Whether you are a hobbyist gourmand who likes trying their hand on different recipes or a professional chef, a knife set is something that you will eventually have to build. The best knife collection is usually one that you have amassed yourself, through experience, discovery, familiarity, and some trial-and-error. It is much better to do it in this organic fashion than merely purchasing a pre-assembled set.
There is often the temptation to go for the all-in-one knife sets and get going right away. However, this process has its drawbacks. For one, it doesn’t allow you to discover the different chef’s knives, their unique attributes, and where they will fit best in your kitchens. Besides, going for an all-in-one knife set often has its drawbacks in terms of the kinds of knives that you will end up with. Some of these might be subpar, and some might be the compromised versions of the knives that you need. If you need a vegetable knife, steak knife, or a filleting knife, you’d want to have a knife that meets your needs.
If you are buying a chef’s knives from scratch, the smart approach is to do it gradually. Take time to understand the qualities of each blade, whether it is a Nakiri, Bunka, Santoku, Gyuto, or a Petty knife. This is a gradual learning process that will help you discover the qualities of each knife type so that the next time you are shopping for one, you will precisely know what to buy. Knowing your knives also helps you avoid redundancy by buying different brands of the same knife type. Start building your collection with the essentials and travel the journey of discovery to acquire more powerful knives that are used by the Michelin-star chefs.
Some chefs are looking for more than just a cutting and chopping tool. They want a knife with a soul. They want beautifully crafted knives that will make them fall in love with their craft. Japanese knives score highly in this sense. The Japanese knives are typically thin and with amazing sharpness. Their cutting performance is also unrivalled. Another beautiful thing about Japanese knifemaking art and culture is that it is highly refined. You can find a knife for virtually every cutting, chopping, or slicing function. There are Japanese knives that are better suited for chopping vegetables. There are some that are designed for cutting small fish, large fish, boneless meat, and even for boning!
In this article, we guide you on how you can gradually build your kitchen knife collection to ensure you have the best cutlery that will serve your kitchen needs no matter the food you are preparing.
Start by learning.
Some might find chef’s knives a tad too advanced, but the earlier you start mastering them, the better. When building your knife collection, it is better to be practical about it. Visit a kitchen store and have personal experience, so to speak, with the knife. Grasp the handle and have a look at the blade. You should also gauge how well the knife balances.
As you refine your knife skills, you will eventually learn to figure out your personal preferences, what works best for you in the kitchen. For example:
- Do you prefer a Santoku or a Chef knife (Gyuto Knife if it's a Japanese Knife?
- Do you work best with an 8-inch knife, or would you choose something longer?
- What is your personal preference in terms of the bevels, weight, length, blade, or even material?
- Do you like a crisp stainless-steel knife or an “organic” knife made from Damascus steel that shows its age and some patina with time?
- Would you choose a curved or straighter edge?
- What kind of knife handle works best for you?
The first step, essentially, entails getting a general feel of the terrain and understanding what is available in the market before you begin splurging on those excellent Japanese knives for your collection.
Set Realistic Budget and Expectations
Without some realistic expectations, buying knives can be a bottomless pit. You might unwittingly transform yourself from a professional cook or chef into an experienced knife collector. Don’t go on a buying spree. Instead, purchase on a needs-based basis. If you are cooking lots of steaks, then you will need to look for the best knives for steak. Should new needs arise, then you can go shopping for new blades. The bottom line is that you should always purchase only those knives that you need based on your cooking specialization.
Start with the essentials.
When building your kitchen knife set, it is advisable, to begin with, the essentials. Some of the essential or must-have knives in your kitchen include the following: -
- Chef’s Knife / Gyuto Knife: The chef’s knife will be the main workhorse during your food preparation, whether you are an amateur or a professional chef. You should therefore invest in a good one. Choose a chef’s knife that has excellent balance and which is sharp and durable. Any of the top brands should suffice. You can also check what some of the top chefs use in their cooking shows. When it comes to chef’s knives, you won’t go wrong with the classic German knife brand Wüsthof.
- Paring Knife: You need a sharp paring knife in your kitchen with which you can easily slice through small tasks like cutting orange segments, peeling apples, or mincing your shallot.
- Serrated bread knife: This is another essential knife that is a must-have in your kitchen. You will use it for more than just cutting bread. A serrated bread knife will also come in handy if you want to make some quick work of your vegetables, sandwiches, tomatoes, cake rounds, soft fruits, or some roast. They are typically very short knives with a length of just 8-inches.
- Boning knives / Honesuki Knife: Your knife collection should also include a boning knife with which to slice through boned meat. You can use a boning knife for such functions as carving meat, poultry, and fish or for trimming and deboning your meat.
- Steak knives: If you cook meat a lot, then you will definitely need some serious steak knife.
- Carving knife / Sujihiki: You can still use a chef’s knife to slice through the cake layers or some holiday roast but a carving knife or slicing knife works best. You can use a serrated knife for this purpose as well.
- Santoku knife: Santoku knives are thin and lightweight but they are versatile knives that you can use for a variety of tasks. They are some of the best knives to use for your up-and-down chopping, particularly of vegetables. They have a shorter blade that most people will find easy to work with. You can use a chef knife or a santoku knife for most of your prep work in the kitchen.
There are also certain kitchen tasks that require special knives. Here is where you will need to deliberately shop for specially designed blades that will allow you to accomplish the task in the most efficient way. These include everything from the boning knives to filleting knives, poultry meat knives, and much more. Once you have your essential knives with you, it is easy to build your collection from there by shopping for an array of German, French, American, or Japanese knives. There are knives that are better suited for cutting, slicing, chopping, or dicing.
Buy Your Knives from a Reputable Seller
Don’t build your knife collection with cheap and poor-quality knives that you will be replacing a few years down the line. Buy premium quality Japanese knives such as Nakiri, Deba, Gyuto, Sujihiki, Kiritsuke, Santoku, or Petty and serrated knives that have been forged to the highest quality standards.