, the more flexible the knife can be, but the larger the meat cut, the less flexible you are going to want you blade. But, a boning knife is not meant to cut through a bone and will not be able to accomplish that unscathed. It can cut through joints and cartilage. Just like the paring knife, there are a few different options when purchasing a boning knife.

Narrow Boning Knife:

This is best used for rips or chops because it can easily cut around bone and through the cartilage.

Wide Boning Knife:

This style excels at meats such as chicken and pork.

Curved Boning Knife:

This style of boning knife is extra curved and works best for when you need to cut at an angle or super close to the bone.

Boning knives aren’t generally too expensive, but if you know that you are going to be using your boning knife often and for heavier duty meats, then I would recommend spending a bit more to get a high quality boning knife that will stand up to the challenge and last longer.

Best for:

  • Removing the bones out of any slab of meat.
  • Cutting through tendons and cartilage.
  • Any task that needs precision cutting and a more flexible blade.

Not to be used for:

  • Actually cutting directly through the bone.

 

The Cleaver:

The typical size for a cleaver is around 6 inches long, but it always has a wide, rigid blade. The blade is usually heavy to provide the weight and balance needed for the cleavers tasks. The cleaver is ideal for cutting through tough food, such as firm vegetables or meat bones, with a chopping motion. The blade is not meant for slicing because of its size. Also, the flat part of the blade can be used for smashing ingredients such as garlic, or pulverizing the meat that you are working with. There are meat cleavers and vegetable cleavers. The vegetable cleavers will usually have a finer blade because the food that it is chopping through is not as tough. Often times, there will be a hole at the top of the blade that is for hanging up the knife to store it.

Best for:

  • Chopping through meat bones.
  • Chopping through meats.
  • Chopping through firmer vegetables.
  • Smashing garlic or seeds.
  • Pulverizing meat.

Not to be used for:

  • Slicing your ingredients.
  • Tasks that need a delicate hand or intricate cuts.

 

The Utility Knife:

This knife is sometimes known as a Sandwich Knife, because it is perfect for slicing sandwich meats. This knife is slightly smaller than the chef’s knife, ranging from 4 to 7 inches long, but it is just as versatile as a chef’s knife. It falls right in between the chef’s knife and the paring knife and really gives you the best of both worlds. It is large enough to use on most things that the chef’s knife can be used for such as apples and squashes. But, it is small enough that it can still be used for garlic, small fruits and vegetables, and herbs. You can find utility knives with either straight or serrate edges. A straight edge blade can typically do more; however, you will have to sharpen it more often. The serrated edge won’t be able to do as many tasks, but it will stay sharper for longer. These knives are really great for all the everyday kitchen tasks, but if you have a chef’s knife and a paring knife, the utility knife is not a necessary purchase.

Best for:

  • Medium sized vegetables and fruits.
  • Smaller food such as herbs or garlic.
  • Ideal for sandwich meats, which is why it is sometimes known as a Sandwich Knife.
  • Can be used for everyday kitchen tasks.

Not to be used for:

  • Larger or heavy duty tasks.
  • Super small tasks, such as berries.

 

The Honing Steel:

This is the only item on my list that isn’t actually a knife. However, the honing steel is really an essential tool for every home chef. What a honing steel does is works to smoothen and realign the teeth on the blade. This keeps your knives at their sharpest for the longest time possible. When a knife is sharper, you are going to get cleaner cuts than if you were working with a dull knife. It is recommended that knives should be honed after every single use, so having a honing steel close by is truly essential. However, honing a knife doesn’t actually sharpen it, so you will still need to get your knives sharpened every so often. A honing steel should not be used on any serrated edged knife, because the serrated edge won’t allow you to glide across this tool. Often times, if you purchase a knife set, a honing steel will come with it. On the off chance that yours did not include a honing steel, or you have lost yours, you can buy them separately.

Best for:

  • Using after every knife use.
  • Straight edged blades.

Not to be used for:

  • Any serrated edged blade, because the serrations won’t glide smoothly across the honing steel.

 

Conclusion:

While there are tons of different styles of kitchen knives, a solid kitchen really only needs these seven. If you have all seven of these knives, you should be able to accomplish any kitchen task. Happy cooking.

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