Five Knives Chefs Can’t Live Without

A pen (metaphorically speaking) is to a writer, as a knife is to a chef. Neither can do their job without one. There’s a reason chefs invest in their own set of knives, which they bring with them to every kitchen they step into.

Used over and over and over again, a chef’s knives are her or his most essential tools for meal prep, whether dicing, slicing, mincing, or chopping.

For the inside scoop on the five knives chefs can’t live without, and his personal favorites, we asked Chef Thomas Kaylor, who has worked alongside some of the best chefs in the country, including Chef Thomas Keller at Per Se, Chef Mark Peel at Campanile, and Chef Gordon Ramsay for “Hells Kitchen,” and “Kitchen Nightmares.” Here we go!

  1. Chef’s Knife (8-10 inch): Versatile and multi-purpose, Thomas uses his chef’s knife for everything—from chopping and dicing vegetables and herbs, to portioning steaks and fish. Of all the knives, the chef’s knife is the one he truly can’t do without. Length (8 to 10 inches) is really a matter of personal preference and what feels most comfortable in your hand.
  2. Paring Knife (3 ¼ inch): He uses a paring knife for detailed cutting. It’s great for peeling and coring fruits and vegetables, deveining shrimp, and mincing shallots.
  3. Serrated Bread Knife (10 ½ inch): According to Thomas, everyone should own a serrated bread knife for slicing bread evenly, but it’s also great for slicing tomatoes, melons, and other fruits, and does a fantastic job portioning and slicing cakes and pies.
  4. Flexible Boning Knife (6 inch): A boning knife is primarily used for removing bones from fish, meat, and poultry, but it also makes a good substitute for a paring knife if one’s unavailable.
  5. Slicing Knife (10 ¼ inch): A slicing knife is good for slicing and portioning proteins. Thomas likes it for slicing lamb, chicken, seared tuna, steaks, and according to him, it’s also the best tool for carving turkeys and roasted meats.

When it comes to brands, he’s a big fan of the Japanese knife brand, MAC. Their price point is comparable to other popular brands such as Wüsthof and Henckels, but he finds them easier to maintain and sharpen. Ditto their chef’s knives, paring knives, serrated bread knives, and slicing knives.

Wüsthof remains a classic among many chefs, and their chef’s knife is reasonably affordable for home cooks. They also make a great boning knife for meat and seafood.

If you are looking to invest or spend more than $80 on a knife, visit your local culinary supply store to test-chop a few brands. The overall weight, length, and feel of the handle are all based on personal fit, balance, and preference.