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Our Guide to Flatware For Your Kitchen

Forks, spoons, and knives are the main pieces of flatware, but there’s more to know.

Having a well-supplied kitchen is an integral element of feeling like a real adult. When you have the correct kitchen tools and cookware, you can be prepared for any cooking need or dinner party scenario.

Blue flatware box isolated on black background

Flatware is an often overlooked aspect of kitchen supplies. Everyone is familiar with the basic forks, knives, and spoons, but your flatware requirements expand considerably once your cooking repertoire moves beyond microwavable ramen and macaroni and cheese. 

Not only does having the right flatware make you seem more put together, but it also improves your eating experiences.

For instance, cutting a steak or eating a bowl of soup is much easier when you have the appropriate equipment. 

To help, we compiled a list of the best types of flatware.

This guide highlights all the essential flatware pieces you should have in your collection and explains when and how to use them.

Types of Flatware

Read on to learn more about the essential types of flatware to keep in your kitchen. 


Dinner Fork

A dinner fork is a classic staple belonging at the top of any flatware shopping list.

Dinner forks are perfect for meat and pasta dishes, as well as any other main course meal that you would use a stabbing and scooping tool to eat. 

The dinner fork is the largest in a flatware set and usually has four tines. A good dinner fork should be durable enough to survive frequent use—after all, there is a good chance that your dinner forks will be used and washed daily.

For the same reason, it is worth investing in attractive dinner forks since you frequently see them. 


Salad Fork

A salad fork is an extremely useful utensil to keep on hand.

A salad fork may look the same as a dinner fork at first glance, but some key differences make a salad fork much better for eating salads.

Salad forks are smaller than dinner forks. A lighter fork works best for manipulating lettuce, greens, and tiny salad toppings.

Like a dinner fork, salad forks typically have four tines, but the tines differ in shape. A salad fork usually has reinforced center tines,  and the leftmost fork tine is slightly wider.

This adjustment in design allows for better leverage when handling raw vegetables. 


Table Spoon

When it comes to flatware, spoons can be confusing. Unlike forks, the various spoon types look quite similar to each other and can have deceptive names.

For instance, in the context of flatware, a table spoon is not the same as the measurement tool you use for cooking. 

In flatware terms, a table spoon is a relatively large spoon typically used for serving food.

A table spoon is larger than the spoon you would use to eat a dish but smaller than a ladle or mixing spoon.

Table spoons are ideal serving utensils for a shared dish that you place in the center of a dining table. 


Tea Spoon

Much like a table spoon, a tea spoon in flatware is not equivalent to the measurement tool of the same name.

A tea spoon is the most versatile spoon type in a flatware set and is the kind that most people think of when they hear the word spoon. 

A tea spoon is smaller than a table spoon and works well for most spoon needs. People use tea spoons for dishes such as cereal, yogurt, and oatmeal.

If you are unsure of which type of spoon you should use, trying the teaspoon first is usually a safe bet. 


Bouillon Spoon

The bouillon spoon is the fancy sister to the soup spoon. Bouillon spoons are meant for light soups and broths with a thin consistency and minimal chunks.

The name bouillon refers to the French term for broth. This spoon type is particularly prevalent in European-style place settings.

Bouillon spoons are similar to soup spoons and have a round bowl shape. A bouillon spoon is smaller than a traditional soup spoon and has a shallower depth.

This spoon works well when you want to take moderate-sized sips of soup with no large vegetable or meat bits to fuss over. 


Butter Knife

A butter knife is a great go-to tool for all your spreading needs.

A butter knife may seem unnecessary due to its hyper-specific purpose, but once you have one, you will never want to give it up.

A butter knife is a small knife with a blunt edge. You can use butter knives for handling all types of butter, cream cheese, and more.

This knife type is also the piece in your flatware set where your creativity and taste can shine.

You can match your butter knife to the rest of your flatware, but many households have ornate butter knives with beautiful designs. 


Butter Spreader

People often use the terms butter knife and butter spreader interchangeably, but a butter spreader is distinct from a butter knife.

A butter knife is a tool for getting the butter from the butter stick, whereas a butter spreader spreads the butter once you have put it on your plate.

A butter spreader is extremely rounded and has no point or edge for slicing.

Although most households use a butter knife exclusively, more formal settings, such as a banquet, may give guests butter spreaders so that the butter knife can be used as a serving tool. 


Cocktail Fork

A cocktail fork is a fun utensil to have available if you enjoy operating a home bar or hosting dinner parties.

These strange-looking tools make hosting cocktail parties easier and more sanitary.

Cocktail forks are petite forks with only two or three tines. A cocktail fork looks a bit like a seafood fork, and some people may use it for that purpose, but it is smaller than a seafood fork and designed for handling tinier food pieces. 

A cocktail fork handles the garnishes you put in mixed drinks, such as olives or cherries.

By giving your guests cocktail forks with their drinks, they can enjoy their garnishes without reaching their fingers into a wet glass. 


Demitasse Spoon

The demitasse spoon is the cute baby spoon in your flatware set.

This is a niche flatware type that isn’t necessary for every household, but if you like espresso, you should acquire a few demitasse spoons.

A demitasse spoon is a miniature spoon that typically doesn’t measure longer than four and a half inches.

This little spoon is used for espresso drinks with frothed milk, such as a cappuccino or latte.

Because of its size, a delicate demitasse spoon can daintily stir a dollop of foam atop your favorite coffee beverage without ruining the texture or appearance. 


Dessert Fork

Dessert forks are useful to have available when you don’t want to use a clunky dinner fork for a slice of pie or cake.

These forks work well for any kind of flaky pastry, crust, or baked good that requires a bit of pressure or leverage to slice through it. 

A dessert fork has the same general shape and design as a salad fork but is slightly smaller.

Dessert forks can have either three or four tines, and the leftmost tine is usually wider for cutting through food.

You can also find dessert forks designed for left-handed people, where the rightmost time is the widest. 


Dessert Spoon

Laying out a set of dessert spoons is the best way to tell your guests that it’s time for ice cream.

The spoon counterpart to a dessert fork, a dessert spoon is a convenient utensil for both eating your favorite desserts and substituting for a teaspoon.

Dessert spoons have the same dimensions as soup spoons but have an oval shape.

The size and depth of the spoon allow users to enjoy generous bites of dessert, while the tapered tip enables easy slicing and maneuvering.

A dessert spoon is also an infrequently used measurement in cooking, equivalent to two teaspoons. 


Dinner Knife

A dinner knife, also known as a table knife, is the traditional partner to the dinner fork.

A quality dinner knife can cut through a variety of soft and moderately dense foods and is easy for diners to handle and use to move food around the plate.

Dinner knives can be mistakenly referred to as butter knives, but they are longer and have a minimally serrated edge.

American-style dinner knives, or place knives, are typically 9 and one-quarter inches long, while European-style dinner knives, or continental knives, are 9 and three-quarters inches long. 


Iced Tea Spoon

If you are from the southeastern United States, you may be better acquainted with iced tea spoons.

Iced tea spoons are arguably one of the most underappreciated and underutilized spoon types in household kitchens.

Iced tea spoons are oval-shaped spoons with extra-long handles. Sometimes called parfait spoons, iced tea spoons are great for stirring iced beverages and eating ice cream floats or sundaes.

An iced tea spoon will make any homemade treat in a tall glass feel extra special. Furthermore, if you don’t have a bar spoon at home, an iced tea spoon is an excellent pinch hitter. 


Soup Spoon

Every kitchen should have soup spoons. You may think you can use a regular teaspoon or dessert spoon to eat soup, but real soup spoons are far more efficient and satisfying to use.

Soup spoons are medium-sized spoons with deep bowls for taking big bites of chunky soup.

The shape of soup spoons varies, with some designs having a classic circular shape and others having an ovoid shape so the whole spoon can fit inside the mouth. 

If you want to have an upscale flatware set, you will want to have both soup spoons and bouillon spoons.

An even fancier set would have a gumbo or cream soup spoon, which is another midsize soup spoon. 


Steak Knife

Steak knives are a necessity in your home if you plan on making steaks and other thick cuts of meat.

A regular dinner knife is simply not sharp or large enough to adequately handle a steak. 

Contemporary American-style steak knives have a pointed tip and serrated edge. On the other hand, Japanese steak knives usually have a sharpened, straight-edge blade.

Steak knives come in various designs and dimensions. Some steak knives are somewhat similar in size to dinner knives, but others are significantly wider.

The steakhouse design, which has a serrated blade and a wooden handle, is particularly popular. 

Check out our favorite steak knive sets to choose from, and if you like to cook make sure you have other types of knives as well.


Types of Flatware

  1. Dinner Fork
  2. Salad Fork
  3. Tablespoon
  4. Teaspoon
  5. Bouillon Spoon
  6. Butter Knife
  7. Butter Spreader
  8. Cocktail Fork
  9. Demitasse Spoon
  10. Dessert Fork
  11. Dessert Spoon
  12. Dinner Knife
  13. Iced Tea Spoon
  14. Soup Spoon
  15. Steak Knife

Final Thoughts

Flatware does not need to be intimidating or confusing. This beginner’s list of the best types of flatware is a great place to start. Having the right kitchen tools will make dining and hosting much simpler and boost your confidence as a home cook. 

If you want to learn more about kitchen tools, check out this article on knife sets to get for your kitchen. 

Did we forget about your favorite type of flatware? Let us know and we’ll be sure to check it out!

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.