Different Types of Kitchen Knives and What They’re Used for

From paring knives and boning knives to bread knives and chef’s knives, each type of kitchen knife out there is meant to make our time in the kitchen that much smoother and more efficient.

In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to deny their absolute necessity. The functionalities and importance of this utensil are proved time and time again when one is in the kitchen. Basically, no kitchen is complete without at least a few types of a kitchen knife.

However, given all the different sizes and shapes that they come in and the range of applications you can derive from them, telling them apart can be confusing. To help you with that, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to kitchen knives.

The Essentials

First, let’s have a look at the most common types of knives. And by that, we mean the knives that you most likely need.

Chef’s Knife

The instantly recognizable look and shape of the chef’s knife can be attributed to the fact that each and every household, probably, has one.

That’s because it’s the most important one. Featuring a broad blade with an upward-tapering point, this versatile knife is designed to facilitate rapid mincing, chopping, dicing, and cutting. The best ones can even slice through cuts of steak.

Because chef’s knives are such an essential, they are usually available in a variety of sizes between 6 and 12 inches long. The right size is usually the one that fits the user’s hand best.

Utility Knife

Utility knife cutting carpet

The utility knife is also one that provides general-purpose benefits. However, the main difference between this and a chef’s knife is, quite obviously, the size.

Beyond that, utility knives also tend to be sturdier. And because they are usually sized between 4 and 7 inches, they are mainly used for cutting meat and vegetables that a chef’s knife would be too big for.

You can also sometimes use a utility knife to cut dense fruit, carpet, leather, hose but the knife’s ability to do so will usually depend on its quality.

Utility knives may sometimes come with serrated or scalloped edges to enhance cutting flexibility.

Santoku Knife

Originating in Japan, the Santoku can be said to be a more dynamic iteration of the chef’s knife. The three main intended functions of this knife are mincing, dicing, and slicing.

What sets the best Santoku knife apart from a Chef’s knife is its relatively thinner, shorter build, which provides greater balance. Together with the flat blade, a Santoku is prevented from rocking back and forth like the chef’s knife.

Another distinct characteristic of the Santoku is the hollowed-out spaces along its edge. This allows for greater suction while cutting juicy fruits/vegetables and thick cuts of meat.

Paring Knife

With a small blade that usually doesn’t measure more than 4 inches, a paring knife is ideal for making garnishes and peeling vegetables and fruit.

The paring knife allows you to enjoy higher precision compared to other knife types. And because of its strong handle, which is intentionally larger than the blade, the knife is also extremely useful in trimming extra fat from meat.

Other Useful Knives

Perhaps you already own all of the essential knives we’ve described, but they’re just not cutting it (pun intended). Here are some other knives that can further enhance your kitchen experience.

Bread Knife

As the name might suggest, this knife is ideal for cutting items like bread and cake. This is thanks to the serrated edge of the blade that is slightly duller than other knife types. Read our review article on the best bread slicer for homemade bread.

Measuring between 7 and 10 inches long, a bread knife is designed such that you can slice through soft ingredients without having to exert too much pressure.

However, cutting bread is not the only thing you can do with it; some even use it for soft poultry, meat, and seafood.

Boning Knife

Once again, the name gives away the function of this nifty knife: it helps you take meat apart from bone. That makes it ideal for filleting fish or cutting up small cuts of meat.

Although the width of the blade might vary, best boning knives are characterized by the overall narrowness of the blade and the tapered-out point. The flexibility of the blade also varies, and that’s something you’re going to have to decide for yourself, depending on the knife’s intended use.

Meat Cleaver

As you may already know, the cleaver is undoubtedly the heaviest and biggest knife one can have in their kitchen. With a formidably large, rectangular blade, the cleaver is used to cut through tough meat and thin bones.

Because of its strong, uniquely shaped blade, the cleaver is ideal for chopping applications and can come in handy when dealing with thick vegetables like pumpkin.

Some also like to use the blade flat on its side to crush ingredients like garlic.

Nakiri / Nakiri Bocho

This one also has Japanese origins, like the Santoku knife. Featuring a thin, wide rectangular blade, the Nakiri is intended primarily for the chopping of vegetables.

> Read our review of vegetable chopper.

This is achieved with the Nakiri’s straight blade, which allows you to easily cut through vegetables like carrots, turnips, and eggplants length-wise with ease.

The Nakiri is also ideal for slicing vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumber as it does not rock back and forth on the board. This knife isn’t a good choice if you’re looking to cut meat.

Steak Knife

These small knives are ideal for cutting one thing: steak. Frequently used as table knives when serving cooked steak, the steak knife can also be used for cutting fish.

While most steak knives come with serrated edges, this isn’t always the case. However, it’s true that a steak knife with serrated edges is likely to stay sharp for a longer time.

Kitchen Shears

A lot of people might not consider this a necessity, due to the fact that it’s not a knife, but a pair of scissors. The functionality they can provide, however, makes the kitchen shears one of the most versatile utensils in one’s kitchen.

You can achieve a lot with a pair of kitchen shears, such as cutting soft vegetables and portions of chicken or snipping herbs. Some kitchen shears come with special blades meant to help with cutting such vegetables as onions.

However, you might be wondering what sets kitchen shears apart from regular scissors. That would definitely be their blades, which are extremely sharp and sturdy, making them much stronger than scissors.

Specialty Knife Types

And finally, we present the non-essentials. Most people probably won’t really see the necessity of having the following knives in their kitchen; however, they can be quite useful, so see if there’s anything you might need from the list.

Fillet Knife

Although similar to the boning knife, the filleting knife has a more specialized purpose: filleting fish. A fillet knife is characterized by a very long, thin, and flexible blade. They can make a huge difference when preparing sushi or sashimi. Read our review of electric fillet knives.

Oyster knife

Oyster knives were crafted to demystify shelling oysters and clams. Opening up the hard shell of an oyster with a regular knife is both dangerous and messy. That’s why these knives were designed to give a powerful cut, that’s at the same time, surgical in its precision. Read our review of oyster knife.

The handle of an oyster knife is just as important as the blade. The best ones provide a firm grip, easy control of the knife, and protect the hands from slipping toward the blade. They’re often made of wood, but newer models utilized hard plastics, which also offers a broader range of textures and colors.

The blade is usually made from stainless steel, and it’s length ranges from 2 ½ – 4 inches. It’s naturally sharp on one side and blunt on the other, to protect the fingers. The width of the knife could be significant or taper to a point, with a few strategic bends and tapers for every preference.

These variations tend to the various sizes of oysters, as well as the intended utilization, whether it’s opening the shell, or scalloping the contents

ULU knife

The Ulu knife is an ancient tool that was devised by the Inuits thousands of years ago. Its unique shape, where the handle is on top of the blade, gives it significant versatility. It’s powerful, precise, and practical. That’s why it stood the test of time and still serves in kitchens all around the world.

Originally, the handles of Ulu knives were made from horn, with blades made from carved slate. The horn and bone tradition carried through, in addition to other regular materials like wood. The blades also developed from slate to copper, eventually opting for stainless steel.

The width of the blade ranges from 2-16 inches, which goes with the multitude of uses for Ulu knives. Historically, they were used in cooking, hunting, sewing, fishing, skinning, and even building.

Currently, the best usage of an Ulu knife is in cutting hard food materials.

Sushi knife

A sushi knife is required to cut vegetables, trim fish, then slice perfectly neat rolls without a hitch. These stringent demands dictate a special design for the knife.

The blade of the sushi knife is where all the magic happens. For starters, it’s usually made from high carbon steel. This comes in sharp contrast with the stainless steel construction of most high-quality knives.

The reason is simple; the knife needs to be extra sharp. Even at the expense of its propensity for rust. The uniqueness of the sushi knife continues all the way to the edge. The sharpness is limited to one side of the edge only, with the other left blunt.

Turns out that this single-bevel orientation is the best way to cut through the tender food materials. It renders fine slices that do not cling to the blade.

The handle of a sushi knife isn’t an afterthought. Its D-section cut is tailor-made to fit the hand. This easy-grip allows sushi chefs to use the knife for precise cutting, without straining their hands.

Cheese Knife

The texture of most types of cheese makes it so that sometimes cutting through it can cause them to crumble. That’s where the best quality cheese knives and slicers come in; they can get the job done without sticking too closely to the cheese. There are many different types of cheese knives, depending on the type of cheese.

Butcher’s Knife

With a thick, curved blade, the butchering knife is used for butchering animals. The thicker the blade, the more ease with which one can strip, cut, and split meat from a carcass. Compared to the meat cleaver, the butcher’s knife has a thinner and lighter blade.

Carving Knife

As the name might suggest, this knife is ideal for carving large whole poultry pieces like your Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas chicken/ham. This is possible due to the highly resistant blade.

Peeling Knife

The slightly rounded, sharp-pointed blade of the peeling knife makes it an ideal choice for those who spend a lot of time peeling fruits and vegetables. However, you can usually get away with just using a paring knife.

Trimming Knife

Usually measuring between 2 to 3 inches, the curved blade of the trimming knife allows for precise slicing and peeling. It’s also ideal for creating decorations such as carrot/radish roses.

Slicing Knife

With its long and straight blade and rounded tip, this knife is ideal for slicing through cooked protein such as turkey, ham, or sirloin steaks without tearing them. It looks similar to a bread knife.

Conclusion – That’s It Guys!

For the experienced cook, it can be an absolute necessity to have a complete set of most/all kitchen knife types. Using a tool designed specifically for a certain task is always going to yield better results than using something general-purpose.

However, not everyone spends so much time in the kitchen. So choose your knives based on your particular needs, preferences, and methods of cooking.

Brian Casey
About Brian M. Casey

As a food lover, Brian M. Casey developed a fascination for cooking at an early age. He soon realized that not only the ingredients matter but also the knives and the accessories used to turn those ingredients into a delicious dish. This way, Brian began his journey on the magnificent world of kitchen knives, outdoor knives, knife accessories, and much more. After years of experience with many ups and downs, Brian now wants to share everything he’s learned during his journey as an avid knife collector, a well-seasoned knife maker, and an all-around knives enthusiast.

Leave a Comment