Kitchen Knife Types
a Basic Guide
If you are anything like I was when I first began venturing into the world beyond my utility knife, you are probably a little bit overwhelmed by the number of different knives available for purchase. You may look at your daily tasks and ask yourself, “What could I possibly need all of those knives for?”
The truth of the matter is that you do not need all of those knives. Certain knives are better suited to certain tasks than are others. Some knives are somewhat multipurpose. The knives you need depend upon the tasks you complete in your day-to-day cooking and just how important it is to you that you achieve your desired results. Some people get along just fine with only two or three knives in their drawers. Those who live on microwave dinners could probably live without any knives whatsoever.
The very fact that you are here, however, tells me that you take your cooking a little more seriously than the average microwaver. I assume that you are interested in learning more about the different types of knives available to you and how they each are most often used. This guide is designed to explain a little more about each knife type, so that you can begin to select the types of knives you most desire in your own kitchen.
If you have ever been to a steakhouse-style restaurant, I am sure you have seen a steak knife or two in the past. These knives usually feature 4 to 5-inch blades and thick, solid handles. Built to withstand everyday use by multiple people, steak knives often feature triple-riveted, full-tang blades. The blades may be either serrated or straight, which means that they may have little teeth along them or they may have smooth edges. Some feature pointed tips, whereas others have rounded tips. Steak knives are often sold in sets of four to eight knives.
The chef’s knife is one of my favorite knives. Its gentle curve allows me to effortlessly, and almost elegantly, slice and dice my way through most fruits, vegetables, and herbs. These knives usually feature blades of about 8 to 10 inches in length, making them perfectly-sized for slicing apples, pepper, potatoes, broccoli, and cabbages. A good chef’s knife is strong, durable, well-balanced, and easy to maneuver. Due to its large size, it can be difficult to find a chef’s knife which suits your individual needs in terms of length, weight, durability, and balance. Let me tell you, though, once you find that knife you will probably find yourself using it with every meal.
Though it most resembles a combination of a chef’s knife and a clever, the santoku knife combines the purposes of a chef’s knife and a sheep’s foot paring knife with an added bonus. Like a chef’s knife, the santoku knife is ideal for slicing, dicing, and chopping. Like a sheep’s foot paring knife, the santoku knife’s straight, flat blade allows it to julienne with ease.
Many people are confused by the difference between the santoku and the chef’s knife. They see the difference in appearance but do not understand how that translates to a difference in function. A chef’s knife and a santoku knife, while often achieving the same results, require different techniques. Though the santoku’s techniques can be harder to master, they can greatly decrease the amount of time it takes to complete a task. As an added bonus, Santoku knives are often created with much thinner blades and much sharper angles, allowing them to create paper-thin slices and finely diced garnishes.
Bread knives often feature long, thin blades measuring about 8 to 12-inches in length. They are made, primarily, for cutting through bread, but are also very helpful in slicing through various other forms of baked goods, both crunchy and soft. These knives always feature a serrated edge, but the depth and distance of those serrations may be different from one knife to the next. For example, one may feature deep serrations with very distinctive teeth, spaced only two to three millimeters apart; another may feature soft, scalloped serrations which resemble hand-drawn clouds. Different types of serrations are best suited to different types of tasks.
Slicing knives are very similar to bread knives in terms of the length and height of their blades. They differ, however, in the fact that their blade is straight, instead of serrated. They are also different in that their tips are pointed, resembling a spear, whereas most bread knives feature sheep’s foot, or blunted, tips. A slicing knife is mostly meant for removing perfect, portion-sized slices of meat from a cooked turkey, chicken, ham, or roast. It is meant for use during plate preparation and serving. A secondary use for this type of knife is to slice tomatoes and other soft fruits and vegetables.
Perhaps the most versatile of any knife on this list, the utility knife is built to take the place of many other knives. Although its versatility is wonderful, it is a hindrance to this knife’s ability to perform any of its many functions with distinct accuracy. If you are looking for a quality cut, always stick to a knife devoted to that type of cut. However, in terms of cutting a sandwich, the utility knife cannot be beat.
I honestly believe that the boning knife is one of the most misunderstood knives on this list. Many people pull this skinny knife from the drawer and haven’t a clue how to use it or what to use it for. A boning knife is mostly used to remove meat from the bones of a larger slab of meat. Contrary to popular belief, this knife is actually one of the knives most frequently used by butchers. The thin, flexible blade of this knife is what allows a butcher to create perfectly shaped and portioned steaks, roasts, and chicken breasts without wasting anything. It allows them to slice very close to the bone itself, leaving virtually nothing behind.
In your kitchen, this knife would probably be used most often in removing bones from chicken breasts and fish or for filleting various other types of meat.
These short, easy-to-maneuver knives are actually available in three different types: a spear-tip, a sheep’s foot, and a bird’s beak. Though all of these knives are made for intricate tasks involving fruits and vegetables, each has its own purpose and function. A spear-tip is best for slicing, a sheep’s foot is perfect for julienning, and a bird’s beak is best-suited to peeling. A good paring knife will leave more weight in your hand than the blade, allowing you ultimate control.
I understand that kitchen shears aren’t, exactly, knives, but I do believe that they have their place on this list. Kitchen shears, when properly used, have many functions in the kitchen. They can cube, slice, and dice when your other knives are dirty or your hands are too slippery to be trusted with a knife. They are also quite useful in cutting parchment paper, tin foil, and butcher string when you feel that any regular pair of household scissors may compromise your sanitary workstation. Many sets of kitchen shears boast added features, such as pop-top bottle openers, screw-top bottle openers, nut crackers, bone notches, and flat-head screwdriver bits.
Many people prefer to buy their knives in sets, instead of individually. I will be honest, buying in bulk, like this, is often much less expensive. However, you will sometimes find yourself giving up quality in the name of quantity. Be sure to research your knife set thoroughly before purchasing it and only buy one containing knives you will actually use.