Knives for the Home Chef

by Michael Maestri

Having the right equipment to prepare a meal in any kitchen is essential. Proper tools affect safety and efficiency, not to mention enjoyment of the task at hand and the quality of your finished product. Properly maintained, quality knives are indispensable tools in the kitchen.

Knives come in many styles and have a wide variety of applications. Several features ranging from length, width, weight, grade of steel, full tang, forged, stamped, as well as a myriad of styles are important to consider. How you will be using a knife and how comfortable you feel using a particular knife are key considerations when purchasing cutlery. You do not need to spend a lot of money to buy a quality knife. More important is how well you care for and maintain your tools.

Here are some of the most common pieces of cutlery used in any kitchen:

The chef’s knife a.k.a. French or cook’s knife, is the most commonly used knife in any kitchen. From chopping vegetables and mincing herbs to breaking down pieces of meat, the chef’s knife is the all purpose cutting tool in a cook;s collection. Chef’s knives generally have an eight to twelve inch long blade, and a two to four inch wide blade at the handle. (Other knives that serve the same purpose are santoku’s, and Chinese cleavers.)

Boning knives are useful far beyond cutting around bones in a piece of meat. A boning knife typically has a six-inch blade, and is used for cutting vegetables, filleting fish (depending on flexibility), cutting fruit and preparing meats for cooking. Boning knives are a multipurpose tool, and a kitchen essential. Boning knives are made with blades ranging from very flexible to stiff and perfectly straight to sharply curved.

Serrated knives a.k.a. bread knives, are designed to slice bread and cut through sandwiches. Their sharp teeth saw through crust easily, where it may otherwise be very difficult with a straight edged knife. The scallops (a.k.a. teeth) that make up the edge of a serrated knife come in many different forms. Wide, deep scallops work best on bread with a thick crust, while narrower scallops tend to work very well in slicing through soft crust breads. Serrated knives come in many different styles (10″ straight or curved blade, 9″ offset, etc.) An offset serrated knife is designed to keep one’s knuckles from touching the cutting surface. While a serrated knife will cut through most anything in a kitchen, if you find yourself reaching for this knife to cut a tomato, it is time to have your other knives resharpened.

Paring knives are best for smaller, more intricate jobs in the kitchen, e.g., de-veining a shrimp, removing seeds from a jalapeno, ‘skinning’ mushrooms or cutting small garnishes. In many households paring knives serve the dual purpose of preparation tool in the kitchen, and steak knife in the dining room. The blade of a paring knife is generally three to four-inches long. Keeping track of your paring knives will often times be a bigger challenge than keeping them sharp.

Fillet knives are similar to flexible boning knives, but are specifically used to fillet and prepare fish. They generally have blades eight to ten inches long, allowing them to move easily along the backbone and under the skin of fish.

A carving or slicing knife is a long knife (between ten and fourteen inches) used to slice thin cuts of large, cooked meat, e.g., poultry, roasts or hams. A carving knife’s blade is much narrower than a chef’s knife, enabling it to carve thinner, more precise slices. Slicing knives often have blunted or rounded tips, and/or granton (fluted) blades. The fluted styled blade is designed to create air space between the knife and the meat, for easier meat separation, and preventing the meat from sticking to the knife. Slicing knives tend to sit in your drawer more than your other knives, but when the Thanksgiving turkey, or holiday dinner ham needs to be sliced, the carving knife is the right tool for the job.