The Only 3 Kitchen Knives You Really Need

Nafzger Forge's chef knife is our high-end pick.

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olive wood serrated knife
Photo: Courtesy of Food52

Knives are the most important piece of kitchen equipment you can own and the only thing you reach for no matter what you're cooking. When it comes to these indispensable tools, we believe in the "less is more" philosophy. While those 8-piece kitchen knife block sets seem like a good value, they're way more than you need (and take up way too much space). If you think about the knives that you use again and again, it comes down to three essentials: The chef's knife, the serrated knife, and the paring knife. Between these three tools you can carve a Thanksgiving turkey, slice tomatoes, hull a strawberry and so much more.

The Nafzger Forge Chef's Knife earns our top high-end pick for a chef's knife, with features like an exceptionally sharp, high carbon steel blade and copper accents. Whether you're a new cook looking for your beginner knives, or an old pro ready for an upgrade, these are our top picks for three essential knives for all budgets.

Chef’s Knife

Nafzger Forge Chef
Courtesy of Nafzger Forge

The chef's knife is by far the most used knife of the three, so it's worth it to invest in a high quality one and treat it well. You can use this knife to chop, slice, julienne just about anything, plus carve a roast or break down a watermelon. It should be a strong, but lightweight knife, with a long blade and a handle that fits nicely in your hand. You want a knife that works for you and is something you feel comfortable using on those super busy cooking days. Chef's knives usually come in an 8-inch or 10-inch blade. There is no right length – it is about what you feel comfortable wielding around on your cutting board. For more information, check out this in-depth read on chef's knives and the best knife sharpener.

Best Splurge: Nafzger Forge Chef's Knife, starting at $425 from

Made by hand by a chef-turned-bladesmith, Nafzger Forge knives are one-of-a-kind tools made in the mountains of Virginia. The incredibly sharp blades are made from high carbon steel and the smooth, polished wood handles are accented with copper and natural stones like malachite. They also come with a lifetime guarantee and proper knife care instructions. These beautiful knives perform well and look great hanging on your wall.

Best Value: Shun Sora 8-inch Chef's Knife, $125 from

Shun is a maker of very high-end, carefully crafted Japanese knives. This knife from their Sora line is made by the same experienced craftsman, but with a more budget-conscious cook in mind. The stainless-steel blade is very sharp and maintains an edge well and the sleek plastic handle is lightweight and very easy to manage. This is a great learning knife for a beginner cook and a reliable workhorse for the more seasoned cook.

Serrated Knife

olive wood serrated knife
Courtesy of Food52

A serrated knife, also known as a bread knife, can tackle both hard and soft foods. Use this knife when you want to gently saw through something and avoid squashing the interior, such as slicing crusty bread or tomatoes. The small grooved blades of a serrated knife also hold their sharpness for a long time, so one of these knives will last you a long time.

Best Splurge:Oliva Elité Olive Wood Cheese and Tomato Knife, $130 at

This olive wood-handled knife is smaller than most bread knives, making it perfect for slicing delicate fruits and vegetables. It's also stylish enough to go on a cheese board. The hollow blade prevents foods from sticking to the blade while you're slicing and the pronged tip is perfect for stabbing cubes of cheese off a plate.

Best Value: Mercer Offset 8-inch Bread Knife, $20 from

This is the kind of bread knife you'll see most chefs using in professional kitchens. The plastic, off-set handle is easier on your wrist and lightweight in your hand. It also makes it easier to slice a lot of bread quickly and efficiently.

Paring Knife

wusthof paring knife
Courtesy of Crate & Barrel

For small-scale jobs that require precision, a paring knife should be your tool of choice. Look for knives with a lightweight handle and a 3- to 3.5-inch blade. In our experience, this is the right length for segmenting citrus, peeling cooked potatoes, deveining shrimp, trimming artichokes or cutting up berries.

Best Splurge:Wüsthof Gourmet 3-inch Paring Knife, $35 at

This heavy-duty paring knife from Wüsthof has an ultra-sharp carbon steel blade that lasts for years, with careful maintenance (that means no dishwasher!). The sharp, angled point is superb at coring vegetables and fruits and getting into tight corners. It has a sturdy, expensive feel to it, but is still within a reasonable price range.

Best Value: Victorinox 4-Inch Swiss Classic Paring Knife, $10 at

Victorinox is a Swiss company that makes sharp, reliable knives. This affordable paring knife has a lightweight plastic handle and a sharp steel blade that has a bit of flex to it, which comes in handy when coring tomatoes or strawberries.

Victorinox serrated knives
Courtesy of Sur La Table

BONUS Victorinox Rosewood Serrated Knife (Set of 4), $60 at

If we were to add one more knife to this core set, it would be a small serrated paring knife. This rosewood-handled knife from Victorinox is one we use often. It's perfect for slicing tomatoes or a small loaf of bread and it's attractive enough to place on a cheese or charcuterie platter. This knife comes in a set of four, so you can also use them as steak knives.

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