A knife is a cook’s best friend, whether they’re a seasoned professional or a kitchen first-timer. But as any glance at a knife block will reveal, there is a wide array of knives to choose from.
The broad selection of different knives often leads to confusion and many questions that can be challenging to answer.
For instance, what’s the real difference between a chef’s knife and a santoku knife? Are kitchen shears just fancy scissors?
Do you only need to use a steak knife for steak, or can you use it for anything? Above all, when you need to cut something, how can you possibly know which blade to pick out?
For all those suffering from this unfortunate knife paralysis, I’m here to help. I’ve synthesized my own cooking experience with thorough research into the many types of knives, and in this article, I’ll unpack the twelve major types.
As its name suggests, the chef’s knife is classic and versatile; when people think of cooking knives, this one is what comes to mind.
Among the other types of knives, the chef’s knife is the jack-of-all-trades. It is shaped like a right triangle with a curved side–one side straight and one curved, meeting at a very sharp point.
Everyone from amateur cooks to master chefs uses the chef’s knife for functions like complex cutting, slicing cheese and meat, and dicing fruits, vegetables and nuts.
The sharp point on the chef’s knife also makes it adept at very delicate cuts.
The boning knife may look small, but in my experience, it is one of the most powerful knives in any cooking toolkit.
While its name might imply that it’s meant for breaking bones, it is actually for everything except bones.
That is because boning is the process of removing leftover meat from bones.
The boning knife has a long, thin blade ideal for this process; I like to use it when I’m trimming a pork shoulder, trimming around the curvy bones to extract as much meat as possible.
The bread knife is probably the most self-explanatory in the bunch. Is it the most necessary knife in the block? No, not necessarily. But is it one of the most fun? Absolutely yes!
The bread knife is very long and sports a thick serrated blade, which helps for cutting through large hunks of bread.
Personally, there is nothing more satisfying for me than slicing into a crispy baguette with my bread knife.
While chef’s knives or other knives are perfectly acceptable for slicing bread, I have found a bread knife is also safer.
A chef’s knife can slip or turn while cutting, whereas the bread knife has a long handle and thick blade that afford the user excellent grip and stability.
Check out our favorite bread knives here!
The paring knife is an essential knife in any kitchen.
Its short handle and small, sharp blade make it adept at a wide variety of needs, including peeling fruits and vegetables, cutting foods into very small pieces, or engaging in other delicate tasks.
I’ve tried to trim large hunks of meat with a paring knife and found it to be very difficult–the short handle makes it rather difficult to get the leverage you need when cutting larger bits.
With its rectangular blade and almost hatchet-like appearance, the cleaver is one of the most visually striking types of knives–it’s another knife you’ve probably seen in a cartoon.
The standard American cleaver is a very heavy-duty tool, being well-suited for cutting through big, hard vegetables, large chunks of meat, and even some softer bones.
I like to use it to cut through gourds and cabbage heads, as these are so tough that they can be difficult–not to mention unsafe–to cut with the shorter chef’s knife.
Another notable variety is the Chinese cleaver, which is a somewhat thinner cleaver that’s an excellent all-purpose tool in Chinese home cooking.
The carving knife is pretty self-explanatory: it’s best suited to carving thick pieces of meat.
While a larger tool is better for carving something like a cooked Thanksgiving turkey (I’ve found electric carvers to be better), the carving knife is excellent for thick raw meat.
I’ve found the carving knife to be best suited for cutting up pork belly, pork shoulder, and beef brisket; the carving knife’s long blade gives plenty of leverage to slice through the tough tendons on these cuts of meat.
It’s theoretically useful for other cutting tasks, but since it works best when it’s ultra-sharp, I keep it in the knife block unless I’m using it for meat.
The utility knife’s name says it all: it’s useful.
Utility knives are not as defined as other types of knives, but they tend to have straight handles and sharp pointed tips; sometimes, only one side is sharpened, but sometimes both sides are sharp.
One can define them as something between a paring knife and a chef’s knife.
I use my utility knife for numerous kitchen tasks, though frankly, I find it more of a stopgap than a mainstay.
It is stellar when I have things too long for a paring knife but too delicate for a chef’s knife, but those situations are not common. Still, it is great in a pinch!
Despite its name, the steak knife is a great multipurpose knife–and it’s one of the few knives on this list that has a place at the dinner table.
Whether I’m eating tough food like steak or pork chops or I’m out of table knives, the steak knife brings some power to everyday eating.
But that’s not all! This small knife is great for basic food prep, like cutting lemons or limes, slicing sandwiches, or (in some cases) dicing vegetables.
Of course, since steak knives tend to be serrated, they’re not especially good for heavy-duty cuts, but they’re great when I don’t feel like pulling out a paring knife just for slicing a sandwich.
Find the perfect set of steak knives to add to your kitchen.
Without a doubt, the santoku knife is my favorite knife in my entire collection.
To my eye, it looks like a cross between a chef’s knife and a cleaver: it has a dull spine that curves toward the slightly curved sharp blade.
Its thinner blade allows for a bit more focused slicing than the chef’s knife, and its shorter blade and dull tip make it adept at rapidly chopping herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
It’s equally adept, however, at slicing and mincing meats, making it a true all-purpose knife.
I love the filet knife because it helps tackle one of the most irritating cuts in the cooking world: cutting fish. Raw fish can be a little bit finicky.
Using the wrong knife or one with a dull blade can damage a piece of fish, making it incredibly difficult to cook.
The filet knife solves that. The filet blade is thin and sharp, sometimes with razor-sharp curves, making it easy to carve meat from a fish.
It’s an excellent choice for breaking down a whole fish into parts, but it also works for trimming bones from fish filets.
At first glance, kitchen shears look like one of the most unnecessary kitchen implements–but in my experience, it is one of the most important.
Cooks need to snip a variety of things in the kitchen, from herbs to food packaging, and it is essential to have a sterile or sanitary tool for that.
Ordinary household scissors cut substances that are not sanitary to cross-mix with food–not to mention that they often have plastic handles that are not dishwasher safe.
Kitchen shears solve this problem: they are easy to sanitize can be dedicated to food prep.
The second Japanese knife on this list is the nakiri knife. This tool, which looks more like a cleaver than a santoku knife, is a dedicated chopping implement.
Its firm handle and long, strong rectangular blade are excellent for slicing and dicing vegetables.
I am especially fond of the nakiri knife’s flat blade feature, making it easier to cut the vegetables cleanly without being left with pieces dangling annoyingly on a thread.
Moreover, nakiri knife is amazing for cutting lettuce, cabbage, and root vegetables, which the shorter santoku can sometimes get jammed in.
There are numerous options available to chefs when they reach for a knife, and the ones listed here are just a snippet.
When it comes to deciding on a knife, it’s essential to know both food needs and one’s preferred cutting style. In some cases, I need a very specific knife for a specific task–for instance, I always use a long, thin knife like a boning knife or carving knife when cutting large slabs of meat.
Furthermore, some dishes, like sushi, are delicate creations, so it’s worth investing in a top-tier sushi knife that will help you prepare your ingredients with utmost precision.
With this knowledge, my cooking has improved immensely. Let me know if it did the same for you!