My 8 essential knives for home cooks feature chef’s knives you’ll want to use for the rest of your life and kitchen knives that are so inexpensive you can buy a few. You’ll find everything from my favourite knife, a Global 6″ chef’s knife, to a cleaver, both of which were packed in my suitcase whenever we travelled.
These 8 essential knives for home cooks are the must-have knives you need whether you’re an avid cook embarking on a long-term road trip who is setting up an RV, campervan, motorhome or caravan kitchen or you’re dreaming about a long-term food-focused trip in the future when it’s safe to travel again and you’re already drafting a packing list.
If you’re not planning on travelling for a while – don’t worry, we get it; we’re currently in a kind of part-time lockdown here, with a curfew in Siem Reap and many other Cambodian cities that are in a proper stay-at-home lockdown – then my recommended 8 essential knives for home cooks might be of help if you are setting up a home kitchen or down-sizing.
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Essential Knives for Home Cooks from Chef’s Knives to Chinese Cleavers
These are my recommended 8 essential knives for home cooks, whether you’re planning a long-term food-focused round-the-world trip in the future or you’re staying at home setting up a new kitchen or down-sizing the current one.
8″ Chef’s Knife
This 8″ chef’s knife tops the list of my essential knives for home cooks. This is the go-to blade in every chef’s knife kit. Most chefs will use this knife for 80-90% of their food preparation tasks and therefore it’s often the most expensive knife in their kit. The 8″ chef’s knife is the perfect size for me, but many women, including my own wife Lara, prefer a lighter, shorter blade such as my Global 6″ Chef’s Knife, which is why it’s best to handle the knives in a kitchen shop before purchasing. Chefs always give these knives the most attention when sharpening as it’s a key instrument for their work.
OUR PICK FOR THE 8″ CHEF’S KNIFE
Everyone always thinks of a cleaver being a very specific Chinese type of knife. In fact, when we were seeking tips from pro chefs as to what knives I should pack, Scottish chef Gary Robinson, the former head chef to HRH The Prince of Wales, suggested that I only take a Chinese cleaver on the year-long grand tour of the world that launched Grantourismo back in 2010. Gary said it was the only knife he used at home, but he worked for a long time in Hong Kong, so maybe he’s a little biased. But he does make a good point. A 7″ cleaver can cut through bones with ease (not something I’d try with a Japanese or European chef’s knife), it can be used to crush ingredients – anything from peppercorns to garlic – and makes a great bench scraper to move chopped ingredients around in large amounts. If you’re doing any kind of meat butchery, a cleaver is a must, along with a boning knife (see below), which is why the 7″ cleaver is one of my recommended essential knives for home cooks.
OUR PICK FOR THE 7″ CLEAVER
6.5″ Asian Chef Knives
These 6.5″ Asian chef’s knives are another of my essential knives for home cooks as they’re my general go-to knives for breaking down ingredients for curry pastes, where you want to chop ingredients quickly and place them in a mortar and pestle. Unlike traditional Western knives and Japanese chef’s knives, these Asian knives do not come to a point. They stay relatively wide over their length, but they do have a curve on the cutting edge along the length of the blade. This makes them very versatile, meaning you can use the ‘rocking motion’ to slice, but still chop down with the knife which is when most chefs use a santoku-style knife. The 6.5″ Asian chef’s knives are also great for crushing garlic – something that my favourite Global knife is not recommended for, so when we’re travelling I will use the Chinese cleaver for that task. These knives are also inexpensive and can take a beating. While the 6.5″ Asian chef’s knives are not the easiest knife to get (and keep) a good edge, for the tasks I use them for, this is not really a concern.
OUR PICK FOR THE 6.5″ ASIAN CHEF KNIVES
6.5″ Boning/Fillet Knife
True to its name, this 6.5″ boning/fillet knife is made for deboning meat, which is why it’s another of my recommended 8 essential knives for home cooks. But it can also be used for filleting and is perfect for creating fish fillets. If you are breaking down large portions of meat, a longer 8″ blade is preferable, but for home use I have a 6.5″ blade that is semi-flexible. I like the 6.5″ boning knife because it can follow the spine of a fish better than a stiff blade. The filleting knives, being razor sharp, are also good for breaking down a whole roasted chicken or fish. This is one of the reasons for paying for a handcrafted Japanese knife. To me this is the second-most important blade after your chef’s knife for sharpness.
OUR PICK OF THE 6.5″ BONING/FILLET KNIFE
6″ Chef’s Knife
A 6″ chef’s knife is the perfect size for the kind of cooking we do. This was the knife I decided to travel with on our one year grand tour of the world that launched Grantourismo over 11 years ago and that’s the main reason it’s on my list of recommended 8 essential knives for home cooks. It is still one of Global’s best sellers and there’s a good reason why that’s the case. For me, the Global’s 6″ chef’s knife is the perfect chef’s knife. One of the reasons is the steel, called CROMOVA 18 (made from Chromium, Molybdenum and Vanadium) which can give a really fine edge that stays sharper than any of my other knives. Whenever I have to finely chop herbs for a photoshoot and we need perfect presentation, this is the knife I go for, however, the knife sharpener by Global only lasted a couple of years on the road. We wish Global would make knife sharpeners that were as perfect as Global’s knives. Despite the grumblings of one cook who called this a ‘status’ knife, to us a ‘status’ knife is a $500 Masamoto that cooks try to impress other cooks with…
OUR PICK FOR THE 6″ CHEF’S KNIFE
Anyone who has followed my Instagram feed or the Grantourismo IG feed over the last two years knows that I’m a keen baker, with a real love of sourdough bread baking. With sourdough loaves having such a crispy exterior, my go-to knife is a scallop serrated blade bread knife. The serrations make the initial cut into the bread safer and more accurate than a straight blade knife and the offset means that your knuckles are not scraping the breadboard as you try to cut what is often the toughest part of the bread, the bottom crust. Having a 9-inch blade bread knife also means less back and forth with a large sourdough boule. These knives can also do a great job with vegetables, which is another reason this bread knife is on my list of my essential knives for home cooks. I really like cutting tomatoes with a bread knife if my little fruit and vegetable knives are blunt.
OUR PICK FOR THE KITCHEN BREAD KNIFE
Sometimes called a utility knife, these small fruit and vegetable knives are sized between a chef’s knife and a paring knife and are another of my essential knives for home cooks. For paring, we only use these knives. The type we use are inexpensive knives coming out of Thailand that are found everywhere across Southeast Asia. We always have a set of these fruit/vegetable knives ready to go, particularly for chopping and slicing small items such as shallots and spring onions. We also use these for deboning small cuts of meat such as chicken thighs when the boning knife is too big for the task. We have utility knives with plastic handles instead of the wood-handled knives we’ve linked to below as they can be more practical when you’re chopping and washing the knives regularly, as much as we prefer wooden handles for aesthetic and environmental reasons. A couple of tips: utility knives don’t keep their edge long, so for slicing tomatoes always give the knives a quick sharpen. My second tip: if you’re in Southeast Asia (where you’ll see these everywhere), don’t buy the utility knives with the black handle, get the yellow/green handled utility knives instead that are easy to spot in a kitchen drawer!
OUR PICK FOR THE FRUIT/VEGETABLE KNIFE
So how did kitchen shears end up on my list of essential knives for home cooks? Because kitchen shears, while not technically knives as such, have sharp blades. Kitchen shears are also one of the most underrated kitchen utensils. Have a whole fish or chicken that you need to break down? Kitchen shears can do a lot of the heavy lifting. If you’ve ever tried to butterfly a turkey to get a better-cooked bird, you’ll thank me the first time you use these kitchen shears. The best kitchen shears, such as the Wusthof stainless kitchen shears below, can also open stubborn plastic bottle lids. They also come apart for easy cleaning.