Sharp kitchen knives are among the most basic and most important tools every home cook should own. If you’ve ever watched a chef at work, you’ve probably seen the many types of knives they keep on hand. From tiny paring knives to enormous cleavers, every one of them seems to have its own job, but how many of these knives are really necessary in a home kitchen? This simple guide pares down the list to just six types of knives to keep in your kitchen and how to care for them.
6 Types of Knives to Keep in Your Kitchen
With these basic blades on hand, you’ll be able to prepare anything from a simple family dinner to a five-course meal.
The Chef’s Knife
If you could only have one knife in your kitchen, the chef’s knife is the way to go. In fact, there are so many uses for a chef’s knife, it’s often referred to as the most important tool in the kitchen. While it’s not ideal for all jobs, it’s a powerful multitasker capable of handling chopping, slicing, dicing, and mincing with ease.
Look for a chef’s knife with a blade that measures eight to ten inches long and curves upward to a pointed tip. This curve is referred to as the “belly” and allows for an easy rocking motion that makes all that slicing and dicing much more fluid.
The Santoku Knife
The Santoku knife is a Japanese multi-purpose knife that’s also great for chopping vegetables, slicing fish, and other general kitchen tasks. It’s shorter than a chef’s knife — only five to seven inches long — and doesn’t have the heft that makes chef’s knives great for big jobs but has other features that make it a kitchen essential.
The Santoku knife is smaller and more lightweight compared to a chef’s knife, making it a great choice for cooks with small hands. It also features a Granton or “scalloped” edge which allows tiny air pockets to get between the blade and your ingredients to prevent them from sticking to the blade between each slice.
When it comes to using this Japanese-style chef knife, there are some differences in the chopping method when compared to the traditional Western-style chef’s knife, so it’s best to get a good handle on how to use each knife to get the most out of what they have to offer.
The Paring Knife
While there are many uses for a paring knife, it is almost exclusively used for small fruits, vegetables and detailed work. With a thin, short blade measuring only a few inches long (usually two to four), it’s not a good candidate for chopping or mincing larger items but is perfect for smaller ingredients like garlic and shallots. It’s also great for peeling fruits and vegetables, segmenting citrus, hulling strawberries, deveining shrimp, and scoring breads, pies, and meats.
The Utility Knife
Not to be confused with a pocket utility knife, the kitchen utility knife lands somewhere between the paring knife and the chef’s knife in size. The blade can be anywhere from four to seven inches long, and though it’s built for lighter work than the chef’s knife, it is similarly shaped and makes an excellent multi-purpose tool.
A utility knife is ideal for cutting through mid-sized fruits and veggies, as well as for slicing up meats and cheeses. It’s also a good candidate for slicing tomatoes, as well as sandwiches, bagels and other bread items.
The Boning Knife
For meat-lovers, the boning knife is an absolute must. The thin, curved blade often has a bit of flex to it, making it easier to slice closer to the bones and cleanly separate the meat without losing too much of the flesh. It’s also perfect for delicately trimming fat, while its slender tip allows you to easily break away the cartilage in joints. Some professional bakers also prefer using a boning knife to carve cakes, core cupcakes and cut cookie dough into shapes.
The Bread Knife
The name here is a bit of a misnomer. With its eight- to ten-inch serrated blade, a bread knife does a spectacular job of slicing through all types of bread, of course, but it has plenty of other uses in the kitchen. When it comes to baking, the bread knife is the perfect tool for leveling cakes as its long blade can slice through an entire layer in just one pass. It’s also a great candidate for large, thick-skinned foods like melons, squashes and other tough fall vegetables, The serrations on the blade allow you to easily slice through the tough skin without applying too much pressure, while the length of the blade allows you to cut even slices.
6 Tips for Taking Care of Your Kitchen Knives
Now that you know all about the essential knives to keep in your kitchen, here are some tips for how to keep them in perfect working order.
1. Keep Them Clean and Dry
While this may sound simple, and it is, the fact is that a little residual water or soap left on your knives can have a negative lasting effect. Always hand wash your knives immediately after use with warm, soapy water using your hands or a soft sponge if needed. Avoid abrasive or colored sponges when washing your knives as this can scratch the metal and damage or discolor the blade.
2. Keep Them Out of the Dishwasher
As mentioned before, always hand wash those knives! A dishwasher is a harsh place for delicate tools like kitchen knives. They can bang around and get scratched and chipped while hitting other utensils and the chemicals in detergent can discolor the metal of the blade, while the water that sits on the blade while drying can easily turn to rust. And don’t forget about the heat! High temperatures can destroy the temper of the steel by making it expand and contract, which can weaken and dull the blade while also increasing the chances of rust.
3. Keep Them Out of the Sink
For protection for yourself and your knives, never leave your kitchen knives in the sink. If you drop your knives in a sink full of water, it’s possible to forget about them while doing dishes and end up grabbing the sharp blade. Even worse, curious little hands can also unknowingly reach into the sink and meet a sharp knife. Leaving your knives in sitting water also isn’t good for the blades either (remember the rust?), so always be sure to hand wash and dry after each use. Even if the sink is empty, it still isn’t the best place for a knife. If it ends up bumping the side of the sink or other dishes, you may be left with chips, scrapes, or a damaged blade overall.
4. Keep Them Out of the Drawer
Properly storing your knives is important as well. If you have a knife block, be sure to use it and make sure your knives are dry before storing them. If you don’t have a knife block, you may want to invest in one or find other options for storing your knives safely so you can resist the urge to throw them in a drawer with other utensils. For the same reason as sitting in a sink, storing your knives loosely in a drawer can be dangerous for you as well as the blade. If your only storage option is a drawer, then invest in some knife covers so you can protect the blades – and your fingers.
5. Keep Them on the Right Cutting Boards
Using cutting boards is essential in all kitchen prep and choosing the right one is essential for keeping your knives sharp. Look for cutting boards made of wood, bamboo, or plastic. Never use granite, marble, glass, or steel countertops as a cutting surface for meal prep. These materials are extremely hard and will roll the edge of your blade, dulling your knives very quickly. Wood and plastic are softer materials that yield to the edge of your knife and protect the sharpness of your blade.
6. Keep Them Sharp
Your kitchen knives can be the most important and yet the most dangerous tools in the kitchen. Even if you’re careful, using a dull kitchen knife can be extremely dangerous for your fingers so it’s vital to keep them sharp.
When a knife goes dull, it’s both inefficient and dangerous. If a knife does not slice right through a piece of paper, it’s not sharp enough to cleanly cut through your food. Instead, it forces you to apply more pressure while increasing your chances of losing control over the knife. This means it can also slip and slide all over ingredients with tough or slippery skins, like onions, and result in cutting your fingers rather than your food. A dull knife can still cut through skin (or rather rip through the flesh), leaving a wider, jagged cut that takes much longer to heal than the clean cut you’d get with a sharp knife.
For most cooks, sharpening every four months is average, and there are a few different options for sharpening your kitchen knives. However, for the inexperienced, the best option for keeping your knives sharp is to first invest in quality knives, then have them professionally sharpened as needed.
If you need more tips on what to look for in a quality knife, then check out our kitchen knife buying guide – or just head on over to fnsharp.com to get all of the essential kitchen knives on this list, along with a magnetic knife block that makes knife storage easy (and classy ?).