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Essential Kitchen Knives 2020

Posted by Sophie Zhao on

The question "what knives should I have in the kitchen?" is an age-old question that has been answered in about 100 different ways. To be honest, the knives that you need in your kitchen are based on what you like to cook. This article will introduce the different types of knives out there and what they are best known for. You should also keep in mind that knives have an extensive range in price point. When a knife is expensive, you are paying for the quality of material, especially the steel, which often translates into how well the blade holds its edge. Generally, it is better to have a few high-quality knives than a cheap set of 12 knives. While the set makes you feel like you are saving a lot of money, most of the knives will stay idle, and the few knives you will actually use will not last long. The rule of thumb for buying knives is quality over quantity.

5 Essential Knives: 

#1 Chef's Knife:

We are first introduced to a very versatile knife. Many chefs treat this knife as their go-to tool and use it for everything. It is probably one of the most utilized knives in the kitchen. It's primarily used for chopping, but you can use it for slicing and dicing fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish. A chef's knife usually has a blade length of 15 cm (6 in) or 25 cm (10 in). There isn't one perfect size; it all depends on what you feel most comfortable using. It is worth investing in a high-quality chef's knife as you will be using it 80% of the time. 

There is a lot to consider when buying a chef knife. We recommend purchasing a full tang blade, which is where the steel runs the entire length of the handle. We suggest a full tang knife because they tend to have better balance, are sturdier, and last longer than partial tangs. You should also consider a knife with a nice weight to it as it will be easier for you to slice into firmer fruits and vegetables like butternut squash and pumpkin. The weight also helps prevent wrist injury, especially for professional chefs who spend hours on food prep. 

#2 Paring Knife: 

The paring knife is a small all-purpose knife that is good for slicing and mincing smaller foods. You should be using this knife for delicate and intricate tasks such as peeling fruits and vegetables, deveining shrimps, removing seeds, and cutting smaller garnishes. 

For paring knives, there are three main shapes: birds beak, spear tip, sheep's foot. The bird's beak has a curved blade like a Toucans beak. It is used for peeling, trimming, and more precise work that most home chefs don't need to worry about. The spear tip is the classic shape that you see in many shops. It is essentially a miniature version of the chef's knife; it can be used for many tasks like cleaning, shaping, peeling, and other delicate work. The final shape is the sheep's foot; it has a straight blade, making it good for straight cuts like julienning ginger. Like any knife, paring knives are made out of various materials; however, most kitchens choose to purchase a high-carbon steel option. Regardless of the material, a paring knife should withstand wear and tear. Most paring knife blades are around 6cm (2.5in) to 10cm (4in); the size varies from person to person. Usually, cooks with smaller hands feel more comfortable using a smaller paring knife.  

#3 Serrated Knife/Bread Knife:

Serrated knives are suitable for fruits and vegetables with a waxier surface or anything with a hard exterior and a soft interior like bread, roasted meat, watermelon, etc. This is because the serrated knife can cut through the hard exterior without damaging the interior. It is important to note that serrated knives should only be used for slicing. You have to use a sawing motion, which allows the blade's teeth to grip and cut through the ingredient, which is one of the reasons why the serrated knife is not suitable for smaller ingredients. This knife also allows you to apply less pressure when cutting because the serrated edge does the work for you.

Many factors go into determining what a good serrated knife is and what isn't. There are serrated knives that have razor-sharp tips, whereas some are more rounded. You also need to consider the depth of the slot between the serration, which will also influence how much grip you will have; the deeper the slot, the larger the surface area, which gives you more grip. Typically, choose one with a relatively small amount of razor-sharp teeth with deep slots between them.

#4 Fillet Knife: 

(KOTAI's flexible fillet knife)

This type of knife is commonly used for removing bones and skins from fish. Fillet knives tend to be flexible, thin, and have a relatively short and narrow blade, which can help create more precise cutting required for delicate tasks like cutting and filleting fish. This type of knife is ideal for fish because it allows for better mobility.

For filet knives, it is important to choose one that is of quality as the wrong knife can waste meat and make cutting a lot slower and more frustrating. The best material is a high-quality stainless steel (that won't tarnish) with a full tang, which allows for balance and increases control and stability. The blade length usually ranges from 10cm (4in) to 23cm (9in); the shorter end of the spectrum is suitable for smaller fish while the longer blades are better for filleting bigger fish. Most chefs recommend a 15cm (6in) to 20cm (8in) blade, as you will most likely be dealing with smaller fish.

#5 Boning Knife: 

Boning knives are similar to fillet knives. However, they aren't as thin and flexible but rather sturdier and thicker, which makes them better for larger and tougher meats like pork, beef, or chicken. 

Some things to consider when purchasing a boning knife is the length of the blade and the shape. The most common blade length for at home butchering is a 13cm (5in) or 15cm (6in). However, if you are considering butchering a larger piece of meat, you would consider buying one that is a bit longer, around 18cm (7in). There are two different shapes, curved and straight. Curved blades are better for trimming and more precise work, while straighter blades are better for larger cuts.

Extra Knives

If you want to dive deeper into the world of knives, there is the Chinese cleaver and the Japanese Santoku. By no means, after reading this, should you go out and purchase them. Consider these knives if you already have the essentials and are looking to expand your collection and experiment. You should assess your cooking style and see if these knives fit into your daily kitchen tasks. 

Chinese Cleaver: 

The Chinese cleaver is a multipurpose tool that most cooks in Asian culture use. The cleaver is the equivalent of the chef knife; it is used for every kitchen task from cutting to slicing to chopping. The flat surface is also perfect for smashing garlic, and it also works as a bench scraper. It is important to note that the Chinese cleaver requires a certain amount of skill, and because there is little to no curve to the blade, many western techniques will not work with this knife. 

A Chinese cleaver is traditionally made using carbon steel. However, carbon is susceptible to rust and would require a lot of care; this is why it would be better to look for stainless steel or a combination of stainless and carbon steel. The blade length can measure anywhere from 18cm (7in) to 28cm (11in), and the ideal blade length is around 18cm (7in). It is important to note that due to the blade's size, the Chinese cleaver will be on the heavier side, and sometimes that can be an issue. The weight of the blade will depend on you and how often you plan on using it. For example, it would be beneficial for you to find a lightweight one if you plan on doing a lot of prep work. Like every other knife, we recommend a full tang or at least a ¾ tang due to the stability and strength it provides. 

Japanese Santoku: 

(KOTAI's Santoku Knife)

The Japanese Santoku is an all-purpose knife that has become one of the most used knives in the kitchen by both professionals and home cooks. Though the Santoku and the chef knife are pretty similar, the most prominent difference is that the Santoku's blade is thinner, has a partial bolster, and is smaller in length. The Santoku can be used for chopping, dicing, and mincing; it is particularly good at creating fine slices. Similar to the Chinese cleaver, the technique to use this knife is different from using the chef knife and is harder to master. 

When finding a Santoku knife, one of the most important factors to consider is the blade and the handle. A typical blade length of a Santoku is between 15cm (6in) to 18cm (7in), and you would want to look for a blade that is a combination of carbon and stainless steel. You also want to look for a blade with an angle between 15 to 20 degrees, as you will be chopping in an up and down motion rather than a back and forth motion. As for the handle, there are two types: the first is the traditional Japanese handle, also known as the Wa handle, which is lightweight as it is only half tang, making it lighter in your hand. The second is a more western handle where it is full tang and sturdier.


Importance of Knife Care: 

Now that you have a better understanding of what knives you should have in your kitchen, knife care is also very important. The amount you sharpen depends on how often you use them; your knives should be honed every week and sharpened every 3 to 4 months. Contrary to what many people believe, it is actually safer to have a sharp knife than a dull one. This is because, with a dull knife, you would be using more force, where there is a higher chance that the edge will slip on the food instead of cutting through, and the knife could end up on your fingers. Sharper knives also cause less damage to the fruits and vegetables as you are using less force resulting in a cleaner cut, less oxidation, and fresher food. Two ways most people sharpen their knives is by using a honing steel or a whetstone. 

Honing Steel:

(KOTAI's Honing Steel)

The honing steel helps straighten the edge of your knife by pushing it back to the center. Honing steel removes microscopic material; However, it does not remove blade steel the way a whetstone or an electrical sharpener does, so you can do this every time before you start using your knife, and it wouldn't reduce the blade. A honing steel is not used to sharpen but rather restore the bent edge. When buying a honing steel, you should consider the length. The longer the steel, the more area you have to pull the knife. This shouldn't be as big of an issue with smaller knives, but you would have to take the length into consideration with larger knives. Usually, most people purchase a 25cm (10in) to 31cm (12in) steel rod. It is also important to look for magnetized rods that can prevent the microscopic materials removed from going everywhere in your kitchen. 


Whetstones come in rectangular blocks used to sharpen your knife by removing steel from the blade’s dull edge and creating a new edge. This is one of the best methods of getting a smooth and sharp edge. There are so many components when purchasing whetstones. If you want to bring the edge back from a very dull knife, you would start with a coarser stone, which is indicated by lower numbers such as the 200 or 400 grit (grit indicates the number of particles per square centimeter). If the knife is in good condition and you just want to maintain the edge, you would want to look for a finer stone, usually represented by a higher number with options starting from 1000 all the way to 10,000+. We recommend buying a double-sided whetstone with 6000 grit on one side and the 1000 grit on the other. You would start with the 1000 grit, which is perfect for maintaining the edge of your blades, then you would end with the 6000 grit, which is ideal for putting the finishing touches for a razor-sharp edge.  

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