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Ask Kelly: What’s the deal with all of the knives that come in a knife block?

Welcome to Ask Kelly, a regular feature where our Director of Programs Kelly Lake answers all of your burning kitchen and cooking questions. Have a question you'd like Kelly to tackle? Email it to info@beechersfoundation.org.

As any home cook knows, a sharp knife is your best tool. But do you really need 8 sharp knives (or more) plus a block that takes up space on your counter? We think not. At Sound Food Uprising, we are firm believers that you can do anything with a sharp chef’s knife. A paring knife can come in handy if you handle smaller or more delicate product often. But other than that, all of the fancy (and expensive!) knives that come in a knife block tend to gather dust. Let’s start with what you really need and go from there.

Trusty kitchen companions you shouldn’t live without 

Chef’s Knife — Your workhorse. It can chop vegetables, slice pizza, cut through meat, and do just about anything you ask it to as long as you keep it sharp. 8″ and 10″ are the most popular sizes, find one that feels comfortable in your hand. My favorite splurge is the Global 8″ but even a Goodwill knife works just fine as long as it’s sharp (as our friends at ChefSteps highlighted).

Knife Sharpener — no matter what knives you have or prefer to use, all we really ask is you make sure they stay sharp! And it’s easy with these handy versions that are inexpensive and easy to find.

Kitchen Shears — Who doesn’t love some handy scissors for the kitchen? Yes, they cut open packaging but they can also snip herbs, trim excess fat off of meat, or perhaps even cut up a pizza.

The extra stuff, listed in order of importance:

Paring Knife — For detail work. I like to think of this as a mini chef’s knife. If breaking out the big knife annoys you for smaller tasks like slicing apples, peeling oranges, or seeding peppers, a paring knife is a great sidekick to have on hand.

Bread Knife — I would argue that a sharp chef’s knife can cut through most bread, but if you eat a lot of bagels or slice a lot of loaves yourself, a bread knife can ensure that you don’t squish delicate breads as you slice them.

Santoku Knife — This is the one with the nifty little cut outs near the blade, which keep vegetables from sticking to the knife as you chop. If vegetables sticking to your knife drives you bonkers, consider using this as your all-around chef’s knife or adding it to your arsenal, but it is by no means necessary if you are trying to keep your knife collection down to a minimum.

Cleaver — If you hack through a lot of bones, this could justify a place in your kitchen. It’s heavy so it has more force, and breaking down whole chickens can quickly dull a chef’s knife, so dedicating a cleaver to the job could save you on sharpening. But if you only do that sort of thing occasionally, your chef’s knife (followed by a honing or sharpening) will do the trick.

Additional Paring Knives, Trimming Knives, and Peeling Knives — many blocks come with paring knives of various lengths – 2.5″, 3.5,” and 4.5″ plus additional small knives for detail work. Most of us find the one that suits us best (based on preference – how it feels in the hand, etc) and use it over and over again, so just make sure you get one paring knife you love and call it a day.

A note on knife storage: Putting them in a drawer can dull the blades. We prefer mounting them on a magnet (fridge or wall versions available), getting a drawer insert, or a universal knife block with bristles so that you can choose the knives that suit your style.  

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