Kitchen Fundamentals: The 6 Knives Every Man Should Have in His Kitchen (And How to Hone Them)

by Matt Moore on March 28, 2011 · 95 comments

in Blog

The people have spoken.  A big thanks to all of you for the outstanding comments from last month’s post.  An overwhelming majority responded that you would like more information regarding knives and knife skills.  Ask and you shall receive.

I’ll save you from a long personal intro this time around and get straight to the point.  Cut and dry (pun intended).  However, I should mention that some of your comments and questions have already been addressed in my prior articles.  I thought I would start out this month by providing links from the very beginning.

Take Back the Kitchen:  3 Great Meals to Impress a Date
The Perfect Valentine’s Day (Special Occasion) Menu
The Other Side of Grilling
Meals for the Bachelor:  5 Simple, One Skillet Meals
5 Stick to Your Rib Soups from Around the Country
Kitchen Fundamentals: How to Make a Whole Roasted Chicken

Kitchen Knives 101

Dog : Man :: Knife : Chef.

If you are having trouble understanding the analogy above, allow me.  A good knife is a chef’s best friend.  Whether used to delicately slice paper thin vegetables, to crush through bones and tendons, or simply to remind those around you to “get out of your kitchen,” knives are an essential kitchen tool–the most essential tool, I might argue.

Personally, I use one knife about 95% of the time:  an 8-inch top quality chef’s knife.  Don’t let the high price tag scare you.  A well-crafted knife lasts for decades, and it’s worth the investment.  Because I tend to be a minimalist in the kitchen, I’m always looking for tools that can accomplish several different tasks in one.  I’d rather have one expensive knife that can complete 4 – 5 different tasks than invest in an individual tool for each job.  Besides, there’s less cleanup my way.

So, how do you choose a good knife?  Well, if the chef’s knife in your $60 wood block set is letting you down, there’s probably a good reason.

You get what you pay for.

In cooking, I always say that great meals start with using great ingredients.  That philosophy is also true for knives–it’s all about material.  Top quality knives are forged using the highest quality of finely polished stainless steel.  Though other materials–including ceramic–have recently been introduced to the manufacturing process, stainless steel remains the preferred choice for most chefs.  The weight or feel of the knife should also reflect quality.  There should be no joints between the blade and the handle, i.e. seamless integration.  The handle should allow for a secure grip, while also being comfortable for use over time.  Regarding the surface, the overall appearance of the blade should be smooth and highly polished, serving as sign that the knife is resistant to rust and corrosion.   And finally, the cutting edge should retain its sharpness over time.  Of course, the last quality is the most subjective to both use and care.

Knives should always be kept as sharp as possible–more on this later.  Working with a dull knife causes one to use more pressure, which increases the risk of the blade slipping while cutting.  I prefer to always work on a wood or plastic cutting board.  These types of surfaces give to the blade versus a glass or ceramic surface, which helps retain the edge.  Of course, you always want to cut away from your body.  Like most of my more expensive cookware, I prefer to hand wash and dry my knives instead of using the dishwasher.  This ensures that the knives are not damaged should they come in contact with other objects.  Lastly, always store knives in a knife block or secure tray when not in use.

Though my chef’s knife is my work horse, there are other types of knives and tools that I find particularly useful.  From left to right, they are as follows.

The Knives Every Man Should Have in His Kitchen

In order from left to right: Steel, Serrated Utility Knife, Cleaver, Chef’s Knife, Filet Knife, Paring Knife

Steel – a tool used to sharpen knives.

Serrated Utility Knife – used for slicing bread, meats, or other foods with a hard crust or outer skin.  Also great for cutting juicy or soft vegetables such as tomatoes.

Cleaver – used to de-bone or butcher larger cuts of meat where more weight and less precision is needed.

Chef’s Knife – the most used and versatile knife in the kitchen.  Used for slicing, dicing, chopping or de-boning smaller cuts of meat.

Filet Knife – a sharp and slim bladed knife for filleting fish or removing and trimming fat and silver skin from tenderloins.

Paring Knife – a small, versatile knife used to peel, cut, or clean fruits and vegetables.

Honing Kitchen Knives

Depending on the amount and type of use, I recommend having your blades professionally sharpened every 12 – 18 months.  Many of your local kitchen supply stores offer this service for $5 – $7 per knife to restore the original edge.  Of course, you can always invest in an electronic sharpener to keep at home.  Between uses, you can keep your blade sharp by using a sharpening steel.   Keep in mind that serrated knives should maintain their edge and should not be sharpened.

Step 1: Hold the steel and knife in opposing hands, firmly gripping the knife and holding the steel down, away from the body.

Step 2: Place the heel edge of the knife at a 20 degree angle from the steel.

Step 3: Pull the knife down the steel, from heel to tip, maintaining an angle of 20 degrees.

Step 4: Repeat this procedure 4 – 6 times, alternating between the left and right side of the blade.

Editor’s Note: We made a few corrections based on your feedback. Thanks!

Kitchen Fundamentals Series:
How to Make a Whole Roasted Chicken
The 6 Knives Every Man Should Have in His Kitchen
Basic Knife Skills

{ 95 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brad March 28, 2011 at 6:34 pm

One minor note: the “Chef Knife” you show is actually a santoku. While great for general use, just like a chef’s knife, they’re not the same. A santoku will give you a lot of difficulty when carving, specifically around any kind of bone, because of the rather abrupt angle at the tip.

Personally I love my santoku, but I’ll swap it out for an 8″ chef’s knife any time twisting precision is needed at the tip. If you don’t carve large meats very often, the santoku is a fantastic everyday knife.

2 Jeff Craig March 28, 2011 at 6:37 pm

It’s a ‘paring’ knife, not a ‘pairing’ knife.

Also, the steel is for honing the blade, not sharpening it. A blade should be honed about every time it is used, but it should be legitimately sharpened (which most people should probably have done by an expert) about once a year. Honing is an act of reshaping the steel to realign the metal, while sharpening actually removes material.

3 KNT March 28, 2011 at 6:38 pm

when it comes to things like fresh bread, chief’s knife is useless (as well as any other knife without serrated blade)

4 Mike March 28, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Just a heads up about a steel; they don’t actually sharpen a knife. The sharpening process involves removing tiny pieces of metal until the blade is once again, sharp. A steel simply re-aligns the near-microscopic “teeth” on a blade. This is difficult to explain, however if you look at a knife under a microscope you will understand. To actually sharpen a knife, invest in a quality set of oil stones. It takes some practice in order to get the technique right, but it offers the most flexibility for the at home chef. This is because different style of knives require different sharpening techniques and angles, and using those pull through sharpeners will simply damage your knife. A steel will help to maintain a knife’s sharpness, but use it as more of an in-between-sharpening tool.

5 Anthony March 28, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Good call with Wusthof. Though I am torn between those and the Shun knives. Both are very nice, and around the same price. And as much as it pains me, I would recommend both a 8″ Chef’s and a Santoku. Like Brad said, the Santoku will give a lot of trouble carving, but when it comes to chopping veggies, it just feels more natural.

6 MLG March 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Decent post- I was about to correct the ‘paring’ knife spelling (to pare = to reduce or remove by or as by cutting). Also I’d argue for consolidation’s sake one should only have the paring knife, the chef’s knife, and the serrated knife. The paring knife can take care of all of the filet tasks, and the chef’s knife can handle cutting meat.
It doesn’t hurt to have more, but if we’re dropping coin on good knives, three is easier than five.

7 Mitch March 28, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Nice post, I enjoyed it. Looking forward to the next one.

8 Boar March 28, 2011 at 7:02 pm

One glaring error, one serious omission—quality knives are NOT made of “stainless steel,” but of forged high carbon stain *resisitant* steel alloy. There is is HUGE difference between the two! For one, the material commonly called stainless, and labeled as such, is so hard as to be impervious to sharpening, and used for knives that are cheap enough to be thrown away once they dull.

As for the omission, you SHOW a full tang, forged billet knife but fail to specify what, exactly that is and why such construction should be insisted upon, instead vaguely alluding to “seamless integration” between knife and handle . .. when actually what’s desirable is for the tang of the blade to extend all the way through the handle.

9 Tryclyde March 28, 2011 at 7:13 pm

A paring knife isn’t long and/or flexible enough to perform as a good filet knife. I routinely filet fish and would never use a paring knife. In fact, I wouldn’t use a filet knife under 6 inches long if I wanted to be precise.

10 Joe March 28, 2011 at 7:29 pm

@Brad, it is not a Santoku. It is a 8″ Cooks Knife with a Hollow Ground edge. A Santoku has more of a “D” shape to the blade.

11 Michael C. March 28, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Good point about the steel, and about the kinds of steel used in good knives. One more note: a good, sharp chef’s knife will slice tomatoes perfectly every time, if it’s kept sharp. Save the serrated knife for breads and other crusty items…

and yep, Wusthof knives rock.

12 uc50ic4more March 28, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Your honing steel does NOT EVER EVER sharpen a knife. It’s sole purpose is to keep true and straight the edge of the knife, prolonging it’s edge and delaying the dulling. Once it is dulled, you have to use a whetstone or grinding element to do the actual sharpening.

13 uc50ic4more March 28, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Also, manly men do not take their knives to anyone for sharpening. “Anyone” will invariably use a grinder which shortens the knife’s life and creates a much less-then-perfect edge. Invest in a whetstone: It creates mirror-perfect edges and is meditative to use.

14 Andrew March 28, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Couple things.

Santoku knives are still chef knives. It serves the same role as a the typical French pattern chef knife, just optimized for slightly different uses. Less ideal for carving, better for chopping. Depends on your preference, and what you like to cook.

High carbon steel knives are awesome. However, stainless steel knives can perform just as well. How the blade is tempered and *FORGED* (dont buy stamped) has a bigger effect on the edge then the steel used in the blade.

Global Knives. The handles are somewhat irregular, so definitely hold one before you buy it, but they are very good knives. Also, last I checked, less expensive then the German imports.

That is all. Back to my finance/education editorial.

15 Chuck March 28, 2011 at 8:45 pm

@ Joe – No, sir. That is a santoku if there ever was one.

I believe the “filet” knife is actually more of a “boning” knife. Hard to tell unless you judge the flexibility of the blade, but the profile is more boning than filet.

I’ve been cooking for a long time, and have never had the occasion to even think “boy, I could use a cleaver right about now.” Not even through the slaughter of farm animals. Not once. That being said, everyone has different needs and skills.

To start, buy a set of Kiwi knives. They will take a BEATING, and you can find a set of 3 for less than $20. Another good source for knives is a restaurant supply. Again – a set of a few sani-safe knives can be had for around $25/knife, and they will last you FOREVER. I keep a sani-safe butcher knife just for butchering large cuts of pork and beef.

Most of my knives are Wusthof, but I do have a few MAC knives that my parents picked up in Japan in the 70s. The original series are still very affordable.

16 DavidK March 28, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Interesting to see the little distortions that come into fairly straight-forward subjects. As a long time owner of most of the knives in the Wusthof catalog, plus some Shun, some old-school Sabattier, some NHS and assorted items like a old and tiny boning knife from Chicago Cutlery, etc. I can say authoritatively that… it all depends. Modern high-carbon stainless can take almost as good an edge as carbon steel, and is a lot less hassle to maintain. Most of my collection is high-carbon stainless, which is distinct from the stainless cheapo knives are made from. But the NHS knives I have which sandwich a thin layer of carbon steel between stainless steel sides can take a wickeder edge than anything else. Also Shun and its ilk use a harder steel than Wusthof et al, and sharpen to a more acute angle, so they can be called “sharper,” BUT in my experience they nick more easily than the “tougher” Solingen steels. And Santoku vs Classic Chef’s knife… the shapes are different because the knife techniques are different. Santoku is a Japanese slicing knife for vegetables, while French or Italian or German Chef’s knives are optimized for chopping using a rocking motion. See what I mean? It all depends. And notice, I have not even mentioned ceramics! But yes, a serrated bread knife is a must. And a long, thin, hollow ground slicer. And a few knife blocks, because only having 5 knives just doesn’t cut it with me. :)

17 JoshM March 28, 2011 at 9:03 pm

As someone who cooks every night from scratch ingredients and has a full block of very expensive Henkels, I can say you just need a chef’s knife and a paring knife. Beyond that, you are getting into specializations. I may also suggest a serrated knife, but if your knife is sharp enough, you shouldn’t need it 95% of the time.

I got ceramics about 2 months ago… 4 of them. I haven’t touched my Henckels since. No honing needed, sharper than a razor… was the perfect gift that I plan on giving others in my family.

18 Derek March 28, 2011 at 9:04 pm

I found this like to a gentleman, Jay Fisher, who makes custom blades. This is his Chef’s knife page. More than you’d need to know, and that’s just one page. He’s very expensive, but oh, my god, am I jealous of everyone who can afford him.'s_Knives_Culinary_Kitchen_Cutlery.htm

19 Darrin March 28, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Dang, those are some good-looking knives! A good chef’s knife is definitely one of the 7 things I’d like to have on hand if I ever got stranded on a desert island.

20 Matt Moore March 28, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Thanks for the comments, you are correct – to be clear, the steel is used to hone the blade and re-align the edge, not to ‘sharpen’ per se. I’m sorry for any confusion.

Oh and yes, it seems that I’ve been ‘pairing’ too many wines/beer with food as of late, thus the typo on the paring knife.

Happy slicing!


21 Michael March 28, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Haha, the other guys beat me to it. That’s a santoku knife, not a chef’s.
I have a set of Wusthofs, best investment ever.

22 James March 28, 2011 at 10:09 pm

I love good knives. I’m slowly collecting some Shun knives. Amazon has them on their lightning deals once in a while.

I have bought a few friends knife sets, as no occasion gifts. There is nothing worse than trying to cook without any knives, or knives that can’t cut anything.

23 Patrick March 28, 2011 at 10:26 pm

This reminds me of…



24 Steve W March 28, 2011 at 10:42 pm

There are some alternatives to the pricy knives pushed for modern kitchen use.

I’ve had great luck with the plain steel knives like the old “Chicago Cutlery” brand with the hammer forging marks (discontinued) or even the current “Old Hickory” by Ontario.

Whether found used, New-Old-Stock or new production, usually these things arrive dull – and a good session with your favorite sharpening gear is needed to sort them out.

They take some work to keep up – like a cast iron pan they need to be kept oiled, and they will die if you dishwasher them, but on the upside you can get a nice usable set for less than a single knives cost for name brands.

Another brand we’ve had good luck with is the Sabatier Classic knives – the French made ones.

As for sharpening I’ve run the gambit of systems, devices and have settled on a combination of a Warthog Sharpener and an old hardware store steel. Have a flat file in the drawer to work out any really bad damage, though I think I’ve used that only twice over the years.

Take good care of your cutting edges and it is nothing to get 30+ years use out of even a basic set of knives.

As for the various sizes, types, weights – experiment and you’ll find that you settle on a few out of a set that balance well for you. Best bet is to double or triple up on those specific sizes/models and even consider setting the others aside (of gift them).

Some of my best knives were “found objects” in old hunting camps that were too far gone to save, so we salvaged what we could, or homemade knives often from steel from unusual places. We’ve a C-frame (the wooden handle holds both ends of the blade in tension) bread knife made from an old hacksaw blade that does an awesome job.

Have fun, keep them sharp and enjoy!

25 Zac March 28, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Well done, Matt. NERD RAGE ACHIEVED.

26 Anne March 28, 2011 at 10:53 pm

LOL! Looks like you’re taking a beating here, but yep, all right. I’d like to add that most of the steels sold in stores, including the Wustof ones sold with the sets, are too rough on your blades. They are a good in-between for when your blade is getting a little dull but not quite in need of a full sharpening yet. The better steels are much finer and I know some chefs who will use the unglazed portion on the bottom of a porcelain dish or the rough side of a piece of leather in a pinch. These finer-grade steels are harder to find, but Wustof now sells a blade honing device that includes a porcelain steel that is set to the proper angle so that both sides can be stropped at once. If you can find one of those, it’s worth it and saves time when doing a lot of cutting and steeling.

27 Anne March 28, 2011 at 10:56 pm

I guess I should have added that I only know this about steels and knives since my grandfather was a master butcher and the sheer number of professional chefs who are good friends. Your pick of what knives to own and how and how often to steel is all very good advice, as are the corrections and comments afterward. Thanks for posting!

28 Sean K March 28, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Cook’s Illustrated rated the Victorinox Fibrox the best value:

$30 or so. Very nice.

29 Ali Manman March 28, 2011 at 11:26 pm

While I have some bitter memories of working for Cutco, I will stand by their products. I’ve never seen/used a better knife. My set is safe in storage as an “added benefit” for my wife when she marries me. haha

30 Jeff J. March 28, 2011 at 11:31 pm

@Zac: Best comment of the thread.

31 Moe Rubenzahl March 29, 2011 at 12:27 am

Good article, mostly agree.

@sean k: Yes, Victorinox Fibrox gets the nod from most reviews as an awesome value. If money is tight, I think that’s the way to go. If you can afford it, some other brands — I like Shun, Henckels, Wusthof — are a but better and much better in appearance.

I agree, a chef’s knife is the number one go-to knife but I also love, love, love my Shun santoku. Great knife. And they sharpen it for free (which I do once a year because to be honest, they do a better job than I can).

More of my two cents on this topic:

Don’t buy a set. Buy the four or five knives you want — and they don’t have to match or be from the same manufacturer. I agree on this list — chef’s knife (add a santoku if you have the $), paring, serrated bread, thin-bladed boning/fillet knife. And a steel, for sure.

Use that steel every time you use the knife and sharpening is rarely needed.

32 Jason March 29, 2011 at 1:10 am

Personally, I go the old fashioned route. As nice as stainless knives are when you buy them, the hardness makes it more difficult to sharpen. I use a 9 inch Sabatier carbon steel chef’s knife. These are old school traditional French knives. The weight is great and because they are carbon steel, you can get an edge back pretty quickly with a few swipes on the steel. Sharpening on the water stone also takes half the time than with a stainless knife. There are two drawbacks with carbon steel which I find to be minor. They may be easier to sharpen, but they don’t hold an edge as long as stainless. Again, a few swipes on the steel and you’re back at it. Also, they can tarnish. To me this is purely cosmetic and I actually like the discoloration of a well used carbon steel knife. Be sure to wash and dry the knife shortly after using it and before putting it back in your knife block. Happy julienning!

33 kevin March 29, 2011 at 3:29 am

Added note on cutting boards: End-grain wood is the best surface for retaining your knife edge. The knife slips between the wood fibers instead of hitting the sides of them. However, due to lack of ability to clean porous wood with detergents, it is advisable to use a plastic cutting board for fish and meats.

34 Danko March 29, 2011 at 3:38 am

Reading this article, I wanted to add my own comments, just to find that all is said already. However, good job covering this subject. Personally I use Old Hickory set, yes they are prone to rust, but once you put edge on them, when I get out with friends and we have cookout, I’ve seen these knives leave people speachless especially those who were mocking them for their rustic look.
On that note, with all so cool contests here, why don’t we do a photo contest of our kitchen battlegear and how we sharpen them?

35 aaron March 29, 2011 at 5:04 am

all these responses make me happy. I am glad to hear that there are so many experts out there. Good post, and great responses, fellas.

36 michael P. March 29, 2011 at 5:09 am

Kevin – despite the belief that you should prepare meat on a plastic board, porous characteristics of wood makes it MUCH more antiseptic than plastic cutting board.
Wood absorbs water and leave bacteria “dry” greatly shortening their lives.
Plastic, on the other hand, keeps water in every single little cut in surface, and vaporisation needs hours to remove the water. And this is scientific study, not just my thought.

And when it comes to knives – victorinox fibrox chief knife is a piece of cutlery that will get love from everybody. accompanied with a few small serrated victorinoxes (2$-3$ a piece) it will rule in every kitchen. And, because victorinox fibrox is extremely thin, it doesn’t require sharpening (that is only true in kitchens that previously used Chinese junk :) )

37 Mike March 29, 2011 at 5:32 am

What a great article and the comments made it even better. Thanks all.

38 Tarcas March 29, 2011 at 8:20 am

I’m a big fan of my Ulu. It’s an Alaskan knife designed with a curved blade and the handle located directly above it, unlike virtually every other knife you see, where the handle is beside the blade. This alignment gives a lot more force and a lot more precision, since you are both directly above the cutting edge and closer to it than with a traditional knife. Now, it’s no good for paring or filleting, but I find it indispensable for slicing long thin items like carrots, where a quick back-and-forth rocking motion will take care of the whole length in a few seconds. It also works great for slicing pizza or other things that take long straight cuts.
Wikipedia has an image of one similar to mine, though this one’s designed to be a souvenir:

39 Waltman March 29, 2011 at 8:51 am
40 Brian E March 29, 2011 at 9:08 am

Nice article and an amazing turn out in the comments. Looks like all the minor glitches have been picked up, but it’s a good primer for someone who’s just starting out in the kitchen. I only use carbon steel knives for my personal use (my wife can use and abuse HER stainless cheapies all she wants) and I have no gripes about the special care required since I routinely cook with cast iron and carbon steel pans, so I already know the “manual of arms,” so to speak.

Every cook’s needs and preferences are different, but a chef’s knife is the basis for a kitchen knife collection. I prefer the 9″ Sabatier carbon steel. To that I added a CCK Chinese cleaver, a Sabatier boning knife and a pair of Opinel paring knives (all carbon steel) and that’s all I need.

41 Kevin March 29, 2011 at 9:20 am

Great article, good information. I will say that I, personally, am not wild about the Wusthof. I have several Shun knives, but my 8″ Shun chef knife is my go-to, and I’m absolutely in love with it. It’s a great knife: wonderful balance, full tang, surprisingly light, and it has kept its edge beautifully. When I married my wife and we merged our belongings, she brought an 8″ Wusthof chef’s knife. I’m sure she didn’t handle it with kid gloves, but it’s in really bad shape. Worse than can be accounted for, I would say, than by poor handling. By contrast, my Shun’s have required essentially 0 maintenance or upkeep, and they’re all razor sharp.

Also, I’ve heard a few rumors that if you purchase a Shun knife, once a year you can send it back to Shun to be professionally sharpened and cared for, for free. I can’t find anything solid to back this up, though. Can anyone corroborate?

42 Jim March 29, 2011 at 9:33 am

There are certainly some knowledgeable/experienced folks weighing in on this article, but I’d like to point out that the amateur on a budget (take it from a medical student) could really get away with nothing more than a chef’s knife and a serrated – MAYBE a paring knife for delicate work.

I also agree with the suggestion that you should buy your knives separately.

Thanks for this great article.

43 Joe March 29, 2011 at 9:42 am

This link was to the Chef’s Knife and I thought this was being referred to as a Santoku. Knife pictured in steel demo is Santoku. Embedded in article: “an 8-inch top quality chef’s knife”


44 Tim Hart March 29, 2011 at 9:49 am

I echo the sentiments of the Cutco brand. While I admit that I’m an amateur compared to any and all of the above commenters, I have found Cutco to be a company that not only makes quality products, but stands by them as well. As story for illustration:

When my mom got married, she splurged and emptied some of her savings to buy a 10 piece Cutco knife set. She knew that they came with a lifetime warranty and free sharpening. She used her set for 27 years, and even tried to sharpen her chef knife herself at one point. It looked horrible because she didn’t know what she was doing and completely scraped up the side of the knife. She finally decided to try sending it to the company to get sharpened, along with the other 9 knives of her set.

Not only did the company sharpen ALL the knives for a flat $5 shipping, but the even completely REPLACED her damaged chef knife! Needless to say, when my wife and I got married, the only thing we asked for from my parents was our own set of Cutco knives!

45 Kiki March 29, 2011 at 9:52 am

While I can’t say I have huge experience, my Global kitchen knife was the best present I’ve ever received.

One caveat I’ve found with buying knives though: ALWAYS buy the knife in a shop, not the internet. You really need to get a good feel for the knife’s balance in your hand, and try out as many different brands as you can. I’ll happily spend a tenner more for something that’ll last me 10 years, just to get the right one.

46 Chad Smith March 29, 2011 at 9:52 am

This article was very well written, for the beginner home chef, not for the pros. So keeping this in mind it showed most details one would need when buying medium quality knives. If you want a knife that will last, will cut like you have always dreamed, you must go Japanese. There is nothing like the edge of sharp Japanese steel.

@Uc50 There are plenty of knife sharpening places that will sharpen using a set of stones, it is a dying art, but unless you are properly trained, you will most likely damage your knives doing it yourself.

@JoshM Ceramic blades are indeed sharp, but if you knick a bone or anything harder than the blade, you will chip it and chip it dramatically.

@ Many other posters, Please read the post and comments fully before commenting yourself. There are more than enough comments pointing out mistakes in the article, you don’t all need to point out the same mistake over and over. And as for the spelling of ‘paring’, unless the author changed it since he first wrote it, I cannot find the wrong spelling anywhere in the article.

47 Chad Smith March 29, 2011 at 9:55 am

No that is not my website, just wanted to mention this site. They are located in Calgary, Alberta. They do sharpening, offer classes on knife use and offer a great selection of Japanese steel! They offer free shipping to Canada and the US!!

48 Greg Jahnke March 29, 2011 at 9:58 am

I forge pretty much all of our kitchen knives except the serrated ones (who wants to spend that kind of time at the grinder). I have tried all kinds of different materials and patterns.

A good kitchen knife should be razor sharp, so the rules are about the same as they would be with a straight razor. Since you will be using this in a ready environment, where there is/should be a steel, a strop, and a sharpening stone pretty much all the time, you want a softer steel because it is MUCH more important that it take an edge easily (or that the edge can be restored easily) than it is for it to “hold” its edge for a long time (like a good pocket knife or hunting knife). If you take a straight razor and run it down a strop a half dozen times, it makes a huge difference. Do the same with a hunting knife and you probably will not even be able to tell.

As far as sending them out to be sharpened once a year, I disagree emphatically. A paper wheel setup for a grinder will only set you back about $25-$30,..about the price of getting a couple of knives professionally sharpened, and will allow you to put a professional edge on every knife you own. I use a wet grinder (dewalt sharpening system) to put a basic edge on a knife, but a medium and coarse grade hand stone will do just as well (a lot of the knives that I put a basic edge on are straight from the forge/heat treat oven, so they need a LOT of work, thus the electric time saver). Then they go on to the paper grit wheel, then the rouge wheel, then the leather strop. This is not a barber strop, which is just a strip of leather with jewelers rouge on it that hangs limply, this is a sharpening strop, which is a piece of leather stuck to a board so you have a little more solid foundation to work from.

For the cost of getting a handful of knives sharpened you can get what you need to do it yourself and have ALL your knives sharpened, all the time.

49 Zachariah March 29, 2011 at 10:53 am

Great article. Martha Stewart advises that one can assemble an even more minimalist assortment by selecting a chef knife, a bread knife and a pairing knife. Most of us can do without the cleaver since hardly anyone does home butchering (a shame) and the filet knife since, again, how many folks gut their own fish or need to remove silverskin from a deer loin? You can trim fat (not that you should remove that healthy animal fat) with the pairing knife.

50 Stef March 29, 2011 at 11:29 am

GATCO makes an excellent sharpening kit, and you don’t need to be an expert to get a perfect edge every time. Well worth the investment.

51 Jeff March 29, 2011 at 11:49 am

If you’re interested in more in-depth analysis and instruction on blade edges, materials, and sharpening, there’s no better I’ve found than Chad Ward’s, a long but worthwhile read:

For those recommending a whetstone, I admire your manliness, but I’m quite happy with my Tri-Angle Sharpmaker.

52 Marcus March 29, 2011 at 12:05 pm

That fillet knife looks a little suspicious to me! Any man who fishes ought to have a real fillet knife in his tackle box. Worse case scenario you use your fishing knife in the kitchen. Incidentally the fillet knife I have in my tackle box has a greater curve and likely a much thinner blade than the kitchen fillet knife you show here.

53 Mitch Somerville March 29, 2011 at 12:29 pm

The knife pictured appears to be a Sankotu knife, not a chefs knife. Though the two are largely interchangable. They differ in blade shape and the multiple fullers purpendicular to the cutting edge running the length of the blade.

Personally I prefer the old fashioned chefs knife, mine is 10″. After a bit of experience I think I could get greater versitility out of an 8″ blade but I’ve already made the investment in the 10″ so I’m sticking with it.

54 Curt Weil March 29, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Serrated knives can and should be sharpened, but not the way others are.
You need a simple whet-stone and a round diamond-stick like this:
Does your serrated knife need sharpening? Find the back side of the knife and gently run your finger-tip from the top (opposite of the sharp) edge to and over the serration; if you feel a drag, that is the “wire-edge” of steel that has curled over from use.
Use a few light passes of the whet-stone, from sharp edge to top, to clean them up.
Then use the round diamond stone in each serration, from bottom towards top, to sharpen each one.
Voila! a sharp knife in less than five minutes.

55 Scott March 29, 2011 at 1:03 pm

There’s one typo the other commenters seem to have missed: it’s kitchen knives 101, not kitchen knifes 101.

Also, as others have mentioned, stainless steel is not as preferable as carbon steel. Yes, there are some hybrid stainless steels out there that are ok, but you’re spending beaucoup bucks on a knife–make sure it’s something you know is going to be good for at least a decade. If given the choice between stainless and carbon steel, go with the one that’s easier to keep sharp. As far as care is concerned, it shouldn’t just be a preference not to put knives in the dishwasher; simply don’t do it. Not only is it hard on the blade to be put next to other utensils, most detergents are very harsh. The same goes for leaving the knife to air dry after hand-washing–you’ll find the blade has pitted and, if left too long, worthless.

Something not mentioned in the article or in the comments is where to store your knives when not in use. If you want to keep your knife in good condition, DO NOT leave it loose in a drawer with a bunch of other knives or utensils. There are in-drawer knife blocks available, or if you have space on your counter use an upright block (I for one like the Kapoosh universal knife block:, or a magnetic strip on your wall (best to go with bamboo- or wood-covered magnetic strips, as metal on metal can be bad for the blade).

Keep your knife sharp, clean, and handy, and it’ll last you for years. Happy cooking!

56 GP March 29, 2011 at 1:21 pm

My wife probably has every brand name knife mentioned here. For me though, it’s Old Timer, cold steel. Paring Knife up to 14 in. Butcher. I keep them razor sharp enough to shave with and did once to win a bet.

57 DR March 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Isn’t the knife labeled as a “chef’s knife” actually a santoku? This is what I always think of as a chefs knife:


Or this:

The santoku and chefs knives are both useful, but have a different style of usage. The chefs knife has a rounded blade that you can rock up and down as you chop things. The santoku’s flat blade isn’t used in the same way. I think it’s as much a matter of preference or background than anything between these two styles.

58 Bill in Kansas City March 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm

The steel isn’t used to sharpen a knife, as you assert in the article, but to hone it, and those are two different operations. As you use a knife, microscopic “feathers” on the edge of the knife get knocked out of alignment, resulting in a knife that feels dull. A steel re-aligns those “feathers” and “trues” the blade.

If you’re going to write about fundamentals, you might want to review what those fundamentals are.

59 Bill in Kansas City March 29, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Correction to previous comment: it appears that you use the terms “hone” and “sharpen” interchangeably.

It’s a nice collection of knives you have, btw. I even taught my daughter, now 10, how to use the 8″ chef’s knife safely. She enjoys being my sous-chef.

60 JD March 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm

DR: Yes, the knife depicted is a santoku. A chef’s knife would not have the scalloped/Granton edge. A santoku knife is much lighter and thinner than a chefs knife, meaning that it is better for vegetables and boneless meat (fish, some chicken). A chef’s knife is much heavier and ‘softer’, making it usefull in cutting e.g. meat.

61 YE OLE GENERAL March 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Never have I seen so many examples of people knowing a little, and thinking they know a lot.

62 Carter March 29, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Cooking is certainly one of the great Men’s Skills.

63 Sommelier March 29, 2011 at 11:42 pm

The “filet knife” shown is actually a boning knife. A filet knife has a longer, thinner, more flexible blade.

Filet knife:

Boning knife:

64 Valter March 30, 2011 at 12:03 am

I prefer to have the big one about 8″ knife and a smaller one (some 4″) for other tasks. I also use a cheap whetstone (china) to bring the blade where I want and finish the work with a better hone from a norton sharpening stone (very fine).

cheap and quick test of sharpness: slice through paper. all of my knifes (including keyrings) must be capable of doing this.

uh, if your iron is missing, try a glass bottle, a cars old shocks rod, or any realy smooth steel rod. In a pinch, you can use the back of another knife.

learning to sharpen knives impress men and women and really pays off. A MANLY SKILL..

65 Kevin March 30, 2011 at 12:12 am

OK- good points, but much missing and some just not true, imo. First, carbon steel is better in every way, imo. Second, that does not appear to be a 20 degree angle in those pictures. Finally, of course, the “sharpening” steel is really just an edge truing instrument and is for maintaining an edge for awhile. You really need several grit levels of whetstones to actually sharpen a knife and the skill is not a piece of cake to master, although not impossible, either.

66 Warren March 30, 2011 at 12:17 am

I prefer carbon steel knives, from a 3″ paring, to a 10″ chefs, with most of the range in between. I also use an Alaskan Ulu, which I use on a daily basis for chopping, slicing.

If I’m allowed, this is the website for the best knives I have found,

Carbon steel, they hold the edge, and blue up with boiling water after use.

67 Brandon March 30, 2011 at 8:36 am

don’t get too obsessed with price when starting out. America’s Test Kitchen reviewed knives in all price ranges and gave top reviews to a $30 Victorinox.

Being a good cook has a lot more to do with repetition and trial and error than high-dollar tools and ingredients. My best knife is a small utility knife that I bought in chinatown 10 years ago for about $4. The same goes for pans. My best pan is a cast iron skillet that I got at a flea market for $10. Start out with a few simple, well-made tools, and a few simple, easy to follow recipes… and cook them often. Once you can do them by memory then expand.

68 rob March 30, 2011 at 1:17 pm

I perfer the following tachnique.

1. Grab food stuff at each end with the corresponding hand.

2. Procede to rip and rend asunder.

Yes thinly sliced tomatoes taste wonderfull with a sliver of fresh mozzerella but it cannot compare to the tactil fulfillment of dsconstructing a fresh fish fillet into cookable although inequal shreds.

69 Paul Joseph March 30, 2011 at 1:32 pm

If you would like a really fine set of knives contact me to get your own set of Cutco.

70 jeff March 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I agree with Brandon about the Victronox chef’s knife, I bought this brand for all my knife needs and they are constantly good, holding a good edge, and practically priced and also agree with his using America’s Test Kitchen as a cooking resource, their website, their video, cook books, and associated magazines are among my favorites. I would suggest not buying the knives at but would suggest for a better price and service.
There are two knives missing in the knife selection though, and that is a butcher’s knife, and a boning knife. If you want to really save money in buying meat the best thing you can do is to buy primal cuts and cut the meat yourself. To do that you need a commercial grade butcher’s knife, because a chef’s knife is too light weight, and a boning knife to cut around long bones and joints, and is better for cutting poultry than a chef’s knife. You will also need a butchers hook. By buying primal cuts and learning to butcher it yourself you will not only save money but buy a better grade of meat than you can at most supermarkets. To learn how to do it, go to and you can see a bunch of videos showing you how to do it. Butchering meat is a very real manly skill.

71 Patrick March 30, 2011 at 4:14 pm

The steel isn’t used to sharpen the knife, metal on metal will dull the knife. It’s used to re-align the edge if it rolls during use, after which it can be properly sharpened (DIY or professionally) using whetstones or other sharpening methods.

72 laura m. March 30, 2011 at 5:06 pm

I have a Sankotu knife as well as an 8″ chef knife, a boning knife, and various paring knives, all are forged. The 10 inch chef I use for watermelon and large muskmelons only. A chef told me to use the steel often. I sharpen with a whetstone as needed. I get forged sets as practical gifts (sets of three or four) or Sankotu sets of two. The larger sets aren’t really practical with extra knives that aren’t used often. Steak knife sets (serrated) are inexpensive and thrown out when dull.

73 Mark March 30, 2011 at 11:40 pm

I would suggest adding a good set of cook’s shears to this list. They are especially useful when dealing with poultry.

74 Peter March 31, 2011 at 12:03 am

As a few others have already said, High carbon steel, such as 1095, is better than stainless steel as it holds an edge better. Will they rust or pit? Yes, but only if they are heavily abused. If you take a little care with them, they will last for decades. One of my favorite knives is a carbon steel Henckels from the mid 1960′s. The wooden handle actually shows more wear than the blade. Properly using a whetstone to sharpen them is undoubtedly the best way, I personally never hone knives.

A good cheap paring knife would be the Old Hickory 1095 knife. My family generally reworks the blade a little, thinning it out and resharpening it (they generally aren’t very sharp new). Overall a great paring knife, and can’t be beat for quality.

75 Tyler March 31, 2011 at 5:00 am

Two minor corrections: in the picture what is labeled as a chef knife is actually a santoku. and what is labeled fillet is actually a boning knife.

Cheers good sirs.

76 cs March 31, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I wouldn’t consider myself an expert at sharpening knives but for years I have been using Edgemakers.

Very simple and easy to use. They even have instructional videos to make sure you are using them correctly. My wife bought a set and I didn’t even know how to use them at first. Then I was on a mission to sharpen every knife in the house!

77 Barrett March 31, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I’ve never used my cleaver for meat, but it is useful for peeling garlic. Place the clove on board, whack it with the side of the cleaver and then peel quickly and easily.

78 kg2v April 1, 2011 at 4:19 pm

I personally prefer a 10″ chef’s knife
Otherwise, a good 101
I like having a boning knife, and a nice slicing knife

79 Chef Kim April 1, 2011 at 6:56 pm

I’m a chef and got this bag of knives but I can say after working hours every day having them available i pretty much only use my chef’s knife and paring knife. Those two are the most important knives if you’re on a tight budget.
Filleting fish with your chef’s knife? No problemo! (Ok flatfish takes some practice, but when you can do it +1 in your bag o’ manly skills).
Cleaning meat and poultry? Piece of cake! you’ve got your paring knife available for the tight spots.
Cutting bread? If you’ve got a good chef’s knife it’ll go through that crust. If it doesn’t go through? just whack the damn loaf with your knife! The bread is obviously hard enough to take a good blow without getting ruined :D

Chef Kim out.

80 Joe Styles April 2, 2011 at 5:51 am

I use the steel to maintain my knives but when I need to restore a good edge I use Japanese water stones. I also maintain a wood shop and so the expense and the skill to use them were part of my work already. I can shave with any decent knife I sharpen and from long experience with cheaper stuff pay the extra for a decent knife or two. I keep two chef knives a few paring knives (these can be cheaper ones) I pick through the local second hand shops for good quality knives. I picked up my victorinox fillet knife for 25 cents there and some decent paring knives too over the years.

I sharpen all my knives at the same time and having 4-6 paring knives I just use one until it dulls then use another until it is time to sharpen them all again about once or twice a year. I also do a few friends knives as well about the same time or if they ask nicely. There is no need to go as far into as I have but I enjoy having the skill and when I sharpened my friends hunting knife to the point he could shave with it his buddies all lined up for the service. I almost went into business but found the fun ran out when I found myself spending a really nice spring day sharpening knives in my shop on a day off. I highly recommend taking the time to learn the skill of honing an edge anyone will find it useful and manly.

81 ZZ April 6, 2011 at 3:17 am

A little late but toss in a little knowledge extra info here. As many have pointed out the ‘main’ knife pictured is a santoku, or rather a westernized version, which I’ve never really figured out how to properly sharpen.

With a (lets call it Japanese) santoku the heel of the knife is a about a 20-25 degree angle, more cleaver like the what the Japanese traditionally consider a cutting blade as it’s made to go through bone, cartilage hardy vegetables; tapers to about a 13-15 degree angle toward the tip which is meant to be doing fine carving of meat and more tender materials. Also you generally only sharpen one side of the edge and kinda hone the other. For the following part imagine you are holding the knife so the spine is facing you, You generally sharpen the right side of the blade, as it ever so slightly heats up under a microscope you might notice the blade bending slightly left. You then hone the back of the blade to remove burrs and bring it in line with the spine.

The western style santoku’s I’ve seen some that have only the right side beveled and the back(left) and others that bevel both sides. My own western style I try to do a bit more old world with a 20 degree and the heel and a 15 degree at the tip, essentially just running a honing steel along the back to remove an burrs. Essentially a chiseled edge with a bit of a curve to it. You might realize by know that this is a lot thinner of an edge then western knives which are more wedge like, and this ends up being my conundrum with the western style santoku cause I don’t enough about how it’s made. The Japanese knives vary carbon and nitrogen through different parts of the knife to essentially make a knife with a very hard central core, but a more resilient surrounding shell. This shell also protects the core from other corrosives as well as the surface are for the harder metal is measured in microns. If the western style santoku doesn’t have this than the blade will either be significantly more prone to chipping at a microscope level and up being more a saw than a blade on your food; or it will be too soft and the edge will give too easily when encountering food.

My own experience, I use a relatively high carbon steel that doesn’t have enough other metals to be called stainless, so upkeep is a lot more as far as cleaning so it doesn’t pit and stain. (Also means I clean all the knives after my wife cause she likes to let them sit a while) Stainless is a bit of a misnomer; it doesn’t pit or rust, but it does oxidize. Generally if you pay close attention you might notice a very fine almost whitish dust covering the surface as the bits break off. (Note all knife break off is small bits, that’s why a knife goes dull.) For myself, I found the trade off being for stainless I need to worry less about maintaining the steel but more about sharpening it; the high carbon I could afford to be less aggressive with the sharpening to keep it honed but I have to be more careful about washing and oiling the metal.

Finally, a quick old and stupid trick about how to tell if your knife is sharp and cutting or dull, tearing, and bruising. Cut an onion. As we all know at this point people cry while cutting an onion because of the gas released. Well this gas is generally suspended in the juices, and if you are slicing through the cellwalls of the onion much of the liquid remains inside the cells mostly by surface tension. If I start crying I know my knife is no longer sharp and is tearing and bruising the onion squeezing out the juices. Stop cutting, cold water clean up and sharpen my knife. Start cutting again and no more crying.

82 Matthew April 6, 2011 at 2:10 pm

You can harrumph if you like, but my electric knife is the best damn thing that ever cost five bucks at a garage sale. Meat slices so quickly betwixt its sliding blades. If you don’t have one, get one – it’s a sawzall for your roast.

83 Kyle April 8, 2011 at 9:52 pm,40733,40738,52770 This is the best knife I have ever used in a kitchen. The blade is carbon steel so after a few years it stains and doesn’t look pretty but the blade gets sharper and stays sharper then any other knife. It needs a little extra love but it will cut through anything and has a nice balance. also its cheep.

84 Eric April 13, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Another great tip from a chef I know is to use a coffee cup for honing a blade. It works just as well as any of the ceramic honing rods you find in stores.

85 Chris M April 13, 2011 at 11:23 pm

I work as a meat cutter full-time. It’s a good idea to invest in a mesh cutting glove to be on the safe side. I have a tendency to sharpen my knives backward, that is, holding the steel and moving the knife toward me. Bad habit, I know, but it works better, and the cutting glove keeps me from adding my hand to the meal. :)

86 Randy April 14, 2011 at 3:45 pm

There’s no need to have your knives professionally sharpened. Anyone (even my wife & daughter) can do it themselves. The critical thing is to keep the blade at exactly the same angle to the stone.

Precision kits like let anyone get a fantastic edge with minimal effort.

87 Mannyclouds April 15, 2011 at 8:54 am

i’d actually recommend sharpening with a stone, but unlike other i beleive you should sharpen both sides and applying less pressure with each stroke, also by swapping out that santoku for a standard western chef’s knife you’ll be able to get rid of that cleaver and the bread knife as a truly sharp knife should be able to cut trough bread with minimal pressure and the chefs knife has the weight to go through the bone

88 Daniel November 16, 2012 at 5:46 pm

The knife pictured is a hollow-ground Santoku.

Chef’s vs Santoku is strictly a matter of preference, as they do the same tasks.

I employ an 8″ chefs, 3″ paring, 6″ serrated utility and a honing steel. I’ve never wished for a cleaver enough to get one and I rarely need a filet of anything so I’ve never felt like I needed a filet knife.

A small preference of mine is some manufacturers allow the bulk of the bolster to find it’s way down the heel of the blade and I hate this. Wusthof does this on some of their models, but not all.

Cough up the dough for a good, grain out, Teak cutting board and make sure you properly apply mineral oil before you begin using (grain out makes sure the board stays in good shape as well as keeps the knife sharper for longer). I also have about 5 different polyurethane boards in assorted sizes as they are cheap and clean well.

Happy carving.

89 Saxon November 21, 2012 at 11:34 am

The honing iron might be a bad idea, at least according to the guys at (which is where I get my knives). As for the cleaver, you might want to invest in an axe or a boning knife instead. Depends what you are up to, of course.

90 Tim Tanguay December 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Forget the German style knives. Japanese Knives are the way to go. Better steel, way sharper, nicer to use, lighter weight (easier on your joints and wrists). They are sharpened to 20 degrees inclusive, so you’d steel at 10 degrees.

8-12″ Gyuto
4″ Paring knife or Petty
8″-10″ Western style Deba (light butchery)
A nakiri.
A pair of kitchen shears (Tojiro makes a nice pair)
Those knives will do 99% of anything you could ever want to do. I used to cook in a professional kitchen as a prep chef. I’d use my nakiri 90% of the time for veg, and deba for fish and chicken prep. The shears are for cutting bones and carcasses.

Ditch the santoku. It’s a compromise between a gyuto, a nakiri and a honesuki. It doesn’t do anything particularly well.

91 Tim December 2, 2012 at 3:03 pm

@ Daniel

A chef and a Santoku don’t do the same thing. The lack of a pointed tip on a santoku can make it challenging to get around corners. Chef knives have more of a belly which helps them with slicing. The santoku is a combination of three knives, (San meaning three in Japan). It is meant to do an okay job with meat, fish and veg. Chefs knives with more of a drop point vs sheepsfoot shape are more versatile.

92 Erik January 10, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Good article, except for one thing that everyone seems to make a mistake with: that paring knife is really a boning knife. The difference is that a boning knife is stiff, while a paring knife uses thinner, more flexible metal.

93 J. Green May 12, 2013 at 6:46 am

It is a good article as a primer for those out there who know very little. From the comment there are lots of opinions on the matter but he has a set which would be okay for someone starting out. I would challenge that there is little need for the meat clever in the set because most men today do not go out and buy sides of beef or large sections that require much in the way of breaking down with that level of force.

Yes, as many of you have pointed out the post shows a hollow ground Santoku instead of a chefs knife.

I only use 3-4 knives regularly A 8in chef, 8in Santoku (I use to cut veg for when I am working on a meal that requires meat and veg. Different boards, Different knives), 6 in serrated utility and a paring knife. I do break down a chicken every week with my paring knife so I will attest to the fact that in a pinch it can be used to bone something.

Still it is a good article as a primer. If you wanted to really discuss knives it could take dozens of posts and you still would make people mad that you didn’t explain it well enough. You should invest in your knives and keep them sharp by honing frequently and sharpening regularly.

94 Jason July 9, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Probably worth mentioning something about storing knives too. Throwing them in a drawer with a bunch of other knives or utensils is a surefire way to damage and dull them. Best bet is to use a wooden knife block. Great post though. Amazing how many people don’t use a sharpening steel properly.

95 CharlotteM October 13, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Great basic article. My suggestion about what brand to buy is the one that fits in your hand best…good knives are all going to run you about the same price. I like the weight and shape of Wustoff classic handles (the weight of the knife does the work), others prefer the lighter Globals etc. And I’d keep the cleaver, especially at this time of year it’s great for breaking down big squashes for roasting. (Mine was a $25 special from our local Chinese grocery store…I’m not sure you need to spend big bucks on a cleaver.)

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