Don’t be afraid to invest some extra cash
When I was in college and living in a tiny dorm room, my mother and I went to Target and bought a tiny cutting board, a tiny colander, and a 2-pack of tiny knives. We thought it would only make sense to literally downsize my cooking tools—I quickly realized how wrong we were. The dinky knives would cut an apple or a cube of cheese perfectly fine, but anything tougher (like, even thick-skinned citrus) was a nightmare. Though I wasn’t doing much major chopping around the dorm, as soon as I moved out I knew knives were my number one priority. But if you’ve ever walked into a kitchen supply store, the knife section can be quite intimidating. Do I need a fully outfitted knife block or can I get away with just one or two? Can I buy the $15 knife or should I invest in a more expensive one that will last for decades?
“It could be tempting to think that ‘a knife is a knife,’ and that any blade that makes a cut will do the trick,” Michael Garaghty, Executive Chef at Wüsthof, told me in an email. “But the thing is that, for all the simplicity to the shape and function of a knife, it’s actually a precisely calibrated tool that, when well-constructed, can have an effect on meal preparation.”
Garaghty is a major proponent of spending more money on better knives, because he knows they’ll become kitchen workhorses. But that still doesn’t mean you have to buy every knife in the store—the average home cook doesn’t really need a boning knife and a carving knife and a cleaver for everyday use. Yet for home cooks that still have a decent sum of money to spend on knives, Garaghty recommends a 3-piece knife set (Wüsthof makes such a set for about $200)—a paring knife, a 6-inch utility knife, and larger chef’s knife. The price point might still sound like a chunk of change when you’re spending it all at once, but since nicer knives are built to last, if you treat them with care it’s unlikely you’ll need to replace them.
Of course, if you’re not ready to invest in a knife set, Garaghty says home cooks can get away with one good 8-inch chef’s knife. Such a knife can be used for chopping, mincing, slicing and dicing, as well as heavy duty work like cutting root vegetables or meat. “When used correctly, [knives] are built to last throughout your lifetime,” says Garaghty.