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The Only 3 Knives You Need

Please meet The Epicurious Three, the only knives a basic kitchen needs.
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by Rhoda Boone

Has this happened to you? It's 2 a.m., you've cleaned the freezer out of gelato, maybe had a few beers. Without warning, a gentleman on TV starts cutting through a tin can--with a kitchen knife! Or maybe it's the other guy, the one hawking an entire set of knives--for $29.99! Either way, you reach for the phone, dig out your credit card...

Okay, maybe it didn't go that far. But for others, it did (otherwise, those commercials would be off the air). In memory of all those poor knife purchases--and in an attempt to prevent further such purchases from happening--please meet The Epicurious Three, the only knives a basic kitchen needs.

8-inch Chef's Knife

What it does:

This large, versatile blade is perfect for almost any prep, from slicing meat to chopping vegetables. If you're willing to make an investment in a knife in your arsenal, this is where to do it.

What to look for:

Choose blades that are full tang (one full piece of metal with the two handle pieces pinned to the sides) versus half-tang (a piece of metal that extends the full length of the knife, but only part of the width, or does not extend the length of the knife and is instead glued into the handle). Full-tang knives are more balanced, sturdier, and longer-lasting than half-tang models. Our test kitchen also generally prefers forged chef's knives, which are made from a single piece of forged steel, heated and pounded into the desired shape. The other option is a stamped blade, which is cut out of a large sheet of steel and is usually lighter, a quality considered undesirable in a chef's knife.

Find a knife that has a nice weight and is comfortable to hold. It needs to have a little heft to it in order to chop through firmer vegetables like carrots and butternut squash. One to try: Wusthof Stainless Steel 8-inch Cooks Knife.

3- to 4-inch Paring Knife

What it does:

Paring knives are made for smaller knife work that a chef's knife feels too large to do, like mincing garlic, hulling strawberries, or peeling fruits and vegetables.

How to Choose:

There's no need to spend a lot on a paring knife. Honestly, once they lose their sharp edge, we don't bother getting them sharpened, we just replace them. We like these inexpensive, colorful Kuhn Rikon Paring Knives that come with sheaths.

10-inch Serrated or Bread Knife

What it does:

"Serrated" and "bread" knives they are basically the same (though serrated knives are offered in shorter lengths too). These blades have pointed serrations that resemble a saw. They are great for cutting bread, but are also perfect for cutting cake layers and fruits and vegetables with delicate skins, like tomatoes.

How to Choose:

Here's another knife you don't need to spend a lot on, but don't choose one that is too flimsy or it won't get the job done. Pay attention to the size of the teeth: You want a knife with teeth that are not too big (which can tear up the soft interior of a loaf) or too small (not efficient for slicing.) If you'll be hacking through a lot of loaves, you might consider a knife with a slightly offset handle, which will provide more leverage and more comfortable handling. We recommend a Victorinox 10 1/4-inch Wavy Bread Knife.