Get the right tools for your kitchen, add a little trial and error, and you’ll be able to make any recipe you want.
But the right knife for your kitchen will depend on a few things, like your style of cooking, level of experience, and budget for kitchen tools.
In this section, I’ll touch on some of the most important personal considerations you should keep in mind before finding the best kitchen knives for you, including the most important questions to ask before buying a knife.
How Do You Cook?
Beginners to home cooking will have the easiest time choosing a kitchen knife. If you haven’t developed a particular style and don’t yet cook from a specific cuisine, a basic set of knives is the way to go. Give yourself a chef’s knife and a paring knife to start with, and you’ll be set to cook 90% of recipes and learn the basic knife cuts.
If you already have a preference for either Western or Eastern cuisines, though, your choice of kitchen knives should reflect that. For example: The ultra-thin blades of Japanese knives make them better suited to making precise cuts on delicate fish. But a heavier-handled German knife will give you more weight for breaking down chicken, pork, and beef.
Lastly, how good are your knife skills? The design of a given blade will make it better at certain types of knife cuts. If you’re already practiced with the Western-style rocking motion, stick with a Western blade. But if you’re open to learning a new skill, the Japanese-style push and pull cut can give impressively clean results.
Sets Vs. Individual Knives
Go to any home goods store, and you’re likely to see a fancy display of shiny new knives. Most often sold together with a block for storage, these knife sets may lead you to think: Wouldn’t it be easier to just get everything at once? Well, yes and no.
Oftentimes, knife sets from less-recognized brands are just a way to sell you a bunch of knives you don’t need. They’ll include redundancies, like three sizes of utility knives, to make the set look more impressive. These types of sets should be avoided at all costs.
But here’s the final consideration: Do you need all of those knives? For most people, the answer is no. If your kitchen knife collection is just getting started, it’s usually better to invest in a single, top-quality knife at a time. That said, if you already know that you love a certain brand’s knives, a knife set can offer significant savings.
Forged Vs. Stamped
What’s the most important quality in a kitchen knife? In my experience, it’s the construction of the blade. Without a well-made blade, no other detail can make a kitchen knife worth using.
So what qualifies as a well-made blade? If you’re looking for the best kitchen knife, not just one that will work for a while, you need a forged blade.
Forged blades are carefully handcrafted from a single piece of steel, folded, and tempered in a painstaking process. As a result, they’re sharper, more durable, and keep an edge longer. Because they take more time and attention to make, they’re also pricier.
A stamped blade, in contrast, is punched out of a piece of steel. Because it hasn’t been folded, tempered, and processed, a stamped blade will never be as high quality as a forged blade. They’re much less expensive, but in my experience, stamped blades cause more trouble than they’re worth.
A Sharp Knife Is A Safe Knife
The sharper a knife is, the safer it is to use. For beginners, that may seem counterintuitive. Wouldn’t a dull knife have less chance of cutting you?
Not at all. The majority of knife accidents in the kitchen come from dull and poorly cared for knives. Because you’ll have to apply more pressure for each cut, the chance of slipping and cutting yourself rises starkly.
Contrast that with a razor-sharp knife. That same cut that a dull blade struggled through? A freshly sharpened knife will slice through smoothly, without resistance.
How do you know if your knife is sharp? Try folding a piece of paper in half, standing it up on your counter, and cutting it from top to bottom. If your knife struggles through that — or can’t even start the cut — it definitely needs to be sharpened.
If your knife can’t pass the paper test, you’ll need to decide whether to sharpen it yourself or take it to a professional. You can learn how to sharpen kitchen knives from our guide, or find a knife sharpening service in your area. They’ll usually charge about $2 per inch of blade that needs sharpening.
Care And Maintenance
Taking care of your knives really comes down to two things: Keeping them clean and dry, and storing them safely.
First, no quality knife should ever be put in a dishwasher. The high temperatures can damage both the blade and the handle, and reduce the longevity of the knife. Hand wash only, please. And while you’re at it, always dry your knife with a towel promptly after washing it. That will prevent any possibility of corrosion or staining.
You’ll also want to invest in some sort of knife storage solution for your kitchen. That could be individual sheaths, a knife block, a magnetic rack, in-drawer storage, or a knife bag.
Last but not least: You’ll need something to cut on! Quality knives need wooden cutting boards to accompany them. Avoid glass, ceramic, or granite cutting boards — they’ll all quickly dull or damage your knife’s edge.