The chef’s knife is a must-have all-rounder in any kitchen; it chops, slices, crushes and carves! It’s designed to perform well at a range of tasks, so whether you’re a professional or just enjoy cooking as a hobby, your chef’s knife will probably be the most-used piece of kit in your kitchen.
If you want to avoid lopsided slices of bread, where one end is so thin it crumbles into nothing, the other end could double up as a doorstop, and the bread in the middle is all squashed, get yourself a good bread knife. The deep serrated or scalloped edge and long blade mean you can cleanly slice through the hard crust and soft bread without tearing or flattening your loaf. The result? A perfectly even slice of bread every time. It’s the best thing since, err, sliced bread!
Tip: Bread knives are a great tool for slicing meat, veg and tomatoes too, so if you’re trying to get the most out of your knife selection, it’s an excellent investment.
Usually between 6-12cm, paring knives are small but perfectly formed, allowing you to perform more intricate tasks like peeling, coring, dicing and slicing small fruit and veg, de-veining shrimp, or removing seeds, pips and eyes using the knife’s sharp point.
People can be rather particular about their roast dinner, but even if you can’t please everyone with the rareness of the beef or the thickness of the gravy, you can ensure you carve a precise, even slice of meat using a carving knife and fork. The fork holds the meat in place while you carve using the long, thin blade of the knife. The knife’s pointed tip is used to help free meat from the bone, and the carving fork can be used for lifting and serving the slices.
The length of carving knives can vary quite largely (anything from 20-38cm long), so if you’re unsure of what size to go for, think about the size of cooked meat you’ll be using it on; aim to get a knife with a blade roughly the same length or slightly bigger.
A boning knife is used to remove the bones and skin from raw meat and fish. The narrow, thin blade curves upwards, which allows both maximum access and precision when cutting around bones and under skin.
Although either one will do the job, a stiff knife is generally preferred for tougher meats such as beef and pork, while a flexible knife is more suited to poultry and fish which have more delicate bones.
Different types of cheese require different knives:
- Soft cheese knives have holes in the blade, which prevents the cheese from sticking to it when cutting.
- Hard cheese knives are sharp and often have a forked tip which is used to pick up and serve the sliced cheese.
- Parmesan cheese knives have short, wedge-shaped blades, allowing you to press down harder, and are ideal for cutting chunks off a wheel of parmesan.
A filleting knife is very similar to a boning knife, but the flexible blade is usually longer, allowing it to move easily along the backbone and under the skin of a fish. Most fillet knives are about 15-28cm long, so to help you decide which size to go for, think about what type of fish you are most likely to be using it on – you’ll want a shorter blade for smaller fish and a longer blade for bigger fish.
Another great all-rounder, a utility knife can be used for chopping and slicing smaller items – including cuts of meat. Its narrow blade allows it to carve meat well and cut soft cheese without it sticking. Utility knives are smaller than a chef’s knife and larger than a paring knife, so for a task that is too cumbersome for one and too fiddly with the other, a utility knife will get the job done with ease.
A small knife with a serrated blade that makes cutting cleanly through a tomato’s firm outer skin and soft inner a doddle – the serrations penetrate the skin quickly without much pressure so your lovely tomatoes won’t get squashed when slicing. It’s common for a tomato knife to also have a forked tip which you can use to pick up the tomato slices easily.
Instantly recognisable by its large, heavy blade (and thanks to its presence in many a horror film!), a cleaver is the only kitchen knife that cuts through bone, and is primarily used for preparing meat. The blade doesn’t need to be particularly sharp as it’s the weight of the cleaver and the way it’s swung (like a hammer) that make it cut right through.
Tip: The side of the blade is a useful tool for crushing garlic.
It looks like a cleaver, but that’s as far as the similarity goes. A Chinese Chef’s knife is a general-purpose, thin-bladed knife traditionally used in Chinese kitchens to slice and chop veg and boneless meat and fish. The side of the blade is often used to scoop up chopped food to move it – handy!
This versatile Japanese knife performs similar tasks to a Chef’s knife – in fact, some Western chefs now opt for a Santoku knife over a Chef’s knife. A Santoku knife can be used on meat, fish and veg for a variety of cutting tasks including slicing, dicing and mincing, so is a great all-rounder and will be useful in any kitchen. Some Santoku knives have ‘hollows’ (known as a Granton edge) on the side of the blade, which helps stop food from sticking.
Aptly named, a salmon or ham slicer is really good at slicing salmon and ham. Its long, thin, flexible blade can take on a whole ham with ease, and is perfect for effortlessly cutting smoked salmon or other fish into wafer thin slices.
Tip: This knife does a competent job of slicing up bigger fruit like melons too.
This Japanese-made knife looks very similar to a Chef’s knife, but features a thinner, harder blade. While this makes it a superior slicer, bear in mind it may damage more easily than a Western Chef’s knife in some heavier tasks.
Another Japanese knife, primarily used to behead and fillet fish. Only one side of the blade is ground, which helps to reduce damage to the fish when chopping, and also means you can cut very close to the fish bones when separating the fillet.
Debas are heavy with a stiff blade and can also be used for cutting meat and boning poultry.
Want to create fancy decorative garnishes out of your fruit and veg? This is the knife for the job. In French cooking, it’s used to sculpt root veg into seven-sided shapes (tourné cut), and it can be used to create rosettes, fluted mushrooms and other ornamental designs.
Its curved blade is perfect for peeling and slicing small fruit and veg, while its curved, firm tip is spot-on for removing blemishes. It’s very similar to a paring knife, and some people substitute one for the other.
A Nakiri knife is a Japanese knife for cutting and shredding veg. Its thin blade is adept at delicate slicing, while it can also cut through bigger, tougher veg effortlessly – its straight blade means it’ll go right through the veg to the chopping board in one easy chop!
These look a bit like bread knives but they’re usually longer and have a rounded end. They are used to cleanly cut through sponge and trim cakes in preparation for icing.
Slicers are similar to carving knives, but are generally longer, narrower and more flexible, which allows them to cut more precise, thinner cuts of meat. Blades can vary – some are serrated while others are smooth, and some have ‘hollows’ on the side to reduce friction and stop the slices sticking to the knife. It’s down to personal preference which one you go for.
Sashimi knives are long and slender, used to very thinly slice raw fish for sashimi. They can also be used to fillet medium sized fish and to prepare seafood. There are two types – one with a blunt tip and one with a point, but they both fulfil the same role. The blade is sharpened on one side only so that the ultra-thin slices of fish come away from the knife easily.