Kitchen Knives Buyers' Guide
From slicing and chopping fruits and vegetables to separating meat and cutting bread, kitchen knives are crucial components of any kitchen. In a commercial kitchen, the right equipment will make your staff more efficient and result in a better end product. To help you determine which knives your kitchen should stock up on, we've created a guide that explains the different types of blades, what they're used for, and the different materials they're made of.
Parts of a Knife
Any knife you invest in will have two basic parts: the blade and the handle. The blade has a point, edge, spine, and heel. The blade edge, or belly, runs parallel to the spine of the blade, and the two meet to form the point, or tip. The heel, the widest part of the blade, meets the knife handle. To give the knife added stability and balance, some have a bolster, or a thicker section of steel, where the blade meets the handle. The knife tang is any part of the blade that extends into the handle. Knives with a full tang are often considered the most durable because the tang, an extension of the blade's steel, runs the length of the handle.
Types of Knives
There are several types of kitchen knives available. While some can be used as multitasking tools, others are best suited to a specific task.
|Boning Knives||These are used to separate meat from bones and come with blades that are either straight or curved and flexible or stiff. Curved blades allow cooks to carve with more precision, while straight blades are quicker at making simple cuts. Stiffer blades are better for tougher cuts of meat like pork and beef, while flexible knives may be preferred for dressing poultry and fish. The blades on these knives are usually 5 to 7 inches long.|
|Bread Knives||Whether you need to cut an artisan loaf or soft sandwich bread, a bread knife's serrated edge will cut through bread without damaging it. These knives have blades ranging in size from 6 to 10 inches long and might come with an offset blade, which makes it easier to use a cutting board without worrying about hitting your knuckles.|
|Butcher Knives||Designed to cut and trim large portions of meat, they usually have straight blades as long as 12 inches. However, a type of butcher knife called a cimeter knife has a curved blade. Most butcher knives have rounded tips, but breaking knives, meant to break down large quarters of meat, have pointed tips for added precision.|
|Carving Knives||These are ideal for making precise cuts in roasts, chicken, or ham, and are often used with a carving fork for added stability. Carving knives are long and thin, meant to cut through the meat in one stroke. The blades are usually 8 to 12 inches long and might have a scalloped edge designed to make cutting easier and prevent meat from sticking.|
|Cheese Knives||These typically have blades that are 8 to 11 inches long, and can have one or two handles, which provides better leverage for slicing through dense blocks of cheese. Other tools, like rolling slicers that let you easily determine slice thickness and cheese knives with holes for soft cheese, can also help facilitate the cheese cutting process.|
|Chef Knives||Commonly referred to as a cook's knife, a chef knife is well-suited to cutting, slicing, chopping, and mincing a variety of ingredients, from poultry to vegetables. The blades on these versatile kitchen knives can be 5 to 12 inches long, but are most commonly 6 to 10 inches long.|
|Cleavers||Easily identifiable by their broad, square blades, which are usually between 6 and 12 inches long and as wide as 4 inches, cleavers are well-suited to heavy-duty butchering tasks like separating primal cuts of meat. However, Chinese cleavers are smaller and more lightweight, designed to be a versatile tool that can also chop ingredients.|
|Fillet Knives||Most popular for preparing fish, fillet knives usually have thin, flexible blades, which makes them ideal for handling delicate meats. Their blades are commonly 6 to 9 inches long, but can be as short as 4 inches. Although they are similar to boning knives, fillet knives aren't suited to deboning tough cuts of meat.|
|Mezzalunas||Because it is best suited for quickly chopping herbs and other smaller ingredients, a mezzaluna is often called a mincing knife. This knife has a curved blade with a handle on each end; some versions are double-bladed. The mezzaluna blade must stay sharp or it will not properly mince ingredients.|
|Oyster Knives||These are equipped with thicker, duller blades that make it easier to shuck oysters. If your seafood menu is expansive, you can also consider specialized knives designed for use with lobsters, clams, and scallops.|
|Paring Knives||Paring knives have blades measuring from 21⁄2 to 4 inches long and are often said to resemble a small chef's knife. These knives are ideal for detail work that requires hand control, like slicing, peeling, and coring fruits and vegetables.|
|Produce Knives||Meant for chopping, slicing, and dicing fruits and vegetables, produce knives can be general purpose or specific. For example, you can invest in a versatile all-purpose vegetable knife or choose a knife designed specifically to cut tomatoes. General fruit knives, as well as those made for cutting or coring a specific fruit, are also available.|
|Santoku Knives||A Japanese knife, its name means 'three virtues' and refers to the three kitchen tasks that it best performs: slicing, dicing, and mincing. Although these knives have the versatility of a chef's knife, their blades are generally shorter and less curved, and their tips are less pointed. The blade shape is also ideal for scooping up chopped ingredients, while the scallops on the side of a Santoku knife's blade help prevent chopped vegetables from sticking.|
|Specialty||Specialty knives can be worth the investment, as they usually make a common task easier. The tourne, or bird's beak knife, pictured here is used for peeling fruits and vegetables or making delicate cuts and designs. Other specialty knives include rabbit knives, peeling knives, and boning hooks.|
|Steak Knives||These can have serrated or non-serrated edges and are must-haves for cutting steak, but can also make it easier to cut poultry and pork. These are usually for customers, but can be used behind-the-scenes in place of a utility knife if necessary.|
|Japanese Knives||Japanese-style knives include Nakiri and Usuba vegetable knives; Deba, used for filleting fish or cutting meat; Gokujo, used for boning and filleting fish; and Yanagiba, a sashimi knife. Japanese blades are made from harder steel with sharper angles and are generally more specialized in their usage.|
|German Knives||German knives are typically made with a softer steel and less angled edges than their Japanese counterparts. This means they are not as sharp, but are more durable and able to withstand heavy use. German knives are also known for their weight, making them perfect for chefs who prefer heavier knives.|
The blades and handles on kitchen knives are made from several different materials, each of which has advantages and disadvantages. Read through this rundown of available materials to decide which ones belong in your kitchen.
- Carbon steel is a combination of iron and carbon, although it can have certain percentages of other elements as well. Knives made with high carbon steel are made with steel that contains higher amounts of carbon, producing a harder blade. Carbon steel is known for maintaining a sharp edge for longer, but does require more maintenance than other materials because it can stain and rust.
- Stainless steel is famously rust-resistant and lower maintenance, which makes it a popular material, but does not hold its edge as long as carbon steel. Some manufacturers use high-carbon stainless steel blades, which offer the benefits of both materials.
- Ceramic is another popular blade material because it is lightweight, can maintain an edge, and won't rust, but it isn't as durable as its steel counterparts and can only be used to cut softer ingredients.
Knife handles have a wider variation in materials than blades. They have traditionally been made with wood, but this can be a poor material for a commercial kitchen because it needs to be maintained and can harbor germs. Knives meant for use in commercial kitchens are more often made out of durable materials that are more easily cleaned and might be enhanced with non-slip or antimicrobial properties. These materials include plastics like polypropylene, santoprene, nylon, and other polymers, metals like titanium and stainless steel, or composite materials like G10.
HACCP color-coded knives, which include chef knives, utility knives, and bread knives, are also available for commercial kitchens. These can help your kitchen prevent cross-contamination, which protects your customers and your food.