There are dozens of kitchen knife styles, but only a few you probably need in your kitchen. In fact, you can probably accomplish 99% of food prep tasks with only 1 or 2 all-purpose knives in your collection.
With that said, there is incredible value in having specific knives for specialized cooking tasks you expect to do repeatedly. For example, not everyone does fish prep. But if that sounds like you, getting by without a fillet knife will probably be tough.
In this article, I’ll cover the few knives that everyone needs. We’ll also look at other knives for specific cooking scenarios and dietary preferences.
In This Article
If you only have one kitchen knife, make it a chef’s knife.
No kitchen tool is more emblematic of a professional kitchen than a chef’s knife. Also known as a cook’s knife or French knife, a chef’s knife is hands-down the most all-purpose knife.
It’s suited for everything from chopping through chicken bones to disjointing large cuts of beef. And mincing or slicing vegetables.
These broad, heavy knives measure 6-12” long. But, for the best combination of usability and utility, I’d recommend an 8” blade.
Forged blades are considered the gold standard. They’re more durable and can take a sharper edge than blades stamped in a die-cut machine.The Wusthof’s Classic IKON is an excellent example of this style. While exceptions exist, most quality chef knives will cost more than $120.
A paring knife is built for small, delicate, and intricate work.
Paring knives range from 2.5” to 4” long. They’re lightweight, highly maneuverable, and incredibly affordable.
It’s the perfect partner for a chef’s knife because the shorter blade won’t feel as clumsy (or dangerous) for detailed tasks. Think peeling fruits or deseeding and deveining a hot pepper.
This knife will also be useful if you don’t want to break out a full cutting board setup, like cutting pieces of fruit to top a salad.Expect to pay $20-100 for a quality paring knife. The Wusthof Classic is our all-around favorite.
The utility knife is a jack of all trades and master of none.
They lack the chopping power of the larger and heavier chef’s knife and can’t perform tasks quite as delicately as a paring knife.
If you’re a minimalist, you may appreciate a utility knife’s do-everything size, shape, and construction. They’re great starter blades that cost significantly less than a chef knife.Most options are sized between 4-7”, and I would consider 6” to be the sweet spot for this type of knife. We recommend the 6” Henckels Classic.
The serrated edge of a bread knife makes it perfect for slicing crusty bread without crushing it. It will also work wonders on tomatoes, fruits, tough vegetables, and holiday roasts.
If you’ve taken up a bread-baking hobby, this is a “must-have” knife. There is no substitute. But the truth is not every kitchen needs one.
Most options measure 6-10” long. The serrated edges make them a real bear to sharpen. And it’s probably not worth spending much on a bread knife that only gets used occasionally.Still, even an inexpensive knife like the OXO Good Grips bread knife will keep an edge for up to a year if you’re only using it to cut bread.
A cleaver is the cutting tool of choice for butchery.
Buying and breaking down larger pieces of meat is a great way to save money, but it isn’t for everyone. You don’t need this knife if butchery isn’t in your plans.
Cleavers are large, rectangular, and heavy. They’re designed to cut through bone. The thick blade adds weight and heft, which makes strong cuts easier on the hands and wrists.
The curvature of a cleaver’s blade can vary widely based on where that knife was made. For example,
- Most Chinese-style cleavers feature an almost entirely straight blade.
- A German cleaver features a more exaggerated curve.
Many chefs prefer a curved blade for its ability to rock over smaller poultry bones. I like the straight Chinese-style cleaver for its balance.
A carving knife is designed for cutting thin slices of meat.
In most kitchens, a carving knife only comes out a few times a year to cut roasts, turkey, or ham — but when it does, it’s the only knife for the job.
The blade is longer and slimmer than a chef’s knife, and slightly flexible. This design is tailored toward long, precise cuts. You can find an awesome carving knife for under $50. Mercer Culinary makes my favorite.
A slicing knife is similar to a carving knife, but even more prolonged and thinner. You can recognize it immediately by its blunt tip.
You’ll find slicing knives with either a plain or serrated edge. I’m partial to plain edges as they make cleaner, prettier cuts in large roasts, fish, or smoked meats.
Slicing knives are the second most flexible type of kitchen knife, right behind boning knives. This makes them a valuable alternative to the carving knife, which I often use interchangeably with a slicer. You can usually find an excellent slicer for $50-100. My personal favorite is the Victorinox Fibrox Pro.
A boning knife is a specialized tool for a singular task: Removing the bones from meat, poultry, and fish.
It’s the most flexible blade of any kitchen knife, and usually measures 5-6” long.
If you regularly buy bone-in cuts of meat or whole chickens to cook at home, a boning knife will revolutionize your meal prep!
A good boning knife doesn’t have to set you back a lot, either. Compared to stiffer, hand-forged steel blades, these flexible blades are inexpensive to produce. Victorinox’s Swiss Army boning knife is a great example and comes outfitted with a must-have non-slip grip.
Fillet knives are the tool of choice for preparing cuts of fish.
They feature long, thin, and flexible blades. Usually 6-11” long. This design can easily slide under fish skin and cleanly separate it from the edible flesh.
The pointed blade of a fillet knife transitions to a pronounced curve in the blade. This allows for easy entry into the skin of a fish and smooth cuts along the length of the meat.
Stainless steel is the metal of choice for fillet knives. It provides corrosion resistance. This is especially important considering the wet environments where these knives are used.Some fillet knives may be better suited for your boat, but I like Dalstrong’s Gladiator for the kitchen.
The Santoku is an excellent alternative to a traditional chef’s knife. It is lighter, shorter, and with a rounded tip that won’t pierce things as easily.
When compared to a Western chef’s knife, the Japanese santoku tends to have a straighter handle and less curvature to the blade. This means the knife is best equipped for drawing straight cuts through meat or produce. Although a santoku can perform a rocking cut, a chef knife is much better suited for that purpose.
Some santoku knives feature a single-bevel design, meaning the blade is only sharpened on one side.
This knife is popular because, at 6-7”, they’re incredibly easy to maneuver. The rounded tip may also feel like a safety feature for a beginning home chef.For a quality santoku blade, expect to pay about the same as for a traditional chef knife. Maybe slightly less. My favorite is the Shun Classic.
The Nakiri Bocho knife is made specifically for precision cutting vegetables. It’s one of the most unique knives you can add to your kitchen. Among Western knives, there is nothing like it.
What is so special about them?
Nakiri knives feature thin, lightweight blades with a perfectly straight edge. This means you can cut straight down into vegetables without pushing or pulling to complete the cut.
The straight design allows for precise and decorative cuts of fresh produce.
You can pay A LOT for an ornamental nakiri, but several great options are under $100. My favorite is the Miyabi Evolution, which is slightly more expensive.
Italy’s specialty “half-moon” knife, the mezzaluna, is named after the curved shape of its blade.
Instead of slicing and dicing in a single direction, the mezzaluna is rocked back and forth over your ingredients. It chops and minces with minimal effort.
The invention of the mezzaluna was inspired by the incredible density of minced herbs and garlic that show up in Italian cooking. If you love making fresh pasta, pesto, and sauces, this blade can seriously reduce your prep time when cutting all your herbs and garlic.
A larger Mezzaluna is the perfect tool for quickly cutting pizza into perfect slices.You can find this knife in a variety of sizes and price points. I like the Wusthof because it comes with an innovative “fitted” cutting board that keeps herbs in one place while you slice them.
What’s better than one kitchen knife? How about two, connected together with a handle?!?
At their most basic, that’s what kitchen shears are. They’re among the most important and underutilized knives in most home kitchens.
Shears are for chopping herbs and salad greens. They can quickly segment cooked chicken portions for salads and open your food’s plastic packaging.
With so many poorly designed brands, you must find a pair of shears that separates at the handle. This makes them easier to clean and more sanitary. I’d recommend this pair made by OXO Good Grips.
Which Kitchen Knives Do I Actually Need?
If you’re just getting started, the only knives you really need are a chef’s knife and a paring knife. These two knives will allow you to be effective in 99% of the food prep tasks that you might ever encounter.
If you’re slicing sourdough regularly, consider adding a serrated bread knife as one of your first pieces of cutlery. Misen makes an affordable bundle with a chef, paring, and bread knife that is a great way to get your foot in the door.
Beyond that, every other knife on this list is more specialized in what it can do. As your skills develop, you can branch out into different types of knives. To explore knife materials and constructions.
My advice? Start with the essentials, and explore from there.
How many types of kitchen knives are there?
There are more than a dozen different types of knives that you’ll commonly find in a Western kitchen. The most universal cutlery are chef, paring, and bread knives.
What knife should every kitchen have?
Every kitchen should have a sharp chef’s knife. It is the workhorse that can perform nearly every food prep task you’ll ever encounter.
How should knives be stored?
Kitchen knives can be stored using a knife block, magnetic rack, in-drawer system, individual sheaths or using a knife bag. To identify the best knife storage solution for your kitchen, consider the amount of available space, presence of kids or pets, number of knives and frequency of use.