Cooking is at it’s essence a violent act. You can cook without heat. You can cook without pans. You can’t cook without knives. I mean, you can make like bread or tortillas or whatever, but you can’t cook a meal. Salad mix and dressing doesn’t count, somebody had to cut that lettuce. Like half of all cooking is knife stuff. Processing ingredients into a more usable form is the essence of cooking, that’s what knives are for. Never buy a knife set, it’s not worth it. When it comes to the bare minimum kitchen there are only three knives you absolutely need to own: a chef’s knife, a utility knife, and a long serrated knife. There are other more specialized knives that are really handy to own, but none that are so important that you can’t collect them slowly and as needed. You will also need a steel, which is a sort of long metal stick for sharpening your knives. This is non-negotiable, as your knives will be useless in a matter of weeks without one.
THE CHEF’S KNIFE: This knife is going to see the most use in your kitchen. A chef’s knife is a general utility knife used for almost everything, but originally designed to slice and separate beef joints. There is some argument on who developed the chef’s knife as there are two varieties: the German which is slightly more curved, and the French which is straighter. You can use either one; it is purely a matter of preference. Lately the Santoku, a general purpose Japanese knife, has become very popular and is equally useful in place of a German or French chef’s knife. The basic size for one of these is eight inches. If you have really large hands buy a ten-incher or a six if you have tiny hands like I do. Stainless steel is the way to go for this knife and pretty much all your knives. Carbon steel is pretty and sounds exciting but I doubt you have the patience to take care of a knife like that. Unless you really like to sharpen, oil, and obsessively polish don’t ever buy an iron knife.
THE UTILITY KNIFE: A utility knife is a lot like a chef’s knife just smaller. This of course denotes its purpose is to do everything the chef’s knife is too big to do. A Utility knife will be used for small intricate work, like peeling, de-veining, seeding chilies, and other fine tasks. A typical utility knife is between six and ten centimeters in length. Like with a chef’s knife there is a wide variety of shapes to choose from and your choice should be based purely on preference and comfort. There is no best utility knife, it’s a basic tool, so it’s most important quality will be how easy it is for you personally to use it.
THE SERRATED KNIFE: This knife is a must for cutting baked foods, ripe tomatoes, and big fruits and vegetables like melons and squash. You’re going to want a long knife, maybe six to eight inches. A serrated knife is basically a saw so it’s really useful for foods that are too hard or too soft to slice. Tomatoes will always make a mess, but with a serrated knife you probably won’t end up crushing them every time. These also help you cut crumbly foods like a champ. The only quality your really need to consider is the size of the teeth. Finer serrations are better for things like tomatoes and soft foods, larger teeth are better for hard objects like crusty bread or melons. One last note about maintenance: try not to screw up your serrated knife; they’re really hard to sharpen and require special tools. If you don’t beat them up they’ll last for years without sharpening.
THE STEEL: Knife steels are all pretty standard: they’re big metal sticks with handles. Get one and use it to sharpen your knives. A steel, even a cheap one, should last you pretty much forever. Just get one with a comfortable handle because you will be using it a lot. To sharpen your knives you will put the blade against the steel at a fifteen to twenty degree angle then drag the blade downward along the steel while trying to keep the angle constant. Do this ten to fifteen times with both sides of the blade.
When it comes to washing and storing your knives I would suggest not putting them in the dish washer. It’s a safety hazard and generally screws up the handles. Hand washing your knives is about as easy as dishes get: soap and water, rinse, and dry. If you store your knives in drawers you should by some cheap plastic separators to keep the blades from chipping against each other. If you have the money, wooden blocks and magnetic racks are better.