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How Many Kitchen Knives Do You Really Need?

three essential kitchen knives

I suppose it depends on how fussy a cook you are are what kind of cooking you’re in the habit of doing with those kitchen knives of yours. Do you buy whole red snapper and debone and prep it yourself? Then you probably need a fillet knife. Do you peel lots of kiwi fruits? Then you might want a special curved parer. But if you’re an average cook, one that’s not in the habit of hacking up your own lamb shanks, you might be surprised to know you can strip it down to three kitchen knives:

1) a chef knife (or santoku or comparable—see my article Best Chef Knives for more tips)

2) a paring knife

3) a bread knife (or serrated/comparable).

The concept of this core threesome has been around for awhile—but, nonetheless, it’s good to be reminded of it for a couple of solid reasons:

1) If you’re in shopping mode, but on a budget and discouraged by the cost of the typical kitchen knife set—knowing you can accomplish most of your cooking needs with just these three can be a huge relief. It can also allow you to buy higher-quality knives by letting you concentrate your spending on just three instead of, say, six. (And, to be honest, the bread knife doesn’t really count. You can pennypinch on that one.)

2) If you already own a number of kitchen knives and you’re trying to keep them in tip-top shape and you’re feeling burdened with the thought of sharpening and honing them all. The short answer is you don’t have to. Try: a) mainly using only a chosen few and then rotating these out to be sharpened while you work the next batch. Or b) focusing your honing and sharpening on only a few key knives and leaving the others on the back burner.

See my post Three Kitchen Knife Sets I Recommend for some of my favorite starter kitchen knife sets!

Remembering that most of your kitchen work can be done with a core three is a liberating feeling. It can free you up to spend your money on quality, not quantity; and help you better maintain the knives you already own and use most. Because there’s no point in owning a battery of kitchen knives, if none of them are really sharp.

P.S. What knives would be next in line after these three?
– a fillet or boning knife, depending on whether you butcher more fish or chicken
– a long thin slicer for slicing up roasts and turkeys
– a second paring knife—especially if you have more than one cook in the kitchen
– a second chef knife—but this one smaller (6 inches) for in-between jobs like mincing garlic

Believe it or not, for the needs of my kitchen, a second smaller chef knife would be my top pick, followed by an extra paring. But everybody’s different! The main thing is to honestly access your needs and then commit to properly maintaining that group of knives.

8 Responses

  1. Hi KKG, been reading through your site for the past few days as I’m trying to decide on which chefs knife to buy. This would be my first proper purchase as I’ve always made the mistake of settling for poor quality, despite spending a large percent of my time in the kitchen.

    I’m currently trying to decide between a Wusthof Grand Prix II or the Tojiro DP.

    My girlfriend is a vegetarian (the majority of cooking we do is vegetable based) and being Spanish she is trying to convince me to get this Arcos knife – What are your thoughts on this brand? It comes highly recommended by quite a few people in her family (and I have tried a couple and was quite impressed).

    I’m thinking of going for that to satisfy her and also purchasing a Wusthof or Tojiro for myself. We already have a good bread knife, so that could possibly complete the set you recommend above. Would the vegetable knife be a good replacement for a paring knife in your opinion?

    Many thanks for your input, your site really has been a great read and hugely helpful.


    1. Hi Andrew,

      RE Arcos
      I’ve just recently revisited this brand and revised my opinion. See the comments section under Best Chef Knives—Six Recommendations, my reply to Warfrix (March 9, 2015).

      Arcos makes a huge array of knives that vary in finish and quality (just like the German brands). My sense is that the Arcos Kyoto line is comparable to the other forged lines by Wusthof (and Henckels). So a Kyoto paring knife, or chef knife, etc. should perform very similarly to the Wusthof Grand Prix, Classic, or Classic Ikon. How it will feel is a different story—and to be honest, I’m not crazy about the feel of a Grand Prix. So the Kyoto might feel better!

      RE paring knife
      The blade on the Arcos vegetable knife you have linked to is about 5 inches long (125mm)—which is too long for a paring knife. A paring knife is usually 3.5 to 4 inches (90 to 100 mm). This vegetable knife might be useful as a supplement to a paring knife and chef knife, but it can’t replace it. It’s too cumbersome to use to peel a pear for instance. You need a paring knife!

      Best, KKG

  2. Hi Nate, I totally agree with one of the above comments less is definitely more! you could have hundreds of knives in the kitchen but you will always find that you pick up only a handful that you use regularly – the rest just gather dust!

  3. Really nice breakdown, and certainly right for the budget minded. Knives come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, but at the end of the day unless you are a professional chef you can accomplish almost any cutting task with what you listed above.

  4. There is such a huge difference using quality knives. You are right it’s better to focus on buying what you will use instead of a bunch of knives that you mostly don’t use. Great post!

  5. Yep. Especially since it’s easier to keep a few knives in tip-top shape rather than a battery of them in lousy shape :)

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