When prepping a meal, nothing is more important to the process than a set of trusty knives. And forget trying to use a dull blade to slice and dice meats or produce. It’s essential to have the proper blade to tackle each task. And as helpful as a nice chefs knife can be, it’s good practice to have some options in the kitchen. Ever try slicing a loaf of bread with the wrong knife? It can be a dangerous nightmare.

And that’s where it can get confusing, and expensive! Buying a set of knives is an investment. An investment that might never seem to pay off. Cutlery isn’t cheap, and unless you’re comfortable in the kitchen, chances are high that most of the knives in the set will be used infrequently. Knife sets can be a great investment; but they can just as easily become more decoration that useful tools.

But there’s a reason for all the madness. So while the common cook really only needs a few types of knives to get by in the kitchen, there is good reason so many specialized blades exists. Each knife serves a purpose.

We’ll break down each type of blade most often found in kitchen sets, and provide the rundown on how to use them. Chances are you might need to keep just a few knives around rather than a set. From the essentials to the nons, these are the types of blades that are commonly found in most kitchens.

The Essential Kitchen Knives

Types of kitchen knives

Kitchen Knife Chefs Knife
  • Blade typically between 6-12 inches long
  • Versatile appeal for food prep
  • Should be sharpened & maintained with regularity
  • A modest investment that is worth it

The most versatile kitchen knife available, the chefs knife is tried and true when it comes to prep. No blade in your collection will get as much work as the chefs knife. From chopping, to slicing, to dicing, a well maintained chefs knife can do it all.

The blade is sturdy enough to handle large volumes of vegetables and even cutting through bones, and sharp enough to slice through tough meats. A well made chefs knife can prove expensive – but if there is one knife to splurge on, it’s this one. Durable and essential, every home cook needs a trusty chefs knife.

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The Bread Knife

Essential Knives Bread Knife
  • Serrated, razor sharp to slice through spongy material
  • Blade typically 7-10 inches long
  • Difficult to sharpen/maintain
  • Typically last around 5 years

Don’t let the name of this blade fool you – it’s a helpful knife to have around for tackling more than just bread. The finely serrated blade makes slicing a breeze. Fruits and vegetables that can be difficult to properly cut due to their shape and consistency stand no chance against a sharp bread knife. We even love slicing juicy tomatoes with a bread knife!

The narrow and fine blade on this knife is ideal for slicing (not chopping!), it’s versatility makes it one of our top recommended knives to own. Don’t spend too much money on a bread knife – chances are that it will be used a ton, and will ultimately wear down over time. And while it’s possible to sharpen a bread knife, the ridges on the serrated blade can make it a challenge. Once you struggle to slice bread and fruits/veggies like in the past, it’s probably time to search for a replacement.

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The Paring Knife

Pairing Knife
  • Small, all purpose knife
  • Ideal for delicate tasks like peeling fruit
  • Usually a 3-4 inch blade
  • Reasonably priced

The small blade of the paring knife is ideal to handle tasks that are too intricate for the chefs knife. Think peeling veggies, deveining shrimp, or mincing up some garlic. The paring knife has a razor sharp blade that allows the user to focus in on delicate projects.

The slender size of the blade means that it should not be used to cut bulkier objects with hard exteriors. If you’re applying pressure to the paring knife, chances are high that another knife should be in use.

The simplicity, size, and specialized use of the paring knife makes for an affordable and essential addition to add to any kitchen or knife set.

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Kitchen Shears

Kitchen Shears
  • Multi-purpose kitchen blade
  • Ideal for cutting/trimming
  • Generally dishwasher friendly
  • Blades between 8-9 inches long

Hear us out – we know that technically shears aren’t knives. At least not in the traditional sense, anyway. But kitchen shears are essential to help tackle tasks that even the most well maintained and battle tested chefs knives can’t handle.

The strong handles on these souped up scissors enable the user to cut through items (like bones) that might be a little too tough for a standard blade. Some pairs even come with extra features, like bottle and can openers.

The utility of this nifty tool makes it a favorite for most cooks. Anything from snipping veggies to slicing pizza to even cutting away food packaging is made easy. Most shears are pretty affordable. Just make sure to spring for a set that can be taken apart; they’re easier to clean and sharpen that way.

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Helpful Nonessentials

nonessential kitchen knives

The Utility Knife

utility knife
  • Blade around 6 inches long
  • Great for cutting/dicing smaller items
  • Narrow blade is ideal for precision prep work
  • Easy to clean and maintain

The smaller cousin to the chefs knife, the utility knife is meant to handle more delicate and precise tasks than it’s longer bladed counterpart. While it’s a splendidly useful tool, we downgraded it on the essential scale because the tasks this knife excels at can be duplicated by other knives.

Nevertheless, the utility knife is perfect for chopping and dicing fruits and veggies. Poultry and fish that are too thin to comfortably filet with larger blades are also easily tackled with this knife. The utility knife can be quite durable and won’t cost an arm and a leg – and thus its a great tool to have at the ready.

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The Boning Knife

  • Typically 4-8 inches long
  • Narrow, sharp blade ideal for deboning meat/fish
  • Easy to clean and maintain

A must have for cooks who often find themselves preparing meat and fish. Not to be confused with a fillet knife (which is just meant to debone fish), the boning knife is quite versatile and makes it easy to work around and remove any bones. While this knife shouldn’t be used to cut or slice prepared meat, the narrow blade and sharp end are quite helpful in the prepping process.

Boning knives generally come made in 2 different styles; stiff blades vs flexible. The stiff bladed boning knife excels when working with the heavier bones found in beef and pork. The flexible bladed boning knife is great to use on more delicate poultry and fish. Whichever the preference, a boning knife is usually reasonably priced and can be sharpened easily. But be careful – the thin blade can bend or break if too much force is applied.

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The Cleaver Knife

Cleaver Knife
  • Ideal when working with large cuts of meat/fish
  • Large blade generally between 7-10 inches long
  • Sharp and capable of slicing, dicing, mincing and cutting

Unless you’re a butcher or prepare heavy cuts of meat often, it’s unlikely the average cook will need at a cleaver knife in the kitchen. These supersized, wide blades are ideal for hacking and chopping through large bones, super tough cuts of meat, and even heavy produce like pumpkins.

The razor sharp blade and heavy blade is quite capable of any kind of prepping task, but its large size makes it unrealistic for every day use. Interestingly enough, certain models of Asian chefs knives are fashioned in the cleaver design.

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The Carving Knife

Carving Knife and Fork
  • Specialized knife best for carving thick cuts of meat/fish
  • Large, sharp blade usually between 8-15 inches long
  • Fork helps keep food steady while slicing
  • Modestly priced and easy to maintain

Most commonly used on the holidays to slice up roasts, the long, thin blade of the carving knife handles jobs that any other knife can’t. The only problem is that these specialized knives are so limited in use. Unless you’re preparing and serving a lot of meat, the carving knife has little use in most kitchens.

When purchasing a carving knife, try to grab a set that comes with a fork for proper balancing. It’s also important to keep the blade as razor sharp as possible, so try to sharpen it well after each use.

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The Tomato Knife

Tomato Knife
  • Specialized knife ideal for slicing tomatoes and produce
  • Tiny blade, typically around 3-4 inches long
  • Serrated blade grips slippery objects well
  • Can be expensive and difficult to sharpen/maintain

Designed to cut through slippery tomato skin with ease, the tomato knife has evolved into a helpful tool that can tackle most fruits and veggies. This tiny knife has a serrated edge to efficiently slice through items that are wet or have little traction, minimizing any risk of slipping and hurting the user.

Some models of the knife have a forked prong on the tip of the blade, designed to quickly move away tomato slices in one motion. These knives are particularly helpful for line cooks or when prepping produce for large groups of people or parties.

While it’s very useful to have around the kitchen, the effectiveness of the bread knife can render it redundant. These knives can also be surprisingly expensive given the diminutive size. Serrated blades can also be tough to sharpen, something that’s important in order for the tomato knife to remain effective over time.

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