Slicing Knife / Carving Knife Buyers Guide
Making any type of purchase can be anxiety-rovoking for many people. It can be especially stressful if you don’t know much about that type of product. You may look at a vast variety of different types of the same product and scratch your head. “They all look the same to me,” you may think to yourself as you look at their specifications, structures, materials and prices.
When I first ventured into the world of kitchen knives that is how I felt. To put it quite simply, I had no idea what I was doing. That feeling was rather intimidating. Here I was, looking to purchase something people use every day in their kitchens; something I had used every day in my parents’ kitchen for years. Yet I was scratching my head, with no idea what I needed, let alone what I wanted.
Fast forward about a decade, and a lot of trial and errors later, and you will see that I have a firm grasp of the topic. The journey wasn’t without its mistakes. It included a lot of incorrectly-used knives, a couple of stitches, and a few broken blades. It also included a lot of research, as I became determined to learn as much as I could about the topic, so that I could remove that same confusion from your experience.
This particular article will focus on one of my greatest enemies in my early days of kitchen knife trial and error – the slicer knife. As you read through this article, you will come to understand why it was my enemy at one time, but is no longer. You will learn how to select a quality slicer knife based on basic specifications as well as your own needs.
Not a Bread Knife or Chef’s Knife
If I can offer you one piece of advice on this topic it would be to ensure that it is, in fact, a slicer knife you are looking for. Slicer knives are, usually, quite similar in length to a bread knife and a chef’s knife (all hovering around the 8 to 10 inches mark). Some look surprisingly similar to a bread knife, whereas others look very similar to a chef’s knife.
Clearly, bread knives are made for slicing bread. They are also quite useful in working with any sort of baked goods, soft or crusted. Chef’s knives are used for slicing, dicing, and chopping. Slicer knives, on the other hand, are used for dividing and portioning meat.
Unlike a bread knife, which usually features a rounded tip, a slicer knife may feature a rounded tip or a pointed tip. Also, whereas bread knives are serrated to grip and tear their way through soft and crusty baked goods, slicer knives generally feature a straight, smooth edge allowing them to glide effortlessly through slabs of meat. Unlike a chef’s knife, which features a tall blade, between 1.5 and 2 inches, the blade of a slicer knife should only measure about 1 inch in height (tops). Also, slicer knives are usually thinner than chef’s knives, which allows them to make thinner slices.
Not a Boning Knife
Bread knives and chef’s knives often confuse people because they look similar to slicer knives. Boning knives, on the other hand, confuse people because they are the only other knife which is dedicated to meat. Boning knives are used to remove meat from bones and to separate meat at joints. Despite sometimes being called a “carving knife”, a slicer knife is not meant for this type of task.
You are in search of a slicer knife if you are looking to shave slices off a turkey or chicken, cut a pork or beef roast after or prior to cooking, or separate a rack of ribs. Carving knives with pointed tips can also be used to fillet fish and boneless chicken breasts.
A Sharp Straight Edge
It should go without saying that you should find a slicer knife with a sharp cutting edge. I hate having to point out the obvious, but I think it is important to drive these sorts of points home.
Sharp edges are extremely important when you are working with any straight-edge knife. Whereas serrated knives can still grip and tear through your food when they are growing dull, a straight-edge knife will not be able to do so. This is especially true if you are planning to use your slicer knife on raw meat.
Most of the time, I use my slicing knife to shave nice thin cuts off a cooked turkey, roast, ham or chicken. Sometimes, however, I like to use it to break down raw meats. For example, in preparing boneless chicken breast for a stir fry, I elicit the assistance of my slicing knife to cut the chicken breasts into cubes before throwing them into my stir fry pan. A dull blade would bounce right off of a raw chicken breast, leaving me to struggle at getting it to move through the slippery meat. You never want to have to struggle like this with any knife; struggling leads to less control which can in turn lead to slips and injuries.
I suggest purchasing a slicer knife with a fine cutting edge of 20 degrees or less. You may have a difficult time finding this information, though. In researching the carving knives for this website, I was unable to find much information about the angle of their edges. In these cases, I tend to rely on the word of actual consumers. I encourage you to take a look at consumer reviews and see if the majority believe that the edge is very sharp.
I also suggest purchasing a slicing knife with a high-carbon blade or a high-carbon stainless steel blade. Any blade made from steel with a high carbon content will stay sharp for much longer than steel with a low carbon content (i.e. – stainless steel). Ceramic blades also stay sharp for a very long time, but could break if they accidentally come into contact with any bones.
Carving vs. Slicing
To a large degree, slicing knives and carving knives are the same. There are subtle differences to the following rule, but in general you can say that carving knives are slightly thicker so they can be used for tougher meats, while slicer knives are thinner and mainly used to slice meats like roast, fish, beef and venison.
Another way to look at this is that a carving knife should be able to do its job in, say, more primitive circumstances. A slicing knife can gently slice meat in the kitchen using a plate or a board, but a carving knife needs to be able to slice that turkey or roast mid-table.
Some people say that a carving knife should also have an upswept tip, but I’ve seen different tip shapes in both types. It’s basically a mater of preference.
Not only do you want to find yourself a blade which is extremely sharp, you also want to find one which is strong and sturdy. This can, sometimes, be a rather difficult task. In one breath, I tell you that I suggest you find a blade which is thin enough to shave slices of turkey for a sandwich. In the next breath, I tell you that you want a strong and sturdy blade. Often, those two things do not go hand in hand.
I strongly suggest staying away from stainless steel blades, because they are often less sturdy than those with a high carbon content. When made thin enough to carve thin slices from a turkey, a stainless steel blade will not be strong enough to stay sturdy; it will be rather flimsy. I suggest choosing high-carbon steel or high-carbon stainless steel. If you still feel particularly drawn to stainless steel, however, you should know that the higher the quality of a stainless steel blade, the more strength it will have. Therefore, if you feel you must go with a stainless steel blade, do your best to find one which is of extremely high quality – I suggest one which is surgical grade or 18/10 grade.
A Pointed or Rounded Tip
In your searching, you may find that slicer knives are available with pointed tips and rounded tips. Personally, I prefer one with a pointed tip. You own preference will likely be based on how you intend to use your knife. Here is the most important question in helping you decide if you need one with a pointed tip or a rounded tip: Are you planning on using it with raw meat?
If you are only planning to use your slicer knife to carve slices of turkey, chicken, ham, or roast for serving directly onto people’s plates, you will easily manage with a rounded tip. If, however, you will be using your slicing knife to cut open a large, boneless chicken breast (in preparation for stuffing it), to separate a rack of ribs, or to cube chicken or ham, you may want to select a pointed tip. The pointed tip will allow you to plunge the knife into the raw meat when filleting; it gives the blade a soft curve which can be helpful in creating cubes and strips.
I wanted to include a few final considerations here which I believe will be beneficial in your hunt for a slicing knife. I have included this type of information in the buying guides for many, if not all, knives on this website, because I truly find it to be that important.
First off, you will want to find a carving knife which has been put together well and is built to withstand the test of time. Slicing through meat is not always an easy task – it is much different from slicing into a soft piece of chocolate cake. You will likely be placing your knife under considerable pressure at times and will, therefore, want to ensure that it will stay together well. For this reason, I suggest a knife which is either created fully from steel or which features a full-tang blade. Full tang blades extend all the way through the handles of knives.
Additionally, if you choose a full-tang blade, I suggest purchasing one which has been riveted into the handle, as opposed to glued into the handle. We all know that steel bolts are much more sturdy and reliable than glue.
Second, you will want to ensure that you can grasp a good grip of the handle. This means that you will want to find a handle which is slightly rounded, since squared edges can be uncomfortable. You will also want to steer clear of any thin handles, as they may slip and flip around in your hand, causing you to lose control of the blade. Finally, you will not want a slippery plastic, metal, or polished wood handle. Look for one with texture grooves, rubber coating, or added rubber nodules to keep your hands from slipping.