There are probably more than a dozen different kitchen knives, some versatile, others dedicated for extremely specific uses. From slicing and dicing to carving and paring, every kitchen needs a professional set of knives.
With so many different types of knives, it can sometimes be difficult to decide which is the best kitchen knife. A quality knife that's matched to the task at hand can increase productivity in your kitchen and provide better results.
Whether you’re ready to add to your own collection of knives, or simply looking for a place to start, this guide will help you make the right choice. To break it down, we look into the different types of knives, as well as which ones to use based on your experience in the kitchen.
WHAT KITCHEN KNIVES DO I NEED?
Chefs must work with the best available tools and the right blade will allow you superior precision and skill. Different knives serve different purposes. If you only cook occasionally, you may only need a paring knife and a chef’s knife. But if you like to cook every day and experiment with different meals, a larger range of professional knives will suit you better. Essentially, the types of kitchen knives you need depend on your level and field of cooking, as well as the skill and techniques you need from a blade.
UNDERSTANDING KNIVES BY TYPE
The following descriptions should serve as a basic guide for some of the most common types of knives.
Also called a cook’s knife, this is the most important item in a knife set. The chef’s knife is one of the most versatile knives to have in your kitchen. With its broad and sharp blade, it is a multi-purpose knife used for a variety of kitchen tasks.
A chef’s knife has a blade between 6 and 14 inches long and 1½ inches wide. Originally, this type of knife was intended to slice large cuts of beef, but it's much more versatile than that. From cutting meat to chopping vegetables, this multi-purpose tool is a must-have
Not ideal for:
Cleaving meat bones
Carving dense meat
Disjointing some cuts
Smaller precision tasks, such as peeling and mincing.
The Santoku knifeis a Japanese version of the Western-style chef’s knife. Santoku means “three virtues”, which are slicing, dicing, and mincing.
Santokus are sometimes made with a hollow edge, which allows them to cut through meat and other sticky materials faster, with more precision, and minimal tearing.
The Santoku knife is an all-rounder and can do almost everything a typical chef’s knife can. In fact, it’s used in place of the chef’s knife by some cooks, especially those with tender hands and prefer a smaller, lighter blade.
Usually between 4 and 7 inches in length, the utility knife is most of the time treated as a mini chef’s knife. It can come straight or serrated and is good for cutting vegetables and meat that are too small for a chef’s knife. They are sometimes referred to as “sandwich knives”.
Not ideal for:
Cleaving meat bones
Slicing loaves of bread
Precision tasks such as peeling and mincing.
If you love making garnishes for your foods and drinks, the paring knife is a must-have.
A pairing knife usually comes with a thin 3 – 4 inches blade and a very pointy tip. It can be used for cutting and peeling fruits, veggies, and trimming excess fat with precision and ease.
The most common styles of paring knives include:
Spear point paring knives are great for removing corn from the cob, breaking up heads of lettuce, peeling fruits and vegetables, cutting beans, and other similar tasks.
Bird's beak or curved paring knives, also referred to as tourne knives, feature a downward arching blade that makes peeling round fruit and garnishing a breeze.
Sheep's foot paring knives feature a rounded tip with a straight edge. These knives are perfect for chopping and julienning fruits and vegetables on a cutting board.
Bread knivesare used for cutting bread, cakes, and sometimes meat, poultry, and seafood. They are designed in a way that allows you to saw through the bread without pushing down or squishing it.
Made to cut large chunks of bread, most of these knives are 7 to 10 inches long. The blades are usually narrow and always serrated, with big “teeth” along with it.
The boning knife, as you probably have figured, is used for separating meat from the bone, making filet fish, and cutting up meat. It is also a well-loved item by a vegetarian – a small one can be used place of a paring knife for peeling and trimming veggies.
Boning knives are typically about 3 to 8 inches in length, with slightly varying widths of blades. The blades can be flexible, semi-flexible, or stiff, with stiff blades being the most popular among home cooks due to the enhanced precision in the cut. A really bendy version called a filet knife is great for delicate fish.
Measuring between 8 and 15 inches long, the carving knife looks like a thinner, stretched-out chef’s knife. Its length and very sharp edge allow precise, thin slicing of meat — especially denser, larger items like a roast.
Not ideal for:
Small or delicate slicing of vegetables or boneless meat.
Simple or quick cutting for pastries or other smaller dishes.
The meat slicing knife features a long, straight blade that's designed for slicing cooked meats, sushi, and sashimi, as well as, breaking down large fish. Slicers are generally longer than a carving knife and often feature a Granton Edge and around blunt tip. Ham slicers feature a narrower, more flexible blade that makes cutting cold meat more efficient. A slicer should be long enough to permit smooth slicing action.
A cleaver features a long, wide blade that is used to chop and cut through thick meat and bone. The cleaver is usually the bulkiest and weighted knife in the kitchen.
A typical cleaver has a thick spine and a very strong blade, which allows it to cut through bones and meat in a chopping motion. It’s also very useful for choppings hard and thick materials such as squash or pumpkin.
The wide, heavy blade makes it ideal for pulverizing cooked or uncooked meat, poultry and fish, and crushing garlic. Cleavers are also ideal for opening lobsters.
The Nakiri is a Japanese style knife used mostly for cutting vegetables. It features a thin and wide blade and squared off tips. Its razor-sharp taper edges are best for seedless vegetables. As it is designed for chopping veggies, the knife has a straight blade that can cut through long items (think eggplants, carrots) as well as make super thin slices out of cucumber, bitter gourd, tomatoes, and the likes.
Sometimes used as table knives, steak knives are small knives that are used for not only cutting meat and fish, but also cutting salads, other (mainly cooked) foods, and spreading butter.
Steak knives can come with serrated or non-serrated edges. Serrated steak knives are generally more popular, as they can stay sharp for a longer time without honing or sharpening.
Basically a pair of scissors. Except that since they’re for various uses in the kitchen, from snipping herbs, cutting veggies to sectioning chicken and even outdoor work, the shears usually come with extremely strong and sharp blades.
Some shears that are designed specifically for fast cutting of green onion or other herbs may have more than one blade. However, the blades on those shears are usually thinner, weaker, and take more effort to sharpen than ordinary shears.
Butcher knives usually have heavy, wide, and slightly curved blades that are useful for cutting, sectioning, and trimming large pieces of meat.
Breaking knives are similar to butcher knives and are primarily used to break down large pieces of meat into smaller cuts. Their blades are usually around 10” and are curved to create leverage to break through tough skin, cartilage, and small bones. They are also excellent knives for trimming fat off of meat.
A cimeter (or scimitar) knife is a cousin of the classic butcher knife. Its upward curving blade makes it well suited for cutting and trimming steaks.
Often used as a light to medium duty cleaver, the Deba knife is ideal for cutting fish, meat, and hard vegetables, as well as for chopping.
Flank and Shoulder Knives
Flank and shoulder knives are types of boning knives that are excellent for creating flank steaks. Their straight, stiff blades are perfect for generating precise cuts while boning, trimming, and jointing.
Comparable to a utility knife, the petty knife's thin, light construction allows for ultimate precision while dicing, slicing, or cutting small items, particularly softer fruits and vegetables.
Equivalent to a western slicer, the Sashimi knife is perfect for everyday slicing and for cutting large pieces of fish.
With a short, straight blade that's 2 to 4 inches long, a fluting knife looks like a shorter, slightly sharper-angled version of a paring knife. This one's used for delicate peeling or creating decorations.
The usuba is a traditional Japanese style knife designed specifically to cut vegetables. The literal translation of usuba is `thin blade.’ Without this incredibly sharp and thin blade, the knife would break down the cell walls of vegetables, causing ingredients to discolor and decrease in flavor.
A mincing knife looks like a miniature version of the blade in Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Pit and the Pendulum." But in the culinary world, it's just meant to finely cut vegetables and herbs by moving the blade 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. Use it to remove skins and blemishes from fruits or vegetables or to make a specific cut called tourné, especially popular with root vegetables.
The trimming knife looks like a miniature boning knife and is usually under 3 inches long. It can handle a variety of small tasks like removing meat from bone in small areas. If you want to get all retro and make radish roses, a trimming knife will let you do it.
Cheese knives are designed for — you guessed it — slicing cheeses. Knives designed for soft cheeses will have perforated holes, which keep the cheese from sticking to the metal; sharper knives are used for harder cheeses.
Designed to make elaborate cuts, decorating knives have a simple pattern in the blade. One of the most common decorating knives is adorned with a zigzag shape, which is about as much fun as it sounds.
The grapefruit knife has a long, flat, dull blade that looks kind of like an artist palette knife with a serrated edge. This is used in the kitchen for separating the fruit of a grapefruit from the peel and pith. Some fancy versions have a double blade — one on either side of the handle — with one for the peel and the other for the inner membrane.
The tomato knives are small serratedkitchen knives designed to slice through tomatoes. The serrated edge allows the knife to penetrate the tomatoes’ skin quickly and with a minimum of pressure without crushing the flesh. Many tomato knives have forked tips that allow the user to lift and move the tomato slices after they have been cut.
Oyster Knives are used to shuck the oysters. These knives can be used for opening the oyster as well as removing the oyster from the shell.
There are several common styles of oyster knives:
A. New Haven: The New Haven oyster knife features a comfortable, pear-shaped handle and a short wide blade with a curved tip. It is ideal for use on small to medium sized oysters for half-shell consumption. The unique, curved tip offers two major advantages:
It provides excellent leverage for opening the oyster
The curved tip tends to travel high inside the oyster, above and away from the tender meat of the oyster, which avoids damaging the oyster meat. This allows you to easily spoon the oyster out of its shell to remove as much meat as possible.
B. Providence: Features a shorter, wide, straight blade. This serves the same function as the New Haven style but does not have a curved tip. Thanks to its blade’s edge, the style is great for shucking any sized oyster from its shell, though is ideal for removing medium oysters. Plus, the contoured handle features an easy-to-hold design, as the end is thicker than the front.
C. Boston: The Boston style oyster knife features a long, narrow blade and is extremely versatile and very effective at opening just about any type or size of oyster with a variety of shucking methods. Narrowing to a rounded, flat tip, the blade is moderately sharp but perfectly effective. It features a comfortable handle shaped like a pear with a narrow front and a wide, round backend. Topped-off with a small, front bulge, the handle promotes a secure, stable grip while also providing a convenient resting surface for the hand’s palm.
D. Galveston: With its long, wide blade that narrows to a point, the Galveston style oyster knife is excellent for commercial use. This style is often used in processing medium and large Eastern oysters for meat gain and features the Boston handle for optimal comfort and maneuverability.
E. Frenchman: The Frenchman features a short, wide blade that utilizes a sharp edge that is perfect for finding the crease between oyster shells.
PICKING THE RIGHT KITCHEN KNIFE FOR YOU
Choosing the right knives will depend on what level you’re at in the kitchen, as well as the types of meals you want to cook. To break it down, here’s what you need to know.
For Everyday Cooking
When it comes to everyday cooking, versatility is key. If you’re an everyday cook, you likely cook simple meals most days of the week, and occasionally bigger and more complex meals when you’re entertaining. Therefore, you’re not likely to need a full set of professional kitchen knives.
The best knives to have in your kitchen area:
The pastry chef, who specializes in pastries, bread, muffins, cakes and more sophisticated baked goods such as mille-feuille and plated desserts will need a small yet versatile array of knives to approach a range of ingredients used in baking, as well as for slicing and cutting the finished products. These include a:
The aspiring chefs are those aiming to grow their skills, normally in the confines of their own home, but none would deny that they are normally quite proficient in the kitchen. They enjoy cooking on a regular basis, entertaining for friends and family, and experimenting with new dishes. The aspiring chef may not yet have all of the skills and experience of the professional, but they are still often knowledgeable and passionate chefs and will need a durable set of kitchen knives, including a:
The apprentice chefs are someones who get paid to learn the skills needed to become a professional. This means they will need a broad range of knives to cater to a wider spectrum of cooking techniques, styles, and dishes. In the kitchen, an apprentice chef needs at least a:
Paring knife (different varieties)
A professional chef has completed an apprenticeship and works in a restaurant, café or other food establishments. They have high-level skills and knowledge of different cooking styles, cuisines, techniques, and dishes. Therefore, any professional chef will need a wide range of kitchen knives in varying lengths, including a:
Paring knife (different varieties)
While some kitchen knives serve single purposes, others are used for a variety of reasons. With all the different styles, sizes, lengths, and brands, it can certainly get a little overwhelming. But with the right blade, you can control and conquer any high-performance cooking tasks.
By reading this guide, whether you are already a professional or aspiring to greater heights, you can always hope to grow your knowledge of the purpose and best use of different blades, helping you master the culinary world, and make the best choices possible for your next triumph.
Which kind of knives do you have? How is your experience with the knives? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.
Chef Maryam Ghargharechi
Proud mom, wife, and red seal chef with a passion!
Member of WACS, CCFCC, and BC Chefs' Association.
Juicy tomatoes and creamy burrata cheese join green olives, aromatic lemon zest, and dry oregano, all garnished with quality olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, and a finishing sprinkle of fresh-cracked pepper and flaky sea salt.