There is perhaps no more critical cooking instrument than the knife. Knives are so important, chefs carry their own with them and are incredibly picky in their choices. Those knives can run a gamut of styles, sizes and specialties. Chef's knives, serrated, paring, boning, carving...there are a lot of choices. And they can be pretty confusing.
But one really good tool for cutting everything from fruit and vegetables to hunks of meat is essential for the everyday home cook. So, what should you choose?
Most well equipped kitchens have a handful of knives for different purposes. But if you are just getting started, a good chef's knife is where you want to begin. For almost every job, a good chef's knife will nearly always do the trick.
What do they do?
Chef's knives typically come in 8- and 10-inch varieties (the length of just the blade, not the blade and the handle) with the eight the most versatile. They are fairly wide and designed for balance when holding them. They are great for chopping veggies, slicing meat and managing most common jobs. You may want a serrated blade to get through a loaf of bread or a paring knife for peeling fruit, but for virtually everything else, a chef's knife is perfect.
What does it cost?
Yes, you can find carbon steel varieties and Japanese imports for hundreds of dollars, but there is no need to blow tons of money on your first knife for the kitchen. Instead, consider the five-star-rated Victorinox for about 30 bucks.
How do I care for it?
Keeping it in a drawer where the blade is protected is important. Using a sleeve or a knife block to hold it helps keep it sharp as long as possible. When it gets dull, it can become dangerous as it doesn't cut into things as easily and you can end up forcing it, causing the knife to slip. Sharpening it regularly is a must. Finally, hand wash your knife and dry it thoroughly. The dishwasher can dull it more quickly and sitting in water can create issues with rust.
What else will I need?
Two key complements to your knife are a sharpener and a cutting board. For the board, go with a heavy wooden board for everything except meat. You CAN use it for meat as well, but if you are squeamish about the idea of your meat getting on your veggies even with a thorough washing, pick up a plastic one for meat. For sharpeners, there are great electric versions out there as well as whet stones and other items that might be difficult to learn to use or expensive. One of our favorites is the $11 Accusharp.
Take care of it, and you'll have your chef's knife for years. Eventually, you'll likely find it an invaluable part of your home cooking toolbox.