Stop! Don’t Buy That Knife Set

Knives can be one of the most expensive tools in your kitchen, but it’s easy to get caught up in the marketing hype and overspend on knives you don’t need. This short guide will get you started on the most commonly used cutting tools for the kitchen.

When it comes to knives, quality definitely trumps quantity. A single, well-crafted knife can outlast multiple cheap knives and provide you with a much better experience in preparing your meals. In fact, every person I know who has ever tried one of my knives has never gone back to a cheap set of blades again. And you don’t have to go crazy, either.

The Knives You Need

Buying knife sets is the height of money waste. I have owned three in my life at one point or another, and as most of you who have them will also attest to—most of the knives in the set never get used. Actually, they do get used, but only because of my laziness when I’m cooking too quickly and don’t want to take the time to clean my primary knife.

All things considered, the average chef will only need the following knives for 98% of what you want to cook:

  1. Chef’s Knife: This is your primary knife in the kitchen, used for cutting up everything from vegetables and fruits to butchering meat. It should also be the one you spend the most money on, since you’ll use it 90% of the time. The material and handle should be high-quality and the weight of the knife should feel comfortable in your hand.
  2. Bread Knife: The ultra-sharp blade of the chef’s knife is poorly suited for the softness of fresh bread and other mushy things; they will simply squash under its weight. For this purpose, a serrated bread knife is ideal because it allows you to “sow” into soft and crispy things gently.
  3. Paring Knife: For more detailed work, the sheer size of a chef’s knife (most are about 8” in length) is prohibitive, and you’re bound to cut yourself or destroy what you’re cutting. A short and thin paring knife is better suited for working hands-on with smaller foods.
  4. Steak Knives: If you serve meat to your family and guests, you’ll also need to invest in a set of steak knives. My favorite combine a sharp edge with a partially serrated edge for a multi-purpose dinner knife. While most knife sets come with steak knives, they are usually 4 or 6 in number (meaning they’re not useful for larger parties), and their quality is questionable.

Selecting Your Knives

Buy your knives individually, if you can. If you already own a knife set, you can probably use your existing bread and paring knife, and focus your money on a better chef’s knife.

Unless you’re a professional chef, investing in a top-grade material is probably not necessary. However, expect to spend between $50 and $200 on a good-quality primary knife. Selecting knife materials is beyond the scope of this post, but I’ve included some resources below to help with your typical choices:

If you’ve made the jump to a high-quality knife in your own home, I’m curious to hear about what you selected and why, and how many of your old knives you have used since your transition.

Photo by bradleypjohnson