Whether you're slicing into a loaf of fresh artisan bread or deboning a chicken, having the right knife for the job makes life so much easier in the kitchen. This is not an exhaustive list of kitchen knives, but it includes the basic essentials that every chef should own.
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Every kitchen needs a good quality chef's knife. This is an all-purpose knife that is sold in sizes ranging from 6 to 12 inches, with 8 inches being the most common size. Chef's knives can be used for everything from chopping vegetables to slicing meat.
In the above photo on the right, you'll see the most common chef's knife. On the left and in the middle are hollow-edge santoku knives, each with a slightly different shape. A santoku knife is essentially the Japanese version of a chef's knife and can be purchased with or without the hollowed edge. The indentations above the blades (aka the hollow edge) helps prevent the knife from sticking to food. Which shape and size chef's knife should you choose? It's a good idea to find a store with a wide variety of knives so you can get a feel for what works for you. Not only are there a variety of shapes and sizes, but different brands vary quite a bit in weight. It's a personal preference.
Serrated knives, also sometimes referred to as bread knives, are very useful. The serrated blade makes cutting through thick crusts a breeze. In addition to cutting bread, serrated knives are useful for cutting fruits and vegetables with delicate skins, such as tomatoes.
Some of these knives have offset handles (as seen above on the knife with the brown handle), which provide clearance for the knuckles. While it's important to invest in a good quality chef's knife, an inexpensive serrated knife will usually get the job done.
Paring knives are very useful for smaller precision tasks like peeling and slicing smaller fruits and vegetables. It can be used for other assorted kitchen tasks such as deveining shrimp, removing the seeds from vanilla beans or trimming and de-seeding jalapeño peppers.
On the left in the above photo is a standard paring knife. On the right is a slightly larger, less typical variation with a small serration in the middle, which would be useful for working with delicate berries.
Slicer & Boning Knife
Slicers and boning knives are not necessarily essential kitchen knives, but they're wonderful additions to a good cutlery set. While the tasks assigned to these knives can be handled with a solid chef's knife, these knives are designed with specific purposes in mind.
The slicer, shown in the above photo on top, is designed for slicing long, even, thin slices of cooked meat. This is especially useful for cuts like flank steak or ham. Boning knives, on the other hand, are used with raw cuts of meat. They are designed specifically for separating meat from bone or tasks such as removing silverskin from pork tenderloin.
You will want to get your knives sharpened approximately once every 6 to 12 months, or you can purchase an inexpensive sharpening stone and maintain them at home. You also want to maintain the blade between each use by using a honing steel. While honing steels do not sharpen the knife, they keep the blades sharp by maintaining the shape.