Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

What knives does a cook need?


david coonce
 Share

Recommended Posts

I know I'm probably risking sounding like some jerk professional chef, and I apologize if I do, but why, On God's Green earth, would anybody need 3 chef's knives? This is my job, and I have: 1 chef's knife (Global), 1 offset serrated (F. Dick), 1 paring knife (global) and one carving knife (Wusthof). I work in a professional kitchen and need no more than these 4 knives (which is why I use a magnetic strip at home - tiny amount of space, no counter space is compromised, and the blades stay sharp). Can anybody explain why a home cook needs 3 chef's knives? And "utility knives"? Why?

I am a firm believer in 4 knives, total - and just buy the best you can. Four amazing knives will cost you much less than 10 average knives.

"A culture's appetite always springs from its poor" - John Thorne

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here here! Knives are fun. I spent so many years with dull average knives; I now enjoy cooking with super sharp japanese knives. Plus I have to have at least one of everything as Bob said, to try them out. The performance if a knife can vary quite a bit from one style and one steel to another.

As for the knife block problem, I wish the manufacturers would make something to hold more larger knives and fewer small/steak knife slots. I am considering custom at this time.

*****

"Did you see what Julia Child did to that chicken?" ... Howard Borden on "Bob Newhart"

*****

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I personally don't need three chef's knives. I could get by with one, and no other knives at all. But I wanted to try one of the Japanese knives that everyone's been drooling over, and that meant a second chef's knife. It's not going to be a replacement, but a complement, because it's much more light duty than the heavy german knife. It will also be nice to have two for when I'm cooking with my girlfriend.

The only other knives I have are a bread knife (I like crusty bread), a slicing knife (gets used maybe every other month), a pairing knife (used fairly often), and a couple of cheap utility knives (used for carving up chickens, cutting string and parchment, etc.) I don't even feel the need to have four top quality knives. I want top quality chef's knives and at least a good quality pairing knife. The others get used so infrequently that I don't care about their edge retention or anyting. As long as they're comfortable and can take a sharp edge they're fine with me.

The challenge was a block that could take the 2 chef's knives, and a 12" steel, and that DIDN'T have a dozen more slots than I'll ever use.

I finally settled on this one: http://www.metrokitchen.com/product/WU-7267-1?

it's a little bit short for a 12" steel, but i plan to replace the rubber feet on the bottom with taller ones to make room.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've got a lot of blades about, but it's mainly because I hate to throw away knives, even if they're honed down to the hasp or have the tips broken off.

It just seems wrong to discard them.

Sure, they just clutter the place up and don't do anything well, but my wife says the same thing about me, and I'm still here.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I know I'm probably risking sounding like some jerk professional chef, and I apologize if I do, but why, On God's Green earth, would anybody need 3 chef's knives? This is my job, and I have: 1 chef's knife (Global), 1 offset serrated (F. Dick), 1 paring knife (global) and one carving knife (Wusthof). I work in a professional kitchen and need no more than these 4 knives (which is why I use a magnetic strip at home - tiny amount of space, no counter space is compromised, and the blades stay sharp). Can anybody explain why a home cook needs 3 chef's knives? And "utility knives"? Why?

It seems to be generally accepted that what works in a professional kitchen is what works best in a home kitchen, but I'd argue that they're vastly different places and therefore shouldn't necessarily be stocked the same way. I'm sure that at work, your four knives serve you very well, but they certainly wouldn't be the most practical knives for me or other cooks at home.

Accepted wisdom is that the two most useful knives are a chef's knife and a paring knife, but why? For me, a longer utility knife is much more useful than a paring knife. I don't use a paring knife to peel anything; I use peelers for that. I don't turn mushrooms, or make radish flowers. I do cut a lot of citrus fruit, and slice a lot of vegetables. Of course I can use a chef's knife for that, but a 6" utility knife is much easier for me. I have better control and my hand doesn't get as tired. Do I "need" a utility knife? Maybe not, but I use it way more often than I use a paring knife. (In fact, when I moved, my paring knife got lost, and I didn't replace it -- or miss it much -- for about 4 months.)

In my kitchen, I can have more than four knives, and I like it that way. Call me lazy, but it's nice to be able to set aside the knife I've been cutting meat with and switch to dicing onions and mushrooms without having to take time to wash the knife.

Plus, in a professional kitchen, your knives are yours alone. In home kitchens, as was mentioned, many of us share cooking with a partner or kids. If you only have one chef's knife, what's the other cook to do?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I use a utility knife because it is small and fits my hands better. I also broken two fingers about 15 years ago and they never healed right - so smaller and light knives work for me. I have Wusthof and the smaller verison of what you have.

I think all in all it is what feels correct in ones hand imop.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I know I'm probably risking sounding like some jerk professional chef, and I apologize if I do, but why, On God's Green earth, would anybody need 3 chef's knives? This is my job, and I have: 1 chef's knife (Global), 1 offset serrated (F. Dick), 1 paring knife (global) and one carving knife (Wusthof). I work in a professional kitchen and need no more than these 4 knives (which is why I use a magnetic strip at home - tiny amount of space, no counter space is compromised, and the blades stay sharp). Can anybody explain why a home cook needs 3 chef's knives? And "utility knives"? Why?

I am a firm believer in 4 knives, total - and just buy the best you can. Four amazing knives will cost you much less than 10 average knives.

Are you kidding? I'm a professional cook, and I need, well, as many knives as money can buy. Seriously, it's fun trying out different knives, but then again maybe I'm just a gear whore. (up until recently I had 4 different pairs of skis as well)

Lets see... I have a Japanese chef's knife, a deba, a Chinese chef's knife, a serrated bread knife, a flexible boning knife, a stiff boning knife, a paring knife, a turning knife. For now I think I'm good, although I'd love to get some traditional Japanese knives (thinking a deba with wooden handle, a yanagi, a usuba, and a soba knife).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have Henckels Pro S 8-, 10- and 12-inch chef's knives, along with the utility, boning and paring knives. Also several Forschner chef's knives in 8 and 10 inch. I don't like using dull knives, so when the Henckels go out for sharpening, I use the Forschner knives.

But I'm not a professional, just a home cook. And I love sharp steel blades.

Edited to add that I have several knives because sometimes several cooks are in the kitchen.

Edited by Jane Die (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Two chef's knives, one 12" & one, 6" (depends upon what I'm mincing, one thin boning knife, a paring knife and a long serrated blade for carving & bread cutting. That's it.

I keep mine in a horizontal wooden holder in a top center drawer (this also has room for a steel and items like an oyster knife that rarely get used) of my work space as I find a block clutters up the space & for reasons I can't explain even to myself I don't like the magnetic strips.

I do now have a fancy Japanese chef's knife given to me as a present, but although its wonderfully sharp I don't use it except when I want to show off. Pure vanity.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I need three chef's knives because:

1) when I have good friends over to eat, we sometimes have three people helping with food preparation,

2) when someone who has no respect for a knife is over and wants to prep some food, there is no way on earth they are using my custom knives, and

3) when I am cutting something that is really hard on the knife, I will use my backup chef's to save wear and tear on my nice knives.

Also, I too have a hard time parting with knives. It would take me quite a while to type of a list of all my kitchen knives. There are several dozen. Several times a year I end up giving one away to a kid heading off to college or to a friend who remarks that they like a particular knife. More than once I've taken one to a summer home I've been invited to and left it behind for future guests to use.

Edited by Patapsco Mike (log)

Any dish you make will only taste as good as the ingredients you put into it. If you use poor quality meats, old herbs and tasteless winter tomatoes I don’t even want to hear that the lasagna recipe I gave you turned out poorly. You're a cook, not a magician.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I know I'm probably risking sounding like some jerk professional chef, and I apologize if I do, but why, On God's Green earth, would anybody need 3 chef's knives? This is my job, and I have: 1 chef's knife (Global), 1 offset serrated (F. Dick), 1 paring knife (global) and one carving knife (Wusthof). I work in a professional kitchen and need no more than these 4 knives (which is why I use a magnetic strip at home - tiny amount of space, no counter space is compromised, and the blades stay sharp). Can anybody explain why a home cook needs 3 chef's knives? And "utility knives"? Why?

I am a firm believer in 4 knives, total - and just buy the best you can. Four amazing knives will cost you much less than 10 average knives.

I can appreciate in a pro kitchen that you are working under time constraints and other pressures. This affects what you cook and how you cook it. It means the number of knives you use at work is a practical issue. You can take your point to the extreme and quite easily argue the case that with the required level of skill just one knife is all you really need. Why waste room with 4 knives? Go Chinese and learn to use one cleaver for everything. That would streamline your pro kitchen operation instantly!

From a home cook’s point of view, we are not under the same pressures. We cook for the love of it and not because we are ultimately getting paid. Therefore what we cook and how we cook is fundamentally different to that of a pro kitchen. You do not mention what type of cuisine your pro kitchen produces. Personally I’m open to all types of cuisines and like to try my hand at everything. So my selection of knives ranges from bone-choppers to sushi knives. Which one of your 4 knives would you use to go through pork ribs or slice immaculate sashimi? Okay, so used aggressively your chefs knife will go through bone and your carving knife will do a decent job on fish. But the point is that neither will match a cleaver and a yanagiba for the job. I even have a home-made razor knife for bread making!! So in this respect I’m not limited by my equipment (only by my skill). If you are limiting yourself on the number of knives that you use what other aspects of your cooking does this philosophy affect consciously or sub-consciously?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The discrepancy between want and need is always interesting to explore, isn't it?

In my restaurant, I use three knives constantly: a chef's knife, a short boning knife, and a good paring knife. These account for at least 90% of my usage. I have a serrated slicer, a long skinny flexible "salmon knife" for gravlax, and numerous other special--purpose items, but that's all I really use most of the time.

I also picked up a couple of cheap-ass Cuisinart santokus, just to have something for my part-timers to use and so that I'd have something to use at home (I live on-site, and cook most of my meals in the restaurant). At home it's the cheap santoku, a paring knife, and my dirt-cheap Chinese cleaver most of the time. I'm not a knife snob, the bulk of my kit is inexpensive Victorinox knives with the occasional yellow-handle Henckel.

I sometimes think it would be nice to have a collection of truly superior knives (I like the look and feel of Mac, and everybody I know who has one loves it), but the ones I've got get the job done. That's all I ask.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I can appreciate in a pro kitchen that you are working under time constraints and other pressures.  This affects what you cook and how you cook it.  It means the number of knives you use at work is a practical issue.  You can take your point to the extreme and quite easily argue the case that with the required level of skill just one knife is all you really need.  Why waste room with 4 knives?  Go Chinese and learn to use one cleaver for everything.  That would streamline your pro kitchen operation instantly!

From a home cook’s point of view, we are not under the same pressures.  We cook for the love of it and not because we are ultimately getting paid.  Therefore what we cook and how we cook is fundamentally different to that of a pro kitchen. You do not mention what type of cuisine your pro kitchen produces.  Personally I’m open to all types of cuisines and like to try my hand at everything.  So my selection of knives ranges from bone-choppers to sushi knives.  Which one of your 4 knives would you use to go through pork ribs or slice immaculate sashimi?  Okay, so used aggressively your chefs knife will go through bone and your carving knife will do a decent job on fish.  But the point is that neither will match a cleaver and a yanagiba for the job.  I even have a home-made razor knife for bread making!!  So in this respect I’m not limited by my equipment (only by my skill).  If you are limiting yourself on the number of knives that you use what other aspects of your cooking does this philosophy affect consciously or sub-consciously?

I cook all kinds of food with my four knives. If you buy good knives they are good for everything. A cleaver is a limited piece of metal - great for hacking through a bone, not so good for finely mincing a shallot. A global chef's knife will go through a bone, mince a shallot, and turn a radish. All you have to do is sharpen and hone it regularly. And a good carving knife will do more than a "decent" job on fish - I can cut slices so thin they're transparent. That's not skill - that's the magic of a good knife.

And I am insulted by the notion that I don't cook "for the love of it." The sole reason why I cook professionally is because I love it. It certainly isn't for the money, as any chef will tell you!

I'm not trying to be a jerk. The questioner mentioned this elaborate set of a dozen knives that he/she needed and I just wanted to put my proverbial 2 cents in, as someone who uses knives every single day for many, many hours. The notion that somehow restaurant cooking would limit my view or experience with knives is ludicrous and counter-intuitive. I think people have too many knives in their home kits, and rather than spend on quantity, I think they should spend on quality. That's all. No Animosity.

"A culture's appetite always springs from its poor" - John Thorne

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cooking is a craft, like a carpenter or a plumber, and therefore knives (as well as other gadgets) are your tools of the trade. Some get by with a couple, others rely on a few, I'm in the later camp. I have different slicers depending on whether its fish or meat, different paring knives, small to large "chef" knives, etc. To me each tool has its purpose according to the job. To the same people who say you only need a couple of knives, i ask, can you cook with only a couple of pans?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's all. No Animosity.

Don't worry no animosity taken or intended by myself, we're just having a discussion here. I certainly didn't want to imply that you didn't love cooking. Just wanted to give you a poke and challenge your opnion! :raz:

I just don't understand why you've set yourself this seemingly arbitrary number of 4 knives. To a pure Japanese chef this would be too little, to a similar Chinese one it would be excessive. Every cook is different so to set a limit is just plain wrong. I'm not arguing the fact that you should have 4 great knives rather than 10 average ones. But similarly i'd rather have 10 great knives rather than 4, space and cost allowing i would have more - why not?

Timh has a point. You could probably get by with a couple of pans too but given the choice why would you? To extend this point; you could get by with a couple of spices in Italian cuisine and still eat like a king for the rest of your life. But you would be seriously limited if you wanted to cook Indian food with those same spices.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is my job, and I have: 1 chef's knife (Global), 1 offset serrated (F. Dick), 1 paring knife (global) and one carving knife (Wusthof).

This array of six knives works for our family and type of cooking, but I make no claims to universal applicability. In decreasing order of utility:

240 mm gyuto (chef’s knife) – mine

180 mm gyuto (chef’s knife) – Mrs. C and the boys prefer a shorter knife, and we frequently have two gyutos in action at once

90 mm paring knife

150 mm honesuki (boning knife) – we de-bone chicken or pork shoulder frequently and don’t want to chip the gyuto

Bone cleaver – surprisingly useful for other tasks like bruising lemongrass and mincing or tenderizing meat

270 mm sujihiki (slicing/carving knife) – The gyuto could handle this task, but I prefer to use separate knives for meat and vegetables

I am a firm believer in 4 knives, total - and just buy the best you can. Four amazing knives will cost you much less than 10 average knives.

I agree with the principle of buying quality, but your four knives would not work for our style of cooking. If we were limited to four knives, we would choose a gyuto, paring knife, honesuki, and bone cleaver.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just caught Jacques Pepin on PBS and while he says 3 knives are sufficient (chef's, utility, and paring) he admits to owning and USING many more! I have a couple of dozen, none of them super high quality, but I enjoy using them and if the opportunity arose to get another knife I know I would be unable to resist. :biggrin:

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Chefs, boning, paring, clever, offset serrated & Filet knife. I also have a 12 or 14 inch long thin knife(?), I think labeled for icing cakes, about 1 inch wide and rounded at the end. It does agreat job slicing beef for jerky and bread.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree that "need" and "fun to play with" are certainly different. In the very lean years I made do with 99 cent store serrated knives and one of my dad's (retired butcher) old R.H. Forschner boning knives that he kept sharp for me. Of course I could hardly read the brand because they are so ground down. Now I have a lovely block of Wusthof knives (all in one stainless) which were a gift and I do use them, but I don't "need" them. I pulled out one of the old boning knives the other day (wood grip with my Dad's initials roughly carved in- so as not to have it appropriated by another butcher) and it was fun to change up. Then I had an odd bunch of shrimp that seemed to have no vein and I used the funny curved but small like a paring knife from the block to slit the backs and hunt for the vein. Cool tool, but not necessary.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm in the same position as c. sapidus... my husband and I don't necessarily like the same knives.

My knives are a Chicago Cutlery chefs knife, a cheap utility knife that I picked up at Ross, and an OXO good grips bread knife.

My husband prefers Japanese style knives, and he has a collection that he's picked up at the local Asian markets.

The only "shared" knife is a Calphalon Santoku...

We also have a set of Miracle Blades (okay, I like the steak and filet knives) and a set from Shaper Image that were both gifts from my father in law. We haven't even used the latter yet.

Cheryl

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Studies of real cooks' behavior in real kitchens has shown that regardless of the number of knives any chef/cook owns, he/she tends to use one more than 90% of the time. I tend to agree, since I find myself using my flex boning knife for almost everything I do - it's very adaptible.

John Murren, aka Forest Gleaner

######

"Self-respect: the secure feeling

that no one, as yet, is suspicious."

H.L. Mencken

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's all. No Animosity.

Don't worry no animosity taken or intended by myself, we're just having a discussion here. I certainly didn't want to imply that you didn't love cooking. Just wanted to give you a poke and challenge your opnion! :raz:

I just don't understand why you've set yourself this seemingly arbitrary number of 4 knives. To a pure Japanese chef this would be too little, to a similar Chinese one it would be excessive. Every cook is different so to set a limit is just plain wrong. I'm not arguing the fact that you should have 4 great knives rather than 10 average ones. But similarly i'd rather have 10 great knives rather than 4, space and cost allowing i would have more - why not?

Timh has a point. You could probably get by with a couple of pans too but given the choice why would you? To extend this point; you could get by with a couple of spices in Italian cuisine and still eat like a king for the rest of your life. But you would be seriously limited if you wanted to cook Indian food with those same spices.

True - I could use more than four knives (and to be honest, off in a drawer somewhere I have a few old Chicago Cutlery clunkers that I use when I want to, say, chop up a lobster shell for lobster butter or hack through a beef shin bone), but this was a question about economy of space, and the best way to economize space is to have less stuff to put into it.

Cooking pans aren't quite analogous to knives - there are many more ways to cook something than there are ways to cut it. Having said that, ther are only a few pans that get regular use from my collection as well - a 12 and 10-inch skillet, an 8-inch non-stick pan for eggs, a dutch oven, a straight-sided sautier pan and an 8-quart stockpot. I cook all kinds of stuff, but I really do believe in simplicity.. It's some kind of zen thing.

and spices are way different than pans or knives, Spices don't take up any room, really.

And with the size of my home kitchen (small), I don't have much of a choice. So I suppose if I was wealthy I might have more stuff. I was just trying to provide a perspective from a professional who also cooks a lot at home without a lot of extra space.

Edited by david coonce (log)

"A culture's appetite always springs from its poor" - John Thorne

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I honestly have a very small kitchen too but am very organised when i'm doing my thing. As there's only two of us it's really no big deal. If there are more for dinner then it's definitely a military operation.

Okay to answer your question (finally!), personally i would manage easily with 2 knives - Chinese cleaver and a petty knife. But hey i'd rather use this selection: :biggrin:

gallery_52657_4505_321714.jpg

I enjoy using all these knives regularly and see no reason why i should deprive myself. Don't even get me started on the aesthetic qualities of great knives, that's a whole other topic!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm the only person who cooks in my home kitchen, aside from the occasional snackmaking that goes on when I'm at work. Sparing unnecessary expenses is a big part of how I challenge myself as a cook. It's awesome: for example, I like buying AOC butter that costs an astronomical amount of money since I decided to forgo the silicone hand mitts. Here are the professional tools that I use at home and elsewhere, most of which were gifts from loved ones, all of which have made cooking much more efficient and fun for me:

gallery_52393_5343_25851.jpg

This addition is overdue: a big, heavy chef's knife for versatility and for cutting through bones and the like. The point upthread about cleavers is well-taken, and I have not found that I can do everything I want to with a santoku. I also need a good, professional bread knife. My cheap, two-piece bread knife scares me. I just haven't found the right knives for my purposes at the right prices yet. Not that I've been looking as hard as I should be.

As pans go, I have a 10" or so cast iron (for deep-frying, sauteing, baking, frittata-ing, roasting a chicken, everything), a sheet pan, two saucepans, two stock pots and a big, old, very-heavy-bottomed wide and shallow stock pot from which I stripped the handles and use as a rondeau. My wish list here is limited to an omelette pan, a Le Creuset Dutch oven and one of those rectangular cast-iron pieces that sits on two burners on the stovetop, ideally one that has a grill on one of its sides.

Got some other tools that I consider invaluable: Microplane grater (and spare blades), cheese plane, chinois, tamis, Silpats (which changed my life), a ton of wooden spoons, big tongs, little tongs, big whisks, little whisks, rolling pin, electric hand mixer, fish turner, assorted metal bowls, plastic spatulas for baking, immersion blender. That's seriously it. And it still sounds like a lot to me! I'd love a mandoline, but I get by.

That being said, there is so much in the way of awesome stuff out there. If only I thought I'd ever use any of it. I consider myself lucky I'm not much of a gearhead by nature. I will say Williams-Sonoma and Crate and Barrel catalogs make great bathroom reading/daydream fodder, though.

"What was good enough yesterday may not be good enough today." - Thomas Keller

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Studies of real cooks' behavior in real kitchens has shown that regardless of the number of knives any chef/cook owns, he/she tends to use one more than 90% of the time. 

That's interesting. Can you give us the studies' sources?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...