Knives have many uses in many sectors of human life, but there are few places where someone can hone their knife skills as well as they can in the kitchen. Whatever your level of experience is as a chef, learning how to properly utilize the many different types of kitchen knives will benefit both you and those you are cooking for.
Before getting into the different styles of kitchen knives, it is good to learn about the different materials and kinds of edges a blade can come with. While your level of experience can help make any knife useful to you in the kitchen, knowing about the different benefits and uses of various blades is helpful.
Probably the most common option you will come across for any kind of knife is stainless steel. Stainless blades are durable and rust-resistant, and true to their name, do not stain. While these knives can last a long time, they are very common, so the quality varies among different brands. Be sure to do your research before purchasing.
Another increasingly material for kitchen blades is carbon steel. These are extremely strong and sharp blades, though they do tend to stain harshly when exposed to acidic foods. There are few blades that can compete with the sharpness of carbon steel, if the aesthetic is not a concern.
Ceramic blades are very lightweight, but fragile. If you manage to keep it in good condition, it can be both effective and visually appealing.
Not only is this material incredibly tough and sharp, Damascus steel is one of the most visually engrossing materials a blade can be forged from. While on the pricier end due to the level of artistry required to create a Damascus steel blade, if well maintained, they can last centuries.
The standard kind of edge you will see on most kitchen knives is a straight edge. It is ideal for chopping, slicing, dicing, mincing, and more.
The second most common edge type is serrated. This is the wavy-looking edge you will see on bread and steak knives.
Scalloped or Granton edge knives have rows of vertical divots going down both sides of the blade that help avoid sticking when chopping fish and vegetables.
Last but not least is the hollow ground edge, another common choice for chef’s knives. They also have a straight edge, but the edge tapers further toward the center of the blade.
Whether you hardly know your way around an onion or you are a Michelin star chef, you should have some of the bare kitchen necessities before you get down to the more specific tools. These are some of the basics that every cook should have.
If you could only keep once kitchen knife with you, it would probably be this one. The chef’s knife or cook’s knife has a straight-edged blade that is long and goes from a wide heel down to a fine point. The curved shape and weight of the blade makes it very useful for chopping quickly and with a great deal of control.
The perfect sidekick to the chef knife’s hero is the paring knife. The small blade looks similar in proportion to the chef’s knife, though a bit slimmer. While it is very small in comparison to most other kitchen knives, it is a great tool for chopping, mincing, and peeling vegetables. If you do not have more specialized blades, it can also be useful in deboning and working with meat in a pinch.
This knife has a long, slim, and straight blade, with a serrated edge that makes it very efficient for cutting through bread and other delicate foods without pressing too hard and crushing them.
A happy medium between a cook’s knife and a paring knife is the utility knife. The utility knife also has a blade similar to the chef’s knife, wide at the heel and curved to a sharp point, though like the paring knife, it is also slimmer. It is useful for chopping and mincing vegetables, though can make working with smaller veggies a little easier than a larger blade.
While not technically kitchen knives, there are few things more important to the continued quality and maintenance of your knives than a sharpener or honing steel. While both can be useful for helping your knives cut more smoothly, they have some key differences.
The way a honing steel works is by pressing the edge of your blades to the angle you desire. You slide the blade back and forth on the honing steel at equal angles for both sides of the edge, and continue until you are satisfied with the edge.
Most sharpeners, on the other hand, actually cut metal from the edge of your blades, shaving them to a razor’s edge. While this can still help your knives to be incredibly sharp and effective, they do cause your knives to wear down much faster.
As simple as they may be, it would be difficult to go far without table knives. While still helpful for cutting through food as you eat, they are often far less sharp and prone to accidents.
The most common of these is the dinner knife, which is often stainless steel with a relatively blunt serrated edge. While a dinner knife often does the trick for just about anything you could be eating at the table, some foods that are either tougher or more delicate can benefit from more specialized instruments.
More paddle-shaped than anything else, the butter knife has a blunt and thick blade. This makes it easier for the blade to glide through butter, as well as spread it without scraping up as many crumbs as other table knives might.
The steak knife is similar in shape to a bread knife, though smaller and with a pointed end. The serrated blade makes it easier to cut through tougher meats, most notably, steaks.
While the essentials outlined above can make do for just about any vegetables you have to slice, there are a few knives that are specifically made to help ease the process of cutting some common veggies.
A peeling knife is similar in size to the paring knife, though slimmer and with a concave blade. Both the blade and handle are firm and rigid to avoid any accidents, making for excellent control.
While any of the essential blades can cut through a tomato, it is far too common for the strength of the blade to crush the delicate red fruit. A tomato knife, on the other hand, is lightweight with a sharp serrated edge, allowing you to carefully slice through it without crushing the juicy center.
A Japanese vegetable knife, Nakiri blades are rectangular and wide, as well as incredibly sharp. It is great for chopping leafy vegetables as well as for making thin, controlled slices.
As with vegetables, the preparation of meat and fish can also benefit from the use of specialized blades.
Probably the first knife that comes to mind when you think of meat is the cleaver or butcher’s knife, so named after the profession that most often used them. Butcher’s knives have wide rectangular blades, similar to a Nakiri knife blade, but much wider, with a hole at the end of the blade to hang it up.
The bulky and heavy blade is perfect for working with raw meat and poultry, and even for crushing if needed. The back of the blade can also be used for tenderizing meats. With enough force behind it, a butcher knife can easily chop through different cuts of meat, and even thicker bones.
The carving knife is a long, slim, and lightweight blade you have likely seen for holiday dinners. It will usually have a point, though some are made with two prongs at the end to easily pick up and serve slices of carved meat. While often used for turkeys, hams, and the like, carving knives are also very useful for slicing fruits, veggies, and desserts.
Useful for many kinds of fish beyond its namesake, the salmon knife has a very long, thin, double-edged blade that is flexible enough that you could flick it with your finger. Because of how thin and non-rigid the blade is, it can slip under the skin of a fish to remove the flesh without damaging the flakey meat underneath it.
While you can make do with other knives to debone, a boning knife’s incredibly sharp edge and fine point allow for very delicate and meticulous knife work. The strong, hard blade is able to cut through cartilage and can help clean all of the meat off of a bone without damaging the tissue.
Similar in shape to the boning knife, though with a more flexible blade, is the filleting knife. It is perfect for cleaning and filleting fish, helping to cut around the spine and other bones to ensure the delicate fish meat is deboned and undamaged before serving.
The Santoku’s blade looks like something between the chef’s knife and cleaver, it is relatively long and wide, but unlike the cleaver, it does curve up to a drop point at the end. They are excellent for chopping, mincing, and dicing, but are also commonly used for fish, specifically for sushi.
Having access to a wide variety of high-quality kitchen knives is a goal of every chef, though you can greatly improve your knife skills with even just the bare essentials. William Henry has a gorgeous selection of kitchen knives made from artisanally crafted materials such as Damascus steel blades set in ironwood and ebony handles. Send back any William Henry knife for sharpening and we will return it in 2-3 weeks for $10 (the cost of return shipping), just fill out this form here.