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sharpening and caring for your kitchen knives

How Many Kitchen Knives Do You Really Need?

three essential kitchen knives
I suppose it depends on how fussy a cook you are are what kind of cooking you’re in the habit of doing with those kitchen knives of yours. Do you buy whole red snapper and debone and prep it yourself? Then you probably need a fillet knife. Do you peel lots of kiwi fruits? Then you might want a special curved parer. But if you’re an average cook, one that’s not in the habit of hacking up your own lamb shanks, you might be surprised to know you can strip it down to three kitchen knives:

1) a chef knife (or santoku or comparable—see my article Best Chef Knives for more tips)

2) a paring knife

3) a bread knife (or serrated/comparable).

The concept of this core threesome has been around for awhile—but, nonetheless, it’s good to be reminded of it for a couple of solid reasons:

1) If you’re in shopping mode, but on a budget and discouraged by the cost of the typical kitchen knife set—knowing you can accomplish most of your cooking needs with just these three can be a huge relief. It can also allow you to buy higher-quality knives by letting you concentrate your spending on just three instead of, say, six. (And, to be honest, the bread knife doesn’t really count. You can pennypinch on that one.)

2) If you already own a number of kitchen knives and you’re trying to keep them in tip-top shape and you’re feeling burdened with the thought of sharpening and honing them all. The short answer is you don’t have to. Try: a) mainly using only a chosen few and then rotating these out to be sharpened while you work the next batch. Or b) focusing your honing and sharpening on only a few key knives and leaving the others on the back burner.

See my post Three Kitchen Knife Sets I Recommend for some of my favorite starter kitchen knife sets!

Remembering that most of your kitchen work can be done with a core three is a liberating feeling. It can free you up to spend your money on quality, not quantity; and help you better maintain the knives you already own and use most. Because there’s no point in owning a battery of kitchen knives, if none of them are really sharp.

P.S. What knives would be next in line after these three?
– a fillet or boning knife, depending on whether you butcher more fish or chicken
– a long thin slicer for slicing up roasts and turkeys
– a second paring knife—especially if you have more than one cook in the kitchen
– a second chef knife—but this one smaller (6 inches) for in-between jobs like mincing garlic

Believe it or not, for the needs of my kitchen, a second smaller chef knife would be my top pick, followed by an extra paring. But everybody’s different! The main thing is to honestly access your needs and then commit to properly maintaining that group of knives.

6 Comments
  1. less is more!

  2. Yep. Especially since it’s easier to keep a few knives in tip-top shape rather than a battery of them in lousy shape :)

  3. There is such a huge difference using quality knives. You are right it’s better to focus on buying what you will use instead of a bunch of knives that you mostly don’t use. Great post!

  4. Thanks. Glad it helped!

  5. Really nice breakdown, and certainly right for the budget minded. Knives come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, but at the end of the day unless you are a professional chef you can accomplish almost any cutting task with what you listed above.

  6. Hi Nate, I totally agree with one of the above comments less is definitely more! you could have hundreds of knives in the kitchen but you will always find that you pick up only a handful that you use regularly – the rest just gather dust!

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An Edge in the Kitchen
by Chad Ward

Mastering Knife Skills
by Norman Weinstein

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