Knives are one of the most important kitchen accessories. A good knife will completely change the way you cook at home—it will allow you to make more meals faster and easier with clean, precise cuts, slices and minces. Though different home chefs have different needs, all should look for strength, sharpness, durability and easy handling. Like buying a car, you'll immediately feel if you've found your match.
Types and Uses: A Cutlery Guide
Chef's Knife: An all-purpose piece of cutlery, this is an essential style. With a longer blade and sharp, narrow point, it's excellent for both rough, high-volume cutting and chopping as well as more delicate tasks like thin slicing and mincing. One of the most versatile styles, it can be used on meat, vegetables, fruit, herbs and more. A utility knife is almost a smaller version of this type but doesn't have the same curve in the blade, as it isn't meant to be used with the same rocking motion, but can be used on similar foods.
Cleaver: A must-have for butchering meats, its heavy blade can also be used to crush garlic, separate bones and slice through harder foods, such as winter squash.
Santoku Knife: A cross between a chef's knife and a cleaver, this Japanese classic has a specialized blade that lets food fall away when cutting, allowing for easier slicing, dicing and other food prep.
Paring Knife: The smaller form is easy to handle during precision cutting and the shorter blade is perfect for slicing, dicing, peeling and trimming fruits and vegetables.
Bread Knife: The serrated blade allows you to easily slice through bread as well as other foods with soft centers without crushing the firm exterior, like tomatoes and citrus.
Slicing/Carving Knife: Designed to easily cut through fish, chicken and other dense cuts of meat, the long, thin blade makes for thin, precise slices.
Boning Knife: A slim blade and sharp edge allows for easy trimming and removal of bones in meat and fish.
How to Buy
If you're just getting started in the kitchen and aren't ready to commit to a full set, consider 2-piece sets with just the bare basics—a chef's and a paring knife. If you're ready for a full range of kitchen tools, you'll find it's worth it to invest in all-encompassing sets with up to 35 pieces. Though sets give your cutlery collection a cohesive look and feel, you can also build up a custom cache with individual pieces. Advanced home cooks may be interested in event-specific sets, such as steak knife collections and carving kits.
Sharpeners and Storage
The safest knife to use is always the sharpest. To keep it in prime condition, make sure to regularly sharpen. This allows the blade to do more work with less force, bringing optimum precision and results. Honing steels are a hands-on option, while electric styles offer a less involved, more mechanized grind.
Preserve the quality of your cutlery with blocks and holders. Wood blocks keep blades dry, as the wood absorbs moisture. Magnetic blocks with wood backing offer that same absorbency, but allow the cutlery to be on display in your kitchen.