How many different types of knives do you own? Chances are, you’ve got quite a few knives in your kitchen drawer or in a block on the counter. But do you know the difference between a chef’s knife and a paring knife, plus the proper way to use each one?
Here’s a guide to some of the most common types of knives for cooking.
Illustrations via CakeSpy
The big four:
According to chef Brendan McDermott, instructor of the FREE online mini-class Complete Knife Skills, there are four key knives that should be in every cook’s kitchen. With these types of knives on hand, you can perform just about any cooking technique.
A chef’s knife has a blade between 6 and 14 inches long and 1 ½ inches in width. They have a curve that becomes more pronounced near the tip. Originally, this type of knife was intended to slice large cuts of beef. However, its many functions, from cutting meat to dicing vegetables, make it an extremely useful multi-purpose knife in many kitchens.
Serrated utility knife
This type of knife has a blade between 4 and 7 inches in length. It may look like a bread knife, but it’s shorter and sharper. It cuts cleanly through delicate fruits and vegetables without tearing them and works well for small slicing jobs such as bagels or cutting sandwich fixings. This knife can also be referred to as a “tomato knife” or “sandwich knife”.
The paring knife has a short blade, typically between 2 ½ and 4 inches long, and an edge that looks like a smaller, plainer version of a chef’s knife. Its simple, straightforward and sharp blade is ideal for intricate work such as peeling fruit or vegetables, deveining shrimp, or creating delicate garnishes.
Composed of a thin, somewhat flexible, and curved blade measuring 5 to 7 inches long, the boning knife is designed to get into small spaces to detach the meat from the bone. More firm blades will be more effective for cuts of beef, whereas a more flexible blade will be better suited for cuts of chicken. An extremely flexible version called a filet knife is preferred for delicate fish.
Sometimes, you need to cut something large. These are just the knives to do it.
A bread knife looks like a longer, more exaggerated version of a serrated utility knife. Its serrated grooves are specifically designed to cleanly slice through bread without crushing it. Bread knives can have a classic knife handle or may have an offset handle which keeps the chef’s knuckles from knocking the bread while slicing.
Measuring between 8 and 15 inches long, the carving knife resembles a thinner, stretched-out chef’s knife. Its length and very sharp edge allow precise, thin slicing of meat, especially denser, larger items such as a roast.
The knife most likely to be seen in a horror movie is the cleaver, a large, usually rectangular knife. It has a very heavy, thick blade which narrows to a sharp edge. It is primarily used for splitting or “cleaving” meat and bone. While a cleaver is necessary for restaurants which prepare their own meat, it is largely not considered an essential home kitchen tool.
A variety of small knives can be employed for finishing work and details.
With a short, straight blade measuring 2 to 4 inches long, a fluting knife looks like a shorter, slightly sharper-angled version of a paring knife, and is used for delicate peeling or creating decorations.
A mincing knife looks like a miniature version of the blade in Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Pit and the Pendulum”. But its culinary intention bears no evil: it’s meant to finely mince vegetables and herbs by moving it in a rocking motion.
Related to the paring knife is a curved blade known as a “tourné” knife, this short blade curves downward, but is not as exaggerated as a hook. It can be used to remove skins and blemishes from fruits or vegetables and is used to make a specific cut called “tourné”, especially with root vegetables.
Resembling a miniature boning knife, the trimming knife is generally under 3 inches long and is used for a variety of small tasks such as removing meat from the bone in delicate or small areas, or can be used to create garnishes such as radish roses.
There are also a number of specialty knives available that are suited to specific tasks. While the numbers are many, here are some examples of specialty knives.
Cheese knives are designed for, well, slicing a variety of types of cheeses; it’s nice to have a set around for a wine and cheese party. Knives designed for soft cheeses will have perforated holes, which keep the cheese from sticking to the knife; sharper knives will be used for harder cheeses.
Designed to make decorative cuts, decorating knives have a simple pattern in the blade. One of the most common decorating knives is adorned with a zigzag blade, which yields prettily cut food which can be used decoratively or for garnish.
A long, flat, dull blade which somewhat resembles an artist palette knife but with a serrated edge, is used in the kitchen for separating the fruit from a grapefruit from the peel and pith. Some fancy versions have a double blade, one on either side of the handle, one used for the peel, and one for the inner membrane.
I have several types of knives from the chef’s knife which I use a lot down to what I have always known as paring knives. I use a whet stone to sharpen all of them and thus far the worst thing I have done is cut a fingernail! I am anxious to learn what I have been doing incorrectly.