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How To Buy The Best Kitchen Knives

If you've ever sliced and diced your way through a recipe, you know the right knives make food prep faster, easier, and actually safer. With so many knives on the market at all price points, how can you know you're buying the right knife for the right job? This guide shows you what to look for.

Basic Knives for Everyday Use

These are the workhorses of the kitchen—the knives you'll reach for again and again. Since you'll use these the most, it's worth it to spend a little more for good quality. And because a good knife lasts a long time, your initial investment will quickly pay off.

Chefs Knife_Long Serrated Knife_Paring Knife

Photo by Meredith

Chef's Knife
Your all-purpose kitchen tool. This is the knife you'll use most for slicing, dicing, and chopping. Even the flat of the blade can be used to crush ingredients like garlic cloves and whole peppercorns. Sizes usually run from 6 to 12 inches long, measured from the tip of the blade to the start of the handle. The size you'll buy is the one that feels right for you, so hold the knife in your hand to see if it feels comfortable; not too heavy but not too light, either.
Long Serrated Knife
This thin, saw-toothed knife is often called a bread knife, and is perfect for slicing breads and sandwiches without crushing them. It's also used to slice cakes into horizontal layers before frosting.
Paring Knife
From peeling potatoes to coring an apple, this small but mighty knife can handle all the fine details.


Specialty Knives

Once you collect your basic knives, you can start adding to your essential set with these purpose-built blades.

Carving Knife, Boning Knife, Utility Knife

Photo by Meredith

Carving Knife
This long, narrow blade is designed to carve meats into thin, even slices. It's thinner overall than a chef's knife.
Boning Knife
Slim and narrow, with a very sharp point. This knife is ideal for separating meat from the bone.
Utility Knife
Shorter than a boning knife, but longer than a paring knife. Great for slicing smaller cuts of meat such as chicken breasts and pork chops.

Steak Knives, Cheese Knives, Serrated Utility Knives

Photos by Meredith

Steak Knives
Thin, short, serrated blades are ideal for cutting individual portions of meat. These can double as tomato knives in a pinch.
Cheese Knives
Small knives and servers vary from blunt and broad for scooping and spreading soft cheeses, to quite sharp for cutting through hard, firm cheeses. A cheese knife set usually offers a variety of blades.
Small Serrated Utility Knives
All-purpose blade for small kitchen jobs. Excellent tomato knives. Optional sheaths protect the blade (and your fingers). Great for picnics and camping.

Cleaver, Oyster Knife, Mezzaluna

Photos by Meredith

Cleaver or Butcher Knife
Large, heavy, broad blade used like a hatchet for cutting through bone and separating ribs.
Oyster Knife
Short, strong, sharp blade is uniquely designed to shuck oysters and cut out the meat.
Mezzaluna
Curved, thin blade minces herbs, garlic, and other small foods held in a shallow bowl by rocking the blade repeatedly over the ingredients. The bowl prevents the ingredients from escaping.


Other Specialty Knives

Depending on the kind of cooking you do, you might be interested in these knives:

  • Fillet knife: Long, thin, flexible blade used for boning fish.
  • Skinning knife: Essential for hunters in the field.
  • Electric carving knife: Takes the work out of carving large roasts
  • Japanese chef knives: These specialty knives come in a variety of styles, and include the popular santoku knife used for slicing, dicing, and mincing. Unlike Western-style chef knives, a santoku knife is not designed to rock as it cuts. The blades often have a patterned edge that releases food cleanly after cutting.

Before You Buy Kitchen Knives

Whether you buy a kitchen knife set with an array of different kinds of knives, or collect them one at a time as needed, here are the main points to consider:

Frequency
How often will you use a particular kind of knife? An everyday, all-purpose knife like a chef's knife will probably be your go-to on a daily basis, so this is where you should shop for the best quality.

Materials
Look for high-carbon stainless steel for strength and durability. It won't discolor or rust over time, like ordinary carbon steel can. That said, many professional chefs prefer the relatively softer carbon steel because it's easier to sharpen. But for the everyday home cook, high-carbon stainless steel is the best choice.

Ceramic knife blades have super-hard surfaces, and rarely need sharpening. They're generally lighter than steel knives, and resist corrosion from acidic ingredients such as lemons or tomatoes. On the downside, ceramic blades are very brittle and can break or chip if dropped.

Construction
Steel knife blades are made either by stamping or forging. Stamped blades are punched out of a sheet of steel, while forged knives are made from steel that's melted and pounded into shape; that makes forged knives stronger and sturdier. Along with determining the quality of the steel, you should also look at the handle: If the blade is one solid piece that extends all the way back along the length of the handle, that's referred to as full tang, and it's a mark of superior durability.

Storage
Most kitchen knife sets come with a storage system called a knife block or knife holder designed to protect the blades. Some are upright blocks of wood with slots to fit every blade. Other storage choices are flat systems designed to fit inside a kitchen drawer, or magnetic strips that attach to a kitchen wall.

Sharpening
The only way to truly sharpen kitchen knives is by grinding the edge with a sharpening stone or other manual or electric knife sharpener. To keep the blade in shape between uses, hone it with a sharpening steel.

All images by Meredith.


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Vanessa Greaves

About Vanessa Greaves

Good food, friends, and fun are always on the menu. Check out things that make me go yum: foodelicious On Instagram On Twitter @vanessa_greaves