Utility Knife Buyers Guide
Although a kitchen utility knife may not seem like a huge purchase, it is important to consider which factors and specifications make for a solid, reliable utility knife and which do not. It can be tempting to purchase the cheapest utility knife you find, just as it can be tempting to purchase the least expensive version of any product we think of as unimportant. However, let me let you in on a little secret – the kitchen utility knife is not unimportant.
Think about it. How often to you use your utility knife? Allow me to tell you that I use mine all the time. From peeling apples to slicing onions and cutting the crusts off of my children’s sandwiches, I always seem to have a use for a utility knife. It is the multi-functional nature of a utility knife which gives it such value.
Personally, I would rather own multiple utility knives than multiple paring knives or chef’s knives. My paring knife and chef’s knife are used for very specific tasks. My utility knives, however, can be used for all of those other quick, imprecise tasks I perform on a regular basis. Switching things up allows me to maintain a sharp edge on my other kitchen tools and always have a multi-functional knife available when my chef’s knife and paring knife are dirty from previous tasks.
This guide is designed to help you learn more about what it takes to make a utility knife great. Not every knife will fit the needs of every person, however, so I have also included information about some qualities which may benefit certain people more than others. It is my hope that you can use this information to help you decide on your next utility knife purchase.
Wait, What Is a Kitchen Utility Knife?
For those of you sitting there scratching your heads with confusion as to what exactly a kitchen utility knife is, I thought it would be important for me to include this short description. Let me begin by saying that this is not a construction utility knife. I understand that it can be quite confusing to know that two different types of knives are often called by the same name.
Whereas a construction utility knife is made for cutting drywall, tape, and other construction materials, a kitchen utility knife is made for cutting fruits, vegetables, herbs, and baked goods. A construction utility knife features a retractable blade which hides inside a plastic or metal handle. A kitchen utility knife resembles most other kitchen knives, and features an external, stationary blade.
A kitchen utility knife’s blade usually measures somewhere between four inches and six inches in length and is constructed of stainless steel, high-carbon steel, high-carbon stainless steel, or ceramic. It is a multi-functional tool which blends some of the abilities of a paring knife with some of the abilities of a small chef’s knife.
As I have said, utility knives usually feature a blade which is between four inches and six inches in length. Once you move below and above those thresholds, you find yourself discussing paring knives and chef’s knives, respectively.
What are the differences between the different blade lengths you may come across? The short answer is that different blade lengths will define the different tasks you can easily and confidently complete safely with your knife. For example, peeling a small peach may be quite simple with a knife with a blade between the length of 4 inches and 5 inches, but may become much more difficult with a knife whose blade is between 5.5 and 6 inches in length. Similarly, one slice may be all that is necessary to cut your sandwich in half using a 5.5 to 6 inch utility knife, whereas two or more slices may be necessary using a smaller knife.
The length of utility knife you select should be based on how you intend to use it most often. Before you run out and purchase one, however, I would like to share a small bit of advice with you. Pay attention to the size of your knife’s handle. You will want one which is at least two-thirds the length of your blade in order to maintain optimal control over a knife in this size-range.
Straight-Edge or Serrated Blade
If you have already begun looking around at utility knives, you may have noticed that they are available with straight-edge blades or serrated blades. Just as with the length of the blade you select, you will want to select the type of blade based on how you most often intend to use your knife.
A straight-edge blade is best used for slicing through fruits and vegetables and dicing herbs. A serrated blade, on the other hand, is much better for working with soft and crunchy baked goods. A serrated utility knife can even be used to cut through meat when steak knives are unavailable. Personally, my favorite utility blade is one with microserrations. Microserrations are tiny enough not to create ugly cuts when working with the fruits and vegetables, but still have enough grip to make their way through most crusts and soft baked goods without leaving behind a mound of crumbs or a squishy pile of dough.
As with any kitchen knife, it is important to consider the material from which your blade has been constructed. In so doing, ask yourself these questions: Do I want a firm blade or one with a bit of flexibility? Is it important to me to be able to place my knife in the dishwasher? Am I open to being very careful with my blade, ensuring that I do not drop it or use to slice hard foods? How often am I willing to sharpen my blade?
Answering all of these questions will help you to decide whether you are looking for a blade which is constructed from high-carbon steel, stainless steel, high-carbon stainless steel, or ceramic. It will also help you decide if you are looking for a thick blade or a thin blade. For more information about the different materials from which knife blades are often made, visit our article on Blade Types.
Another thing you may want to consider is whether or not you would like your blade to feature a stick-resistant coating or texture.
When purchasing any knife, regardless of type or size, it is very important to find one with a comfortable handle which will not flip or spin around in you palm. Therefore, I suggest finding one which is either oblong or D-shaped. Non-slip textures and silicone or rubber coatings are also rather helpful in maintaining a solid grip.
Since a utility knife is a multi-use knife, I suggest steering clear of those with defined finger grooves. Finger grooves will hold your hand in one place, making it difficult and uncomfortable to change the position of your hand. Though this can be wonderful when working on specific tasks with specific knives, you probably won’t find it as appealing when you switch back and forth between tasks which require you to grip the handle in different ways.
A metal bolster with a pinched shape will allow you to exert even more control over your utility knife when performing some of the intricate tasks associated with paring and chef’s knives. You may want to consider finding a utility knife with such a bolster.
Again, I would like to point out that flexibility is important when working with a multiuse knife. The best way to ensure that you can use your utility knife in a variety of ways is to ensure that you feel comfortable and confident while you are using it. The key to comfort and confidence is control.
The more evenly the weight of your knife is distributed between the blade and the handle, the better you will be able to control it. If the weight is to be favored in either direction, having a heavier handle is always preferable to a heavier blade.
When searching for a utility knife with an even weight distribution you should look for three things. First, try to find one with a full-tang blade (a blade which extends all the way through the handle). Secondly, find one with a steel bolster. Not only is the bolster often helpful in offering a precision grip and protecting fingers from sliding out onto the blade, it also adds weight to the center point of the knife when it is made from steel. Finally, find one with an end cap. An end cap is simply a piece of metal attached or formed to the end of the knife’s handle.
A Final Word
Take some time to consider all of the points I discussed above and weight them against your own needs and preferences. You may not agree with all of my opinions and suggestions, and that is okay. Trust your gut instinct. Do your research. Make your selection based on your own personal needs and budgetary concerns.