When you first start collecting tools and cookware for your kitchen, the available selection can often be overwhelming. Nowadays, kitchen knives of every kind and for just about every purpose are fairly easy to access. This seemingly endless supply of options can bog down any home cook, and even the most seasoned professional chefs.

The good news is, you do not need to have every kind of knife to get by, and even flourish, in the kitchen. Whatever your level of experience, you can easily cook just about any dish under the sun with just a few standard go-to kitchen knives.

Chef cutting parsley with kitchen knife

Chef’s Knives

If you had to pick the only knife in your kitchen, the chef’s knife is your best bet. This classic is used in kitchens around the world, but like most kitchen tools, there are some variations for you to consider.

German Knives

This western German-style chef’s knife is what would be considered the classic chef’s knife. A German chef’s knife is known for its strength and thicker blade. The edge of the blade is a little curved, which makes it great for quickly rocking back and forth while chopping vegetables. These heavy knives can do the brunt of the labor when preparing just about any dish.

German knives’ steel is usually heavier and can handle more difficult tasks. The thick blade ensures that the chef’s knife will last quite a while, and makes the German chef’s knife better equipped for chopping through bone without risking much damage to the blade.

Aside from crushing bone, these chef’s knives are generally suited for most kitchen work and can easily help to chop vegetables and break down meats. If there is any essential knife for the American home cook, this chef’s knife is it.

Japanese Knives

An alternative that is becoming more and more common in the states is the Japanese chef’s knife. The Japanese take on the western-style blade was introduced in Japan so that more people could experiment with western cooking, and it has become a staple in many kitchens since.

One such Japanese-style knife is the Santoku, a great general-purpose chef’s knife. This lightweight chef’s knife is often thinner and lighter than its German counterparts but made with harder steel. Not only that, but a Santoku knife, as well as other Japanese chef’s knives, often have a straighter edge than European-style knives.

This makes these razor-sharp Japanese knives excellent for precision cutting and thin slices, but less durable when it comes to more labor-intensive cooking. This style of chef’s knife is ideal when you need to do things like chop onions and slice vegetables but still can come in handy in most other scenarios.

Serrated Knives

Even if you do not plan to regularly cook up a storm, a knife with a serrated-edge blade is practically essential in any kitchen. While they are not ideal for chopping herbs, these knives are useful when working with softer foods that might otherwise be crushed under the pressure of a straight-edged knife.

The Bread Knife

Man cutting bread with kitchen knife

The most common serrated knife would likely be the bread knife. As most people can attest to, trying to cut an even slice out of a fresh loaf of bread can be nightmarish when using any knife with a straight edge. The result is usually a flattened or crushed loaf with a shallow cut on the top, and it is almost unusable by then.

Bread knives help you to make even and consistent slices by using the teeth that rest along the entire blade. Pulling back and forth against the loaf, these teeth easily slice through with far less tearing or general messiness.

The Paring Knife

Paring knives are the unsung hero of many kitchens and the perfect companion for your chef’s knife. These knives are much smaller than a chef’s knife, usually 4 inches in length at most, and very lightweight. While the chef’s knife should certainly remain the workhorse in your kitchen, you could definitely get by with a solid paring knife.

While these smaller knives are not as well equipped for chopping and slicing meats and vegetables, they cannot be beaten when doing precision work. Paring knives are perfect for peeling fruits and vegetables, and can still be used for some chopping and slicing.

Where a larger knife might have trouble, the paring knife is perfect for cutting away fat, slicing and coring fruits, and even dirtier work like deveining shrimp. Not only that, but they are great options when it comes to teaching youngsters how to cook without putting heavier, thicker blades in their hands.

Care and Maintenance

Whatever knives you decide to pick up for yourself, one of the most important things to invest in is proper upkeep. A well-maintained knife can last you a lifetime without ever having to sacrifice quality.

There are two more common options when it comes to keeping your blades in good shape, honing steel (often misnamed as sharpening steel) and a knife sharpener. Honing steels are thin metal rods that you will see with most knife sets.

By pressing the honing steel to the edge of a blade at the correct angle, you can smooth out any little dents and bumps by pushing them back into place as a straight edge. These rods are very easy to use and certainly worth picking up along with whichever knives meet your preferences.

Unlike the honing steel, knife sharpeners shave and strip the steel off of the edge to leave it sharp again. As easy as honing steel is to use, a knife sharpener is even simpler. All it takes is pulling the edge of the blade in the slot of the sharpener, and you will be left with a more even edge.

While these are easier to use, sharpeners are less preferable when it comes to the longevity of your knives. Since they do ultimately cut away material from your blades, the edges will wear down much sooner and leave your knife more susceptible to chipping.

Whichever sharpening tool you go for, keeping your edges sharp is one of the most important parts of maintaining your kitchen knives. Well-sharpened blades glide more smoothly through whatever you are cutting, making them easier to use, as well as safer since there is less risk of slipping and cutting yourselves.  

If you are not confident in sharpening your own kitchen knives, many premium knife manufacturers will let you send your knives back to them for professional care. William Henry offers sharpening for any William Henry knives, for only the cost of shipping. Fill out this form and you should get your sharpened knives back in 2-3 weeks.

Knife Sets

While you can certainly get by in the kitchen with one or two mainstay knives, one of the best choices you can make is to pick up a set of high-quality knives. This keeps your collection more uniform, and most sets usually come with a knife block which is a great option for storage.

William Henry has more than one gorgeous knife set to choose from. Take a look at the Kultro Gourmet Chef set, which includes five stunning stainless Damascus steel knives, as well as honing steel. Based on your personal preference, these Japanese-styled kitchen knives come set in either hardwood ebony or ironwood hilts and are paired with beautiful stone and metal rings.

All William Henry steak and kitchen knife sets are made up of some of the best knives money can buy. Crafted by skilled artisans, these stunning blades will work wonders for you in the kitchen and look great on your countertop too.