Knives are the most important tool in a chef's kit, and they can be used for just about any food prep task from chopping onions and butchering a cut of beef to opening oysters and slicing bread. But, there are different types of kitchen knives that are designed for various purposes. In this guide, we'll cover the types of knives and their uses, so you can find the right option for your needs.
There are many different types of knives that are used for various tasks, and it can be difficult to know which knives are essential for your kitchen. We broke down the knife types and provided explanations of each and what they're used for.
You can find chef knives in nearly every commercial kitchen, and they are versatile tools that can be used for a variety cutting tasks. Chef knives have a wide blade that tapers to a point. This point is suitable for a number of prep tasks, such as chopping, mincing, and slicing. Additionally, chef knives can come in several different sizes, although the most popular sizes are between 8"- 12”.
Utility knives are a mix between slicing and paring knives. They feature scalloped edges and blades that are slightly longer than standard paring knives. A sharp utility knife is very efficient for slicing fruits and vegetables, and they’re an ideal tool for food prep.
Bread knives are designed for slicing different types of bread, and they feature serrated blades that can cut through crispy crusts. Most bread knives feature offset handles, which are designed to prevent the user’s knuckles from hitting the cutting board. Additionally, you can usually find bread knives between 7"-10” long.
This extremely versatile type of knife can be used for many food prep tasks from peeling vegetables and chopping fruits to deveining shrimp and slicing cheese. Paring knives typically have blades that range between 2 ¼” and 4 ½”, and there are a number of different styles of paring knives.
The top and bottom of the blades on these knives are curved like a spear. Spear point paring knives are designed for small, precise tasks like cutting produce, creating garnishes, or devein shrimp.
This type of paring knife, often referred to as a curved paring knife or tourne knife, has a blade that curves downward, mimicking the shape of a bird’s beak. Bird’s beak paring knives are designed for peeling rounded fruits and creating garnishes.
Sheep’s foot knives feature a rounded tip with a straight edge, which make them perfect for chopping and julienning fruits and vegetables.
Used for breaking down cuts of meat or trimming fat, butcher knives are typically found in butcher shops and restaurants. This type of knife has a slight curve, which helps with cutting through meat. Many types of butcher knives also feature granton edges, which allow you to easily slice through meat without tearing or shredding the product.
Featuring long, straight blades, slicing knives are designed for slicing cooked meats like smoked hams, roasted turkeys, or sirloin steaks. These knives typically have a long blade with a rounded tip. Many meat slicing knives also feature granton edges, which prevents the meat from tearing while cutting.
Featuring flexible, semi-flexible, or stiff options, boning knives allow users to separate meat from bones while reducing the amount of wasted meat. Boning knives come in a variety of sizes and knife styles, so you can find the perfect option for the type of meat you’re working with.
With long blades, meat carving knives are the ideal choice for slicing cooked meats like smoked ham, roasted chicken, or deep fried turkey. Carving knives are much thinner than chef knives, enabling them to carve thinner, more precise slices.
With a wide and long blade, cleavers are some of the largest knives a chef will have in their cutlery kit. Despite their size, cleavers feature thin and lightweight blades that can be used for a number of tasks, such as crushing garlic, chopping vegetables, and slicing meat. Cleavers can also be found in many Asian restaurant kitchens.
Flank and shoulder knives are a variation of boning knife with longer blades that are designed specifically for cutting flank steaks. Their straight, stiff blades are perfect for generating precise cuts while boning, trimming, and jointing.
Essential for any restaurant or diner that serves fresh shellfish, oyster knives are used to open oyster shells and then remove the meat from the shell. There are several types of oyster knives that are used for different sizes and preparations of oysters.
Boston-style oyster knives have long, narrow blades that are effective at opening oyster shells regardless of their size.
Frenchman oyster knives have a short, wide blade featuring a sharp edge that is perfect for finding the crease on oyster shells.
Galveston-style oyster knives have longer blades that narrow to a point, and they’re often used for processing medium and large Eastern oysters.
The short and wide blade on New Haven-style oyster knives is designed for small and medium oysters. They’re also designed for serving oysters on the half shell. Additionally, New Haven-style oyster knives point upward, which avoids damaging the oyster meat inside.
These knives are similar to New Haven-style knives, but they do not have a curved tip. They’re ideal for shucking medium-sized oysters.
Cheese knives are specially designed to cut through dense, sticky, and hard cheeses, and they’re the perfect tool for restaurants that offer charcuterie boards. Cheese knives come in a variety of designs that match with specific types of cheeses.
Cimeter, or scimitar, knives are a type of butcher knife that are used for prepping and cutting meat. Their long, curved blades are ideal for trimming fat off ribs or breaking down a large cut of beef.
Breaking knives are a type of butcher knife that are used for cutting large sections of meat into smaller cuts.These types of butcher knives feature curved blades, which gives the user additional leverage when cutting through tough skin, cartilage, and small bones. Additionally, breaking knives are ideal for trimming fat from cuts of meat.
Santoku knives have a similar shape and construction as chef knives. Additionally, they can be used for a variety of cooking tasks, such as chopping, slicing, and dicing, like chef knives.
Petty knives are known for their quality and balance, and they’re excellent utility knives to have in your repertoire. Similar in size and shape to utility knives, petty knives have a few key differences. They are slightly longer than utility knives but shorter than chef knives, which allow you to use them as either a chef knife or utility knife.
Essential for any sushi restaurant, sashimi knives feature long and thin blades that allow chefs to cut thin and precise cuts of raw fish without tearing the meat. Due to their length, sashimi knives can also be used for breaking down large cuts of fish.
Typically found in sushi restaurants and Asian-style operations, deba knives are often used as a light- or medium-duty cleaver. These knives have medium-length blades, and they can be used for a variety of tasks, such as preparing cuts of fish, chopping vegetables, or cubing meat.
Gyuto knives are similar in use and shape to chef’s knives. However, there are several key differences between a gyuto knife and a chef knife. Gyuto knives are lighter and thinner than chef knives, and they have a flatter edge. This allows the knife to have faster push-cutting abilities and makes it easier to handle.
Nakiri knives have razor-sharp edges and thin blades that are perfect for cutting vegetables and fish into thin slices.
Featuring a dull and rounded edge, butter knives are typically served with breads in order to spread butter, jelly, or other toppings.
Resembling a dinner knife, albeit smaller, dessert knives are served with dessert as a fresh alternative to dinnerware that has been dirtied while eating an entree. They are used for cutting through soft items like cakes and cheesecakes.
Dinner knives are versatile knives that are served with entrees. They are typically used for cutting soft foods such as fish and cooked vegetables, or for moving food.
Smaller than most knives, fish knives are used for removing the tiny bones from delicate pieces of fish.
With a typically serrated edge, steak knives are served with steak and other pieces of meat that are too thick to cut with a dinner knife.
Understanding the parts of a knife is integral to learning about the various types of kitchen knives and how they're different. The graphic below shows the parts of a knife to help you identify them on your own kitchen knives.
Here's an explanation of the different parts of a knife:
Wood handled knives used to be very common, but they have fallen out of favor due to food safety concerns. While they are attractive and comfortable to use, wood handles are not as durable as other options and can trap bacteria.
Pakkawood is an alternative to traditional wood. It is a composite material that looks and feels like wood, but has added benefits, like moisture and warp resistance.
Stainless steel knife handles are virtually maintenance free, and they’re very durable and easy to clean. Additionally, stainless steel handles provide balance for knives with long blades. On the other hand, stainless steel handles can become slippery when wet.
Plastic knife handles are the most popular type of knife handles because they’re very durable and easy to clean. While plastic is durable, if plastic handles are exposed to extreme temperature changes over time they may start to crack. There are also different types of plastics that you can choose for your knife’s handle, listed below.
RH Forschner Fibrox handled knives are NSF Listed, dishwasher-safe, and slip-resistant.
Nylon knife handles are durable, easy to clean, and economical.
Proflex poly resin knife handles provide a safe, no-slip grip, and are NSF Listed.
Resin handles are lightweight and comfortable to hold.
Lightweight, sturdy, and comfortable, styrene handles are ideal for most kitchens.
Knives with polypropylene handles usually have a textured grip and are easy to clean. They are typically an economical option.
POM knife handles are more durable than polypropylene. They also are more resistant to high heat and water absorption than other types of plastic handles.
Dexter-Russell V-Lo handles are durable, easy to clean, and feature an incredibly comfortable, "soft-touch" grip.
Mercer Millennia santoprene handles are a blend of santoprene and polypropylene. Not only do they provide a non-slip, comfortable grip during use, but they also will not break down when exposed to kitchen oils, hot environments, or cold temperatures.
VG-10 steel is a type of Japanese steel that is commonly used to make professional-grade cutlery. While this type of steel was originally intended for Japanese markets, its excellent edge retention, sharpness, and durability made it popular in international kitchens as well. But, due to its excellent craftsmanship, durability, and quality, VG-10 stainless steel knives can be more expensive than other options.
San Mai isn’t a type of stainless steel, instead it’s a process of forging and laminating the metal to create a durable blade. This Japanese process involves sandwiching a hard high-carbon steel core with lower carbon and more flexible steel. The result is a blade with excellent edge retention and sharpness, flexibility, and durability.
German steel comprises several types of steel, and it’s characterized by a high-carbon stainless steel construction that is sharp, durable, and excellent at resisting stains and corrosion. These types of stainless steel are common in many types of western knives, especially forged knives. Some common types of German steel include 420, 420HC, 420JC, and 440C, among others.
Every piece of commercial cutlery is constructed using one of two methods: forging or stamping.
Forged knives are made when a heated bar of steel is roughly shaped under a drop hammer, which compresses the steel with immense pressure. After the basic knife shape is forged, the blade goes through a grinding and honing process to form its final shape and edge.
Stamped knives are formed when a hydraulic press or die cuts the blade shape out of a sheet of steel. This process creates the basic shape of the blade, called a blade blank, which is then ground and honed to give it an edge.
Dull knives are the single most common cause of injuries in commercial kitchens. Because properly sharpened knives cut more easily than dull ones, workers can complete their tasks more quickly. Additionally, the product being cut can be returned to temperature-controlled storage faster for better food safety.
Here are a few tips to maintaining your cutlery:
Here are a few tips to effectively sharpen your knives:
Proper knife storage and transportation are essential for the care of your knives and to prevent any accidents.
To prevent bacteria from growing and spreading, you want to make sure that your kitchen knives can air dry properly. To ensure that you’re storing your knives sanitarily, we suggest using a magnetic knife holder or knife rack.
Knife cases feature a hard lining that holds its shape when the case is folded or closed. This lining can be water resistant, which adds another layer of protection to your knives. While primarily used for knives, some knife cases and rolls can also fit other kitchen tools like turners, spoons, and whisks. Additionally, many knife bags, cases, and rolls have additional features like holders for business cards, pens, and IDs.
Knife rolls don’t have a lining under the canvas exterior, which takes away that protective layer, but makes them more flexible. When rolled up, they take the shape of whatever knives or tools are inside, which helps them take up less space than cases. As with knife cases, some knife rolls are able to store tools and utensils aside from knives.
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