Choosing the Right Knives for You

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I admit that I like knives. I have a lot. For me, it’s more like a hobby than choosing the knives I need for functional use. I also understand that for most people knives are just a tool and that you only need the number of knives that get the job done.

So how do you choose the right knives for you?
My advice would be that for most people buying a ‘knife set’ is not the best option. If you have a budget for your knives, you are better off spending 60-80% of that budget on the first knife on the list.

Chef / cooks / gyuto
For most people, the bulk of the investment in their knife block should be the chef/cooks/gyuto. This is the main knife that can be used for most of the cutting tasks in the kitchen. If you spend a little bit extra on any of your knives, this is the one. This knife blade is probably between 18 - 36cm long and has a heel that is deep enough to sit on the cutting board with your fingers clear from the board while you’re holding the handle. This means you can both chop with the heel end and slice with the tip end. Look for a known brand with quality steel.

The second most important knife in your collection is probably either the utility or the paring knife (see below) depending on what you do more often. The utility knife is a smaller knife - probably around 10 to 18cm long with a shallow heel. They’re really useful for finer work (although with practice your chef knife could probably do most of this work too) like small fruit, sausage, cheeses, small veggies and trimming chicken or fish.

Paring knife blades are usually between 5 and 9cm long. The paring knife is great for peeling and fine, precise cutting of small items. They are often used on the chopping board and (carefully) with the items being cut in hand.

Really, they are the three knives that most people will use in the kitchen. After those, specialty knives can be chosen based on what you need to use them for.

Many people don’t cut bread, but if you do it’s worth having a serrated bread knife. If the bread you cut is mostly small rolls, consider an inexpensive serrated utility knife to save some money.

Butcher’s knives are long and curved. They can be used for butchery (obviously) of larger cuts and for slicing steaks or cooked meat like brisket. These are more versatile than the carving knives that come in most knife sets.

These are long knives used for slicing large cuts smoothly in as close to one slicing movement as possible. This helps with smooth, thin slices of meats like brisket and ham.

Thin, flexible blades help with boning fish and small proteins. If you’re a fisherman or want to do finer work like frenching, one of these might be useful for you.

Ultimately, spending your money on only the knives you need will allow you to spend more on quality knives rather than having more knives that you won’t use. Start with an investment in a chef knife you can keep for many years and build the rest of your collection around that.


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by: Mat Holbrook