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which knives for which type of food

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
Hi cheftalkers! I'm new to cooking and want to buy a couple of knives and would like to know what size knives are for what types of food?Thanks
post #2 of 3

You could start with only a handful of knives...chef's, utility/petty/paring, bread/scalloped or serrated edge.  The chef's knife can be used for almost everything.  The smaller (likely paring knife) can take care of some small detail work (such as coring fruit, peeling apples, etc...).   The scalloped edge knife is for bread, but can also be used for other things as well--some find it easy to cut lemons or peel harder fruit such as pineapple--I use a chef's for almost all tasks, but you will sort of have to try and see what feels right. 


As to size, if you are just starting out, an 8" or ~210mm might be a good starting point for the chef's, though most people probably prefer a 10".  For the paring knife, I would say that 3-4 inches is fine, again a lot of people find they prefer the added length of say 5-6" for a petty/utility.  If you don't have comfort issues with holding the longer knives I would suggest this (the shorter versions) may be a good place to start, that being said if the length doesn't bother you, then I would begin with the longer version.  Forschner makes an excellent bread knife--called wavy, I believe the length is ~10.25" and comes highly recommended.


One suggestion would be to learn on Forschners--they are cheap, steel is decent, and they will take a fair edge.  You can find them at a local restaurant supply.  After using these, you can figure out what you like or do not like and work on replacing items if need be.  


Don't forget that you will need to figure out how you will sharpen these tools--no matter how sharp a knife is when purchased, a few weeks of hitting a cutting board will require some work on the blade.  There are a few other things that you will need to think about as well--cutting board, honing steel come right to mind, but I am sure there are others.


Hope this helps,


Edited by chinacats - 3/15/12 at 11:34am
post #3 of 3

An oldie but a goodie. Perhaps my favorite question.

Originally Posted by mrwills View Post

Hi cheftalkers! I'm new to cooking and want to buy a couple of knives and would like to know what size knives are for what types of food?Thanks

A. Assuming you are not doing something exceedingly unusual, by Anglo/American/French/Australian/Spanish/Italian standards, the sort of basic minimum set of knives is as follows:


  • Chef's knife -- 8"-10" -- does 90% of the work
  • Paring/petty knife -- for detail work of various kinds
  • Bread knife, serrated -- because crusty bread eats normal edges


In fact, you don't need a bread knife, but the $1 cheapie you pick up at a yard sale will do just fine, so why not. If you're dexterous and a bit mad, you don't need a paring knife either, but again, a set of 3 Victorinox/Forschner paring knives will set you back about $10, if that, so, again, why not.


B. You probably already have a paring knife and a bread knife in a drawer somewhere. If you don't, try a yard sale. Unless you get some kind of knife "bug" (which, I must warn you, is catching around here), they're all much of a muchness.


C. A slicing knife, a big heavy brutality knife, a mid-length (6"-8") multipurpose knife, a fish filleting knife -- these things are nice to have, but not necessary. I would suggest using what you've got unless you find yourself constantly wishing you had one of these things, and knowing quite precisely why, and what for. A butcher's cleaver is not useful unless you buy primal cuts of red meat, which are generally difficult to come by except by special order or via a farm of some kind.


D. If you have a drawer of stuff somewhere, with various random bits and pieces of sharpish metal, could you tell us what you have? Chances are a lot more of it can be used than you'd think, and the rest you can get rid of -- freeing up drawer space!


E. This leaves the chef's knife as THE knife to spend your money on. And you can spend, with perfect sanity, anywhere between $50 and $500 on one. So how to decide?


The Chef's Knife

Some things to ask yourself. There are no right answers:


1. Do I know what is really meant by "sharp"? That is, have I ever sharpened a knife, played with sharpening, used a straight razor, anything like that? How do I feel about sharpness: does it scare me, turn me on, bore me?


2. What do I think is an appropriate sum to spend on a knife? How do I compare this to a pan or pot? (Think about it this way: you use any given pan or pot considerably less than your chef's knife, which is the #1 tool in the kitchen. How much do you spend on pots? Why?)


3. How obsessive-compulsive am I about tools? cleanliness? kitchen stuff generally? Do I want my knife to be low-maintenance because I don't want to have to care about it, or do I want to lavish all kinds of obsessive and basically creepy attention on a perfect tool and slaver about this to my deeply bored friends?


4. How much fun do I have in the kitchen, futzing around? Is it a dull chore I'd like to make quicker, or something I look forward to, or what?


5. What chef's knives (or similar) have I ever used, and do I recall any specific opinions about these?


As many readers here will recognize, each of these questions is aimed at an important issue that confronts the knife-purchaser, particularly the person like yourself who doesn't really know what to ask, what's at stake, and so on. That's not a criticism: there is no reason anyone should know any of this stuff. We happen to be a little nuts here, but we'd like you to benefit from our excessive knowledge of trivia in a way that is actually useful to you.


So -- any answers you can provide to these questions will help a lot. And I am sure we can set you on a path to buying something that will suit you well.

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