From fancy 17-piece knife blocks to plastic clamshell packed colorful knife sets meant for college kitchens, it's easy to think you need a lot of different types of kitchen knives. But you don't. There are really only three types of kitchen knives you need to do the cutting, chopping, slicing, and dicing most recipes call for.
If you're just starting to get serious about cooking, or you're moving into your first real apartment, or you just feel like replacing your current knives, there are any number of types of kitchen knives you might find useful.
But until you know what you're doing with each knife, those aren't the knives you're going to reach for in your every day cooking and baking.
There are only three types of kitchen knives your kitchen really needs
- 8" Chef's Knife (click to jump)
- 9-12" Serrated Knife (click to jump)
- 3.25-4" Paring Knife (click to jump)
- Bonus — Knife Sets! (click to jump)
Once you have these three you can add a cleaver or a santoku or a boning knife or a cake specific knife or any of the other types of kitchen knives that exist. But these are the BIG THREE.
For each of the three types, I've included 4 options at different price points (all below $150) so you can pick the best knife for you and your budget.
What's the "best" knife for you?
The thing about picking the "best" knife for you is that "for you" is part of the deciding factor! Just because a review website or food blogger (hi!) or chef (also hi!) says a certain knife is "the best" doesn't mean it's the best "for you." Maybe it's the sharpest knife or the easiest to wash or has the most optimized blade angle, but if you don't like using it, it's not the right knife for you.
No matter what type of kitchen knife you're buying, the best knife for you:
- Fits into your cooking lifestyle - Are you willing to season, sharpen, and hand wash your knives? Or do you want something you can toss in the dishwasher at the end of the day? Do you have a large cooking space or a tiny space which would benefit from a shorter knife?
- Fits into your hand - When you hold a knife correctly your forefinger and thumb grip the blade just above the handle. The height of the blade and the size of the hilt might feel great for one person but uncomfortable to another. Before you splurge on a giant knife, consider how it will feel to hold in your hand.
- Fits into your budget - Quality chef knives can range in price from $30 to $1,000+. How much you want to spend is really up to you. No matter how much you spend, all knives need periodic sharpening and care to remain in good condition long term. (Yes, even if you have one of those "self sharpening" knife blocks).
Day one of pastry school involved a crash course in types of kitchen knives and knife terminology (though most of what we went over I already knew from watching Forged in Fire, HISTORY Channel's hilariously intense knife-making competition show). I won't go into it too much detail here, but I do want to highlight a few knife terms you'll find me using throughout this piece.
- Tang: The tang is the part of the knife blade that extends back into the handle of the knife. A "full tang" means the metal extends all the way to the hilt of the handle. This adds stability and balance to the knife, but it also adds weight.
- Stamped blade: A stamped blade is cut out of a sheet of metal and then sharpened. These blades are lighter weight, thinner, and often more flexible. They're also available at more affordable price points.
- Forged blade: A forged knife blade is made of metal that's been heat treated and hammered into shape. Forged knives are heavier and sturdier with thicker, inflexible blades ideal for cutting thick, tough things like watermelon or squash. More likely to have a full tang.
The 3 types of kitchen knives your kitchen needs
1. A sturdy, ergonomic chef knife (8")
When it comes to different types of kitchen knives, a chef's knife is your go-to knife. It's the knife you will, nine times out of 10, reach for first. There's a misconception that the size of the knife should relate to the size of the thing being cut, but even an 8" knife can handle small tasks when you know how to hold it right.
With a blade that curves gently toward a sharp tip, these knives are designed to rock on your cutting board for easy slicing, chopping, mincing and even delicate tasks like chiffonading.
A standard chef's knife is 8", but you can find them in sizes ranging from 6-12" depending on your preferences.
Victorinox Fibrox Pro 8" Chef's Knife $
Victorinox's 8" chef's knife is a great, high-quality chef knife for beginners. It's lightweight, has a comfortable, ergonomically designed handle, and a sturdy extra-wide blade that requires minimal sharpening. The blade is stamped, rather than forged, which means it's not quite as sturdy has some of the higher end forged knives, but it's still a great beginner knife. Unlike many chef's knives, this one IS dishwasher safe, which is great if you're like me and hate washing dishes. Buy it here!
Material Kitchen - The 8" Knife $$
Made from 3 layers of Japanese steel, and a cryogenically tempered edge Material Kitchen's full-tang 8" chef knife is well balanced and super comfortable to hold. The stain-resistant composite handle comes in 3 different colors (cool neutral, almost black, and blue grey) and it just looks good in your kitchen. Thanks to Material Kitchen's direct-to-consumer business model, this 8" chef's knife runs at a pretty reasonable price point for such a well-crafted knife. Buy it here!
Wüsthof ® Gourmet 8" Chef's Knife $$
When we received our knife kits for pastry school, Wüstof's Gourmet 8" Chef's Knife was the chef knife we got. I love my Wüstof chef's knife so much. With an easy-to-sharpen blade of tempered and hardened steel and a full tang, it's well balanced and has a nice weight to it. The German-made triple-riveted synthetic handle holds up well in a busy kitchen environment with minimal scratching (and though it says hand wash only, mine's been just fine with a few trips through the dishwasher). Buy it here!
ZWILLING ® J.A. Henckels Pro 8" Chef's Knife $$$
German-made ZWILLING J.A. Henckles knives are slightly more expensive than Wüstof's, so when it comes to which one is right for you it really comes down to price and how it feels in your hand. In terms of features, ZWILLING's 8" Pro Chef Knife is listed as dishwasher-safe (though hand washing is recommended), and is forged from a single piece of special formula stainless steel with a full tang for added stability.
NOTE: If you're torn between Wüstof and ZWILLING, I recommend going to your local Crate & Barrel, Williams Sonoma, or Bed Bath & Beyond store and asking if you can hold them in person before making your decision.
2. A long serrated knife (at least 9")
When it comes to slicing crusty bread and delicate cakes, a knife with a serrated blade can slice through in a sawing motion with minimal pressure or compression on whatever you're cutting. Serrated knives are also great for slicing through juicy fruits and veggies, like tomatoes, oranges, and lemons, without squishing all the juices out all over your cutting board.
Mercer Culinary 12" Millennia Wavy Edge Slicer $
Mercer's Millennia line is known for producing affordable knives designed for culinary professionals. This 12" serrated knife was included in my pastry school knife kit because the extra long blade makes it ideal for both slicing bread AND trimming the tops of layer cakes. A standard 8 or 9" bread knife won't fit comfortably across a 9" cake layer, so the extra length here is perfect if you plan on using this knife for cakes. The only downside to the length is making sure it will fit comfortably in your knife block!
This is a lightweight knife with a semi-flexible Japanese steel blade and sharp serrated teeth that make easy work of even tough, crusty loaves of bread. The handle is comfortable and easy to hold with a well designed divot that acts as a finger guard. Buy it here!
Victorinox 10.25" Swiss Army Serrated Bread Knife with Fibrox Handle $$
At 10.25" long, Victorinox's serrated Swiss Army bread knife can handle crusty bread loaves and most standard sized cakes — and will fit comfortably in most knife blocks. I've had this bread knife for years and I've never had to sharpen it once (though I probably should soon). The blade is made from lightweight European steel and has a slight curve to it, making the slicing motion easier especially as your hand gets closer to the cutting board. The non-slip handle is ergonomically designed and the scalloped indents between each knife point help reduce friction to make sawing back and forth as easy as possible. Buy it here!
ZWILLING ® J.A. Henckels Four Star 9" Country Bread Knife $$$
ZWILLING's Four Star 9" serrated country bread knife has a German-made stainless steel blade forged from a single piece of steel and a full tang inside the handle for maximum stability and balance. The comfortable plastic handle has a nice weight in your hand, and the unique scalloped design of the serrated edge can handle a range of slicing tasks from crusty loaves to delicate tomatoes and tender cakes. Buy it here!
(ZWILLING's Four Star line is slightly more affordable than their Pro line, and the handle of this 9" Country Bread Knife lacks the triple-riveted design of the ZWILLING's chef's knife I linked above. If having a matching set matters to you, you can find ZWILLING's Pro 9" Bread Knife here.)
Wüsthof ® Classic 9" Double Serrated Bread Knife $$$
There are two things that make this 9" Wüstof double serrated bread knife stand out. The first is the unique double serration of the blade. You'll notice it has a scalloped edge and even smaller serrations within each scallop. This reduces the amount of pressure you have to put on whatever you're slicing and allows the blade to slide through cleanly in a sawing motion.
From the well balanced weight of a full tang inside the triple-riveted handle all the way to the pointed tip of the hardened steel knife blade (designed to cut through the tough bottoms of very crusty breads in one motion), every detail of this serrated bread knife has been thoughtfully designed. It's the priciest of the bunch, but will last you a long time for sure. Buy it here!
3. A sharp paring knife (3.25-4")
Paring knives are used for peeling, coring, and other small, delicate work where dexterity with the blade is needed. You can use a paring knife for things like deboning meat and fish, deveining shrimp, removing seeds or the eyes from potatoes, and for segmenting citrus fruits.
With such a small blade and handle, it's important that you practice holding your paring knife correctly to keep your fingers out of the way.
Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro Paring Knife Set $
I have about 8 different types of Victorinox paring knives in my kitchen and they're all fantastic. They have lightweight, semi-flexible blades, and this trio covers all your paring knife basics with three types of stainless steel blade edges.
The set comes with a sharp serrated knife (3.25"), a straight knife (3.25"), and a longer, round-tipped serrated utility knife (4"). Victorinox's 3.25" straight paring knife is highly recommended by Wirecutter and Serious Eats.
On a personal note, I've tried serrated paring knives from high end brands, but Victorinox's are the ones I always come back to. All three feature Victorinox's signature non-slip handle and would be a great addition to your kitchen. Buy them here!
Material Kitchen - The Almost 4" Paring Knife $$
With a solid 3.5" blade made from three layers of Japanese steel, Material Kitchen's signature pairing knife isn't just one of my favorite knives to use — it also looks great in a photograph. quickly become one of my go-to photo props.
Just like Material Kitchen's 8" chef knife, the paring knife features stain-resistant composite handle in three colors (cool neutral, almost black, and blue grey). I really like the shape of the curve in the blade on this one — I can't explain it, but it makes removing the ribs from peppers super easy. Buy it here!
Wüsthof ® Classic 3.5" Paring Knife $$
Wüstof seemingly no longer makes its uber-popular "pro" paring knife, but the Wüstof Classic 3.5" paring knife more than fills its shoes. This paring knife was included in my pastry school kit. I used it a lot and only needed to sharpen it once, recently, more than 6 months after graduating. It has a 3.5" straight German-made blade made of tempered and hardened steel, with a full tang and triple-riveted synthetic handle. Buy it here!
ZWILLING ® J.A. Henckels Pro 4" Paring Knife $$$
Another great German-made knife by ZWILLING, this 4" paring knife features a blade forged from stainless steel, a full tang, and a plastic handle with that classic 3-rivet design. It's lightweight and versatile with a sturdy easy-to-sharpen blade, and will last you a long, long time. As always, hand wash is recommended but this knife is considered dishwasher safe, which is always a win in my book. Buy it here!
4. BONUS — Knife Sets!
Maybe you don't want to buy the main knives in your knife collection separately. So here are some sets that hit all of the specifications I've mentioned above. Each set includes a chef's knife, serrated knife, and a paring knife.
Misen Essentials Knife Set
This knife set includes an 8" chef's knife, a 9.5" bread knife, and a 3" paring knife. Made from Japanese steel and come in three colors — blue, black, and grey. Misen even offers a generous 60-day test drive window and a lifetime guarantee. Buy them here!
Food 52's Five-Two Essential Knife Set
Food 52 uses reader feedback to design knives that are both super functional and beautiful to look at. Their essential knife set features carbon-infused Japanese steel blades and comes in a range of colors (and even a mixed set).
The set includes an 8" chef's knife, 8.75" serrated knife, and 3.25" paring knife. The unique gold triple-rivet handles will be a real showpiece in your kitchen. Buy from Food 52! or Buy from Nordstrom!
Wüsthof ® Classic 3-Piece Starter Set
While the serrated knife in this set is a mere 8" in length, I'd be remiss not to include this 3-piece starter knife set on the list. It is a great knife set. Made from forged German high-carbon stainless steel, this full-tang knife set comes with an 8" chef's knife, 8" serrated knife, and 3.5" paring knife. Buy it here!
- ZWILLING, Wüstof, and Victorinox offer lifetime warranties on manufacturer error.
- Material Kitchen does also offer a serrated bread knife, but it's only 6" long so I don't recommend it for that reason.
- Looking for some other knife sets? Check out Henckels Classic Precision 2-Piece Set or Wüsthof®'s Classic 6-Piece Knife Block Set.
- This is the knife sharpening stone set I have. But more often than not I use this little knife sharpening gizmo.
- A knife honing rod doesn't sharpen your knife blade, it straightens it out before you sharpen it. It's an important part of knife care that is often misunderstood — you can read more about it on Cook's Illustrated.
- To store knives that you buy without a knife block, these are the knife blocks and storage I recommend: This 15-slot block from Wüstof, this 20-slot block from Shenzhen, or this double-sided magnetic knife block.
For more of my product roundups, reviews, and gift guides click here. For a master list of my favorite kitchen tools click here.
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