When it comes to knives, it’s likely that most of us aren’t exactly on the “cutting edge” of cutlery knowledge. It’s hard enough to remember which knife to use first at a formal dinner, let alone the functions and techniques associated with the large array of kitchen knives out there. You don’t have to join the crazy knife subculture of the culinary elite, but knowing knife basics can open major doors for those looking to streamline food prep and add a polished finish to dishes. This guide to silverware skills is the first step to sharpening up your chopping, slicing and overall knife know-how.

Tomato Knife

Who knew there was a knife dedicated specifically to the tomato? Well there is, and it even works on citrus fruits when you need to slice through smooth, rubbery skin without crushing the insides. Go for a forked tip — the prongs simplify skin and seed removal.

Bread Knife

The last thing you want to do to your freshly baked Bennison’s baguette is to smash it, and the sharp, serrated edge of a bread knife helps you avoid just that. Go for a long-bladed knife — cutting with one that’s shorter than the loaf results in jagged, uneven slices.

Steak Knife

Smooth-edged steak knives are the best because rather than tearing at the meat, they slice it cleanly, keeping the meat juicy. Steak knives are meant for slicing steaks, pork chops and other meaty foods like mushrooms. They require a bit more maintenance but are a must-have for any self-respecting carnivore.

Chef’s Knife

Commonly referred to as a butcher’s knife, the chef’s knife is the all-purpose blade that even the most elementary-level chef should own. With a slim, triangular blade, a smooth, curved edge and sharp tip, this type of knife is good for chopping, dicing, shredding, mincing and cutting all types of vegetables and meat.

Paring Knife

Like a mini-chef’s knife, the paring knife is great for peeling produce and it also works for other types of precise prep work such as de-seeding jalapeños, coring apples and pears, deveining shrimp, mincing garlic cloves and slicing shallots.

Basic Knife Knowledge

1. Before purchasing, test the knife and make sure you pick one that feels comfortable in your hand.
2. A “steel” is the long, rod-like tool that comes with most knife sets. Use it to help re-center the blades of your knives, which shift over time. Hold the knife in one hand and the steel in the other and carefully draw the blade down the steel, working in one direction. Repeat 10 times on each side of the blade.
3. Store knives in a knife block to keep them from getting beat up in a drawer with other cutlery.
4. Carbon steel blades are easiest to sharpen, but they rust and stain easily.
5. Ceramic knives stay sharper for longer but are brittle and prone to shattering.
6. If you’re looking for long-lasting luster, opt for stainless steel or high-carbon stainless steel knives.

Safe Slicing

1. Always cut away from your body.
2. Before cutting, make sure your hands are dry and the cutting surface is non-slip.
3. For chopping, put your middle, ring and pinky fingers around the handle, and grip the top of the handle with your index finger and thumb. Then keep either tip of the blade on the cutting board, and move your wrist in an up-and-down chopping motion against the food.
4. Curl your fingertips under the hand holding the food to minimize chances of cutting yourself. The side of the blade will slide down your knuckles onto whatever you’re chopping, safely away from your precious fingertips.