Knives are the best.
They’re the backbone of any functioning kitchen. They’re involved in the most fun parts of preparing food. And thanks to the creation of the gas-powered stove, they’re only the second-most dangerous part of cooking.
A good knife will make all the difference between enjoying cooking and hating it.
There’s a visceral satisfaction to using a knife with the perfect blade and the perfect grip.
But before we get started, we’ll establish one quick and important principle about all of these knives.
What Do These Knives Have in Common?
All of the knives on our list are forged. Forged knives are the opposite of stamped knive
Forged knives are superior because they’re thicker, they’re stronger, and they retain a sharp edge for longer.
Stamped knives are more affordable, but they’re flimsy and inferior.
While stamped knives can do the job just fine for household food prep, forged knives can last you a lifetime.
I bought my first forged knives in 2012 along with a honing steel to keep them sharp.
I still use them every week in 2019.
Anyway, the important takeaway here is that you want forged knives when you go shopping for these blades.
Let’s kick off with the handiest knife in the world — the chef’s knife.
Chefs’ knives are the most useful blades in a kitchen.
They’re the steady and strong all-arounders that will cut through just about anything you need.
The only exception to this is bone, but a strong enough chef’s knife will cut through joints just fine.
A chef’s knife is at its best when the blade is somewhere between 6″ and 8″. This gives you an enormous edge to use for cutting, and it allows you to apply enough strength for a clean slice, if you need it.
Also, when you have a long blade, you also tend to get a good bolster and handle, too.
Source: Mercer Culinary
The bolster is the part of a forged knife that looks like a metal cap on top of the handle.
The handle itself houses the tang, which is the length of the knife’s blade that goes inside the handle.
At the very back end of a knife, you have the butt, which acts like a counterweight to the blade.
Altogether, a 6″ or 8″ chef’s knife will have a nice, big handle with a heavy tang and butt.
My preferred vendor for chefs’ knives is Wusthof, a German-founded company that famously boasts about how its knives are made with “German steel.”
I never did find out what “German steel” means, but I know for a fact that these knives are top-notch restaurant grade, meaning they’ll last in a residential kitchen forever.
My wife bought our first Wusthof, and the steel is so fine that it still has a mirror sheen to this day.
I also own a Winco, which is a more affordable version of Wusthof. The steel isn’t quite as fine — mine is tarnished from nearly a decade of use — but it still holds together and gets the job done.
Winco just isn’t quite as pretty.
2. Paring Knife
Paring knives are the more focused and controllable versions of chefs’ knives.
Paring knives allow you to cut, carve, and slice just about anything — but mostly fruit and vegetables.
Whenever you see someone peeling a potato or an apple, they’re using a paring knife.
They’re also used for finer detail work in presentation-heavy cuisine, like tomato crowns.
In a commercial kitchen, paring knives are everywhere because of how useful they are in the final portions of prep before a dish is served.
In a residential kitchen, you can do pretty much anything with them — including de-boning meats or cutting out stubborn tendons in beef.
A good paring knife will have a short — yet sharp — blade and a handle that fits comfortably into your palm.
I have two paring knives — one stamped and one forged. I don’t have both for any reason. It’s just kind of how my knife collection turned out over time.
As it turns out, they also do a great job of showing the differences between a stamped and forged knife. Both are made by Mercer, so they provide a good opportunity for comparison.
You’ll notice even in these photos that the forged blade is slightly thicker and integral to the handle.
The stamped blade is far thinner, and it has a paper quality that makes it feel like it could break (even though it’s strong enough to stand up to regular use).
Again, I prefer forged. It just feels better in your hand, and it feels like you have more control.
Does it really make a difference in a gent’s kitchen? Probably not.
But does a forged paring knife just feel better?
Hell yes, it does.
3. Steak Knife
Everyone needs a good steak knife.
I don’t just say this because of the whole “man need steak, ug” stereotype.
You need a steak knife because you need a serrated blade in your kitchen, so it might as well be one that’s satisfying to hold and thick enough to last a couple years.
I’m not super-crazy about restaurant-grade steak knives because they’re not different enough from conventional steak knives to warrant the extra cost.
So I use one that came from a trade show.
It’s really nothing special — but the serration is why I need this guy.
Naturally, it’s perfect for cutting through meats either for prep or dining.
But it’s also useful for bread, other tough grains, and cardboard — if you use knives for that kind of thing.
Unless you eat a lot of tough-crust bread and red meats, you probably won’t use a steak knife too much.
But still, it’s good to have for when straight-edge blades don’t do the job.
Bonus: Honing Steel
So part of using a knife is knowing how to take care of it.
In addition to washing and cleaning them, you also have to keep them sharp.
Most knives will keep a sharp edge for most of their lives in a residential kitchen.
Still, you can keep them sharper — and safer — with a honing steel.
Mine comes from Winco. Like my chefs’ knives, this honing steel has lasted me almost a decade, and I use it about once a month for each knife I own.
Honing steels are characterized by a rough metal surface (usually steel, go figure) that keeps the edge of your blade straight, consistent, and sharp.
This is different from a knife sharpener, which actually removes sizable strips of metal from a knife to create a new edge.
That’s why I prefer honing to sharpening.
To hone your knife, all you have to do is line up your blade to 27.5 degrees and slide it across the steel from tip to bolster.
Then, repeat the motion on the other side of the blade to keep it nice and even.
If you’re like me, you have a hard time visualizing something that’s angled at 27.5 degrees.
That’s why I recommend starting with your knife’s edge perpendicular to your steel (90 degrees), moving it halfway to parallel (45 degrees), and then moving it halfway to parallel again (27.5 degrees).
It looks a little like this from the top:
It looks like this from the side:
With that, you’re good to start honing!
What’s in Your Kitchen?
So what knives do you have? Do you have any other essentials you think should be on this list?
Let me know in the comments!