The first factors for consideration will be to identify what you will use the knives for, and subsequently what types of knife you will need. If you have a large kitchen and cook large meals from a large repertoire of dishes then you might need a more complete set with many specialist pieces. However, if you tend to cook for smaller numbers and have a Kizer repertoire, then a smaller set may suffice.
The Bare Essentials?
According to cooks-knives.co.uk, the most essential cooking knives are:
- Peeling Knife
- Paring Knife
- Utility Knife
- Cooks Knife
- Bread Knife
- Carving Knife
This list appears to be based on the assumption of an average western family.
Many people choose to use peelers instead of peeling knives. Also, paring and peeling knives are often used for the same tasks, so it is not really essential to have both.
French or German in origin, cooks knives (also known as chef’s knives) are general all purpose knives with long curved blades (or to be more precise, curved on the sharp edge, straight on the other). They can chop bone instead of a cleaver, and the curved blade can be rocked on a cutting board for a more precise cut.
Utility knives fall in size between a paring knife and cooks knife. They are often derided as “filler” in knife sets.
Bread knives are for cutting bread, but if you do not regularly buy unsliced loaves of bread, then you may not need one. I have found that a good chef’s knife can be more effective and slicing bread than a cheap bread knife.
Carving Knives are for slicing up thin cuts of cooked meat. They are most typically used to carve a roast dinner, but with the decline of the family meal, these knives can often remain unused for long periods. While a cooks knife could be used instead, carving knives have thinner blades which give the user more control and allow them to carve thinner slices.
In a traditional Chinese kitchen, a cleaver will often be used in place of a cook’s knife for many tasks, such as cutting up a chicken carcass or mincing meat. However, many Chinese families now choose to use cook’s knives instead due to their lighter weight and less brutal appearance (which can intimidate visitors).
So to conclude this section, think about which items you really need, in order to form your own bare minimum knife set requirements.
My personal list only consists of a cooks knife and a paring knife. However, I ended up buying a block set as I also needed a sharpening steel (which came with the set) and storage block, and buying the full set only cost a little more than buying the items separately.
So if you require a few items, you could easily save money by purchasing a knife set, even if it comes with items that you do not need.
How To Choose Your Knives
Once you’ve decided which types of knives you need, you will need to choose a particular brand of knife (I am assuming that you aren’t buying handmade knives!).
The main factors to consider here are:
Handling and comfort are very subjective affairs. While more expensive knives will have more thought given to their design and usability, you might just not like a particularly expensive knife. For example, I used to have two cooks knives in my kitchen – one from Global (which cost £70) and another from Kitchen Devil (which cost £18). The Global knife was a lot sharper than the Kitchen Devil knife. However, the Kitchen Devil had a heavier blade and non-metallic handle (that gave it a better grip), which made me feel more in control when I used it.
The best way to find out which knives you find the most comfortable is to go to a good kitchen shop or department store and ask an assistant. I purchased my current set from John Lewis, where the assistant was very helpful, and even had a demonstration set to hand so that I could feel the weight and strength of each blade.
In general, more expensive knives will be sharper and keep their edges for longer. For the ultimate in sharpness, ceramic blades tend to be sharper than metallic blades. However, they are less durable if poorly maintained and less versatile. For example, they cannot be used for chopping as they are brittle. Modern cheaper knives will usually be sharp enough for home use, but remember that blunt knives are dangerous due to the increased chances of slipping and therefore accidents. As a consequence, a good knife sharpener is also essential for any kitchen.