Most kitchen tasks can be tackled with just three essential knives. Learn what they are, what they do, and how to chop like a pro.

By Betty Gold and Dawn Perry
Updated August 14, 2019
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Few pieces of kitchen equipment are as indispensable as a sharp knife and you can tackle almost all of your kitchen moves with just three blades: a chef’s knife, a serrated knife, and a paring knife.

It can be tempting to buy a full knife set that comes in a bulky block (or use the one you already have), but I encourage you to pare down your arsenal to just the essentials.

Most importantly, choose comfort first. All of your knives, especially your chef’s knife which you’ll use most often, should feel comfortable in your hand: not so heavy that you feel like you’re getting a workout but not so light that you don’t take chopping seriously. And as long as you keep them sharp, your knives should treat you right. Plan on getting your knives professionally sharpened at least twice a year; more often (say, quarterly) if you cook a lot. Remember, a sharp knife that requires less oomph is safer than a dull one.

Take good care of your knives. That means wash them by hand and dry them with a clean kitchen towel. A trip through the dishwasher can dull blades and weaken the handles (which are often attached with glue). And instead of storing your knives in a heavily trafficked drawer, use a mounted magnetic strip.

Read on to learn more about exactly what to look for.

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The most important thing about your all-purpose knife is that it feels balanced (like an extension of your hand) and you keep it sharp. We like a medium- to light-weight version with a thin 8-inch blade. It should rock back and forth easily and require little pressure to cut through meat. Use your chef's knife for slicing, dicing, and all your everyday prep.

To buy: Thomas Keller by Cangshan Chef's Knife, $200; williams-sonoma.com.

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2

Use this tiny multitasker to “pare” down bigger items and for all your detail work—hulling strawberries, peeling cooked beets, trimming mushroom stems—as well as in-hand jobs like slicing bananas, scoring avocados, and segmenting citrus. It also works great for loosening cakes and testing them for doneness.

To buy: Victorinox 3 1/4-inch paring knife set, $23 for 4; amazon.com.

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3

A must-have for slicing through crusty bread, this knife has tiny teeth that handle tender items, like ripe tomatoes and fragile layer cakes, with care. Look for one with an offset blade, which may make it easier to cut loaves without dragging your knuckles across the cutting board.

To buy: F. Dick Pro-Dynamic offset serrated knife, $21; amazon.com.

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For better balance and control, give this grip a go: Hold the knife's handle with your dominant hand. Wrap your bottom three fingers around the handle and place your index finger and thumb on either side of the blade, just in front of the bolster (that's the protective base of the blade). Hold firmly, but not too tight.