a chef using knife to cut mushrooms

A Complete Guide to Kitchen Knives

A kitchen knife set contains different kinds of knives with some featuring blades that could leave a novice cook wondering when they ever get used. Knowing which knife to use for which purpose makes your cooking experience easier and lets you enjoy preparing the ingredients that require to be cut into convenient size before cooking.

Picking a knife that is specialized for the purpose you want to use it for also enables you to use less energy to make precise cuts and avoid mutilating the food. Using the right knife also gives the cook more control when cutting up ingredients and in turn enhances safety since less time and effort is spent when using the knife.

Having a large collection of differently shaped knives in a set, however, could have one confused as to which knife to use for a specific purpose. This article describes different knives that are common in the modern kitchen and how they are used.

Types of Kitchen Knives and What Are They Used For

Chef's knife

A chef's knife is the most basic knife that any cook should have in his or her kitchen. It has a straight edge blade that is wide at the heel and narrowing gradually towards the pointed tip. The spine of the knife remains straight throughout, which gives the blade a slightly bent shape.

The gradual bend of the blade and the pointed tip on the chef's knife allow the cook to rock the knife back and forth when using the knife on a flat cutting surface. The wide blade can withstand great amounts of pressure, thus making the knife suitable for a wide variety of kitchen uses. Hard and soft foods can also be cut and chopped easily using the chef's knife. The wide blade can also be used for purposes such as crushing garlic and cracking nuts.

closeup view of knife in chef hand

Utility Knife

The utility knife has a similar structure to the chef's knife because it comes with a straight-edged blade that is wide at the heel and narrower towards the tip, a straight spine, and a pointed tip. The utility knife is basically a smaller version of the chef's knife. It enables cooks to cut smaller-sized food items.

Using the utility knife is preferred over the chef's knife when the ingredients the cook is preparing are smaller in size and require cutting into more precise sizes. The smaller size of the utility knife also enables the cook to cut with less effort and reduces the back and forth movement on the cutting board.

Paring Knife

Paring knives are light, short, and come with pointed tips. The knives are also small and come fitted with slimmer blades.

They are meant for simpler cutting tasks such as peeling, cutting, and slicing fruits and vegetables. The lightweight nature of paring knives also makes it easy for the user to maneuver when peeling hard food items like potatoes.

The pointed tip is also convenient because it makes it easy to eject seeds from fruits such as watermelons.

Bread knife

The bread knife has a long slim blade that has a serrated cutting edge similar to those on the edge of a wood saw. The serrated edge is straight while the tip on most bread knives is rounded.

The bread knife is suited for cutting softer food items, such as all kinds of bread and pastries. This is because the serrated edge moves back and forth along the soft foods without damaging or crushing them. The bread knife also works great when cutting through soft and fluffy sponge cakes because the serrated edge can move through without affecting the shape or knocking air out of sponge cakes. Moreover, a bread knife is suitable for levelling out sponge cakes when they are fresh out of the oven.

a lady using knife to cut brown bread

Carving knife

A carving knife has a slim blade with a straight cutting edge. The blade is wide next to the heel and gradually grows narrower along its length to end in a pointed tip. The narrow edge makes the carving knife light and easy to handle. The carving knife also has a long blade that allows it to cut through thick food items with one long stroke.

This knife is best suited to cut through thick steaks of beef, mutton, pork, or poultry. The thin and long blade achieves neat cuts and slim slices of meat that remain in single wholesome pieces.

The carving knife can also cut through large and juicy fruits like watermelons that are hard to cut through using knives with shorter blades. The long and thin blade also cuts through large cakes easily with a single stroke that can cut slim slices and leave the remaining cake in one piece.

Butcher Knife / Cleaver

The butcher knife has a wide blade with a straight cutting edge. The blade is flat from the heel end to the tip of the knife, which is not pointed but rather straight and blunt.

The wide blade on some brands of the butcher knife can also feature a small hole near the top edge close to the tip, which allows the knife be hung when it is not in use. The butcher knife is heavy and comes in a variety of sizes depending on where it is used.

a chef using the butcher knife for meat

The knife works well when cutting through raw meat that is fresh out of the slaughterhouse. It is best suited to cut the meat into smaller pieces that are convenient to cook. The heavier knife ensures that the cook needs little effort to tackle hard bony meat.

The heavy nature of the knife, however, does not allow it to be used on cooked meat at the dining table. The wide blade can also be used to crush spices like garlic and ginger against a flat surface when cooking spicy foods.

Boning Knife

The boning knife has a short and slim blade that measures about six inches in length. The blade is wider at the heel and narrower towards the tip, which is pointed.

The blade on a boning knife features a more rigid construction with some brands offering boning knives that are more flexible and suited to cutting delicate meat like poultry.

The small size of the knife and a slim blade allow the cook to maneuver through bone joints on meat without damaging the flesh that surround the joints. Bone joints that have to be separated before cooking, such as those on a chicken or turkey, can easily be cut with the pointed edge. 

The rigid boning knives are suited for de-boning large meat such as pork and beef while the more flexible boning knives are good for cutting through bony joints in poultry.

Filleting Knife

A filleting knife has a long and slim blade that is flexible. The blade is wide at the heel and starts becoming slimmer right from the edge. The slim blade ends in a long and pointed tip that enables the knife to reach deep into soft meat without damaging the skin or the meat.

a filleting knife laying on the black stone board

The fillet knife is perfect for cutting through fish and is designed to be used in a vertical position rather than the horizontal use common with most knives.

The cook can cut through the skin and backbone of fish with the filleting knife and extract delicate fillets without severing the whole fish. Fileting knives also work great when cutting open the belly of fish to extract the internal organs before frying the fish.

Salmon Knife

The salmon knife features a long straight and slim blade that is double edged. The blade on a salmon knife is razor-sharp, which makes it good for skin and fillet extraction on large sized fish. Many salmon knife designs also include indentations on the surface of the blade that allows the knife to separate from the meat being cut.

The cook can use the salmon knife to skin and extract fillets from inside large fish since the slim blade fits easily between the skin and meat on the fish. The salmon knife reduces wastage by enabling the cook to achieve precise cuts that ensure no meat is wasted when skinning fish. The long blades with indented surfaces makes single seamless cuts and reduce the chances of the raw fish sticking to the blade.

Santoku knife

The santoku knife features Japanese design on the blade which is wide and with a straight sharp edge. The blade is wide at the heel and remains so through out the body of the knife. The tip is different from other knives because it features a drop from the spine to the end point. The blades on most Santoku knives also feature a dimpled surface that prevents food from sticking on the blade.

a guy using Santoku knife to cut purple onion

The drop-point edge at the end of the blade allows for more intricate cutting and allows the cook to handle the knife easily. Having a Santoku knife that features a dimpled surface blade makes it easy to clean up after preparing ingredients since no raw food items stick on the blade.

The knife is great for cutting fish and other food items because the wide blade allows you to scoop up the cut food items by hand and easily transfer them to the cooking utensil. The Santoku knife can also cut up vegetables and other softer food items, thus making it a multi-purpose cutting tool in the kitchen.

Nakiri Knife

The Nakiri knife has a structure similar to that of a meat cleaver with the rectangular and wide blade that has a blunt straight tip. The blade on the Nakiri knife is slimmer and lightweight, which makes it perfect for chopping up vegetables.

Blades on most Nakiri knives have a dimpled surface that enables separation of the food items being cut and prevents them from sticking to the blade.

The thick blades feature a razor-sharp edge that is perfect for cutting up large vegetables like cabbages and butternuts with a single drop-down movement of the knife.

The large size blades also allow the cook to collect the chopped-up pieces with a single swipe across the cutting surface and transfer them to the utensil that they are using to cook.

With a sharp Nakiri knife, cooks can cut thin and single piece vegetable slices that are good for garnishing and decorating plated meals.

Tomato Knives

Tomato knives are lightweight knives with short and flexible blades that have a very sharp cutting edge. The tomato knife is specially made to handle peeling off the delicate skin of a ripe tomato and cut through the tomato fruit without causing splashing of the tomato juices.

a tomato knife sitting on the board with tomatoes around

The blades have slightly serrated edges that help the cook to make thin slices that are in one piece while the knives feature thick handles made of materials that enable a firm and non-slip grip enabling the cook have control when using the tomato knives.

Peeling Knife

A peeling knife has a short blade that is slightly curved downwards and features a sharp straight edge. The tip of the knife is also pointed making the knife great for reaching into fruits to remove seeds.

The peeling knife is meant for removing the skin from vegetables and fruits. The short knife with a curved blade wraps around the food being peeled thereby enabling the cook to remove lots of skin with just a few movements.

The pointed tip is also great for puncturing the tough skin on hard fruits to help users get a starting point where they can begin peeling the skin. The small size of the knife and slightly bent shape of the blade enables the knife to fit perfectly in the hands of users, prevents slipping, and gives them more control of the knife.

Dinner Knife

The dinner knife is made of lightweight materials and features a thin blade that enables use with any meal. The dinner knife also features small serrations that help the user to deal with tough foods.

Steak knife

Cooked steaks served on the dinner table can be cut into small sizes that fit in the mouth with steak knives. The knives have pointed tips and feature slightly serrated sharp edges that enable cutting through juicy steaks with great ease. Steak knives can achieve thin slices that are intact, thus enabling dining that does not involve messy juice spilling from the cooked steaks.

Fish knife

The fish knife has a wide blade with a sharp pointed tip and a slightly curved edge. The fish knife enables efficient removal of fish skin from the meat while the pointed tip allows the knife to fit under the miniature-sized fish bones and pry them out of the meat.

Butter knife

A butter knife has a wide blade that is paddle-shaped and features a blunt edge and tip. The purpose of the knife is not necessarily to cut through food, but rather to spread butter, margarine, or honey over bread, buns, and other wheat-based pastries without scrapping off the surface of the food items.


Parts of a knife

Knives are made by different manufacturers who are located all over the world. Each manufacturer has their own approach to making their knives unique. However, all knives are almost similar in structure and functionality. The parts we have discussed in the section below are present on any knife and each has its own function.

Butt

The butt refers to the end of the handle on a knife. Depending on the material used to make the handle, the shape and design of the butt differs from one knife to another. Wooden handles could have additional steel caps at the butt that locks out moisture and humidity from reaching the interior part of the handle. Silicone handles could be thicker on the butt to give the cook a non-slip grip on the knife.

a lady using knife to cut avocado

Handle fasteners

The handle is held in place on the knife using rivets on most knives. However, some low-end knives have handles that are held in place by resin or glue. Handles that use rivets usually have holes on either side that line up with holes on the tang of the knife to allow the rivet to go through the handle and the knife. The rivet is then flattened on both sides on the handle, thereby holding it firmly in place.

Bolster

The bolster is located between the handle and the blade on a knife. It enables a small gap to be left in between the fingers of the cook and the blade when the knife is in use. The bolster enables safe usage of the knife by preventing the cook's hand from slipping to the blade during cutting. The bolster also enables manufactures to add weight to the knife in order to balance out the weight of the blade and the handle.

The Handle

The handle on a knife provides a holding space for the knife. Handles are made of different materials that include wood, silicon, or synthetic rubber. The handle on most knives is thick and shaped into a slight curve to enable a firm and non-slip grip on the knife. Some handles have additional grooves or textured surface that helps users to get a firm hold on the handle.

a knife laying on board with pearls around

Knives that have a full tang design have the handle of the knife as an extension of the blade using one material. Sometimes, manufacturers use the tang as the handle of the knife.

Tang

The tang on a knife refers to the extension of the blade that is unsharpened and connects the blade and the handle. The tang sometimes goes through the entire length of the handle, thereby forming part of the handle and forming what is known as a full tang. Full tang knives are popular for their ease of use because they give the cook greater control when cutting using the knife. Some knife designs eliminate the handle altogether and use the tang as the handle.

Heel

The heel is the edge of the knife's blade that is located closest to the handle and sometimes below the bolster. Often the widest and thickest part of the blade, the heel can handle more pressure as compared to the other parts of the blade, thus enabling the cook to use it when cutting tough food items.

The spine

The spine is the top edge of the knife that is located opposite the sharp edge that is used for cutting. The spine is usually thicker than the cutting edge and helps keep the weight of the blade evenly spread. The spine on most knives is straight throughout the entire length of the blade.

knife staying inside group of lemons and gingers

The tip

The tip is located near the end of the blade where it is narrow and delicate. It enables the cook to make delicate cuts that require little amounts of pressure and a very sharp edge.

The cutting edge

The cutting edge is the most used part of the knife. It is long and can either be a straight edge, which is common on most knives, or a serrated edge such as the one on a bread knife. The cutting edge requires honing or sharpening to restore its straightness or sharpness when the knife becomes blunt after use for some time.

The blade

The blade is the part that forms the main body of the knife. Depending on the knife, the blade can be narrow or wide. Materials used to make the blade differ depending on the manufacturer of the knife. Most blades are made from rust and corrosion resistant materials such as stainless steel, hard carbon or titanium. Some blades are also coated with non-stick materials such as ceramic or resin coating.

The point

The point is the furthest point of the blade from the handle, which is the meeting point of the cutting edge and the spine. It is narrow on many knives but knives that have distinct uses like butter knives and butcher knives can have points that are not narrow. The narrow point on common knives allow users to pierce through tough food items such as the skin on a pineapple fruit and get a beginning point where they can start peeling the rest of the skin from the fruit.