Preparing food is easier, faster, and safer when you have the right tools, but with so many different types of knives on the market, finding the one that suits your needs can be tricky. Without the right knowledge, it’s all too easy to buy a selection of specialist knives you hardly ever use — meaning you end up with a selection of unused knives languishing at the back of your utensil drawer.
To complicate matters even further, naming conventions for knives can be seriously confusing, with many cutting tools having multiple names for the same style. To help you make sense of it all, we’ve compiled a guide to every type of knife and their uses, including advice on which one is best for different kitchen tasks. So, whether you’re starting in catering and want to know which knives to invest in, or simply want to kit out your kitchen at home, this guide will tell you everything you need to know. We’ll discuss:
- Parts of a kitchen knife
- Forged vs stamped knives
- Essential kitchen knives, including paring, bread and cook’s knives
- Meat knives, including butcher, boning and carving knives
- Fish knives, including salmon, fillet and santoku knives
- Vegetable knives, including tomato, peeling and nakiri knives
- Cutlery knives
- Knife edges, including serrated, straight, hollow ground and scalloped
- Knife blade materials: stainless steel vs titanium vs ceramic vs Damascus steel
Throughout, we’ll also talk about which qualities to look for in a good kitchen knife, including which of our professional-quality chef’s knives is best for a specific task. So, whether you’re a kitchen novice or a seasoned cook looking to brush up your knowledge, just read on to find out everything you need to know about the many different types of knives.
The different parts of a knife: Anatomy of a kitchen knife
If you want to find the best-quality knife for a particular task, it will help to have a basic working knowledge of the different parts of a knife. Here, we’ll explain what each part of a knife is called, and what function it serves. You should note that this is just an overview of the different features you will see on most basic knives: many specialist knives may be constructed slightly differently.
Point: The very end of the blade. This is usually sharpened to a fine point, and can be used to pierce or score the surface of food.
Blade: The blade is the name given to the part of the knife which is used for cutting. It’s usually crafted from steel, although it may also be ceramic, titanium or even plastic.
Edge: This refers to the sharpened part of the blade, which is used for the majority of cutting work. The sharpness of the knife is dictated by how finely the edge is ground, and this will depend on both the quality of the knife and how often you sharpen it. It may be serrated (as with bread knives) or it may be straight.
Tip: The front part of the knife’s edge, just beneath the point, is called the tip. It’s the part of the blade which is normally used for delicate chopping and cutting work.
Spine: The spine is the blunt upper side of the blade, opposite to the cutting edge. The thickness of the spine gives strength to blade: as a rule, the thicker the spine, the stronger the blade. It’s also important for providing balance to the overall knife.
Heel: The heel is the lower edge of the blade, furthest from the tip, next to the bolster. It’s often the widest part of the blade. This part of the edge is most commonly used when the chef needs more strength or pressure to cut through thicker or tougher foods.
Tang: The tang is the unsharpened part of the blade which connects the blade edge to the handle. The tang is vital to the overall balance, weight, stability, and strength of the knife. The best knives are often considered to be those with a ‘full-tang’: one which runs from the end of the blade all the way to the butt. In some designs, the tang also functions as a handle.
Handle or scales: Sometimes called ‘scales’, the handle is the part of the knife grasped by the chef during use. It can be made from a number of materials, and may be straight or designed with finger grooves and other ergonomic features that make it easier to hold. Some knife manufacturers will dispense of the handle altogether, instead creating a knife using a single piece of steel, so that the tang also functions as a handle.
Bolster: The bolster is the raised area between the blade and the handle. It puts a small space between the chef’s hand and the blade, to stop the fingers from slipping down onto the blade during cutting work. It also provides additional weight to help balance the knife.
Handle fasteners, or rivets: These are the rivets or screws which fix the handle parts to the tang. Less expensive designs may forego the rivets and attach the handle to the tang using resin or epoxy instead.
Butt: The name given to the end of the handle, at the very bottom of the knife.
Forged vs. stamped knives
Before we talk about the different types of knives in more depth, it will help to outline the differences between forged and stamped knives. These terms refer to the way the knife is made, and there are benefits and disadvantages to each method.
A forged knife is any kind of knife which has been forged from a single piece of metal. To construct a forged knife, a block of steel is hammered into shape using a powerful press, before being honed and sharpened. The handle is then added, before the blade undergoes a final shine and polish.
When steel is forged, the shape is altered right down to a molecular level, meaning the blade is exceptionally strong. In a forged knife, both the blade and the tang are made from one continuous piece of steel, making them strong, durable and well-balanced. Our Tramontina, Wusthof Trident and Sabatier knives are used by professional chefs and cooks around the world for exactly this reason. However, they’re often more expensive than stamped designs, owing to the costly time- and labour-intensive crafting process. But, the upside of this is that you won’t need to buy new knives for many years, as they’re very long-lasting.
You can tell if a knife is forged by looking for a steel bolster between the blade and the handle: this is usually a strong indication that a knife has been forged rather than stamped.
Stamped knives are made using a single sheet of steel, which is then cut out into the shape of a blade using a powerful stamping machine — a bit like a cookie cutter. The handle is then added, and the knife undergoes hardening, sharpening and polishing to create a keen edge and a smooth finish.
Because they’re constructed from a thinner piece of steel, this type of knife tends to be much lighter than forged knives. The manufacturing process is also much cheaper and quicker, meaning that stamped knives are generally much more affordable than forged ones. However, as a result of this, they’re generally not as good at retaining an edge as forged styles, meaning they will usually need sharpening more often. There’s also a greater risk of the handle breaking.
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Stamped knives used to have something of a poor reputation, but nowadays the manufacturing process has been refined and improved, meaning that there are now many brands producing stamped knives of a comparable quality to forged styles. In fact, some cooks even prefer them for their lighter weight and comfortable hand-feel. Manufacturers such as Victorinox and Geisser are renowned for crafting innovative stamped knives of an extremely high quality, so you can get a lightweight stamped knife with a similar sharpness and lifespan to a forged one.
It’s normally possible to tell if a knife has been stamped by looking for a bolster. Stamped knives will not usually have a steel bolster: instead, the heel of the knife runs straight into the handle.
What are the different types of knives?
There are almost countless types of knives with a huge number of different applications, and what may be an effective knife for one kind type of food may not work so well on others. That’s why it’s important to find the right type of knife for the job. Here, we’ll discuss each kind of knife, including advice on which sorts of foodstuff and tasks each one is best suited to.
Kitchen essentials: Basic types of kitchen knives
This section introduces the most essential and frequently used types of kitchen knives — the ones that no cook, whether amateur or professional, should ever be without. They will see you through a huge range of different tasks, so read on to learn the basic cutting essentials that should be in every kitchen.
A chef knife — sometimes called a chef’s or cook’s knife — has a long, broad blade with a straight edge. It is widest across the heel, tapering up to a finely pointed tip.
What is a chef knife used for?
The curved blade of a chef knife allows it rock back and forwards on a chopping board, which makes it the perfect tool for chopping and dicing lots of vegetables at once. The broad heel area means it can stand up to more pressure during heavy-duty chopping work, which is useful for cutting thicker or harder foods, like potatoes, onions, or parsnips.
A great all-rounder, a chef knife is one of the most versatile knives in the kitchen, perfect for everyday dicing and mincing tasks.
A utility knife is a similar shape to a chef knife, but smaller and slimmer. Some utility knives also have a sharp tip which tapers up towards the spine, to allow for more intricate work.
What is a utility knife used for?
A utility knife is good for chopping smaller foods and vegetables, like shallots. It shares many of the qualities of a chef knife, but it can be a useful tool when working with smaller food items, as the utility knife allows for more precise cutting work. So, when your cook’s knife is a little too big for the job, you’ll want to reach for a utility knife instead.
A paring knife has a short, slim, evenly sized blade with a pointed tip. It tends to be light, to allow for easy handling during delicate work.
What is a paring knife used for?
The small but mighty paring knife is used to cut, chop and slice fruits and vegetables, but they can also be used for a multitude of other kitchen tasks. Despite their small size, paring knives will make light work of harder foods, like potatoes, while still being manoeuvrable enough to carry out delicate tasks like peeling, trimming, and removing seeds from fruit and veg.
A bread knife has a long, evenly sized blade, with a sharp serrated edge — like a saw. This sort of knife is designed for use on softer items.
What is a bread knife used for?
The long blade and sharp serrated edge of a bread knife makes it the perfect tool for sawing through all sorts of different breads, including crusty bread, baguettes, bagels and bread rolls. This is because the grooved edge allows the chef to cut through softer textures without crushing them out of shape.
Bread knives can also be used to slice cakes with soft, fluffy textures, as they can cut through them without knocking the air out of the sponge or damaging the overall shape. If you don’t have a cake leveller in your kitchen, a bread knife can also be used to even out your sponge cakes after baking.
The best knives for preparing meat
From huge cuts of beef to delicate lamb joints and poultry, meat often requires careful preparation using specialist tools. So, every meat-lover should know their boning knife from their cleaver. Here, we’ll discuss the different types of meat knives, including which types of knives are best for different dishes.
A carving knife is a long, slim knife, tapering to a sharp point. Sometimes called a slicing knife, a carving knife is one of the longest kitchen knives in the kitchen. Its narrow width means that it produces less drag as it cuts through food, allowing it to create cleaner, more uniform slices.
Uses of a carving knife
When it comes to serving meats like poultry, pork, lamb or beef, a carving knife is the best tool for the job, as it will produce thin, neat, evenly sized slices. It can also be used to tackle larger fruits and vegetables, such as melons or courgettes, which can be tough to slice through using smaller or broader knives.
The long, thin blades are also ideal for cutting cakes, as they’re long enough to cut perfect slices in one smooth cutting motion.
Cleaver or butcher knife
Cleavers — also called butcher knives — have a flat, rectangular-shaped blade. They come in a variety of sizes, depending on their intended use. They’re one of the broadest, heaviest knives, and sometimes feature a hole near the spine of the blade so they can be hung up when not in use.
What is a cleaver used for?
A cleaver is used to chop up raw meat, either as part of the butchery process or to divide it into smaller portions before cooking. The large, heavy design means that it can even cut through bone, making it one of the best knives for raw meat prep.
Given its bulky size, this sort of knife is generally only used on raw meat, rather than cooked food. The broad, flat, heavy surface of cleavers can also come in handy for crushing garlic cloves or ginger against a chopping board.
A boning knife is a slim blade with a very sharp edge, usually tapering upwards to a fine pointed tip. It’s fairly short (usually only around six inches) and is usually rigidly constructed, although more flexible blades are available for delicate meat.
What is a boning knife used for?
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A boning knife is the best knife for cutting meat bones and trimming cartilage to create the perfect joint or cut before cooking. The pointed tip and slim blade make it a great choice for cutting around the bone without ruining the surrounding flesh.
The strong, rigid blade can also be used to cut through cartilage. When de-boning pork or beef, a slightly harder knife is best, while a more flexible blade will suit poultry. Boning knives are designed to be light and manoeuvrable, so you can count on them to be comfortable and easy to use.
The best knives for fish
A fish knife is any type of knife which is used to prepare seafood, and may be used for filleting, descaling and removing bones from fish. Whether you like to slice and dice your own sushi and sashimi or roast fish whole on the bone, there are several different types of fish knife that will make the process simpler. The tools in this section are all designed to make preparing and serving the catch of the day easy, fast and safe. If you’re looking for information on dinner table fish knives, then see our section on the different types of cutlery knives.
A filleting knife is a long, slim knife with a flexible blade. It has a very sharp edge and a finely pointed tip for piercing through skin, and to allow for intricate bone-removal work. It has a similar appearance to a boning knife, but the blade is thinner and more flexible.
What are filleting knives used for?
The slim, flexible blade is perfect for removing bones without damaging the delicate flesh of the fish. They differ from other knives in that they’re often used to cut through food horizontally, rather than vertically — this allows chefs to cut around the backbone of whole fish to create perfect fillets. Filleting knives are great for all kinds of work involving fish, so they’re perfect if you like to try out lots of new recipes.
Salmon knives have a very long, flexible blade with a double edge, and are designed to fillet larger fish. Salmon knives are slim and sharp to allow for precise filleting and skin removal, and many designs also have indentations along the side of the blade.
What is a salmon knife used for?
A salmon knife is used to slice, fillet and remove the skin from larger fish, like salmon. They’re slender enough to fit between the skin and flesh without damaging the delicate fish, allowing the chef to create clean, tidy fillets. Because they can be used to create precise fillets, they’re very effective at minimising waste. Many salmon knives also have dimpling or indentations along the surface of the blade, which reduces drag during cutting and helps to stop the raw fish from sticking to the metal.
Santoku knives — originally called santoku bocho knives, meaning ‘three uses’ —are great for precise cutting, dicing and mincing. One of the most popular types of kitchen knives in their native Japan, santoku knives have long, slightly tapered blades with a drop point to allow for more precise, intricate cutting work. They usually have dimpling along the blade to prevent food from sticking to the metal.
What is a santoku knife used for?
The sharp, straight edges and drop-point tips of santoku knives make them an effective tool for cutting fish. They’re particularly useful when preparing sushi or other raw fish, as the dimpling on the flat side of the blade helps to stop delicate items from sticking to the metal. The large, broad blade can also be used to scoop up and transport chopped food after cutting.
Their usefulness isn’t just limited to fish, though: santoku knives also make light work of vegetables. Another great all-rounder, they make an effective alternative to chef or utility knives.
While many chefs are happy to prepare veggies using a chef knife or paring knife, those who are serious about their cooking may want to invest in specially designed vegetable knives. These have been carefully crafted to help you to chop lots of veg quickly, easily and safely. They can also help you to mince and dice your favourite veggies more finely, or create ribbons or other garnishes.
Sometimes called Japanese vegetable knives, nakiri knives look like smaller, slimmer versions of a meat cleaver. They have a broad, rectangular shape, and they almost always have a hollow ground edge, which is very sharp.
What is a nakiri knife used for?
Nakiri knives are an excellent tool for chopping vegetables. Because of their squared shape and straight edge, you can use them to chop right through to the chopping board without needing to rock the blade backwards and forwards: instead, you just bring the blade down in a single chopping motion. This makes nakiri knives one of the best tools for larger veg which are often difficult to cut, like sweet potatoes or butternut squash.
The deep, flat blade makes them a great choice for shredding larger veggies like cabbages or lettuce, too. The keenly sharp edge can also be used to create very thin, even slices, so it’s perfect if you like to add ribbons of vegetables to dishes as a garnish.
The blade is usually about 6-7 inches in length, and they’re designed to be lightweight and easy to handle. Tomato knives have a rounded blade with a sharp, serrated edge.
What are tomato knives used for?
Tomato knives are designed for cutting and slicing tomatoes, which require a specialised cutting tool owing to their delicate skin and soft, fleshy centres. The serrated edge of the knife cuts cleanly through the skin without crushing the soft interior, allowing the chef to create neat, even slices or segments. As tomatoes cutting, many tomato knives are specially designed with textured plastic or rubber handles to help provide better grip during cutting work.
A peeling knife has a short, rigid, and slightly curved blade. It will usually have a straight, extremely sharp edge.
What is a peeling knife used for?
A peeling knife is primarily used to peel vegetables, potatoes and fruit, and it’s also sharp enough to easily slice through tough skins. They have a rigid blade and sturdy, ergonomic handles, both of which help prevent the knife from slipping during peeling work, making the process much safer.
A guide to different types of cutlery knives
The tools in this section are all designed to make it easier to cut your food when dining, so whether you’re a steak aficionado or want to make the most of a fish dish, these knives are the ones you’ll want to have in your cutlery drawer.
The most basic kind of table knife, a dinner knife is the sort of standard knife you’ll use for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. They’re usually constructed from metal or stainless steel, and will often feature a very slightly serrated edge to help with tougher foods.
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Steak knife A steak knife is a table knife which has a serrated edge and sharply pointed tip. This allows the diner to easily cut through tough cooked meat at the dinner table, such as steak. Nowadays, they’re also often served with burgers and other large meaty foods. Sharp, lightweight and versatile, steak knives are a must-have for any establishment which serves a lot of meat dishes.
Fish knife A fish knife has a wide, flat blade with a sharp, curved edge. This shape makes it easier to remove the skin from cooked fillets, while a pointed tip is often included to aid the removal of small bones.
Butter knife A butter knife has a soft, blunted edge and a broad paddle-like shape, which allows the diner to spread butter without scraping up crumbs or accidentally slicing the bread. Butter knives are perfect for buttering scones, English muffins or bread for sandwiches, so they’re a must-have for any fans of afternoon tea.
A guide to different knife edge types
Undoubtedly the most important part of any knife, the edge is what makes a blade sharp. Different types of edges are needed to cut through different foods, so we’re going to run through the different types and explain which job is best suited to each.
The most common type of edge, a straight edge is also sometimes referred to as a flat ground edge. It’s usually found on chef’s knives, paring knives, and utility knives.
A serrated edge is one which has sharpened grooves and ridges all the way along the blade, which helps to cut tougher foods. They’re also helpful for slicing softer foods without crushing them out of shape. Bread knives, tomato knives and steak knives will usually have serrated edges.
A scalloped edge has hollow dimples along the side of the blade, which help to stop food from sticking to the surface of the knife. They’re also sometimes called a Granton edge knife, after the first manufacturer to patent the design. They are particularly useful when cutting wet or sticky items, like raw fish or vegetables. Japanese santoku blades and salmon knives will often have this sort of blade.
Hollow ground edge
Commonly seen on Japanese knives, a hollow ground edge is one which tapers down from the middle of the blade to create a very fine, sharp edge. This makes them extremely sharp, but also more vulnerable to wear and breakage, and they may need sharpening more frequently. Nakiri knives will almost always have a hollow ground edge.
What’s the best knife blade material? Stainless steel vs titanium vs ceramic vs Damascus steel
The material that your kitchen knives are crafted from can have a big impact on their strength, durability and sharpness, so it can help to know more about the best knife blade materials before you buy.
Each type has its benefits and drawbacks, and some materials are better suited to certain tasks than others. Read on to learn everything you need to know about knife materials before you invest in a new set of knives.
Stainless steel blades
Stainless steel is arguably the most popular material for knives, as it offers great durability and resistance to rust and corrosion. The alloy is made using carbon and iron as a base, and chromium is added to repel stains and give the blade a lasting shiny finish. This makes the blades strong, durable, and very good at resisting staining.
The downside of stainless steel is that there are currently a wide variety of alloys commercially available, so the quality of the steel can vary drastically depending on the supplier. We only stock kitchen knives from professional quality manufacturers, such as Tramontina and Scandi, so you can be sure that any stainless steel knives you buy with us are made using premium alloys.
Carbon steel blades
Carbon steel is a type of steel alloy made from carbon and iron, without the chromium that is added to stainless alloys to help them repel stains. Steel with a high carbon count is often used to forge knives that require exceptional strength and rigidity, and it can also retain an extremely sharp edge when properly cared for. This makes carbon steel a great choice for peeling knives or cleavers.
However, because they don’t have the chromium that’s added to stainless steel alloys, carbon steel blades are prone to staining and discolouration, particularly when they come into contact with acidic foods. So, if you’re after a lastingly shiny collection of knives that you can put on display, it may not be the choice for you. But, if all that matters to you is the sharpness and durability of the edge, you’ll struggle find to a sharper knife than one with a carbon steel blade.
A ceramic blade is one that is crafted using hardened zirconium dioxide. They are non-metallic and non-magnetic, and sometimes coated in other materials for extra durability. They’re very lightweight, which many chefs prefer, and they’re also thought to be more hygienic than metal styles. Another bonus of ceramic is that the blades can be printed with stylish patterns, colours or detailing, like our Zenith ceramic knives, which makes them all the more impressive to have on display.
The biggest downside of ceramic knives is their fragility: they’re more prone to breaking or cracking if dropped compare to other types of knives, so they need to be handled with care. They also need sharpening with specialist tools, as regular whetstones will damage the blades. But, with the proper attention, they should be an effective cutting tool for years to come.
Damascus steel blades
Damascus steel is made using two or more different alloys, hammered together to forge a strong steel with an intricate, wavy pattern. Originally invented in medieval Damascus, this type of steel has a long and storied history, and has been used to create knives, swords and other weapons for hundreds of years. This sort of metal is extremely strong, durable and sharp, but nowadays it’s mostly valued for its beautiful appearance.
Modern designs can be expensive owing to the meticulous crafting process, but Damascus steel knives last for years and will retain their sharp cutting edges for a long time. As such, they make excellent knives for serious cooks, or simply items of beauty for collectors.
One of the hardest materials on the planet, titanium is non-magnetic and highly resistant to rust, which makes it an excellent option for pocket blades and diving knives. But, it tends to be less sharp and not as good at holding an edge, so it’s less effective as a kitchen knife than steel or ceramic types. Nonetheless, many collectors will still prize finely made titanium knives for their stylish dark grey colouring.
Keeping your knives sharp
A keen knife is much safer and more effective than a blunted one so, once you’ve found your perfect cutting tools, you’ll need to sharpen them regularly to keep them working as efficiently as possible. Our selection of whetstones, steels and knife sharpeners has all the tools you’ll need to keep your blades in top condition, which will prolong the lifespan of your knives and make cutting work safer and easier.
The way you store your knives can have an impact on their sharpness and lifespan, too. Just throwing them in a cluttered utensil drawer can leave them vulnerable to rust, wear and damage, and it’s much easier to accidentally cut yourself. So, it’s prudent to store them using a steel knife block or magnetic rack — take a look at our collection of knife blocks, racks and wallets to find styles to suit every kitchen.
A set of professional chef’s knives will help to ensure that food preparation in your restaurant kitchen is safe, efficient and easy, and it will even improve the quality of your dishes. Now that you’re up to speed on the different types of knives and their uses, you can shop for a new collection with confidence. And, remember to check out our restaurant knowledge hub to discover a wealth of tips and tricks for professional caterers, including advice on opening a restaurant, hiring staff, getting your alcohol licence, cleaning your commercial kitchen, and much more!