Know your knives: An expert guide to buying knives and how to use them

  • By
    Sara Buenfeld

An essential piece of kitchen kit, knives can be a considerable investment. Make sure you buy the right one for you with help from our guide to knife types by function.

Know your knives: An expert guide to knife types and how to use them

When it comes to completing kitchen tasks, you won't get very far without a knife. With the price of premium knives running into hundreds of pounds, choosing the right model for you is something to give due consideration. Food writer Sara Buenfeld explains eight knife types to help you along... 

Sara's four must-have knives

Although I have collected several racks worth of knives over the years, there are some that I reach for every day that cover most kitchen tasks...
 

Paring knifeParing knife, also called a vegetable knife

This little knife copes with small or delicate jobs like deveining prawns, seeding chillies, trimming sprouts or coring fruit. You will use this knife mainly when you’re cutting in your hand, rather than on a board. It’s also the knife most likely to be swept away into the bin or compost, so don’t spend a fortune on it!

Read Sara's review of paring knives


Serrated knife
Flexible serrated knife or tomato knife

This is fantastic for peeling oranges and other citrus fruit, and for thinly slicing tomatoes as well as general vegetable prep. The serrated edge means it grips as it slices, and you won’t ever have to sharpen it.


Cooks knife
Cook’s or chef’s knife

This large all-purpose kitchen knife will tackle a host of prep, from finely chopping herbs and nuts; preparing meat and hard veg like squash or red cabbage, as well as precision cutting vegetables. They come in a range of sizes (anything from a 15 to 36cm blade), so make sure you buy one that you feel comfortable using – not everyone likes a large knife. The handle should fit in your hand easily and feel well balanced. Spend a bit of money on this one, as it will last for years.

Read Sara's review of cook's knives


Bread knifeBread knife

The long blade with a serrated edge will cut through crusts and stacks of sandwiches without squashing the crumb. Also good for splitting cakes in half. It will also double up as a carving knife, if you don’t have one.

 

Sara's pick of knives for special tasks

"Knives are a personal reflection of how you cook and eat, so you may find some of the following useful..."

Boning knifeBoning knife

For the serious or budget cook who likes to do a bit of butchery at home, this narrow, dagger-shaped knife will cut through ligaments, and remove bones and connective tissue.

 


Filleting knifeFilleting knife

If you eat a lot of fish, this flexible blade (often used on its side) will help you with the sweeping movements you need for filleting, and for removing skin in seconds.


 

Carving knifeCarving knife

Once, a carving knife and fork was a must-have in most households. The knife blade is fine, sharp and very long, and designed to give even slices of meat.

 

 

SantokuSantoku

You don’t have to be a fan of Asian cuisine to find this Japanese-style knife useful. The end is blunt, rather than pointed, and the knife is designed for slicing, dicing and chopping. The ‘granton edge’ (dimples) on the blade help to release thin slices and sticky food.

 

More buying tips...

Knife choppingConsider the type of metal

The type of metal will affect price and performance.

Stainless steel is the cheapest, but requires regular sharpening.

Carbon steel is hard, more expensive and easier to keep sharp.

Damascus looks amazing as the knife is mottled. This is because a carbon steel core is surrounded by layers of soft and hard stainless steel, creating a knife that is hard and razor sharp.

Try a ceramic blade

Ceramic blades are 10 times harder than carbon steel, yet so much lighter. They also retain their edge for longer, so they don’t need to be sharpened. However, they are more prone to chipping.
 

Stack of moneyBest brands for your budget

Great value: 

Try Victorinox. For a razor-sharp blade at a good price, these knives (from the makers of the original Swiss Army knife) are a good choice. The handles are made from moulded plastic and there’s a wide range of sizes.

High-end buy:

Splash out on a model by Kai ShunYou can’t get more special than this Japanese range made from damascus steel and inspired by the samurai sword. Impressively sharp with the distinctive wood-like marking on the blade, they look almost too good to use!

Robert WelchGood all-rounder:

Go for Signature from Robert Welch. This range of award-winning knives is an excellent choice if you want quality at an affordable price. You can tell how much thought has gone in to the design from the tactile handles to the shape, strength and edge of the blade. There are six cook’s knives available – from 12cm blade up to 25cm.

Do you invest in expensive knives, or do you have a budget model you swear by? We'd love to hear your favourites. 

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