Know Your Knives: This Guide's a Cut Above

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You might have a good knife set, but that doesn't do you an ounce of good if you don't know how to use them. We'll give you the rundown on the most common types of kitchen knives and help you get a handle on the best tasks for each.

The big four

According to chef Brendan McDermott, these four knives will let you do just about anything in the kitchen (except serve soup).

Chef's knife

A chef’s knife has a blade between 6 and 14 inches long and 1½ inches wide, with a curve that becomes more pronounced near the tip. Originally, this type of knife was intended to slice large cuts of beef , but it's much more versatile than that. From cutting meat to chopping vegetables , this multi-purpose tool is a must-have.

Paring knife

The paring knife has a short blade, typically between 2½ and 4 inches long, and an edge that looks like a smaller, plainer version of a chef’s knife. Its simple, sharp blade is great for intricate work like peeling fruit or vegetables, deveining shrimp or creating garnishes.

Serrated utility knife

Also called a tomato knife or sandwich knife, this one has a blade between 4 and 7 inches in length. It looks like a bread knife, but it’s shorter and sharper. It'll cut cleanly through fruits and vegetables without tearing them, and it also works well for small slicing jobs like cutting bagels or sandwich fixings.

Boning knife

Thin and flexible with a curved blade that measures between 5 and 7 inches, a boning knife is designed to get into small spaces to detach meat from bone. There are a few different variations here — firmer blades are better for cuts of beef, more flexible blades are better suited for chicken. A really bendy version called a filet knife is great for delicate fish.

Large knives

Sometimes you need to bring out the big guns.

Bread knife 

A bread knife looks like a longer, exaggerated version of a serrated utility knife. Its grooves let it slice cleanly through bread without crushing it. Bread knives can have a classic knife handle, or they might have an offset handle to keeps your knuckles from knocking the bread.

Carving knife

Measuring between 8 and 15 inches long, the carving knife looks like a thinner, stretched-out chef’s knife. Its length and very sharp edge allow precise, thin slicing of meat — especially denser, larger items like a roast.

Cleaver

This horror-movie favorite is a large, usually rectangular knife. It has a very heavy, thick blade that narrows to a sharp edge. It's primarily used for splitting or “cleaving” meat and bone. The cleaver is a necessity for restaurants that prepare their own meat, but it's not considered an essential home kitchen tool (though it does look cool).

Small knives

These little guys are all about finishing work and details.

Fluting knife

With a short, straight blade that's 2 to 4 inches long, a fluting knife looks like a shorter, slightly sharper-angled version of a paring knife. This one's used for delicate peeling or creating decorations.

Mincing knife

A mincing knife looks like a miniature version of the blade in Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Pit and the Pendulum." But in the culinary world, it's just meant to finely cut vegetables and herbs by moving the blade in a rocking motion.

Peeling knife

Related to the paring knife is a curved blade known as a tourné knife. This short blade curves downward, but is not as exaggerated as a hook. Use it to remove skins and blemishes from fruits or vegetables or to make a specific cut called tourné, especially popular with root vegetables.

Trimming knife

The trimming knife looks like a miniature boning knife, and is usually under 3 inches long. It can handle a variety of small tasks like removing meat from bone in small areas. If you want to get all retro and make radish roses, a trimming knife will let you do it.

Specialty knives

Specialty knives are good at — no, great at — one thing. There are tons of different kinds, but here are a few of our favorites.

Cheese knives

Cheese knives are designed for — you guessed it — slicing cheeses. Knives designed for soft cheeses will have perforated holes, which keep the cheese from sticking to the metal; sharper knives are used for harder cheeses.

Decorating knife

Designed to make elaborate cuts, decorating knives have a simple pattern in the blade. One of the most common decorating knives is adorned with a zigzag shape, which is about as much fun as it sounds.

Grapefruit knife

The grapefruit knife has a long, flat, dull blade that looks kind of like an artist palette knife with a serrated edge. This is used in the kitchen for separating the fruit of a grapefruit from the peel and pith. Some fancy versions have a double blade — one on either side of the handle — with one for the peel and the other for the inner membrane.

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Know Your Knives: This Guide's a Cut Above