No kitchen is complete without these essentials.

By Claire Sullivan
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Justin Walker

Designed to chop, carve, slice, and dice, knives come in a baffling array of shapes, sizes, and even in sets. But for daily use, our food editors swear you only need these three basic kinds. When you're shopping for knives, find ones that feel comfortable and balanced in your hand, then keep their stainless steel blades-and your skills-sharp.

Serrated Knife

Its sawlike edge zips through breads, bagels, and cakes and gently slices soft, juicy produce, such as tomatoes and peaches. The test kitchen team prefers an offset handle which lends more control (and keeps wrists happy) when you're chopping small ingredients, like chocolate and nuts. Our picks: the SaniSafe nine-inch scalloped offset sandwich knife ($17), and the Shun Classic eight-inch offset bread knife (above left, $145).

Chef's Knife

Say hello to the ultimate workhorse, ideal for meats, vegetables, and more. It makes chopping, dicing, and mincing seem less like chores and more like fun. Don't forget to use the flat side to smash garlic! Take note that longer blades make slicing more effortless, but a midsize eight-inch model is adequate for home cooks. Our picks: the Misen chef's ($65), and the Wüsthof Classic eight-inch chef's knife (shown above center, $187).

Paring Knife

This three-to-four-inch marvel nimbly hulls strawberries, cores tomatoes, and deveins shrimp. Our picks: the Victorinox 3 1/4-inch paring with straight edge ($9), and the Wüsthof Classic three-inch straight-blade paring (above right, $65). A short blade allows for precise trimming, coring, and peeling.

Depending on what you prep frequently, you might want to add other knives to your collection. A boning knife is useful for cutting up or fileting meat, fish, or poultry. Another popular knife is the utility knife, with a blade of five or six inches, it rounds out a knife collection tackling jobs too large for the paring knife and too small for a chef's knife. For most cooks though, the trio of serrated knife, parer, and chef's knife will tackle pretty much any cutting task.

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