Every craft has a set of essential tools and skills you simply can’t do without, and cooking is certainly no exception. You can have all the theoretical knowledge in the world and still end up making a mess in the kitchen if you don’t know which knife is best used for each task.
Here are the most important types of kitchen knives every self-respecting chef needs to have at arm’s reach, and a few less important ones that are still very handy.
Essential Kitchen Knives – What Kitchen Knives do
Almost every good meal contains food prepared using the good old chef’s knife. This is an indispensable kitchen tool that’s unbeatable when it comes to versatility and effectiveness. Whether you need to butcher some meat, dice an onion, slice up some lemons, or chop parsley, the chef’s knife will work every time.
It’s important to choose a chef’s knife that is long, well-balanced, and on the heavier side. The optimum length of a chef’s knife is 8 inches. If you’ve never used such a long knife before, it might feel awkward in your hand at first, but the size of its blade is actually its biggest advantage since it reduces the amount of force you need to apply to cut smoothly.
Good balance will prevent the knife from being too top-heavy and a weightier knife will cut through anything you throw at it more easily thanks to inertia alone.
A serrated knife, more commonly known as a bread knife, is next on the list. Serrated edges have many small cutting surfaces unlike standard blades that have only one cutting edge.
Serrated knives are essentially small saws made especially for use with bread and other various foods whose surfaces are either slippery or waxy, like tomatoes or oranges. A straight edged knife has trouble achieving purchase on to these foods while the serrated knife’s teeth are able to get a firm grip right away and cut through them with ease.
Both these knives are excellent when you only have to cut in straight lines. When you’re fileting fish or carving up a side of beef you need a knife that is flexible and can follow the contours of the bones. In these cases, the boning knife is your best option.
The boning knife has a much thinner blade than a chef’s knife and can bend at incredible angles without breaking. As you’ve guessed from its name, it separates meat from bone, leaving you with clean cuts of protein.
Lastly, there’s the paring knife. This is the go-to blade when the chef’s knife proves too bulky for the task at hand. It is ideal for removing the skin off of tomatoes, and for other types of work that involve precision on a small scale, like peeling apples, dicing garlic. or finely chopping a pinch of your favorite fragrant herb.
Less Important, but Handy Knives
The santoku knife is the Japanese alternative to the western chef’s knife. It can do pretty much anything the chef’s knife can, but has a thinner and much wider blade. It is better at chopping vegetables than the chef’s knife and can scoop them up afterwards. However, it isn’t as suitable for harder vegetables.
At 4 to 7 inches, the utility knife occupies the sweet spot between the chef’s knife and the paring knife. It is useful when the former is too unwieldy and the latter too small. You’ll find that it works well for quick tasks that require a good balance of precision and force, like peeling potatoes.
Although technically not a knife, a good pair of kitchen shears is a versatile addition to the kitchen. Generic shears are good for opening all kinds of bags and food containers, while stronger, professional-grade shears can even make short work of poultry bones and help with food prep. They’re widely used that way for Korean barbecues and in the preparation of other Asian dishes, but have their place in a Western kitchen too.