A kitchen knife, as it is commonly understood, is any knife used in food preparation. They are made from different kinds of materials such as stainless steel, carbon steel, ceramic, plastic, titanium etc. Most home kitchens have all-purpose knives referred to as chef’s knife, paring knife, cleaver, utility knife etc. but there are several specialized knife types designed for specific tasks and professions.

In many European and Asian countries, where family groups own and run restaurants and eateries, kitchen knives are passed Shop is about selling Kitchen knives down from generation to generation much like ‘grandma’s recipes’. So it’s easy to understand why a kitchen knife holds pride of place in many homes.

On a lighter note, a kitchen knife is a common reference, although in a humorous vein, to dissuade quarrels and acrimonious discussions at home. When a husband is sure to get into trouble at home, his friends usually joke and say, “hide the kitchen knife”!

There was a news item recently about a man dressed as a clown brandishing a long kitchen knife at a 14-year old student as he left school for home in Long Island, New York. Instances of people threatening others with knives as a ruse to gain attention or to commit a crime are very commonplace these days.

But let’s get back to kitchen knives and take a look at some of the common ones.

Chef’s Knife

This knife with a broad and heavy blade is considered an all-purpose, handy kitchen essential. It has a slight curve to allow for more precise and deeper cutting as also chopping bones if a cleaver is not around.

Bread knife

A bread knife usually has a long uniform blade with tiny grooves or serrations to help slice through thick and soft bread.

Butter knife

This type has a blunt edge almost like a spatula more suited for spreading items like butter, cheese, mayonnaise, jams and spreads.

Paring knife

Another all-purpose knife but smaller than the chef’s knife, this can do almost any job like cutting, peeling, skinning etc.

Utility knife

This is not exactly a kitchen cutting tool and has a short blade, often replaceable when worn but has lost out in popularity as the chef’s knife and the paring knife have gained usage.

Meat knives too have specific purposes like carving, slicing, boning, cleaving, filleting etc. for cutting through meats and fish of all kinds. Generally, these have broad blades almost suspended from the handle to enable chopping bones and cutting through thick meat and fat.

Choosing a Kitchen Knife

Don’t go generic

My first tip has to be to avoid going for the generic, unbranded kitchen knives. If you are in the USA you have Walmart, Costco and other big chains who will stock and sell their own kitchen knives. These are – as you might have worked out – not actually their own, branded knives, but simply a repackaged version of cheaper, generic product. It is not uncommon in this globalized world to have kitchen knives imported en masse from China to be branded in the West and sold on.

You really should avoid buying these knives, as they are very low quality and will have you yearning for a new kitchen knife in no time at all. Because they are so cheap, the materials and effort gone in to producing them is minimal. A well balanced, properly forged kitchen knife contains layers and layers of folded steel that is progressively sharpened until it becomes fit for use. These generic versions are simply churned out of a factory and artificially sharpened, meaning that they not only blunt very quickly, but they cannot be sharpened as easily or effectively as the proper knives.

Safety first

If the above hasn’t convinced you that you should avoid cheap, generic knives, then think of the safety aspects! I have seen my wife use a cheap generic knife to cut something particularly hard. The knife blade flexed out to the side and proceeded to snap off. The jagged edge I saw that day makes a chill run down my spine; it was razor sharp along the blade and the tip had become a mangled, dangerously sharp mess exposed. Even putting this in the trash would have been a safety hazard, so we went and disposed of it properly.

My point here is that it is just not worth buying these cheap kitchen knives, when you can spend just a little bit more and get a very trusty and reliable knife that will serve you longer.

It’s not a numbers game

I often see cook shops selling knife blocks and knife sets with up to 20 slots in them. My reaction to this is a very simple one – you do not need anywhere near that number of kitchen knives. It took me a long time to track down my knife block that has 4 slots, and one is for a bread knife.

You can easily get by with three of four knives, and I would advocate having a:

  • Large chef’s knife
  • Smaller chef’s knife
  • Vegetable knife

If you are looking for mostly japanese style knives one more, I’d throw in a paring knife for good measure – they make it much easier for doing small intricate operations; you can still do this with a vegetable knife, but not to such a high degree of accuracy.

Bear in mind here that we don’t consider a bread knife to be part of your kitchen knife arsenal – they are an essential knife to have in your kitchen, but should really get much less usage compared to the others.