The origins of the kitchen knife are thought to date back more than 2 million years to Africa where “Oldowan tools” were made by chipping stones to create a sharp edge to cut or chop game meat and tough plants.
Since then, knives have become a quintessential tool for food preparation. Blades are most often made of steel, including stainless or carbon, but other options are available, such as ceramic and titanium. Blade hardness is an important factor; harder steel remains sharper and is less prone to damage. From slicing and dicing to mincing and chopping, each type of knife is best suited for certain tasks.
No kitchen should be without this versatile knife. With a wide blade that tapers to a point, the chef’s knife can be used for slicing, chopping, mincing and dicing. Also known as French knives, chef’s knives come in several sizes and have a blade that is commonly 6 to 12 inches long. Cut with a rocking motion, keeping the tip of the blade on the cutting board, rather than pulling the knife back and forth in a sawing motion.
With a short and sturdy blade, the paring knife is easy to use and control. Use it for peeling and cutting produce, coring tomatoes, deveining shrimp, slicing cheeses and creating garnishes. Paring knives come in different styles, each with its own unique use, including the bird’s beak with a downward curved blade for peeling rounded produce, or the sheepsfoot with a rounded tip and straight edge for julienning.
A cross between a paring knife and chef’s knife, the utility knife is a multipurpose tool that can have a straight or serrated blade. Its blade is thinner than a chef’s knife and longer than a paring knife, making it ideal for slicing and chopping fruits and vegetables.
As its name suggests, the bread knife is ideal for slicing and cutting crusty baguettes, bagels, brioche, biscuits and more. While bread knives are not the best choice for chopping or slicing through most types of produce, they do feature a long, serrated blade that is useful for other tasks such as leveling cakes and slicing foods including meat loaf, roasts and tomatoes.
While many knives serve multiple purposes, there are varieties designed with specific uses. Butcher knives are most often used for breaking down and trimming the fat from meat, while boning knives are best for filleting fish and separating meat from bones. Oyster knives are ideal for shucking and come in sizes and options such as Boston, Frenchman, New Haven and Providence styles.
Among the many tableside knives are butter knives for spreads and jellies; dinner knives for soft foods such as fish and vegetables; steak knives with a serrated blade for meats; dessert knives for cakes and pastries; and cheese knives for slicing and crumbling different types of cheeses.
Common in kitchens for simple and safe knife storage, knife blocks are made of materials including wood, bamboo, plastic and steel. Some are magnetic to hold knives securely in place. Most knife blocks have several slots to accommodate a collection of different sized knives.
Knife sets and blocks often come with a honing steel, which is a ribbed steel rod with an attached handle. While it often is thought of as a knife sharpener, the honing steel actually helps to “true” or realign the blade, since repeated contact with a cutting board can cause the blade to start to bend. To use a honing steel, slowly run a clean, dry knife at an angle against the rod two or three times before each use, or after 20 to 30 minutes of use. Wipe the knife with a damp cloth to remove any steel shavings that may have accumulated on the blade after honing.
Best Knife Blocks In 2020 — Top 10 Ultimate Reviews. Chef’s Resource website. Published 2020. Accessed October 11, 2020.
Choosing, Maintaining and Sharpening Kitchen Knives. Culinary Lab Contemporary Cooking School website. Accessed December 17, 2020.
Hominid Tools. Handprint website. Updated March 20, 2007. Accessed October 11, 2020.
Types of Knives. WebstaurantStore website. Accessed October 11, 2020.
Top Uses for a Bread Knife — It’s Not Just for Bread. F.N. Sharp website. Published May 1, 2019. Accessed October 11, 2020.