Five Knives Every Home Chef Should Own

Five Knives Every Home Chef Should Own

Unless you're some sort for Ginsu master, capable of slicing, dicing and jullienning an entire meal together with a single blade, food prep is a whole lot easier when you use the right knife. Here are the five most essential, versatile cutting implements in a cook's arsenal.

Five Knives Every Home Chef Should Own


Meat cleavers are large, broad-faced knives employed to speed the dismemberment of carcasses. Its hatchet-like blade is thicker than other kitchen knives and typically constructed from softer steel. This prevents the blade from shattering or buckling -- as harder, thinner blades would -- under the stresses of butchering.

And like a hatchet, the blade itself is relatively blunt and doesn't even need to be particularly sharp. Instead, its cutting force is derived from the weight of the knife head combined with the momentum of the chef's overhand swing. There are limits to what a cleaver can do, however. While it may be great for separating baby-back ribs and chicken thighs, it probably isn't getting through beef bones. Or, you know, doing any fine-tuning.

Best Use: Chopping through thick chunks of muscle, sinew and bone when butchering large cuts, and and chopping force is preferred over precision.

Five Knives Every Home Chef Should Own

Chef's Knife

Originally developed to dismantle cattle carcasses without cutting through the bone, the chef's knife has since grown into the go-to piece of all-purpose cutlery. With a roughly eight-inch blade and slightly curved edge, the chef's knife can just as easily slice, dice, and mince vegetables as it can trim steaks and carve turkeys.

Chef's knives typically come in either the French or German style. German chef knives (second from top, above) have a more continuous curve to their blades, while the French style has a flatter edge and more pronounced curve right at the tip. That curve helps you rock the blade back and forth when mincing; neither design is inherently superior, so which one you use is just a matter of taste.

Best Use: Just about everything.

Five Knives Every Home Chef Should Own

Serrated Utility Knife

Cutting bread with an ordinary, smooth blade doesn't work all that well. The force you have to apply to get through the tough crust tends to crush the softer bread inside and you end up tearing, rather than slicing, the piece off. Same goes for tomatoes and sandwiches on rolls. But serrated utility knives act like in-home wood saws to shear off delicate slices without mangling the innards.

The serrations of these knives act like hacksaw teeth, providing downward cutting action without needing much downward force. And since the serrations are dug into the blade, rather than stick out of it like a wood saw, the amount of horizontal force needed to rake through the food's tough outer covering is reduced as well.

Best Use: Slicing bread, fatty meat, tomatoes, sandwiches, peaches and anything else that has a hard crust or firm skin and squishy soft insides.

Five Knives Every Home Chef Should Own

Fillet Knife

You wouldn't swat a fly with a sledgehammer, so why are you trying to de-bone a trout with a chef's knife? For delicate meats such as fish and small poultry, a high degree of precision is needed in their preparation that only a fillet knife can provide.

These knives tend to be quite long -- between 6 and 11 inches -- and exceedingly narrow with a flexible blade. This allows the knife to easily curve under salmon skin, or remove the silver skin on beef tenderloins.

Best Use: Trimming fat from cuts of meat, de-boning small animals.

Five Knives Every Home Chef Should Own

Paring Knife

Just as the fillet knife is used for delicate meat work, a paring knife does the same for fruit and vegetables. While they may look like miniature chef's knives, they perform very different functions. The paring knife's light and compact blade makes it ideal for precision work -- peeling apples, slicing vegetables for salad, de-seeding bell peppers, de-veining shrimp, to name a few.

Best Use: Detail work, preparing fruit, vegetables and seafood.

With these five blades in your knife block (or, in the cleaver's case, near it), you should be able to tackle just about any recipe regardless of its exotic ingredients. Just make sure to keep your edges properly sharpened.

[HuffPo - Wiki]

Pictures: Ruslan Grumble, racorn, Shebeko, Platslee, Vitaly Korovin, tab62


    I must be a kitchen noob - three of those five knives appear to be roughly the same size, and would all be as sharp as each other (if new) - I'm sure someone can tell me the differences!

      Yeah, the Chef's, Fillet and Paring knives all look very similar in these photos. You'll usually find that a standard Chef's knife is about 20cm (8") but you can get them smaller . The blade is broader than most other western knives (the one in the top photo [second knife from top] is a good example). The Filleting knife is about right in the photo but often it's a bit longer (particularly if it's a carving/filleting knife). The Paring blade in that last photo looks too long compared to what I'm familiar with - it looks more like a general Utility knife. Paring knives usually have a shorter, slightly stumpier blade.

      Last edited 24/09/13 12:49 pm

        You know what, I had the exact same thoughts. Fillet / boning knife is too small, and the Paring knife is too big.

        Also, damn those are some ugly handles.

    get the Kiwi Knives, extremely sharp and VERY cheap. (~$10 each). Will not last a lifetime but easily get a year out of them for home use. Once you've sharpened them a couple of times they are ready for the bin.

    Sure beats a $200 knife that you WILL ruin if you don't take it to a professional knife sharpener

      Just learn how to use steel. Knifes needs to be re-edged ones a year, but before using them use diamond steel (get some lessons) and you will have a razor sharp knife every time.

    I only have one knife that does everything: a samurai sword.

    Not far off from my personal taste. I don't use a Cleaver (yet) or Fillet but can see why they'd be handy and suit a purpose. I'd replace the Chef's knife with a fluted Santoku blade (meat, vege). Serated (bread) and Paring (coring tomatoes, garlic) are an excellent compliment to this knife. The Paring knife in the picture looks more like a Utility knife which I have but rarely use.

      Love my fluted Santoku! I also have a cheap Kiwi brand one (has a straighter point) which cost me about $5 over 10 years ago. Doesn't hold an edge for long but easy to sharpen and use and the steel is reasonable quality as it doesn't ever rust. :) Agree re that paring knife in the photo. I use my Utility heaps - mind you, I don't have a Chef's knife...

    The photos of the fillet knife, utility knife and paring knife are all just midlength utility knives. Which aren't even close to 'essential'. And no one would use a bread knife to cut meat.


    What you actually want is, in this order
    1) A chefs knife (or a santoku, if you prefer the geometry, are a vegetarian or just a painful otaku). You will use this almost all the time, so get a handle and a shape that feels most comfortable. Everyone has their favourites; I love the 280mm Hattori HD , but a Henkels is pretty damn awesome too, especially if things get rough when you are opening your Maggi packets.
    2) a CCK small cleaver - - for stuff too big for the above, or when you just want to play Iron Chef Chinee. Kiwi make some decent ones too, or just buy some cheap carbon steel one at your local 'ethnic' grocery store.
    3) A paring knife - for fiddly crap. I don't use it much, but it's definitely nice to have when you need it.
    4) One of those cheap Victorinox serrated ones. They are awesome, and like eight bucks. Just buy it, whinger.

    After that, your options go somewhat like
    - if you cut a ton of vegetables, consider a santoku or a nakiri. I have both, and use them equally. (I have this, its friggin great but overpriced) or (a steal at this price)
    - a bone splitter type cleaver, if you... uh... need to split bones. I have a bigass carbon steel one, and it's great when you just want to smash things apart
    - Something big and serrated to cut bread, if you really must
    - *maybe* a filleting knife, if you are filleting a lot of fish. if you are reading this article, you probably don't need one, you cheeseburger munching neckbeard.
    - if you are the kind of person who wears pokemon tshirts, get a utility knife so you can totally collect the set and level up

    Things you don't need: anything ceramic, anything you saw on tv that cuts a shoe, damascus steel (although it sure is purdy, so spend up if you got it!), a yanagiba (though they are god damn beautiful), anything that comes in a set of kitchenware, anything that claims to never need sharpening, pants while cooking.

    Last edited 24/09/13 2:07 pm

    I use an 8" Dick (a-cu-cu-cu) chefs knife for almost everything and would definitely recommend spending $200 on one good knife than getting a $200 set if money is a concern (which it is for me, being but a lowly uni student). Grab a diamond steel too and you'll almost never need to get it sharpened, plus our local knife shop gives you one free sharpen to use whenever when you buy a new knife and it's pretty cheap to get done anyway.

    Not the sort of thing to buy online as you'll want to feel them for weight and specialist retail is almost always worth the extra cash.

    Cleavers have a soft back but a hardened edge. Really hard. Rock hard. It takes an edge. It holds an edge. It relies on all the mass of soft steel to absorb the shock. Hence why it's so effective.

    Chef knife has an excellent description.
    Serrated knife. Again good. (Pro tip: Serrated knives work really well in slicing tomatos. Especially knives with fine serations. Give it a try. The serrations break the surface tension of the skin. A plain sharp knife actually 'pushes' the skin down and squishes the tomato)
    Filleting knife. You should be able to hold the knife at about 15 - 20 degrees from level, and press the blade until it's lying flush along hard surface. You need some degree of flexibility. It's what it's about. It has a soft steel throughout. It can take a razor edge easily, but loses it quickly. Needs sharpening after almost every prolonged use.

    Paring knives tend to be short. 3 - 4". It's all about control. You can make these knives REALLY hard. This means that you but an edge on it, and that edge stays for forever and a day. Principle is "You're not hacking with a paring knife. You're slicing. So no impacts = harder steel.

    I use knives I made myself. (Bladesmith). I tend to use 1080 steel for my knives. They discolour easily, but I'm a fan of 'function over form'. The filleting knife is made from a bandsaw blade. (Not sure exact compostion of steel. Just bandsaw blade)

    For those with problems sharpening knives, learn how to do it properly. (I know properly is different for everyone, it is a great skill to have, one which all too few people have any clue about. If a knife can't shave the hair on your arm, (or the fingernail sharpness test [if you are game], else the soft tomato/cherry test) it shouldn't be used, a blunt tool is always dangerous, because if you slip when putting in the force need to use the blunt tool the injury will invariable be worse. (woodworking tip)

    Also, for a hatchet (or axe) to be of real use [remember they are cutting tools not bludgeoning tools], it must also be sharp (at least able to slice paper), therefore a cleaver should also be as sharp... the myth of blunt hatchets is just that as I am no expert on cleavers I will leave that to the real butchers.

    Note. When In Asia, be very careful eating any meat, as the long bones are often smashed using a cleaver (probably the blunt kind) leaving shards of bone throughout the meat (lamb and chicken alike..)rather than the cut of meat being deboned. I'm guessing this is an incorrect use of a cleaver I much prefer the European method of deboning meat, or cutting big bones with a saw, if they MUST be in the cut.

    The filleting knife shown is not really a filleting knife as the blade is too rigid.

    Experiment, and use the knife that suits your kitchen/butchering styles.

    Last edited 24/09/13 3:19 pm

    Time to get up to date a ceramic kitchen knife is a must. Dirt cheap online, hard and sharp but brittle for purpose use only or you'll be after a new one.

      I've never really found the ceramic knives to be really all that much better than conventional knives. Plus from my experience of the ones I've used, they tend to stain easily.

      Time to get up to date: ceramic knives are rubbish

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