Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned chef, finding the right knives can make a world of difference to your dishes and every kitchen needs a good set.
But what knives are must-haves for home cooks? From versatile chef's knives to specialised blades for specific tasks, expert chef Peter Sidwell talks us through the different types and recommends the three most essential to have in your arsenal.
We'll also dive into the top things to consider when buying a knife and how to keep them in tip-top condition so they'll last for years to come.
The different types of kitchen knives explained
The type of kitchen knife you need depends on the job at hand, and it can be quite daunting to figure out which one is best suited for each task — especially if you're new to cooking! That's why we've explained the different types with recommended products, making navigating the world of blades easier.
A chef’s knife is your go-to companion for everyday meal prep. It’s a large, versatile knife that’s great for all sorts of kitchen tasks, whether it’s preparing veggies, cutting meat, or even crushing garlic.
A paring knife — also known as a vegetable or peeling knife — is a small design which typically has a thin, narrow blade that tapers to a point. A paring knife is commonly used for delicate kitchen tasks like peeling, finely slicing, and coring.
"A paring knife is a versatile little gem when it comes to handling vegetables and fruits," explains Peter. “I personally love using it for preparing fondant and roast potatoes. The sharpness of this knife allows you to effortlessly glide through the potato skin, removing it with precision and minimal waste.”
A bread knife is used for — you guessed it — cutting bread. The sharp serrated edge slices bread effortlessly without crushing or tearing it, allowing for clean and even cuts.
Although it's not made for it, bread knives also come in handy for slicing through the tough skin of fruits and veggies like tomatoes or melons while keeping the soft inside intact.
A carving knife is best for slicing joints of meat and poultry thanks to the long thin blade with a pointed tip and sharp edge. It glides through meat cleanly without shredding or tearing it. And the blade’s length allows for long, clean strokes resulting in beautifully sliced portions — perfect for when you’re hosting Christmas dinner or simply enjoying a Sunday roast!
Peter says: “the most important thing about a carving knife is to keep it sharp and only use it for cutting meat and fish. Otherwise, it’ll lose its sharp edge and won’t carve as well.”
A utility knife is a smaller version of a chef’s knife featuring a medium-sized blade. These knives are designed to handle tasks that fall between needing the precision of a paring knife and the larger cutting needs of a chef’s knife.
A Santoku knife is a versatile, multipurpose knife that originates from Japan.
"Santoku" translates to "three virtues" or "three uses," referring to the knife's ability to handle three main tasks: slicing, dicing, and mincing. It has a shorter, wider blade compared to a traditional Western chef's knife and features a flat cutting edge which allows for clean straight cuts.
Santoku knives often have Granton edges, which are small indentations on the side of the blade that prevent food from sticking. Perfect for creating thin, uniform slices of veggies or meat for beautiful presentations.
Peter says, “like a chef’s knife, a Santoku knife is also a versatile tool which is always comfortable to use when chopping lots of veggies for a stir fry, soup or sauce.”
The 3 essential knives every kitchen needs
1. Chef's Knife
Here’s Peter to talk us through why a chef’s knife is essential in any kitchen.
Peter says, “my 20cm chef’s knife is my go-to for a wide range of kitchen tasks. It’s a large knife that’s got some weight to it, meaning it’ll do some of the work for you. And you’ll probably be reaching for this knife daily, so your wrists and arms will definitely appreciate it!
The long blade is excellent for cutting through tougher veggies like potatoes and carrots and the pointed edge is ideal for more intricate jobs like mincing fresh herbs.
I’d recommend buying a high-quality one, as it’ll withstand the demands of daily use and become your reliable kitchen companion for years to come.”
For beginners to cooking, a chef’s knife should clearly be your first choice when buying the essentials, as it truly covers all bases in the kitchen!
2. Bread knife
Peter explains why a bread knife is a must-have for cooking.
“Bread knives are an absolute kitchen essential,” says Peter. “There’s no other knife that’s up to the job of slicing through bread effortlessly without squishing it!”
“Whether you’re enjoying a baguette, a loaf of sourdough, or even a delicate cake or pastry, a bread knife ensures a clean, precise cut every time. You’ll wonder how you ever managed without one!”
3. Paring knife
A paring knife is another kitchen essential, according to Peter.
"Every cook needs a reliable knife that excels in precision tasks," explains Peter. "While a chef's knife can handle many jobs, there are moments when you need something more specialised. That's where a paring knife comes in.”
“When you're trimming Brussels sprouts or coring apples, you want a knife that offers optimal control and agility to tackle those finer details with finesse. And that’s why a paring knife is essential in my kitchen.”
What to consider when buying a knife
- Stainless steel — Stainless steel is a popular choice as it offers affordability and durability. It contains a high amount of chromium, which is a chemical that helps prevent rust and corrosion, meaning you won’t have to worry about stains on your blade. However, it can be slightly softer than other types of steel, so it’s important to keep on top of sharpening your knives!
- Carbon steel — Although it can be more expensive than stainless steel, carbon steel is another great choice of metal for your knives. It’s known for its hardness and ability to maintain a sharp edge. However, this metal does tend to lack the chromium content that provides stainless steel with excellent rust resistance. But, with proper maintenance and regular cleaning, you can keep your carbon steel knives in tip-top shape. Just make sure to dry them thoroughly after use with a tea towel and store them in a knife block or dry place to reduce the chance of rust.
- High-carbon stainless steel — High-carbon stainless steel combines the corrosion resistance of stainless steel with the added advantage of a sharper edge, making it an excellent choice for knives.
- Damascus steel — A favourite amongst professional chefs: Damascus steel knives are all about style and performance and are usually on the pricier side. With their beautiful blade patterns created through layering and folding different steels, they’re a great choice for those who appreciate aesthetics. But it’s not just about looks; these knives also offer strength, durability, and sharpness.
But what is Peter’s go-to material when picking a knife?
“I always go for stainless steel or high-carbon stainless steel knives, as they’re great value for money, super easy to keep clean, and don’t stain.”
Considering the weight of a knife is important because it can affect the overall comfort and control you have when chopping.
Peter says the weight of your knife boils down to personal preference: “Choosing the weight of your knife is all about what feels right for you. A chef’s knife should — of course — have some weight to it so it can easily glide through denser foods, but it should never feel so heavy that it strains your wrists.”
“A well-balanced knife feels comfortable in the hand and allows for better manoeuvrability. And it shouldn’t feel too heavy towards the handle or blade, as this could hinder your cutting precision and tire your hand out, especially during repetitive tasks.”
When it comes to buying a knife, comfort is an essential factor that often gets overlooked. After all, you want a knife that feels like an extension of your hand, making chopping a breeze.
Peter says: “When a knife feels comfortable in your hand, you have better control and precision, allowing you to maintain a secure grip on the handle. This reduces the chances of accidental slips and the risk of cutting yourself.”
“I’d recommend looking out for knives with rubber handles for extra grip or ones that are moulded to fit the contours of the hand as they're really comfortable and provide stability.”
One aspect of your knife to think about is the tang. Now, you may be wondering, what on earth is a tang? Well, it’s simply the part of the knife blade that extends into the handle. And the three most common options are:
- Full tang — Extends the entire length and width of the handle. The handle material is typically attached to the tang using rivets, screws, or pins for a strong connection between the blade and the handle
- Rat tail tang — Also known as a stick tang, a rat tail tang is narrow and tapers towards the end, resembling the shape of a rat's tail. It does not extend the full width or length of the handle
- Half/partial tang — Extends only partway into the handle. When excessive force is applied, a knife with a half tang can be prone to snapping, as the connection between the blade and handle relies solely on glue
So, which one is best when choosing a knife? Peter says, “I tend to go for a full tang as the blade extends all the way through the handle, providing strength and durability. It means your knife won’t break during tasks that require a bit more force, like chopping potatoes.”
So, if you're looking for a reliable and sturdy knife that can withstand heavy-duty use, a full tang may be the way to go.
When you're on the hunt for the perfect knife, the balance should definitely be on your radar. A balanced knife allows for better control and manoeuvrability, making it easier to perform delicate tasks like precision slicing or chopping with confidence.
Look for a knife where the weight is evenly distributed between the blade and handle. A way of checking this is to carefully lay your knife across your middle finger and forefinger where the handle and blade meet. If a knife tilts excessively towards the blade, it may cause you discomfort and be challenging to control during use.
On the other hand, If the knife is too handle-heavy, it may not cut efficiently because the blade lacks the necessary weight and momentum to glide through ingredients smoothly.
Frequently asked questions
How do you sharpen a knife?
Every knife will benefit from a sharpen every now and again, especially if the blade is looking a bit blunt or not slicing through as effortlessly as you want it to. Dull or unsharpened blades also demand additional force, raising the risk of slipping and compromising knife safety, potentially leading to injuries.
To sharpen your knife, you’ll need a tool that’s made of a harder material than the blade to remove small amounts of metal from it, restoring its sharpness. That’s why sharpeners are usually made of stone and ceramic.
The most common types of sharpening tools include:
- Sharpeners — These include manual sharpeners, which involve pulling the blade through a sharpening slot, and electric sharpeners, which use spinning stones to grind the blade to a point.
- Sharpening stones — These are traditional tools for sharpening knives and they come in different materials and shapes like whetstones and diamond stones. By sliding the blade across the stone at the right angle, small amounts of metal are removed, making it sharp again.
The process and motion are the same for whichever tool you settle on: you draw the knife edge across an abrasive surface to shave off metal and create a sharp point.
Beginners may be best using a fixed knife sharpener, as the angle will already be set, and all you need to do is draw your blade through the slot.
To learn more, check out our guide on how to sharpen a knife.
How should you clean a knife?
Peter says, “knives should be cleaned after every use to prevent the buildup of bacteria.”
“Many knives are sold as dishwasher safe, but I would always recommend hand washing them. The high heat and moisture during a dishwasher cycle can damage the steel of the blade, especially if it’s made from carbon steel which is more likely to rust. High temperatures can also cause the metal to expand and then contract as it cools down, and this back-and-forth can lead to the blade warping.”
To hand wash your knife, apply a small amount of mild dish soap to the blade and handle and carefully rub with a damp cloth. You could pop your knife on your countertop, hold the handle securely with one hand, and do this one side at a time for safety. For stubborn stains, you can soak your knife in warm water with a little dish soap for a few minutes before scrubbing gently with a non-abrasive cleaning brush. Then, all you need to do is rinse and dry.
Peter stresses the importance of drying your knives after cleaning: “Remember to dry your knife thoroughly with a clean tea towel as leaving it to air dry could cause rust.”
To learn more, check out our step-by-step guide on how to deep clean your kitchen.
How should knives be stored?
Properly storing your knives is essential to maintain their sharpness and prevent accidents in the kitchen by keeping them out of harm's way.
The most effective ways to store your knives include:
- Knife blocks — These are a classic and reliable storage solution. Just slide each knife into its designated slot, and your blades will be safely nestled, ready for action whenever you need them. Plus, knife blocks add a touch of charm to your countertop. However, the design of knife blocks with narrow slots and crevices can make them a bit tricky to clean. And if not cleaned regularly, trapped food particles and moisture can lead to bacterial growth.
- Knife racks — If you're short on counter space or want a more modern look, knife racks are the way to go. Mount them on your kitchen wall, and your knives will hang there like culinary artwork. It's a practical and visually appealing storage solution. Just make sure to hang them high enough out of reach of children and pets.
- Knife drawers — For those who prefer a neat and hidden storage option, knife drawers are the answer. These organisers have separate compartments to keep each knife snugly in place. No more rummaging around for the right knife, and you'll protect those precious blades from banging into other utensils.
What type of knife is best for cutting vegetables?
Peter says, “when it comes to cutting vegetables, a 20cm chef's knife is usually best as they have a sharp, wide blade that allows for precise slicing, dicing, and chopping of various veggies with ease. The length of the blade makes it easier to navigate around the curves and contours of different vegetables, resulting in cleaner and more accurate cuts. And the heavier weight gives you more power to chop through hard root vegetables like parsnips and turnips.”
What type of knife is best for cutting meat?
The type of knife you need for cutting meat depends on the task at hand.
Peter explains: “I always reach for a 20cm cook’s knife or utility knife for cutting up raw meat, as the wide blade makes slicing through thick cuts a breeze. But when it's time to carve that succulent roasted chicken or perfectly cooked roast leg of lamb, a carving knife is the way to go. It’ll make the process of slicing and serving cooked meat a joy, with its long, slender blade designed for precision and clean cuts for a beautiful presentation.”
Best knife accessories
Best for chopping ingredients: KitchenCraft Large Chopping Board
“A good solid wooden chopping board makes a kitchen if you ask me and this product is a must-have,” says Peter. “I love the indented side handles, as they make lifting and pouring your ingredients into your frying pan super easy! The added convenience of effortless transportation also makes it a great cheese board or grazing board platter.”
It's also made from tropical hardwood, which is renowned for not warping or splitting, ensuring that this chopping board will stand the test of time and maintain its impeccable quality for years to come.
Best for displaying knives: Natural Elements Acacia Wood Magnetic Knife Holder
Crafted from stunning acacia wood, this magnetic knife holder not only adds a touch of elegance to your kitchen but also provides a practical storage solution. Its concealed magnetic strip securely holds your knives in place.
“A magnetic holder is a great way to hang your knives up so you can always see them and get to them when needed,” says Peter. “Hanging your knives is also a good alternative to placing them in a kitchen drawer as you can easily cut yourself when looking for that right knife.”
Best for sharpening knives: Sabatier Maison Classic Knife Sharpener
Elevate your kitchen to professional chef standards with this knife sharpener. Featuring two grinders, the 'coarse' slot revitalises dull blades, while the 'fine' slot hones and perfects already sharp knives.
And, beyond its exceptional functionality, this sharpener boasts a modern design: a smart addition to any kitchen.
Best for everyday use: Sabatier Classic Edgekeeper Acacia 5 Piece Knife Block
This Sabatier kitchen knife set and block includes a must-have assortment of knives for all your daily kitchen needs.
The perfectly balanced handles provide superb stability and control, ensuring you're always in command. Plus, it has a convenient knife block that boasts built-in sharpening technology. Each time you insert or remove a knife from the block, the blade undergoes a natural sharpening process, effortlessly maintaining the razor-sharp edge with minimal effort.
Peter says, "with its sleek design and impressive functionality, this knife set not only amps up the style in any kitchen but also makes a fantastic housewarming gift that'll be truly appreciated."
Elevate your cooking game with knives and knife accessories at CookServeEnjoy
From chef’s knives for everyday food prep to bread knives for slicing through baked goods seamlessly, having a range of knives is essential for achieving precision and efficiency in the kitchen.