What is a “knife”? This is the question we’re here to answer today. Or at least, what are different knives called, what do they look like and what are they used for? Being able to match up all three of these pieces of information makes buying a new set of these important kitchen implements vastly easier. This guide is color-coded based on my color-coded knives and is intended to help you Google and/or wander Bed, Bath and Beyond more successfully based on your particular needs. For more advanced terminology, Wikipedia, obviously. Here are the basics:
Name: Bread knife
Description: Generally 8-10 inch, narrow serrated blade
Purpose: Its little teeth grab onto hard-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside loaves of bread to make an even cut all the way through
Name: Slicing knife/Carving knife
Description: Generally 8-10 inch, plain-edged blade of medium width; slightly wider towards the handle but not as tapered as a chef’s knife (pink)
Purpose: Slicing through hunks of meat with its long, even, sharp blade
Name: Chef’s knife
Description: Generally 8-10 inch, plain-edged blade; much wider towards the handle with a curved taper towards the end
Purpose: An all-purpose knife designed to rock back and forth on the cutting board as you’ve probably seen Food Network experts perform many times very, very quickly. Use this for most of your prep work: cutting veggies, herbs or thin cuts of meat.
Name: Santoku knife
Description: Generally 6-8 inch blade; relatively short and wide. The top of the blade rounds off towards the tip and the bottom is less curved than a chef’s knife. Some have round indentations on the side of the blade to protect food from sticking.
Purpose: The Japanese version of an all-purpose chef’s knife. Its name roughly means “three uses,” which are slicing (chopping), dicing and mincing. Because of its straight edge, you’d chop with an up and down motion instead of rocking back and forth. Its pros or cons versus a chef’s knife are really a matter of preference.
Name: Multi-Utility Knife
Description: Generally about 6-8 inch blade; can be serrated, plain-edged or a combination of both; about the size and shape of a steak knife
Purpose: Miscellaneous. This knife is not the “best” knife for any certain task, so it’s kind of just extra for whatever non-serious cutting you might have. Many internet sources use it to slice sandwiches.
Name: Citrus knife
Description: Generally 3-4 inch serrated blade
Purpose: Not very common or necessary, but hey, it came in the set. Like a paring knife but serrated, which makes it more ideal for fruits, which, like bread have one texture on the outside (the skin) and another texture on the inside.
Name: Paring knife
Description: Generally 3-4 inch, straight-edged blade; basically looks like a mini verson of a chef’s knife
Purpose: An all-purpose knife used for more precise tasks like cutting fruit, peeling vegetables (if you don’t have a peeler) or slicing more thinly than you might be able to with a larger chef’s knife.
A chef’s knife and paring knife are pretty definitively considered the most important knives to own. Honestly part of why I chose to buy a full set is so I’ll have more clean knives at one time. Another note is that these knives are Japanese, which means they are more lightweight, which you may like or dislike. In general online reviews are pretty useful to research quality within your price range. Whatever you choose, keep them sharp. The right knife sharpened right up for the right task makes your life easier than you ever thought it could be, like when curly-haired people finally find the right conditioner. Bliss. Get it.
Jen Cantin graduated from Clark University in 2011 with a degree in English and Journalism. She shares other (a)musings at Deep Fried Epiphany and dedicates this post to seriously slicing her finger three times in the same place within a month. Scarred 4 lyfe. Yikes.