How to Choose a Knife

Find the perfect cutlery for your kitchen based on your needs and budget

how to choose a knife

There are so many knives to choose from. Which ones do you need? It all depends on what kind of home cook you are.

How will you be using your knives? What's your price range? Finally, how much time and effort are you willing to put into maintaining your knives? This guide will help you answer these questions so you can build your culinary arsenal.

Intended Uses

Essential Prep Knives

  • chef's knife or a santoku knife is your all-rounder, suitable for almost any task on a cutting board knife.
  • Tip: If swift, rocking-style chopping is what you're after, choose a chef's knife. This knife can range from 6 inches to 10 inches long, with 8 inches being the most popular length. Choose the length that is most comfortable in your hand.

  • paring knife is 3 to 4 inches long, and peels and cuts fruits and vegetables. It is often used in the hand rather than on a cutting board.

Essential Serving Knives

Whether you're serving home-cooked specialties or store-bought delights, you'll need the following knives.

  • A serrated bread knife cuts through thick bread crust without crushing the soft crumb beneath, resulting in perfect slices of bread. It can also be used for cakes, and hard-skinned fruit and vegetables like pineapple and squash.

  • A carving knife that is at least 8 inches long cuts thin, even slices of roasts and poultry.

  • Steak knives are an important investment if your set of flatware does not include table knives that are sharp enough to cut bites of meat.

If you don't cook often, you can skip ahead to the price section. However, if you expect to use knives on specialized tasks, read on to see which you may need.

Specialty Knives

  • Utility knives are typically 5 to 6 inches long, and are used for everyday tasks that don't require the full length of a chef's knife. They may or may not be serrated.

  • Slicing knives measure 8 to 12 inches and are best for large pieces of meat or cakes.

  • Task knives are designed for a single function. One example is a serrated grapefruit and orange knife.

  • A filet knife removes the bones and skin from fish. This special knife is 7 to 10 inches long, very flexible and ideal for sweeping movements.

  • A boning knife is 5 inches long with a thin blade. This knife runs easily along bone and around joints.
  • A cleaver is essential if you plan on butchering, along with the boning knife.
    This 7-inch striking knife easily severs bones and joints, splits lobster and chops very thick vegetables.


The two factors that most affect the price of a knife are the materials it's made of and how it's made. 


  • Stainless steel: This iron alloy resists corrosion and is the most common blade material. Lower grades are softer, which means they can't take as sharp an edge and need to be sharpened more often. Higher grades of stainless steel, especially those alloys including molybdenum, are harder. High-carbon stainless steel is the top of the line. The higher the grade, the higher the price. 
  • Titanium-plated steel: Titanium-plated knives are extremely low-maintenance and won't rust. They're almost impossible to break. They last for years, if not decades. However, they don't hold as sharp an edge as high-grade stainless steel. These knives are priced comparably to stainless steel. 
  • Ceramic knives are exceptionally sharp, producing thin, accurate slices. They're also very light and prone to chipping, so they shouldn't be used on harder items like tough vegetables and bones. They won’t rust, don’t absorb odor and are easy to maintain, retaining their cutting edge much longer than metal knives. They're also more expensive.

Method of Construction

Most metal knives are either stamped or forged.

  • Stamped knives are the least expensive. They are cut from a single piece of sheet metal, then ground and edged. Stamped knives aren't as strong or as heavy as forged knives. They can't hold quite as sharp an edge, but they're light and perform very well. 
  • Forged knives are less likely to bend over time, and they hold a sharper edge longer. They also have a thick bolster between the blade and the handle that guards your fingers and helps distribute weight. To create a forged knife, a single piece of molten steel is formed and beaten into shape. This results in a sturdier, stronger and heavier blade. Due to the complexity of the construction process, forged blades are more expensive than stamped.

Knife Maintenance

Before purchasing, you must consider the time and effort you're willing to put into cleaning and sharpening your knives.


All knives, regardless of material and construction, should be washed by hand. Avoid putting them in the dishwasher. The high heat and powerful water spray can be damaging. You also shouldn't use scouring pads or abrasive cleaners on any knife.

Stainless steel knives resist corrosion, but they may still form spots over time. Hand wash and dry stainless steel knives immediately after use.

Titanium-plated steel knives resist rust. It is not necessary to wash them immediately, and there's no need to dry them.

While you must be careful not to chip them, ceramic knives are the easiest to clean. They're non-porous, so food rinses right off. Since they don't rust, there's no need to immediately dry them after washing.


There are several methods of knife-sharpening varying on convenience and knife style. For instance, ceramic knives need a sharpener with diamond grit.

  • Electric knife sharpeners are the fastest and most convenient way to keep straight-edged stainless steel knives sharp. They will always sharpen at the same angle, and they can even repair damaged knives. However, they generally don’t work with forged knives, Asian-style knives or serrated knives.

  • Manual sharpeners are inexpensive, take up very little space and can be used on any knife.

  • Whetstones can also be used on any knife, but they require skill. You can use them to sharpen your knife at any angle you want, but you must maintain the angle yourself. It also takes longer to sharpen your knife than using a manual sharpener.

  • Honing steels can help delay the need to sharpen a straight-edged knife but they will not completely resharpen a blade.


Storing your knives properly is important, both for safety and for maintaining the quality of the blades.

  • Blade guards are the most basic way to protect your knives. These allow you to store knives in a drawer without the danger of accidental injury.

  • A knife block is the best storage option as it will keep your knives organized and separated. Choose from a countertop option or a block that fits into a drawer. Many knife sets include a block.

  • A magnetic knife bar puts your stainless steel blades on display while keeping them at hand.

Cutting boards

Use wood or plastic cutting boards. Cutting boards made of harder materials like stone will damage all blades; ceramic blades will actually chip or break.

cutting board

Find Your Knives

This table provides a quick overview to help you determine which knives are right for you.

Knives Table