Written By: Selena Asberry-Goss
My brother is a non-traditional chef at an upscale restaurant in downtown Detroit. This past holiday, one of the gifts he asked for was a knife set for his work. I decided to do some research in hopes that I could get him something to help with his chosen career. This led me down the rabbit hole of culinary tools, but more specifically culinary knives. If you remember from my last blog post (shameless plug), “Developing a Green Thumb in the Dead of Winter,” I am the type of person to research, take notes, and ask questions. As a result, I consulted my culinary network and got advice for a beginner’s knife set for a baby chef.
Down the rabbit hole I went – and boy was I surprised by how vast the world of culinary tools is. There were so many options and honestly, I was getting a little anxious because of the various options available. To keep myself focused, the first thing I did was look at my budget and figure out what I could spend, as well as how that compares to reviews, advice, and suggestions.
My culinary network suggested that I forgo buying a pre-built multi-knife set, and instead, spend a little more money on these 3 essential multi-purpose basic knives: the chef’s knife, a paring knife (peeling), and serrated knife (bread). Another suggestion was that if you have the funds and can go the extra mile, getting a kitchen utility knife as well would not be a bad investment. These would be the most versatile in any kitchen or kit, and most likely the knives used most when in the kitchen.
THE CHEF’S KNIFE
The chef’s knife, also known as the French knife, is considered the most essential and versatile tool in any kitchen or kit. My brother is a baby chef, and he would absolutely need this tool in his kit and so it was highly suggested I focus on getting the best quality chef’s knife I could find. Per Merriam Webster, the chef’s knife is “a large and general-purpose kitchen knife commonly found 8 to 12 inches long, has a long blade curving upward along its length and ending in a narrow point.” It is considered the workhorse of all kitchen tools; it can be used for chopping, slicing, and dicing a variety of foods, but it is not ideal for precise food preparation. When choosing a chef’s knife, it should immediately feel comfortable in your hands, which can be different for everyone. You may need to handle several different chef knives before making the best choice for yourself. When handling the knife, it should be a solid but steady weight in your hand, and you should be able to grip and control the handle even when wet. When chopping, your knuckles should not be banging on the cutting board. It should also be sharp enough to cut paper (professional only, please). It may also be ideal to try handling (i.e., cutting) food with your new knife to see if that helps with your final decision.
THE PARING KNIFE (PEELING):
Another must-have tool for any beginner knife kit is the paring knife, or peeling knife. This kitchen tool has a smaller handle and a short – but very sharp – blade. Its intended use is for precise, intricate, and detailed work such as peeling and cutting smaller fruits and vegetables. It can also be utilized with fine detail cutting (see image below). You want this knife to be very sharp because its purpose is to do any work that the larger blade of the chef’s knife is unsuited for. Its blade is usually around 3-4 inches in length, so when choosing the best knife for yourself you want to focus on the handle. You want to have a good grip on this particular knife because they are incredibly sharp, and you want complete control over this blade. So again, looking at multiple options for comfort levels is extremely important.
THE SERRATED (BREAD) KNIFE:
The final essential knife needed in a beginner knife kit is the serrated knife, or bread knife. It is used for cutting soft items such as bread (soft or crusty), some produce like melons and tomatoes, and delicate tasks such as cutting cake precisely. It is a tool not used too often in your kit, but when the time comes for its use, it is easily a game-changer in your kitchen preparation work. I recommend not going over the top when it comes to price, as the serrated edge makes it impossible to sharpen – but it will last you several years as it is a tool not used too often. Overall, the serrated knife is a great tool that will come in handy when least expected.
THE UTILITY KNIFE:
The utility knife is a splurge item, if you have the funds, and is a great chef’s knife alternative if you have smaller hands. It can be used for kitchen preparation in place of a chef’s knife due to its size. It is a good multipurpose knife as it can easily perform the task of cutting, dicing, and mincing. You can also find the utility serrated blade that expands its uses into cutting loaves of bread precisely.
Kitchen knives are some of the most basic and essential tools needed in any kitchen. Maximizing your budget and choosing the best tools should lead to a stress-free cooking experience. I hope this blog gave you some ideas on what to look for when shopping for knives. I recommend always sticking to your budget.