Most cutting tasks in the kitchen are achievable with a good chef’s knife. That said, a blade that's designed specifically for a purpose can bring more ease and precision to the cut. The right knives will encourage you to prep food with confidence and creativity: you'll be free of worries about how best to approach a cut.
This article aims to introduce the most popular types of kitchen knives and the tasks they’re designed to handle in the kitchen. You will learn what to and to not include in your knife set.
Types of Kitchen Knives
There are probably more than a dozen different kinds of kitchen knives, some versatile, others dedicated for one specific use.
The 11 knives in this list are the most popular knives for daily cooking and food serving jobs. They are the ones that make up the core of all professional as well as home cook knife sets.
The Must-Have Blades in Your Kitchen
1. Chef’s Knife
Also called a cook’s knife, this is the most important blade in your kitchen.
The chef’s knife typically has a broad blade tapering upward to a point, allowing it to rock back and forth for fast mincing. It can be anywhere between 6 and 12 inches long— the size is often chosen with consideration to how big the cook's hands are.
A chef’s knife can be forged or stamped, although the best kitchen knives are usually forged. Because it has to endure frequent use, it usually comes with a full tang— the bottom part of its blade extends to the whole length and width of the knife handle. This ensures better stability and durability than a partial tang.
The chef's knife can be used for almost every cutting task in the kitchen, from cutting chicken to chopping carrots. That is why it is the must-have item in every kitchen knife set collection.
As the king in the kitchen, the chef's knife also more or less decides which sharpening device you should use. Ideally, your sharpener should be compatible with all of your knives; however, when the knives come from different collections, the sharpener should at least work on the material, grind, and edge angle of the chef's knives. Read our buying guide and reviews of best knife sharpeners in 2021 to learn how to get the right one.
2. Santoku Knife
The Santoku knife is a Japanese version of the Western-style chef’s knife. It’s slightly shorter and thinner, and is used in place of the chef’s knife by some cooks, especially those who prefer a smaller, lighter blade.
Santoku means “three virtues”, which are slicing, dicing, and mincing. This knife is an all-rounder and can do almost everything a typical chef’s knife can.
Due to a flat blade, it doesn’t rock on the cutting board. This makes it less suited for when you want to mince herbs, but a better choice for skinny slices of veggies.
The Santoku is sometimes made with a hollow edge. The dimples along the blade allow it to cut through meat, fish, and other soft and tough materials without the food sticking to it and reducing the speed and the precision of the cut.
3. Utility Knife
Measuring between 4 and 7 inches in length, the utility knife is usually used for cutting food that is too small for a chef’s knife.
It’s not great for chopping or slicing large items, but the narrow blade and small tip allows it to handle tasks such as thinner slicing, trimming, and filleting even better than a chef's knife.
4. Kitchen Shears
Though shears are not technically a type of knives, they can be used in place of a knife. Kitchen shears are a pair of scissors with thick and strong blades to handle various food materials. They are useful for snipping herbs, sectioning chicken, preparing shrimp, octopus, and many other cutting tasks. For many home cooks, they are a favorite for slicing pizza.
Some shears designed specifically for fast cutting of green onion or other herbs may have more than one blade. However, the blades on those shears are usually thin and weak. They also take more effort to sharpen than ordinary shears, which themselves are already picky about what type of knife sharpeners work on them.
These types of kitchen knives are one-purpose items dedicated to rather specific uses.
5. Boning Knife
The boning knife, as its name suggests, is used for separating meat from the bone, fileting fish, and cutting up meat. Smaller boning knives can also be used in place of a paring knife for peeling and trimming veggies.
Boning knives are typically about 3 to 8 inches in length, with slightly varying blade widths. The blades can be flexi, semi-flexi, or stiff, with stiff blades being the most popular among home cooks due to the enhanced precision of the cut.
6. Bread Knife
Bread knives are used for cutting bread, cakes, and sometimes meat, poultry, and seafood. They are designed in a way that allows you to saw through the bread without pushing down or squishing it.
Made to cut large chunks of food, the bread knife belongs to the longer spectrum of kitchen knives. It can be between 7 and 10 inches long. Its blade is narrow and straight (i.e. having no belly), and is always serrated, with big “teeth” along it.
7. Cleaver Knife
The cleaver is usually the bulkiest and heaviest knife in the kitchen.
A typical cleaver has a full tang, a thick spine and a very wide blade with little or no belly. This design allows it to cut through bones, meat, and hard and thick materials such as squash or pumpkin in a chopping motion.
With a wide and heavy blade, the cleaver is also ideal for beating and pulverizing meat, poultry and fish, and crushing garlic.
8. Paring Knife
If you love making garnishes for your food and drinks, the paring knife is a must-have.
A paring knife usually comes with a thin 3 - 4 inch blade with a pointed tip. It can be used for cutting and peeling fruits and veggies, and trimming excess fat with great precision.
The most common styles of paring knives include the spear point, sheep’s foot, and bird’s beak, named after the shape of the tip.
9. Steak Knife
Also called table knives, steak knives are small knives that are used at the table for cooked food.
They’re great for steak, chicken, and fish.
Steak knives can come with serrated, semi-serrated, or non-serrated edges. Serrated steak knives stay sharp for a longer period of time without honing or sharpening. Non-serrated knives become dull faster, but they’re also easier to sharpen.
10. Nakiri Bocho
The Nakiri bocho is a Japanese style knife used mostly for cutting vegetables. It features a thin and wide blade and squared-off tips.
As it is designed for chopping veggies, the knife has a long straight blade. This allows it to cut long vegetables (eggplants or carrots, for example) in half with ease. It’s the knife you should use when you want to make thin slices out of cucumber, bitter gourd, or tomatoes.
11. Fillet Knife
This knife looks very similar to the boning knife. However, there are subtle differences between the two.
Since a boning knife is designed to remove meat from the bone, it tends to be thicker and have better force endurance. The fillet knife, meanwhile, is made to cut thin fish slices and thus is typically thinner, longer, and more flexible.
The distinctions are so small the two knives can substitute each other in most cases. Knifemakers sometimes blend the two, hence the emergence of the boning fillet knife. If you’re an expert in sashimi or chicken boning, you’d probably notice the differences. Other than that, either of the two should be sufficient for casual home cooking.
So there you have it, a quick round-up of the different types of kitchen knives. Which of these knives are in your kitchen? Do you prefer a chef’s knife or a Santoku for general cutting work? Are there any other important knives that you think should be on the list? Let us know in the comment section below.
A writer and entrepreneur, Luna’s day doesn’t start at the computer keyboard, but in the kitchen.
Half of her working hours are spent on mixing ingredients for her recipes. The other half involve working with the tech team to research and test the tools and appliances that promise to make kitchen work effortless and mess-free. From a kitchen knife or water filter to the Instant Pot, if it can help save time and effort for the home cook, Luna and her team are on it.
Luna’s extracurricular pastimes include camping, travel, and photography.