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Essential Kitchen Knives: The Only 3 You Really Need

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So you've decided that cooking at home is something you like, and you want to get more serious. Yay! We're glad you're here. We've looked deep into your new-cook-soul and can see what you are freaking out about the most: how many knives do you really need in your kitchen to be a great home cook? We're sure you're seeing visions of cheese knives and fish knives and mezzalunas -- cut it out (puns!).

The truth is you really only need three knives to get started. With these three tools, a little conviction to avoid those silly single-purpose slicers you see everywhere nowadays and a lot of practice, you'll take your knife skills and your cooking from novice to expert in no time.

Without further ado, the only three knives your kitchen really needs:

chefs knife

1. An 8" Chef's Knife: We like to avoid cliches whenever possible, but we'll confess to calling our chef's knives our babies every once in a while. It is very important that you like this knife. You and this knife will do most of the kitchen work together. You'll start to get used to the weight of it in your hand, so that if you pick up someone else's knife, it will feel unfamiliar. This is is the knife you'll use for chopping vegetables, herbs, slicing steak, carving chicken, whacking coconuts, you name it.

As your resident kitchen cutlery nerds, we'll confess to dropping a pretty penny on our chef's knives. Among us we wield a Global, a Shun and occasionally a Wusthof. These all have their own benefits. Japanese knives stay incredibly sharp and precise. The Austrian Wusthof carries unparalleled weight and is great for cracking coconuts and butchering meat. If you're not ready for this kind of commitment yet, which is totally understandable, you can get a perfectly good Cuisinart starter knife to practice on for a fraction of the cost.

Some people will say that this is really the only knife you must have. But we'll continue on to our two others, because we're anything but austere when it comes to kitchen tools.

paring knife

2. A Paring Knife: The tiny paring knife is proof that size matters. There are certain tasks in the kitchen (like paring, duh) that are nearly impossible for anyone but experts to accomplish with a big old chef's knife. Paring knives, like their bigger siblings, come in a huge range of prices, weights and styles. Your paring knife will become a really sharp extension of your hand for peeling fruit and supreming citrus. Once you've started supreming citrus, it will be really hard to stop. We promise.

Here's the ever-helpful and handsome Ming Tsai to explain:

And finally:
bread knife

3. A Bread Knife: You'll probably use your bread knife the least of any of your knives, but we had to include it because there is simply no other tool that will do its job. A bread knife is a long, thin, serrated knife that will slice through the softest brioche or the crunchiest country loaf like a hot knife through butter. And without smashing your lovely loaf of bread on its way. As a bonus, bread knives are great for slicing super ripe tomatoes, leveling cakes and making gorgeous chocolate shavings!

Seriously. That's it. Those three and you're set! Now you can breathe, practice your knife skills and spend your extra knife money on ingredients and cookbooks instead!

One final note of nerdery: the secret to great knife work is a very sharp knife. Not only will a sharp knife make your life easier, you are also way less likely to cut yourself with a sharp knife than you are with a dull one. Get yourself a honing steel to keep your edge sharp in between serious sharpenings. After that, you can either get yourself a sharpening stone and learn to do it yourself, or find a knife/kitchen shop with a sharpener you trust. It is absolutely an art. If you don't believe us, just take a look at our favorite place to get our knives sharpened, Cut Brooklyn.

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