Having a good knife is essential for beginner cooks. I will go over the top 3 must-have knives that every home cook should have in their kitchen.
I recommend having a good chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated (bread) knife at a minimum. I’ll go over the whys, what to look for when buying them, and also basic knife care.
Essential cooking knives
Whether you are a new home cook or a seasoned cook looking to get your kitchen equipped with the right tools for successful cooking this post is for you.
Let’s go over the ins and outs of the top three kitchen knives every kitchen should have and why.
Most new cooks look to buy that nice-looking knife block with all the knives you could ever imagine. I am here to tell you that you do not need all of those and that they will just take up space on your counter.
All you need is a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated bread knife. That’s it! Just those three knives will do everything you need.
You do get what you pay for when it comes to buying a decent mid-range knife. Zwilling Heckles, Wüsthof, and Madein are the top three brands that I would recommend.
They are all made using forged steel which means that the knife is made from one bar of steel, heated, and pounded into shape. Quality is important when picking out knives.
The chef’s knife is the most universal knife to have in the kitchen. In fact, if you can only pick one knife to start, hands down I would suggest a chef’s knife.
These are great for prepping, chopping, and cutting meats. Chef’s knives can cut, slice, or dice any meat, vegetable, or fruit.
They come in all different sizes which can be overwhelming. You will find them ranging anywhere from 6 inches to 14 inches long.
When looking to buy a chef’s knife it is ideal if you can go to your local kitchen store and hold it in your hand to get a feel for it.
The length and the weight are important in picking the right knife for your hands. If it is too long or heavy it will be harder to cut consistently and accurately.
It’s important to be mindful of all kitchen safety tips while proper knife skills are top on the list there are other things to know as well.
I have a post on how to cut an onion that will show you how to cut and dice using a chef’s knife.
The shorter the knife the easier it will be to maneuver, whereas the longer the knife the deeper you can cut. There are so many variables to think about.
You are looking at spending around $100-$150 to get a really good chef’s knife.
The paring knife is basically a smaller version of the chef’s knife and a must-have in your kitchen. They are small, manageable, and less intimidating.
Paring knives are great for cutting smaller things and they allow you to be more precise.
The most common things you will use a paring knife for will be peeling fruits and vegetables, coring things like tomatoes or apples, deveining shrimp, or hulling strawberries.
This is a great knife to use if you are learning how to cut an apple.
But those aren’t the only things paring knives are good for. They are great for small hands and small precise cuts like slicing cheese, radishes, or shallots.
I have a great post on how to cut a shallot that is a great example of how to use a paring knife.
Buying a paring knife is much like shopping for a chef’s knife. Getting to feel it helps a lot. They should have more weight on the handle rather than the blade to help with control and be more precise.
Just about all paring knives are between 3-4 inches long. As I mentioned before, forged steel makes for a stronger and more solid knife.
It may cost you a few bucks more but it will be worth it. You will find that a good paring knife will cost you around $50.
You might not think of a serrated knife as one of the top three kitchen knives to have but they come in really handy!
Serrated or “bread” knives come with small sharp indentations along the cutting edge also known as gussets that help you cut through tough layers or things with soft centers.
If you have a nice crusty bread you can easily cut through it using a sawing motion without squishing the soft airy bread in the middle.
Same as with a nice ripe tomato. Serrated knives are great for gently cutting through something without too much pressure going back and forth.
Serrated knives with their small sharp teeth along the edge last for a very long time if taken care of properly, although they are much harder to sharpen.
You want a handle that is easy to grip when looking to buy a serrated knife. Being able to have a good grip on the knife will give you more control and make for better cuts.
I would recommend a bread knife that is 9-10 inches in length and has deep, broad serrations in the blade.
You will find that a good mid-range serrated knife will cost you between $75 and $100. Again, look for that forged steel so that your knife will hold up and not rust.
How to care for knives
It is important to take care of your knives. Now that you have made the investment, it is crucial to keep them clean and sharp and to do it properly.
Make sure that you store them in a place where they can’t get chipped like on a magnetic strip, laying in a cupboard on a towel, or in a knife block.
How to wash
First and foremost, you always want to handwash your knives and do so right after you have used them. Do not put them in the dishwasher.
Dishwasher detergents can be abrasive which will dull your knives. Also, things can move around while it is running and can result in chipping your knives.
Use mild soap and warm water on a sponge or dishcloth when handwashing your knives. Be careful not to cut yourself.
Hand dry them and keep them in a knife block or lying flat where they can’t get chipped or dinged.
Keeping your knives sharp is very important in not only caring for your knives but for your safety when using them as well.
The more you use them the more often you will want to sharpen them. Always wash your knives after you sharpen them to clean off any fine metal or stone dust from the process.
You will be able to tell when your knives are getting dull by how they are cutting. When it’s becoming a struggle to cut through the skin of a tomato with your chef knife or it keeps slipping when cutting an onion, it’s time to sharpen.
Most knife sets come with a honing tool but I don’t recommend using it. Honing your knife only realigns them it doesn’t actually sharpen it.
Sharpeners remove metal creating a new edge that makes it sharp again.
I use a HENCKELS International Knife Sharpener to sharpen my knives and it works great!
You always want to use a cutting board when using your knives. Wood and plastic cutting boards are the best cutting surfaces for them.
Wooden cutting boards feel the best under the knife as they are softer. Some people are intimidated by wood-cutting boards as they are sure how to clean them.
If you are one of those people, read my post on how to clean a wood-cutting board. It’s a lot less intimidating than you’d think.
Knives are prone to chipping as the metal on the edge of the blade is thin. Cutting on hard surfaces such as granite or ceramic will cause them to chip and become dull quickly.
The best three knives to have to equip your kitchen successfully are the chef’s knife, paring knife, and serrated knife. In that order.
If you can only choose one to start then I would recommend you get yourself a nice 8-inch chef’s knife. Remember when buying your knives, you get what you pay for.
Anything in the midrange will be a great start and will last you years.