BLADE 101: Types Of Kitchen Knives

There Are So Many Types Of Kitchen Knives It’s Hard To Know Which Are Necessary. We’ll Set You Straight.

Watch any cooking show or pursue the cutlery section of a kitchen store, it’s easy to wonder why chefs have so many knives. Are they all necessary? Are some there just so they can show off?

Far from it. Each has its place in the kitchen. But before groaning over the cost and space constraints of procuring each and every type of kitchen knife take solace, you don’t need them all.

That’s what this guide is for. We’ll walk you through some of the most important types of kitchen knives and a few of the oddballs. Afterward, you should stand ready to stock your galley with the tools that count.

Types Of Kitchen Knives: The Must-Haves

When it comes to the necessities, these four types of kitchen knives are the ones everyone should own. Whether you buy them individually, or as part of a knife set, these are the ones you absolutely need.

Chef’s Knife

Wusthof Classic 8-Inch Chef’s Knife. MSRP: $170

To use a sports analogy, your chef’s knife is your quarterback/point guard/ace pitcher. If you can only have one knife, this is the knife you need to buy. A good chef’s knife should be able to handle almost every task in the kitchen.

Since chef’s knives are usually 8-10 inches long, they are great for slicing meats and cutting produce. The wide, weighty blade is good for crushing aromatics like garlic and ginger. You can choke up on your grip to do more precise, fine knifework although that puts your hand closer to the cutting edge–not ideal. Some use a pinch grip, “pinching” the blade between the tips of the thumb and index finger near the spine just forward of the handle, for precise cuts.

Made from either stainless or carbon steel, the stainless varieties will be easier to maintain at home. The chef’s knife is the ultimate all-rounder, thus why it is without question the most important knife in the kitchen.

Bread Knife

Dexter Russell SofGrip 8" Scalloped Bread Knife
Dexter Russell SofGrip 8″ Scalloped Bread Knife. MSRP: $29.10

The bread knife, aside from being excellent at cutting bread, is the go-to knife for cutting fragile food items like tomatoes. The serrated blade can get a better bite on thin-skinned produce with a fragile core. Of course, the crunchy exterior of a loaf of bread is no match for it either.

An extremely sharp chef’s can also do these softer tasks, but if it’s dulled it tends to be more destructive than beneficial while cutting. Most bread knives are quite long, but no matter the length, it’s your best option in the kitchen for safely cutting softer foods.

Paring Knife

Misen Paring Knife. MSRP: $35
Misen Paring Knife. MSRP: $35

Rounding out the main trio of types of knives is the paring knife. The nimble little slicer is much shorter than the chef’s knife and is designed for small cuts and precision. Looking to hull a strawberry or thinly slice garlic? Choose the paring knife. Want to devein shrimp or score a steak? Choose the paring knife.

Many paring knives have blades similar in size to pocketknives. This limits its utility. Much as you wouldn’t want to clear brush with a pocketknife, you wouldn’t want to butcher a whole slab of ribs with a paring knife.

A point to consider: a good handle is as important as a quality blade with paring knives. Control is the name of the game, and that comes from the handle.

Steak Knives

Henckels 8-Piece Serrated Steak Knife Set. MSRP: $49.99
Henckels 8-Piece Serrated Steak Knife Set. MSRP: $49.99

While not a kitchen knife in the sense it’s a famous cutter, having a good set of steak knives is incredibly important. Whether you realize it or not, how you slice meat affects its overall taste and enjoyability. A set of blunt-edged knives can reduce the savor of a ribeye to that of a cubesteak.

Steak knives come in both serrated and plain-edge varieties so you won’t necessarily be locked into one style of knife.

Most knife blocks come with steak knives as part of the package, yet there are many quality options available individually. Don’t skimp on these. Six to 10 quality steak knives, made of good high-carbon stainless steel, ensures all your hard work in the kitchen doesn’t go to waste at the table.

Types Of Kitchen Knives: Nice To Haves

Once you have the main four types of kitchen knives, you can start filling out your collection with some specialty pieces. These five are the next group of models to look at buying.

Santoku

MAC Professional Series 6.5-Inch Santoku With Dimples
MAC Professional Series 6.5-Inch Santoku With Dimples. MSRP: $175

The santoku is a Japanese knife designed to handle the tasks of chopping, slicing, and cutting. It’s smaller than a chef’s knife and sometimes features small dimples, or a Granton Edge, on the blade to help shed pieces of food and aid cutting.

The advantage of the knife is its flexibility, moving seamlessly between culinary tasks. Additionally, the generally shorter blade makes it easier to control than the traditional chef’s knife. Also, the santoku’s ample blade safely facilitates a pinch grip for those who use this particular technique.

When it comes to types of kitchen knives, this one resides right on the line of must and nice to have. If you like to learn more, we have a great breakdown of some of the best Santoku knives.

Boning Knife

Victorinox Fibrox Pro 6-inch Boning Knife
Victorinox Fibrox Pro 6-inch Boning Knife. MSRP: $22.40

As its name suggests, a boning knife is meant for one task: deboning meats. Whether it’s butchering a chicken thigh or getting bone out of a pork chop, the boning knife is up for the task. A good boning knife will be thin, sharp, and, most importantly, flexible so it can bend around bones and get into crevices to free the meat.

For most this knife isn’t an everyday necessity. However, if you happen to buy sides of beef or process wild game, you do well to have one at your beck and call.

Meat Cleaver

Zhen VG-10 67-Layer Damascus Large Cleaver, 8-Inch
Zhen VG-10 67-Layer Damascus Large Cleaver, 8-Inch. MSRP: $135

If the chef’s knife is the quarterback, the meat cleaver is the massive, brawny linebacker. The cleaver features a thick, heavy blade so it can chop right through the breastplate of a chicken or break down a whole cow.

Super fun and satisfying to use, the cleaver is great if you’re looking to butcher cuts of meat at home. Furthermore, if you deal with frozen foods–say a tube of breakfast sausage–it really lightens the work.

All that said, not everyone requires a meat cleaver. The exceptions again are folk who buy partially butchered meat or hunters with a freezer full of wild game. On the other hand, you might find if you add one to your collection it could turn out more versatile than expected.

By the way, we have an excellent piece about the best meat cleavers available today.

Carving Knife

Classic 8″ Hollow Edge Carving Knife. MSRP: $150

A classy kitchen tool, the carving knife can be a showpiece brought out to carve the Thanksgiving turkey or the Christmas ham right on the table. Other than that, it’s pretty one-dimensional.

Many times carving knives come in sets complete with a matching carving fork to keep what’s being carved in place. Don’t confuse the carving knife with its close cousin the slicing knife. The former has a point, the latter is blunted and longer. Its whole jam is to slice girthier cuts of meat uniformly.

Unless you serve a slew of prime rib, you want a carver. The tip makes it more useful at the table, particularly on fowl. Try getting a turkey thigh off with a slicer. Even if the knife’s sporadically used, spend the money on a quality blade made of steel that holds an edge. You want to carve during the holidays, not sharpen.

Bench Scraper

Ateco Dough Cutter. MSRP: $7.95

The bench scraper is a great multi-purpose tool, particularly if you bake. It can precisely cut through doughs and it can quickly help clean a messy, dusty workspace. Nothing corrals rogue flour as quickly as a bench scraper. But if you prefer buying your baked goods, you can take a pass.

Types Of Kitchen Knives: The Specialist

These types are knives are great at doing one particular task and not much more. Unless you really love doing these things in the kitchen, you probably won’t need these. But they are all distinctive blades in their own way.

Mezzaluna

Fantes Mezzaluna Rocking Chopper. MSRP: $20.61

You rock this back and forth to chop herbs and other soft, mostly leafy, greens. While it may sound like the name of an opera, this knife only sings one tune.

Tomato Knife

Winco Acero 5-Inch Tomato Knife. MSRP: $9.54

Do you really, really, really like tomatoes? Do you wring your hands over making sure you perfectly cube a tomato for a salad or make precise slices for a BLT? Then this is the knife for you. Otherwise, your bread knife should work just fine. By the way, since everyone is dying to know, the forked tip aids in peeling tomatoes without cutting the pulp.

Salmon Knife

Mercer Culinary 10.3-inch Salmon Slice. MSRP: $26.67
Mercer Culinary 10.3-inch Salmon Slice. MSRP: $26.67

If you’re looking to skin or slice salmon, or most other types of fish, or if you want to make sushi at home, look no further than the salmon knife. Long, thin and flexible, it’s great at cutting through the fragile flesh of fish.

Cimeter

Victorinox 14" Cimeter Knife with Rosewood Handle. MSRP: $138.99
Victorinox 14″ Cimeter Knife with Rosewood Handle. MSRP: $138.99

This massive meat-cutting knife is great if you want to feel like a marauding pirate or just want a big butcher’s knife specifically to cut large pieces of meat. A chef’s knife or carving knife would also work here.

Oyster Shucker

OXO Good Grips Oyster Knife. MSRP: $10.99
OXO Good Grips Oyster Knife. MSRP: $10.99

This rounded blade is necessary if you want to open and eat oysters and not your thumb. If you’re not a fan of raw shellfish, there isn’t a reason to have this knife.

Mandoline

OXO Good Grips V-Blade Mandoline Slice. MSRP: $45.95
OXO Good Grips V-Blade Mandoline Slice. MSRP: $45.95

The mandoline is great at two things: cutting produce into thin slices and removing a knuckle from your fingers. If you get one of these always remember to use the guard. Otherwise, take your time with a paring knife to cut your veggies thin.

Cheese Knife

Different types of cheese require different types of cheese knives. The folks at Epicurious have a great video showing the correct way to cut dozens of different cheeses. I’ll stick with slices or just futzing with a butter knife.

Confectioner’s Knife

Wusthof Gourmet 10-Inch Serrated Confectioner’s Knife. MSRP: $94.95

Do you like cake? Of course you do. Do you want a knife specifically for cutting cake? Maybe you do, and if so, this is the type of knife you would want to use.

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