• Posted by Califia Suntree on March 14th, 2011, 7:00 AM

    Q: I just moved into a studio, and I need to get a knife. (Of all the kitchen things on which I was, it turns out, totally reliant on my rooommates, that is the only one that I kind of can’t even cook without.) Any recommendations? Say a girl were to want two to three knives, which ones should she get, and what brands? –L.K., Seattle

    On the one hand, this is a really easy question to answer. On the other, it’s impossible to answer fully because knife needs and requirements vary and knife shopping is as personal as shopping for jeans: a knife’s gotta fit right, look good, and suit your lifestyle.

    The easy part is that every kitchen, no matter what, needs at least three knives: a paring knife, a serrated or bread knife, and a chef’s knife. With these three items in your drawer, you can do pretty much everything. You do not need to invest in a big knife set—as with all sets, they are generally a waste of money and drawer space. Of course, if you plan on making a turducken, you will need a boning knife. If you like to whack things around and split chickens in a single blow, you will need a cleaver. And if you are an Inuit or like to get fancy chopping parsley, you need an ulu. But really, most people just need the three.

    There are too many brands out there, with a massive price spread, to attempt to name names; but I will say this: buy the best knives you can afford. They are an investment that will pay off in longevity and pleasure. It is no fun to try and chop a pile of veggies with a skimpy, bendy, dull, uncomfortable knife from Ikea or Target. You will work harder than you need to, possibly cut yourself, and have to purchase several replacements, as they are too flimsy to sharpen, and will break at some point anyway.

    You can cheap out on the paring knives if you need to (I like to have two or three around), but you can get a really excellent one that will last a lifetime for around $40. Your serrated knife will serve many functions: cutting bread, tomatoes and other squishy fruits and vegetables, smoked salmon, rare meat … It needs to be sharp to be useful, which means of good enough quality to keep sharp. Bread knives will work, but a serrated utility knife, with at least a 6″ blade, will be more multipurpose.

    Paring and utility knives are pretty much standardized, but when it comes to chef’s knives, it’s downright dizzying how many options you will face. Rosewood, plastic, or stainless handle? 8- or 10-inch blade? Contoured or straight? Japanese or Swiss? $6 or $600? And then, in most professional kitchens, you will find chef’s knives the size of your forearm that cost $12 and can take a serious beating…

    Fortunately, shopping for your chef’s knife can be simple. Determine your budget—this is the most important of your knife investments, as you will use it the most and, hopefully, keep it the longest—then go out to a few kitchenware shops and start trying them on for size. The knife should feel good in your hand, stable and substantial but not too heavy. The blade should feel long enough to control. The blade should be solid, not flimsy—you will sharpen the thing thousands of times, remember. Only good steel will stand up to that. Perhaps you like the squared-off Santoku style, or a traditional pointy end. Whatever feels good and is good quality, go for it. Once you find the knife you want, check online; you can probably find it cheaper on one the Internet’s zillions of cutlery sites. (My own chef’s knife is a simple Victorionox/Swiss Army 8″. It’s no Masamoto, but it works for me. Unless anyone cares to donate a Masamoto…)

    Finally, remember to keep the things sharp! Pick up a low-tech sharpening steel or stone and you’re in business.


  1. March 16th, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Thanks Spooning! I’m definitely getting an Ulu! It’s settled! How cool is that object?

  2. March 16th, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Get an Ulu! My folks actually have one from Alaska–it’s super useful for parsley and garlic. And I guess walruses?

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