If you have ever looked at a knife block from a department store you will often notice that it comes with a wide variety of knives. The most basic set will often have as few as four knives while really elaborate sets can easily reach double digits. But what do all of these knives do? Besides the chef knife, which most of us know what it is for, the others are sometimes a mystery. The primary function of any knife is to cut. But what type of cut and what task you are doing will determine what knife to use. It is important to use the correct knife for the job you are doing.
The chef’s (or cook’s) knife is the most commonly known and popular. It typically ranges from 6-14 inches with 8 being the most popular. It has a curved edge that makes the back and forth rocking motion used to cut possible. It is perfect for a multiplicity of tasks ranging from slicing to dicing or even mincing.
The utility or kitchen knife resembles the chef’s knife except that it’s blade is not as broad and typically not as long. This narrow blade makes it less than ideal for dicing, chopping, or mincing. However, the utility knife can be used as to slice things. The blade may be straight or serrated.
A popular Japanese knife that is more common now is the santoku. This multipurpose knife has a slightly curved blade that ranges from 5-7 inches. It often comes with a granton edge. This means semi-circular scallops are ground into the edge that alternate on either side of the knife and extend from the edge to the middle of the blade. This allows the knife to be used to cut thin slices without them sticking to the sides of the blade.
The slicer or carving knife is a long, about 14-18 inches, straight knife used primarily to slice or carve meats. It may or may not have a granton edge.
A paring knife is the smallest knife typically having a blade from 3-6 inches. It is used for small tasks intricate tasks such as making garnishes or removing tops from strawberries. It is also good for peeling vegetables.
The boning or filet knife is used for intricate meat cutting. The unique blade is about 4-7 inches , thinner that most other knives, and is slightly flexible. This knife is great for cutting around bones in meat, trimming fat, or skinning fish.
The cleaver is a big piece used for heavy duty cutting. It ranges in size from 6-10 inches. It can be used for chopping, disjointing meats, or even splitting bones. Its broad blade also makes it great for scooping.
The bread or sandwich knife has a long narrow serrated edge that is best used to cut bread or fruits and vegetables with tough skins.
These are just some of the knives you might see in a knife set. There are always different sizes and variations of these. The most important tip when selecting knives is to remember what they are being used for and to select something that feels right in your hands.