How many knives do you need?
Knife blocks may seem like a good option for getting a variety of knives at a discount price. But I’ve got an important newsflash for you: do NOT buy a block of knives and use it for all your chopping and dicing needs. Not only will the quality of each knife be lower, but the block itself is a real counter-space killer. Assembling a collection, with different brands and styles, is worth every effort. But with so many options, you may be wondering where to start!
Aside from butter knives and steak knives, you need only about three others. They are:
- Chef’s knife
- Paring knife
- Bread knife
If you’re an aficionado of knives, or collect them for their beauty, that’s one thing. If you regularly dismantle animal carcasses and need a meat cleaver, that’s another. But I am operating under the assumption that you are an amateur— if invested— home chef, and for these purposes, I would stick to the three listed above.
A chef’s knife, such as the 7 inch MAC knife pictured above, is going to be the workhorse in your kitchen. They’re usually between six and fourteen inches long. The MAC knife gets a lot of use in my kitchen, but there are also an 8 inch and a 6 and 1/2 inch available for use. “Wait!” you may exclaim, “I thought you said you only needed three knives!” It’s true, but if more than one person is cooking in your kitchen, then each individual may have different preferences related to length, weight, and style. To each his own [knife].
Between those three chef’s knives in my kitchen, each one is very different. The longest is a Henkel’s knife, of German origin and extremely heavy in the handle. The shortest is an American Thomas knife, which is light as a breeze. Two of these are western style chef knives with a curved blade, which means that you can rock the blade forward and back as you chop vegetables. One is in the santoku style, which has a flat edge and less of a sharp point at the tip of the knife. It is more useful for chopping, and as the name suggests, the style is of Japanese origin.
A paring knife, such as the one pictured below, is a smaller version of the chef’s knife, used for more delicate and small-scale jobs. It is thus usually under six inches long and features a flat blade. My paring knife is also a Henkel’s.
The last type of knife everyone should own is a good bread knife. Bread knives are very long and serrated in order to tear through the crust while not smashing a loaf of bread. Mine is another Thomas knife, which is very light with a hollow handle, pictured below.
Caring For and Storing Your Knives
You can see in the picture at the top of this post that I keep my knives on a magnetic strip, making them easy to access. You can also keep them in blocks, or the old-fashioned way: in a drawer. That arrangement is not ideal, however, for keeping the blade in pristine condition, nor for finding the knife quickly and easily without slicing your hand.
One thing you should NEVER do is wash knives in a dishwasher. Knives should be washed by hand and dried immediately, not left to air dry. When you wash a knife in the dishwasher, you’re not only dulling the blade more quickly, but you are also possibly warping the handle and other parts of the knife. Just don’t do it!
Why the obsession with avoiding dull blades? Because having a sharp knife is key to making your life easier in the kitchen. Try dicing a tomato with a dull blade, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Your best bet is to have your knives sharpened professionally on a regular basis. There are mail-in options for sharpening your knives, but a lot of hardware stores and farmer’s markets will have knife sharpeners that will sharpen your wares on the cheap in only a few minutes.
To ensure your knife keeps its sharp edge, you can use a honing tool between sharpenings. This is a long metal stick with a handle, often included in blocks and sets, so! Another reason why those may be useful…
But it should never be your only option. A good knife isn’t necessarily a more expensive one, and I guarantee you won’t regret investing in a knife you’re excited to use. If you’re in the market for a knife, do your homework and read reviews before purchasing. Happy chopping!