You’ve probably read twenty of these articles already. But we actually aim to answer your questions in this one. The answer is simple: It depends. It depends because it really depends on what your actual needs are in a knife or knives that you will need.
The major questions need to be answered first. Budget is obviously always a factor, but let’s leave that out for now because you can usually find the right kind of knife at the corresponding economic, mid grade and professional/custom prices.
So the real questions are as follows –
- What kind of cuisines/foods do you intent to cook i.e.: Western, Asian, BBQ, Vegetarian. etc.
- How many people are you going to generally be cooking for?
- How large is your cooking area or space?
To answer the 2nd and 3rd questions first, generally, the more people you cook for and the larger the space you have, the larger the knives can be. This doesn’t mean you need the largest of any knife, though. We can dial the size of the knife in more later, as it is very common for multipurpose knives to come in different sizes to meet those requirements.
So to the main question – what kind of cuisines/foods will you be cooking? The two basic we will cover in this article are Western and Asian cuisines since they are the most universal and what most beginners start with. We will cover more complicated cooking styles in other articles.
If you are going to cook Western style cuisine (which includes French/European/American), then the must-have knife is a chef knife. This is the workhorse knife that can cut, slice, dice, and chop vegetables and boneless meats. The chef knife’s size ranges from 6″ to 12″, usually at 1 inch or sometimes half inch intervals. The most common size is 8″ or 210mm blade length.
The next knife you will want is something smaller that will handle fruits and other round things like potatoes. This would be a paring knife and a slightly longer petty knife (also called a fruit or utility knife). Paring knives are 2″-3″ in length and petty knives are slightly longer at 3″-6″. Choosing the right knife here is as simple as knowing how many potatoes you intended to peel. Most people probably use the paring knife more often in home use settings for western cuisine.
If you are planning to cook Asian style cuisine, which includes, Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese, then your choices in knives will be slightly different, traditionally. Here you want 2 or 3 knives in total – a Veggie Cleaver, a Meat Cleaver, and possibly a fruit knife.
Often times, cleaver sets are sold such as Maestro Wu’s D-1 Chinese Cleaver Set – Bombshell Steel, Premium level knife.
Asian style cleavers are used to slice, dice, and chop, but they also slap and scoop. One of the most satisfying things you can do with a cleaver is use the larger flat face of the blade to whack down and crush whole cloves of garlic. The wide face is also a mini shovel to scoop up the piles of cut veggies and meats to transfer them to the wok for cooking. In Asian style cooking, everything is cut into uniform sized pieces before cooking, including meats. Meats often have bones, so the meat cleaver is essential so you don’t chip out the edge on the thinner veggie cleaver. In place of a vegetable cleaver, a popular alternative is a Santoku.
Choosing the style of cuisine you want to cook will usually determine the type of knives you will want to start off with. The size of your kitchen and amount of people you cook for will influence the overall size of your knives. One thing to remember is that it all depends – you can still cook Asian food by prepping with a Western Chef knife, and you can cook Western food with Asian cleavers. The suggestions for knives here are the most common for beginners/first knife buyers. There are many more knives to learn about! So just have fun, and try not to kill anyone with the knives or your cooking!