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Don’t Buy Too Many Knives

Buying Kitchen Knives on a Budget

Posted by Ken

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Too Many KnivesIt's natural to assume that the bigger a set of knives is, the "better" it is. And additional pieces are often discounted when added to a set. "Why get the small set when you can get the large one for just a few bucks more?" the thinking goes.

There are a few problems with this logic. First and foremost, most hobbyist chefs do not need all of the knives included in a large set. Having four different paring knives might be useful if you're a professional cook and need to have the perfect tool for every task but, for the rest of us, it's overkill.

The other problem with buying a set loaded up with extra pieces is that those extra pieces are often just "filler". Adding 7 steak knives to a set is a popular way to bulk it up, as is adding a kitchen shears, sharpening steel and knife block.

You may want some of those items but, if you're trying to get the best bang for the buck, focus on getting the best "essential" blades. You can always add those extra pieces later. Those extra pieces are likely to be quite inexpensive when not purchased as part of a set.

Essential Knives

The vast majority of all kitchen cutting tasks are accomplished with one of just a few knives. Let's take a look at each.

Chef's Knife

The chef's knife is the "workhorse" of the kitchen. It's primary use is chopping and slicing, though it's doubtful you'll make any meal without using it. It comes in many different sizes, the most common being 8". If you prefer a larger or smaller model, you can find 10" and 6" models as well.


Paring Knife

The paring knife is used for paring, peeling and other precision work. Using a chef knife to peel an apple would be suicide, so you can't do without this one.

Paring Knife

Beyond those two essential knives, opinions start to diverge. Some experts say that a starter set needs nothing other than those two. Others will say that a few more knives completes a basic set.

Personally, I think you're going to feel a bit underpowered with just the above two knives. Consider the next three knives "very nice to have" and then complete your set with any or all.

Utility Knife

Some say that the utility knife is a jack-of-all-trades, but master-of-none. You may find yourself reaching for it, however, to slice an sandwich, or to accomplish some other "mid-sized" task for which the Chef's knife will be overkill. You can get away without this knife, but it sure is a nice addition to a basic set. Utility knives range in size and can be serrated or not.

Serrated Utility Knife

Carving Knife

The long carving blade is used for slicing and carving meats. They come in various shapes and sizes, serrated and not. While a chef's knife can serve this purpose, a carving knife will be perfectly suited to it. You may find this blade doubling as a bread knife as well, especially if it's serrated.

Carving or Slicing Knife

Bread Knife

A long narrow serrated knife used primarily for cutting bread. While a soft, narrow loaf needs no such specialty knife, a thick crusty bread will crumble and make a big mess without this type of knife. Bread knives' serrations help keep it sharp longer, but it can be tricky to re-sharpen. For that reason, bread knives should be considered to have a limited lifespan.

Serrated Bread Knife

Of course you can add more knives to your set, and you may choose to over time. But try to make due without too many of the above knives and you're likely to find yourself wanting.

7 Responses

  1. Knife Set or Knives à la Carte? » Knives, Swords & Blades Says:

    [...] the market for a new knife set? Not so fast! Once you’ve decided to only buy essential knives, you may find yourself wondering why you need a knife set at all. What about just buying a few good [...]

  2. The Best Kitchen Knives For Any Budget » Knives, Swords & Blades Says:

    [...] Which knives are essential and which can you live without? Click here to find out. [...]

  3. Bdw Says:

    I like a paring knife, an 8″ boning knife, and a Chinese cleaver. The cleaver is better than a French Chef’s knife at heavier and harder materials, and the boning knife is way more versatile, standing in for a utility and a carver while also better able to handle the smaller jobs that you would used for a Chef’s knife. I also have a serrated bread knife which is pretty much never washed and is rewrapped after each use.

  4. OnanDaLibrarian Says:

    Limited life?

    Spyderco Sharpmaker will keep your serrated bread knife sharp.

    Don’t forget the Chinese cleaver. Yan can cook and so can you.

  5. Cuisinart Prestige Knives | 19-Piece Knife Block Set » Knives, Swords & Blades Says:

    [...] out our guide to essential kitchen knives for more on that, but the gist of it is that you’ll be much happier with just three excellent [...]

  6. Brad Kanner / A Cutter's Sharpening Service Says:

    I do agree with most of what you wrote. But I personally like to use a knife for what it was intended. I am a trained chef and cooked in many different types of restaurants. Through the years I have collected many types of knives to do specific jobs. Now since my knees and back have stopped me from cooking professionally , I am a professional knife sharpener and I sell high end Japanese knives. I also make custom Damascus kitchen knives. I believe a cook, either an Executive Chef or a Homemaker should use the proper knife for the job at hand. Why would you want to use a 8″ chef’s knife for trimming a Ribeye when you could use a curved flexible boning knife. It is sort of like a mechanic using a hammer for doing an oil change, it could be done, but why would you want to destroy the motor or the ribeye in the process.

  7. Binkie Says:

    To Brad Kanner: Maybe with more practice you’ll be able to trim a steak with a chef’s knife without destroying the steak. Or maybe you’re just not good with your hands. Or maybe you’re just a guy who sells knives.