Here’s your insider guide to the different types of cooking knives and their uses
Preparing good quality food relies on two things: your skills and the quality of the tools (knives) you’re using to prepare them.
If you’re feeling a little lost right now, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I’ve been there, clueless, in a rush and feeling a little lost, but once you get this down, the fun really starts.
Here’s the deal:
A cheese knife and a pocket knife sounds like the purpose they were intended to be used for, but a Santoku, a Chef’s Knife and a Paring Knife…heck they sounded like foreign words to be when my culinary adventures just kicked off!
Essentially, I needed to learn all about the different types of cooking knives out there, and oh man, did it open up a whole new world for me.
Who knew that a Chef’s Knife could make such a massive difference in my culinary skills?
First things first: The Type of Blade
This is important: all knives are constructed with one of two basic methods, forging or stamping the blades.
Forged blade knives are constructed with pressure and heat, grinding and honing to produce a thicker and heavier blade with bolsters between the heel and the handle. Forged knives are more expensive than stamped blade knives, but they’re stronger and more balanced.
Stamped blade knives on the other hand are constructed with a hydraulic press that presses the shape of the blade out of a sheet of steel before the shape is grinded down and honed. This process makes stamped blade knives thinner and lighter than forged blades, and they also aren’t as balanced as forged blades, plus they are the budget option.
The Blade Steel
When it comes to the type of steel that the blade is made from, the three main players in the game are VG-10, 420HC and 440C stainless steel.
VG-10 is a high carbon stainless steel that’s best known for edge retention, which explains why they’re super poplar for use in Japanese and Asian dishes.
420HC and 440C Stainless Steel is also known as German steel. Theses blades are great for resisting stains and corrosion, and they’re also super durable. Many forged steel blades are constructed with either 420HC or 440C, with 440C being the leader when it comes to edge retention properties.
Then comes: The Knife Edge
While there might be a lot of varieties out there, there are 4 basic types of edges available in commercial knives.
- Straight Edge: knives are probably the most common type, and see blades with straight lines that form razor sharp edges.
- Granton Edge: knives have hollowed out sections that run along both sides of the blade, and they’re perfect for carving meat into super thin slices.
- Serrated Edge: knives have teeth alongside the blades, making them perfect for penetrating crusts or skin while still protecting the soft interior of the food. You might recognize this as your standard bread knife.
- Hallow Ground Edge: knives have very thin cutting edges, but they are brittle and dull easily. If you’re a heavy cutter, hallow ground knives aren’t going to work for you, but for finer tasks like preparing sushi and slicing fruits, these knives have the task down to a T.
Great, now you now a little more about the steel and the knife edges, but you’re still wondering what knives excel at what duties. Here’s the fun part. You’ll see I’ve listed the types of knives and what they’re best suited for, which should give you a better idea of what you do and don’t need in the kitchen.
The Lowdown of Different types of Cooking Knives – Learn the Lingo
The Chef’s Knife
A.K.A…the star of the kitchen! Chef’s knives are some of the most commonly used knives in commercial kitchens, which means it definitely has a place in yours. They come available in sizes ranging from 6 to 14 inches and have wide blades with symmetrical sides. These beauties can do anything from chopping to slicing and mincing, making them one of the most versatile knives you’ll ever own.
I’d recommend investing in an 8 to 10 inch Chef’s knife, and do go ahead and splurge in this item, make sure you’re buying the best quality kitchen knife, it’s the most used and investing now will be worth it every cent in the long run.
I have the Wusthof Classic 8 Inch Cook’s Knife as my go-to tool in the kitchen.
The Paring Knife
Coming in as the second most versatile knife in my kitchen, the paring knife is another tool you just cannot afford to go without. Paring knives kind of pick up where the chef’s knife leaves off, and they come in many different styles too. There are the spear points that work best for vegetable and fruit processing, the bird’s beaks that specialize in peeling round fruit and preparing garnish and the sheep’s foot paring knife that work best for chopping and julienning fruits and veggies.
My go-to paring knife is the Wusthof Classic 3-1/2 inch Paring Knife.
The Meat Carving Knife
As the name implies, the meat carving knife was made with thin meat slicing in mind. These knives are a lot thinner than chef’s knives, so they take care of precise carving and the pointed tip also makes the knife more versatile.
I love the J.A Henckels Eversharp Pro Carving Knife Set because it comes with a handy meat carving fork to keep the meat secured while you precisely slice slivers of meat.
The Bread / Serrated Knife
I’ve already mentioned this in the section where I talked about the shape of the blade, but bread knives have serrated edges and come in sizes ranging from 7 to 10 inches. You’re going to use a bread knife to (as the name implies) cut through bread or cut the peel from hard rind fruits.
Once again, I’m going to go ahead and recommend a top brand, which I personally own, and that’s the Victorinox 10 inch Wavy Bread Knife. I love this brand by the way, because you get performance time after time and one of the best quality guarantees on the market.
The Boning Knife
This isn’t an essential knife to have, but it’s great to have on hand if you’re going to tackle tasks like boning roasts, whole hams, lamb legs and also filleting fish. Boning knives have semi-flexible or semi-stiff blades which allow you to bend and keep the edge of the knife close to the bone.
Personally, I don’t own a boning knife, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of straight cuts that need to be precise, I’d recommend you invest in one. There are so many types of cooking knives that one can choose from.
The Butcher Knife
Butcher knives and they’re family members like the cleaver and the flank and shoulder knife, also have a place in the kitchen, although I don’t personally own one. They’re great for carving up large chunks of meat. I’ not going to get into too much detail here because at this stage I’m not an expert in the field of butchering meat, but as my skills develop I’ll keep you in the loop and let you know what worked and what didn’t.
The Gyuto Knife
All you Asian foodies will love this knife. It’s a little similar to the Chef’s knife, but it’s much lighter and thinner than its Western brother. With these features and a flatter edge than the chef’s knife, Gyuto knives are perfect for push-cutting and they’re also easier to handle.
A great Gyuto knife I’d happily recommend is the DALSTRONG Shogun Series Gyuto
The Nakiri Knife
If you’re a fan of julienne veggies, the Nakiri knife might just be what you need. I love to use it because it lets me effortlessly cut vegetables paper-thin in a matter of seconds. Its super sharp taper edges do work better with seedless vegetables, but I’d reckon any vegetable would meet its match with the Nakiri.
The Oyster Knife
Well…the name is kind of a dead giveaway. Oyster knives are used for shucking oysters. You can open them up and remove the oyster from the shell with a good oyster knife. They come in all shapes and sizes including curved tips, straight blades, long blades and wide blades that are used to open various sizes of oysters.
The Sashimi Knife
I have to give it to the knife manufacturers out there; sometimes they just have the simplest names for knives that allow us normal folk to totally get what the knife is all about. The Sashimi Knife is best used for slicing large pieces of fish, although you probably could use it for everyday slicing too.
The Slicing Knife
Remember when I told you about Granton Edge knives? This is it! The slicing knife is used for slicing cooked meats, sushi and sashimi. These knives have long, straight blades and Graton Edges with round, blunt tips.
The Utility Knife
Utility knives, again, are used for pretty much what their name states. With scalloped edges (most often), these knives are somewhat of a cross between the paring and the slicing knife. They’re super sharp and make slicing softer fruits like tomatoes a breeze. You can also use them for cutting melon, heads of lettuce, slicing cabbage and halving citrus fruits.
I personally use the Wusthof Classic 4-1/2 inch Utility Knife and would happily recommend it – if you can afford to invest in this extra item – but your kitchen wouldn’t turn to ruins without it.
Sheesh! That’s a whole lot of info to process, but at least now you’ll be able to tell the difference between a Chef’s knife and a meat clever.
Like I’ve mentioned to you before, as long as you have a good quality Chef’s knife and a paring knife to start off with, you’re good to go. You can build up your collection with time, and remember, it’s always better to invest in good quality knives that might cost a little more initially, than having to go out and buy new knives every few months.
Now you have the basics down, next we’ll take a more in-depth look at each of the different types of cooking knives and I’ll tell you what I’ve tried, tested and found to either work or waste my time.