Kitchen Knives - Which one do I use?
so many choices!!
I had a discussion with someone the other day about knives, and he told me the story of a family member (I’m not naming names) who spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen but had an unusual way of doing knife work. You see, she’d find herself the smallest plastic cutting board in the house and grab a steak knife in order to chop her meat or vegetables.
You could imagine my eye twitching at this point in the story.
What’s the big deal? Why can’t you use a steak knife to cut an onion? It’s a knife, isn’t it?
All knives are not created equal.
You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight, you don’t wear high heels to a marathon, and you don’t use a steak knife for prepping vegetables.
I can understand how folks can feel uneasy about kitchen knives - they are sharp and dangerous (unless you’re using the Pencil Grip & Bear Claw), there are so many varieties, and they can be really expensive. For some people, it seems easier to use what they have rather than investing in something new, or use the knife they’ve always used rather than having to learn a new way of doing things.
What are the disadvantages to using the wrong knife?
As with many products, when you use a piece of kitchen equipment for an unintended purpose, things can go wrong - and when knives are involved, you run the risk of physical injury.
The way you cut your meat and vegetables has an impact on the way they cook or blend with other ingredients. Using the wrong knife can lead to a lack of control over your knife cuts and inconsistencies in the final product.
Loss of efficiency
There have been many times in the kitchen where I’ve trudged away at a task in a certain way, wasting my time or straining my body, when I could have stepped back and thought of a better way to do it. Using the proper equipment in the right way allows you to save time and effort, and who doesn’t want that?
So, if you are okay with spending more time than is necessary to chop things poorly at the risk of bodily harm, then you can stop reading and go back to living dangerously. For the rest of you, here are some examples of kitchen knives and how you might use them.
Types of knives
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The smallest of knives is the paring knife. The name refers to the act of paring which involves holding a food item in one hand and pinching off edible bites by pulling the blade toward your thumb. Its short, curved blade doesn’t work well with larger ingredients and really isn’t meant for any knife work involving a cutting board. The most practical uses include trimming broccoli florets.
Slightly longer than the paring knife is the utility knife. Typically, a utility knife has a 3-4” blade that is entirely or mostly curved.
While the utility knife can be used on a cutting board, the blade is still only as wide as the handle, making it difficult to chop or slice near the heel without bashing your knuckles. Instead, I use it for slicing smaller items like mushrooms or to mince herbs, ginger, or garlic.
Serrated / Offset Serrated
Often confused for a bread knife (although it works beautifully as one), the scalloped-edge serrated knife is like a saw in the kitchen. It is best used in applications where the product is hard on the outside but tender or fragile on the inside: things like bread, tomatoes, olives, or grapes.
The offset serrated has a unique offset handle that allows you to saw all the way through the product without bashing your knuckles on the cutting board. Why do they make non-offset serrated knives? Beats me!
This butcher’s knife is long, wide, and weighty – perfect for cleaving meat or chopping tough vegetables. Once you get used to handling it, the cleaver can be just about as practical as the chef’s knife (though it kinda looks like overkill).
The chef’s knife is the go-to, multi-tasking, does-pretty-much-everything kitchen knife (hence the name). It combines many of the benefits of the other knives – the curved edge of the paring knife or utility, the flat edge and girth of a cleaver, and the knuckle-saving handle position of a cleaver or offset serrated knife. I use it to do pretty much everything.
The boning knife is another butcher’s specialty blade perfect for removing bones from meat. Most home cooks don’t fabricate enough primals to make it worth having around, plus a good utility knife can do the trick.
I remember when the santoku blade was all the rage. It’s almost like a chef’s knife / cleaver hybrid, or the result of taking a chef’s knife and breaking off the end. So if you’re in the market for a curved cleaver or a shorter chef’s knife, I suppose you could buy one of these. Frankly, I’ve never seen the purpose, but if you like the feel of it, more power to you.