Different Types of Kitchen Knives and What They’re Used for
The humble knife is a staple of the household kitchen. Of course, if you’re looking to get a little more serious with your cooking, you’ll notice that there is no such thing as a standard knife. With every piece of cutlery being designed to handle a different task, having the right knife in your kitchen can make a huge meal a piece of cake.
That said, it’s only natural that you might need a helping hand in choosing which knives to keep in your kitchen, especially if you’re just starting out on your culinary journey. After all, choosing from the hundreds of brands is difficult enough without considering their different uses and which ones are actually essential to the average home. Luckily, you have us- and we’ve been kind enough to gather all the information you could ever need on the different types of knives, what they’re used for and the types of knives you need in the kitchen.
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Knife Edges Types
Before we really get into the good stuff, it would probably be best if everyone had an understanding of the essentials- namely, the blades. No matter what type of knife you like the look of, it’ll inevitably have one of four different knife edge types:
- Straight Edge
The straight edge knife blade does exactly what it says on the tin, as the blade itself is formed through a gentle tapering off into a sharp, straight edge. Also referred to as a flat ground, many master craftsmen pride themselves on their ability to create a blade with the cleanest cut. The more expensive variants tend to be made of folded metal and sanded down to an extremely fine point.
- Serrated Edge
The serrated edged knives often look as though they have a wavy form along the knife blade, giving them the second name of scalloped edged knives. These serrations have the ability to grip and slice in equal measure, making them ideal for cutting bread, or items with a tough outer layer- while maintaining the soft inner core from tears. The extra grip is also helpful with gaining clean cuts, such as you would find with steak knives.
- Granton Edge
Granton edge knives get a little more technical, in that they feature short, hollowed-out points at regular intervals along the blade. These hollow areas allow for air flow between strokes, making it easier to cut through tougher meats such as ham, or poultry.
- Hollow Ground Edge
These are designed with a slightly concave look, leading to a very fine edge (created by grinding down from the mid-point of the blade). While they can dull easily and shouldn’t be used for heavier or tougher cutting purposes, they are ideal for fine work. Examples of this fine slicing can include sushi preparation or peeling and slicing fruit.
Most Popular Kitchen Knives
Here, you’ll find the wider variety of knives that are up the challenge of meeting the heavier, household needs you might find in a standard kitchen. These are wide-ranging and adaptable utensils that will inevitably be pulled out your drawer and used on any given day. For the more specialist knives, check out our honorable mentions.
The big one. Also known as a cook’s knife, this is a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none style knife that can be utilized in a variety of ways. Whether you prefer to work with meat or veg, this is the knife that can easily flip from one to the other with ease (and a quick clean, of course).
You’ll find these in a range of sizes, but the key here is to find the right chef’s knife that feels well-balanced and comfortable in your hand. This is important, since it’s likely you’ll be using it a lot. This one will also be lasting you a long time, so feel free to splurge a bit for the one that feels right for you.
A variant on the chef knife, with a similar versatility. Again, this is designed for slicing, dicing and mincing, which works perfectly as the name here means “Three Virtues”. Hailing from the East, this option has quite a few differences to the cook’s knife, however.
First and foremost, you’ll notice that the knife’s end is blunt, as opposed to pointed, and has a Granton edge. This is makes it much easier to use on tougher produce and meats, as well as excelling with stickier items. Finally, if you were to pick one up, you’d notice that this knife is much lighter than the chef’s knife, making it a better fit for those with smaller hands- or those who simply want a lighter all-rounder.
Utility knives are somewhat of a crossbreed between a slicing knife and a paring knife. They can come with serrated or straight edges and can be considered a smaller version of the chef’s knife. Ideal for cutting out melon rings or preparing tougher salad vegetables.
They tend to be available in lengths of around 4 inches, up to around 7, with a width of around an inch- although you might find variations on this. They are incredibly sharp and tend to have a pointed tip, which makes them great for a number of different uses, hence the comparison to the cook’s knife, although their small size makes them lighter and more agile for slimmer fruit and veg.
A name that is well-suited, since the bread knife was designed for, well, bread. These usually come with relatively long blades- around 7-10 inches- and have a serrated edge. These are perfect for both gripping and cutting through crusty breads with ease, without the need for squishing the bread with your own, or your knife’s weight, behind the strength.
There are some variants on the standard bread knife. Namely, there are some that come with an offset handle, designed for comfort- and to stop the user from bashing their knuckles against the breadboard. Meanwhile, you’ll also come across as choice of the blade being slightly curved, or completely straight, which is entirely a matter of preference.
OK, so this one is a bit of a cheat- hear me out, though. This is a great addition to homes that have large families, or for those who like to host. While this won’t necessarily impress anyone with your cutting capabilities and can leave your meat a bit of a mess, if you don’t have time to slice your roasts every Sunday, invest in one of these. If nothing else, your prep time will cut down, immensely.
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This will usually come with a plaster handle, will be mains operated and have a lengthy pair of blades, which work together to make short work of any offending meat.
Another knife that was named for the action it performs- the carving knife works as a means to carve meat. This is great for larger gatherings, as they can easily slice their way through roasts and hunks of food.
While they have the same length and shape as a chef’s knife, they are much slimmer. They are designed create fine slices, as you might find at a carvery- and they are therefore much more precise. They also have a pointed tip, making it easier to cut along a board.
Usually available in a set, along with various shapes and sizes, the most common cheese knife you’re likely to find in the typical household kitchen is the soft cheese knife. Since soft cheese is more common when treating yourself, you’ll probably find it easier to purchase one of these over a hard cheese knife, which looks like a small hatchet.
The soft cheese knife looks a little like a scimitar, except for its twin-peaked tip, designed to grip blocks of cheese, once cut, to serve. You might also find your cheese knife with small holes along the edge. These make it easier to smoothly cut out section in your cheese, similar to a Granton Edged knife.
Paring knives are the second-most popular knife to find around any kitchen. They work as a shorter, lighter variety of the chef’s knife, and are equally as versatile. These, however, come in three variants:
- Spear point- Ideal for piercing, stoning or breaking up tough fruit and veg. This sharp tip easily breaks through thick skins while maintaining the integrity of more delicate jobs, such as shelling prawns. This is the most common type of paring knife.
- Bird’s beak- A curved knife edge that is designed for peeling.
- Sheep’s foot- A rounded tip with a straight edge, not dissimilar to the Santoku knife. Consider this the miniature version of the aforementioned utensil, as it’s ideal for chopping small fruit and julienning vegetables.
Aside from being a fantastic prop in horror films, the meat cleaver is a great way to make quick, clean chops through thick meat, which may have not been deboned yet. They’re also commonly used for opening up lobsters, as the weighty knife can make short work of tough exoskeletons.
They are around 6-12 inches and come with a thick, straight edge. The added weight behind the cleaver helps make chopping more effective, whether it be fish, meat or larger, tougher fruits.
An absolute necessity for meat-lovers, the steak knife ensures that a deliciously tender steak doesn’t end up in ribbons across your plate. The serrated edge both grips the meat securely while allowing the user to execute a sawing motion. Meanwhile the sharp blades make for a speedy slice, even with bleu steaks.
They will be the same length as your average cutlery, with a blade of around 4-5 inches. Their handles are usually thicker than most other table knives, making them easier to get a good grip when you want to delve into your meat.
Another cheat- but kitchen shears are the underrated gem of the kitchen. A good pair of shears will likely save you from desperately hacking at tough meats, since the leverage supplied gives a clean cut without much effort.
They are essentially very large scissors, with thick, powerful blades. A good pair can last a lifetime and can do so much more than open up plastic packaging. For example, if you’re looking to get yourself some more veggies into your meals but aren’t sure if you can master the mincing, grab your shears- they’ll make short work of a surprisingly delicate job.
While you might not find yourself desperately needing one of these in the average household kitchen, these are still some amazing knives that are worthy of an honorable mention. Better still, if you’re looking to finish your kitchen with a complete set of high-end knives, these would be a welcome addition.
- Usuba knife
As well as having a great name, the Usuba knife is designed for the finest slicing available. Great for impressing party guests with your wafer-thin slicing abilities. Be advised that these are sharpened from one side only, so may need some knife skills as you refine your knife.
- Oyster knife
Used to shuck and remove oysters, there are a few variants, but they come with the same basic premise- stick it in and twist. They give great leverage for a tough shellfish, so if you’re looking at getting some oysters in for Valentine’s day, do yourself a favour and grab one of these, while you’re at it.
- Boning knife
If you’re a big fan of fishing- and would like to progress to cooking and eating your fish- a good boning knife is essential. These can make the difference between a pleasant, fresh fish tasting experience- and an unwanted fishbone surprise.
- Filleting knife
As above, a filleting knife is an incredibly fine, short and sharp knife with a straight edge, designed to help remove the skin of your fish, before eating. They are fairly long, with typical ranges of 6-11inches, and are very slim, with a width of roughly half an inch.
What Makes A Good Knife?
It’s all well and good us telling you what you should buy, when you might not know how to tell the duds from the dazzlers. So, the most common tips for finding the best knife for your kitchen are as follows:
As mentioned previously, always check how the knife actually feels in your hands. Even the most expensive knife can turn into a waste of money if it makes you feel uncomfortable during use. You’ll want to find a knife that feels well-balanced, fits comfortable in your palm and has the correct weight for your personal use.
Check the materials. Stainless steel will be one of the cheapest available on the market- but will need sharpening regularly. Carbon steel is tougher, which means less sharpening but is more expensive. Of course, there’s always a favorite, and top of the list is Damascus steel. It sounds fancy because it is- the knife is created using folds of soft and hard stainless steel. They are super-tough and razor sharp.
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How easy are your knives to maintain? We’ve spoken about how different types come with a different lifespan, but there are also different measurements between these types that can give you an idea of the typical longevity of a knife before it dulls (based on averages, of course). The quality of the steel makes all the difference- the best way to check these is to go online, do you research and decide based on the brand and design.
What About Ceramic Knives?
Ever-increasing in popularity, the ceramic knife is becoming more readily available to the average user, so it’s understandable that you might be curious regarding their abilities. It’s true that they are incredibly thin and extremely lightweight, which is perfect for long days and constant preparation. This makes them a welcome alternative to the traditional steel-based knife sets. They are also surprisingly tough and rarely need sharpening.
However, while ceramic knives are a fantastic option and are available in any of the formats you’ve seen above, they do have their drawbacks. For starters, rather than dull, they may have a tendency to chip, or shatter completely, should they be dropped- something that is fairly common in the kitchen. They also lack some of the weight required for the bigger jobs. As such, they should be treated as a complimentary piece of equipment, as opposed to a replacement.
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- Advantages & Disadvantages of High Carbon Steel Kitchen Knives – Hunker
- Top 10 Knife Skills – HowStuffWorks