A fillet knife is a type of kitchen knife designed to clean, fillet, and prepare fish for cooking. Filleting knives come in manual and electric models. The blades are usually between 6 to 11 inches in length, narrow, curved, and flexible. This build and shape allow the knife to slice along the backbone with ease. Filleting knives are usually flexible to cut fish meat at intricate angles around the rib cages and other areas.
The shape of a fillet knife improves filleting efficiency. For example, the trailing point blade can slice skin effortlessly. There’s also a curved spine that enhances the knife’s belly for better slicing. As a result, it’s easier to make small cuts to fillet meat quickly.
What are the Different Types of Fish Fillet Knives?
Filleting knives are available in two types: manual and electric. Choosing one or the other will depend on your needs and preferences.
Traditional Fillet Knife
A traditional fish fillet knife is like any other kitchen knife that you have to maneuver by hand. It requires skill and strength to operate it. Most anglers prefer this knife type arguing that it saves more meat.
Additionally, you can use manual fillet knives for other purposes with fewer complications. The prices are usually lower, and you can take the knife anywhere without concerns about electricity or battery life.
Electric Fillet Knife
Electric fillet knives have motorized handles. These motors power up the blade, which moves back and forth. The movement is similar to a reciprocating saw.
Generally, the blades have serrations. This design allows the knife to fillet fish faster and with less effort. Prices of electric fillet knives are usually higher. Also, these knives are often harder to control and require practice to avoid excessive meat wastage.
An electric fish fillet knife needs electricity or batteries to work. Thus, you face some limitations that require preparation. Corded knives are better indoors, where a power outlet is always nearby. Alternatively, cordless fillet knives are ideal for outdoor expeditions. The batteries last for approximately two hours, enough time to fillet many fish.
German vs. Japanese Style Fillet Knife
The Deba knife is the Japanese version of the German or western fillet knife. Deba knives have significant differences when compared to the standard German fillet knives. The blades of Deba knives are usually broad and small with thicker spines. German knives are narrow, long, and have thinner spines. As a result, the German fillet knife is lighter and more flexible than the Japanese fillet knife.
Blade material. The Japanese Deba knives may have stainless steel blades, but most come with carbon steel. This material is durable and can hold a sharper cutting edge. However, carbon steel blades require thorough maintenance frequently. German fillet knives usually feature stainless steel blades. These are more resistant to rust, corrosion, and stains. Therefore, maintenance is less strict than with carbon steel.
Handle material. Japanese fillet knives often have wooden handles, whereas German fillet knives are available with plastic and metallic handles.
Bevel. Most Japanese knives have a single bevel. The blades are sharper and can produce thin slices of fish meat with little effort. On the other hand, German knives can be single or double bevel. German fillet knives are easier to sharpen on both sides of the blade with the same procedure.
What Is a Filleting Knife Used For?
Use fillet knives to slice through fish skin and separate the fish meat from the bones. These knives have a particular design that makes them ideal to prepare fish of different sizes and shapes. The blades are thin to make clean cuts and flexible to contour around fish rib cages and backbones. As a result, you experience less friction and waste less meat while filleting.
Additionally, fillet knives serve other purposes besides filleting fish. For example, you can use them to debone chicken or poultry with small bones. These knives can also slice fruits for salads and decoration. Avoid using this knife type for heavy tasks like cutting through thick bones in pork or beef. The blades are thin and could snap under the pressure.
A fillet knife has a very thin blade that cuts through the skin and soft meat of the fish. These blades are also flexible to adapt to the fish’s backbone while slicing. The knives produce less drag as you bring the blade down to the tail and remove the fillet from the fish carcass.
Fillet knife blades separate the skin from the meat of the fish with minimal waste. The tip of the blade can make an incision on one end of the fillet, and the cutting edge skins the fish in back and forward motions. The result is a skinless fish fillet ready for cocking or freezing.
A fillet knife can remove pin bones, Y bones, and rib cage bones to make the fish fillets edible. When you fillet species like northern pike, you can use the tip of the blade to remove embedded bones. The curved blade also allows you to scoop out rib cage bones after filleting the fish.
Gutting and Bleeding Fish
It’s a common belief that bleeding and gutting the fish improves how it tastes. Fillet knife is a perfect tool for preparing fish before filleting. The trailing point blade can make incisions below the head to let the blood flow quickly. Additionally, you can use the cutting edge’s length to slice the belly of the fish and remove its innards.
The fillet knife is a good scaling tool substitute if you don’t have one readily available. Use the dull spine of the knife against the fish skin to remove scales from the tail up to the gill plate.
The fillet knife is a good substitute for flexible boning knives. These knives have thin and flexible blades that cut around intricate bone shapes and small gaps. Use the flexible blade to slice chicken, separate their breasts, and remove fat. This knife type is not as good as the boning knife, but it’s still good. (Find out more about the differences between fillet and boning knives.)
A fillet knife is narrow enough for more precision during intricate work. As a result, you can use the sharp blade to turn carrots and other vegetables into fun shapes if you don’t have paring knives.
Use the fillet knife to peel fruits like mangoes and apples. The knife can also remove pith and pineapple bark without wasting flesh.
What Makes a Good Fillet Knife?
A good fillet knife must have sharp blades, comfortable handles, and proper shapes. Here’s what you need to consider before buying one.
Carbon steel and stainless steel are the primary materials used to produce fillet knife blades. Each of these materials has advantages and disadvantages, so make sure to choose wisely.
Fillet knives on the lower end usually feature carbon steel. This material is harder and provides decent flexibility. Carbon steel blades also require constant maintenance because they’re not highly resistant to corrosion and rust. However, the durability of this steel type makes the knives last long. Japanese knifemakers prefer carbon steel for its capacity to hold a sharp edge.
Most fillet knives come with stainless steel blades. Blades made with this material are more resistant to rust and corrosion. Therefore, you don’t have to clean them constantly when you’re on a fishing trip. The downside is that this steel type isn’t as sharp as carbon steel. Still, I recommend stainless steel for casual anglers and home cooks.
Fillet knives must be flexible to separate the meat from the contours of the fish’s carcass. The blade thickness often dictates their flexibility. Thicker blades are more rigid, and thinner blades are more flexible. The spine of most Western fillet knives is usually between 2.5 to 3.5 mm. Blades with this thickness can be flexible and bend while holding an edge. Choosing the correct thickness level will also depend on the size of the knife and what fish you plan to fillet.
Small fish like crappie require you to cut around bones at tight angles. In this case, you will need a 6-inch knife with a thin blade and high flexibility. So, you must consider a knife with a thinner spine to bend and flex while maintaining a cutting edge.
Larger blades can be flexible, but you don’t want them too flexible. Bigger fish often have stronger scales or skin, and highly flexible blades would bend awkwardly. To handle bigger fish, you will need blades with a thickness in the higher 2.5-3.5 mm range.
Fillet knife blades can be between 6 to 11 inches long. The size of the blade is important because it indicates the fish size it can handle.
A 6-inch blade is ideal for smaller panfish like crappie, bluegills, or perch. On the other hand, you will need a 7-inch blade for species like bass, trout, and walleye. Lastly, 9-inch or bigger blades are better for filleting large specimens like pike, catfish, or salmon.
Consider buying a fillet knife with a 7-inch blade if you only need one. Blades of this size are versatile enough to fillet fish of small and large sizes decently.
The blade of a fillet knife may have subtle or prominent curvatures. Personally, I prefer knife with a pronounced curved edge. This shape allows me to use the whole length of the cutting edge to fillet the fish faster and easier. The tip of the knife must also lead to a sharp point. It will be useful while chopping or scoring vegetables and removing pin or Y bones. Overall, curved and flexible fillet knives are often more versatile.
The bevel of fillet knives is between 12 and 17 degrees. This bevel creates razor-sharp edges with a sharp tip for piercing. It’s also longer than most other knives, including steak knives. Therefore, it’s easier to maneuver the blade around the rib cages and backbones of fish without ripping the meat.
A disadvantage of this bevel angle is that it sacrifices durability for sharpness. If you try cutting through bones or rough items, the blade will suffer chips and cracks.
Typically, Western filleting knives have double beveled blades. They’re sharp on both sides, and the cutting edge is sturdier and thicker. These blades are durable even if you have to cut through small fish bones. Sharpening is also easy because it requires the same process on both sides of the blade. Lastly, right-handed and left-handed anglers can use the knives without performance issues.
Japanese-style fillet knives usually have a single bevel. One clear example is the Deba. These knives have only one side sharpened, and the cutting edge is often sharper than double beveled knives. Nonetheless, single beveled fillet knives are mostly suitable for professional work. They take time to master and can produce thinner fish meat slices for fancy dishes. Additionally, a single-bevel fillet knife is harder to sharpen and you may have trouble using it if you’re a lefty.
Fillet knives have full tang or partial tangs. Full tang knives have the steel of the blade run through the entire handle. These feel balanced and provide more control. The knife is easier to maneuver, and you can guide the blade with more precision. A full tang blade allows you to save more meat while filleting or skinning the fish.
Partial tang knives have blades attached to the handle. Alternatively, the steel runs through the handle only halfway. These are lightweight and usually more affordable. Also, the handle scales are tightly sealed and require light maintenance. However, you can’t apply much pressure on the knife, or it could break. Fillet knives with partial tang may struggle with larger fish specimens like salmon or catfish.
Fillet knives usually have wooden, plastic, or rubber handles. Handles made with wood are good-looking, but they’re harder to maintain. You must clean them thoroughly each time to prevent damage and smells. This material also feels slippery, something you don’t want while filleting.
Plastic and rubber ergonomic handles are the better option. They’re also faster to maintain. Plastic is less likely to soak up odor, and rubber is easy to clean to prevent strong smells. These materials have grippy textures to hold the knife firmly. Plus, the materials are available in different colors to indicate the knife’s purpose.
Finger Guard and Handle Guard
Some fillet knives have finger guards to keep your fingers away from the blade while cutting. You can find it on the top of the handle, right behind the heel of the blade. It’s a convenient safety feature when your hand is slippery with fish blood or guts.
One thing to consider is that finger guards often complicate sharpening. When you run the knife over the whetstone, the finger guard keeps the blade lifted. Consider this issue before buying.
Additionally, fillet knives may have a handle guard to let you secure a firm grip on the knife. Handle guards are on the bottom of the handle and prevent your hand from slipping downwards.
What are Some of the Best Fillet Knife Brands?
Wusthof is a Germany based manufacturer that produces different types of kitchen knives. The most popular mode is the Wusthof 7-Inch fillet knife, which can last a decade. This knife is available at $135 and features quality stainless steel.
Founded in Switzerland, Victorinox is popular for its Swiss Army Knives. The brand also produces quality fillet knives, like the 7-Inch Fibrox Pro. This one’s available at around $31, with a curved spine, high carbon stainless steel blade, and an ergonomic handle.
Shun’s origins date back to over a hundred years ago in Seki City, Japan. Currently, the brand still produces its knives in this city. They use tough steel like VG-Max, and appealing handles often made with Pakkawood. The most famous knife from this company is the Classic 7-Inch at $129.95.
Originating in 1955, Tojiro brought innovation to stainless steel blades. The company continued evolving over the years to become a staple in today’s cutlery business. Boning, Gyutos, and fillet knives are some of the products this brand makes. You can see the quality of Tojiro knives in the 7.5-Inch Pro Filet Knife. It sports a beautiful molybdenum vanadium blade that blends with the steel handle seamlessly.
MAC cutlery comes from professional Japanese craftsmen. They use quality Japanese steel and procedures that forge tough knives. The 7-inch fillet knife comes with alloy steel and comfy wooden handles. This knife is a bit expensive ($149.95), but worth considering as an alternative.
Mercer’s narrow and long 8-inch fillet knife is a tool for professionals. It features high-carbon Japanese steel, and a Santoprene textured handle. As a result, the knife improves your cutting experience for less than $50. With this knife, Mercer proves that their USA-made cutlery is top-notch.
Dexter Russell stands as the largest and oldest producer of professional knives in the United States. The Dexter 7-Inch narrow fillet knife features a basic handle. However, the handle shape adapts to the hand decently. Additionally, the high-carbon steel makes for a sharp edge. If you need a cheap but reliable fillet knife, consider this one for only $35.
Where to Buy a Fillet Knife?
These are some common places where you can buy a fillet knife.
Online: Shopping for fillet knives online allows you to compare multiple options first. Plus, you can go to platforms like Amazon, eBay, or Walmart to get feedback from other customers. It will give you an idea of how the knife works, whether it’s comfortable, and if it’s good for the price.
In a Store: Going to a local store is an excellent method to experience the knife by yourself. You can check out the weight, the blade’s length, and whether the handle fits nicely in your hand. Plus, you can compare multiple fillet knives to decide which one feels better.
At a Fish Market: Fish markets have specialized tools for anglers, including knives. Therefore, you don’t have to spend time looking for options yourself. You may talk to other anglers at the market to get more insight.
From a Fisherman: An expert’s opinion can narrow down the list of options significantly. Look for online expert opinions, or talk to experienced anglers. They can give you detailed reviews about knives and the most popular brands. You can also ask about which knife size is more suitable for each fish species.
From a Friend: Friends are likely familiar with the area and the fish species populating it. Thus, they may have just the ideal knife for you. The prices could be lower, and you will know for a fact that the knife is legit.