For the average chef of the home, there are really only three knives that are a must-have in the kitchen: a chef’s knife, a paring knife and a bread knife.
A chef’ knife is your utility knife, your do-most-of-everything knife. Whether it is cutting, slicing, mincing, dicing, or chopping a good chef knife can do it all. Of all your knives, this knife will be the one you hold and use the most. You should get a knife that is comfortable in your hand; get a chance to hold the knife, to feel how the knife sits in your hand before purchasing it. Chef knives usually come with a 5 to 12 inch blade. A taller person tends to use a longer blade and shorter person tends to use a shorter blade: this is not a set-in-stone rule. Remember, buying a chef knife isn’t usually about the dimensions and specs, it’s more about how it feels. You want something that is comfortable and reliable; you’ll be putting ‘more miles’ on this knife than any other knife in your kitchen.
For the tasks your chef knife can’t quite accomplish: Paring and some precision work are tasks your chef knife cannot accomplish well. You can try paring an apple with a chef knife, but I can tell you the end result will not be pretty. A paring knife is a useful knife to have in your kitchen. It’s used for tasks that don’t require chopping or mincing, but do require a knife. A paring knife has a 3 to 4.5″ blade. You cannot choose a bad paring knife. Most $5, $10 paring knives will do the job nicely.
And for those of you who eat bread, you need a bread knife. You can try using a chef knife or a paring knife to cut bread. However I can assure you that 9 out of 10 times you’ll come away with a squashed piece of bread. A good bread knife will cut through hard and soft bread with ease.
With these three knives you should be able to accomplish most any cutting task in the kitchen. Don’t spend the money to buy the eight or nine knives set combos. Save some money and get only what you will use: a chef knife, a paring knife and a bread knife.