Types of Kitchen Knives and Their Uses

This guide is for the inquisitive home cook to learn about the most common types of kitchen knives and their uses. Upgrade your tools and it might seem like anything is possible in the kitchen.

Different types of kitchen knives spread out on a table

Maybe you’ve just purchased a knife set and realized you don’t actually know what each is meant for. Maybe you’ve had a knife set for a while and you’re starting to wonder how the ones you never use might make your life easier. Either way, understanding the different types of kitchen knives and how to use them can open up a whole new world. Grab a knife and board and let’s get cutting!

Chef’s knife

Chef’s knife

A chef’s knife is one of the most versatile tools. Any professional chef will tell you this is a must-have. It should feel like an extension of your arm. It’s a go-to for chopping and dicing vegetables, fruit, and herbs. As well as cutting a variety of other ingredients like meat, poultry, and fish. They are usually 8 to 10 inches long, and the blade rounds at the tip. Don’t use it to peel small produce (it’s too large to be precise) and avoid using it to carve cooked meat.

Santoku knife

Santoku knife

With more of a straight blade, it has small indentations that make it easier for food to slide off. Like a chef’s knife, it’s also very versatile, great for chopping, dicing, and mincing ingredients, or slicing cheese. You can use it for just about anything you’d use a chef’s knife for; both are great all-purpose knives.

Carving knife

Carving knife

Now, we’re getting a little more niche. After cooking a large cut of meat like beef, pork, or roasted turkey, a carving knife comes in handy. They are more narrow for precision and can be longer for slicing through wider pieces. They may have indentations on the side of the blade to make it easier to release each slice.

Bread knife

Bread knife

Bread knives are long and have serrated edges. They easily carve through soft or crusty bread without sacrificing its integrity. When using, move it more like you would a saw than a chef’s knife. In addition to slicing bread, they can be used with other baked goods, too like cake. Other than bread, you can use them to cut large melons where straight blades often get stuck, slicing tomatoes, and breaking bars of chocolate into smaller bits.

Utility knife

Utility knife

Utility knives are smaller than chef’s knives but not quite as petite as paring knives. They’re great for slicing and chopping small to midsize vegetables and cuts of meat. A serrated utility knife comes in handy for slicing sandwiches as well. A straight-blade utility knife is helpful when peeling produce, though sometimes that’s better left to paring knives.

Boning knife

Boning knife

A boning knife has an extremely narrow and flexible blade that tapers to a pointed tip. It’s used to debone cuts of meat more efficiently and reduce waste in the process. It can cut through those tough connective tissues and joints that other knives struggle with. Just remember, cut around bones, not through them. I also use it to remove the skin from fish as it helps to easily separate the flesh.

Paring knife

Paring knife

Paring knives are proof that you should never judge a knife by its size. This little piece of cutlery has a very thin blade that’s super sharp. It expertly peels, chops, slices, minces and removes seeds. It’s my go-to for slicing fruit or cutting up hot peppers. Though you don’t want to cut large meat or large produce with it, you can use it for just about everything else and you’ll find yourself reaching for it a lot. It’s available in either a straight or serrated edge.

Steak knife

Steak knife

Steak knives are less for cooking and more for eating. They should be set at the table with any good steak dinner. They are sturdy and sharp so that you can enjoy those expensive steaks with ease, cutting it like butter. They are often sold in sets, with a straight or serrated edge.

Kitchen shears

Kitchen shears

More like scissors than knives, kitchen shears are used to cut herbs off their vines, chop salad greens, and open up the packing on processed foods. You can also use them to cut bacon into small pieces if you’re adding it to pasta or a cobb salad. Try using shears to cut canned and jarred goods — think canned whole tomatoes or jarred chilies. You can also use shears to cut pieces of meat into bite-size chunks, say if you’re making a stir-fry with chicken.

Sharpener

Knife Sharpener

Every good knife collection needs a knife sharpener, and there are a few different types. You can buy sharpening stones which are like little metal bricks with coarse to fine grit. The blade edge is held at an angle, then drawn down the stone until it becomes sharper. It gives the home cook more control over the sharpening process, and more knives can be sharpened like a chef’s knife, meat cleaver, paring knife, and even kitchen shears.

A popular type is called whetstones. This skill takes more time and practice, and yields extremely sharp edges. There are also various Manual sharpeners that are the most affordable, with little slits you run your knife through. Electric knife sharpeners are also an option, though manual ones do the trick just fine.

Honing steel

Honing steel rod

Honing steels are like long metal rod used to correct a blade’s edge before and after each use. It doesn’t technically sharpen or remove any metal; it essentially aligns and repositions where the edge of the knife is to make it more effective. Not to be confused with sharpening steel rods that do in fact sharpen your blade.

Tourné knife

Tourné knife

This type of pairing knife has a short blade that is curved, like a bird’s beak. The use might not be obvious at first, but the shape has advantages for round ingredients or creating round shapes. I first used one in culinary school to make small football-shaped potatoes that we would boil, then saute in hot fat to get the surface browned and crisp, it was quite fancy. Nowadays I use it to remove the peel from citrus for desserts or drinks. It’s also great for removing the skin from onions and ginger root.

Meat cleaver

Meat cleaver

The large knife with a rectangular shaped blade has many functions. It’s primarily used to chop through bone. The flat side can be used to crush garlic to make it easier to remove its peel before mincing. However, both my grandfather’s used it like a chef’s knife to chop vegetables, slice meat for stir-fries, pretty much everything. They come in various sizes and weights, so you can purchase a size that feels comfortable to you. The big blade can be intimidating and a little dangerous if not used correctly.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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12 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Sandra says

    I am so grateful for this information on knives! Thank you! I need to purchase a set as an amatuer in the kitchen, can you advise me on where to buy a proper set?

    • Gary Valente says

      Pretty much any knife made in Germany, Whstoff is one of the best brands( Just make sure always made in Germany not China or anywhere else), Chicago cutlery, Brooks brothers. Carbon not stainless steel

    • Michael Cass says

      I think Jessica would agree that if you are starting out you can, as you mention, buy a complete set. However, that can get pricey and you might not have a need for all the knives in a set. If I were starting out again I would buy a high quality chef (also known as a French) knife and a high quality paring knife. When I was in College and later after grad school I had the opportunity to work in a couple of commercial kitchens–one in a restaurant and one at a very fancy country club. I learned a lot about cooking at these jobs but I also learned that professional chefs relay primarily on a good chef knife and paring knife for most of what they do. I got a high quality chef’s knife as a wedding present many decades ago. I still use it almost every day and it is a breeze to sharpen. It has a solid wood handle and balances perfectly in my hand. So, to make a long story short if I were you I would buy the best chef’s knife and paring knife I could afford and add to my collection as the need occurs. Best of luck.

      • Maria Estrada says

        Totally agree.Thru all the years i have been married I bought a Lot of knives but mainly used the chef and pairing knive.Very important to save and buy a quality one,otherwise you end with them in the garbage.[Good quality does not mean paying a lot of money for one knive]

  2. Robert says

    Thanks JG for useful overview on cutlery. As you know, the household cook, and the professional as well, become dependent upon the chefs knife, the boner, and the pairing knife, maybe even in that order. I would suggest to your followers to spend on those necessities, and build a tool kit gradually, as dictated by need, rather than purchasing the entire arsenal only to have at least 1/2 of it rarely used. My 2 cents, and thank you again for your insights.

  3. Linda S Webster says

    Thank you for this. I knew what most were called and what I use them for, but was interested to see what the others were for.

  4. Erin says

    Thank you Jessica for another helpful, informative post – this is great info and does demystify my own set of knives!

  5. Larry Gaines says

    what is more important is the quality of the knives and Manufactures. There are many cheap poor quqlity knives on the market and a good quality knife is way overpriced

  6. Marion Malvini says

    I loved all of the explanations of the knives and have all of them as well as the sharpener you featured. I only use the Santuko and my small paring knife for everything. I also use a bread knife and have a small tomato knife. I could live with only these 4 knives. Use them every meal every day. I still love all of your excellent scientific information not to mention your recipes. I’ve made many and love them all.

  7. Darlene Couch says

    Regarding knives, You mentioned Carbon instead of Stainless steal. Not sure what you meant.
    Also it would be nice to mention the proper care of knives. Clean in dishwasher or not. Air dry or wipe with a cloth to dry.
    Handles wood or medal. This may relate to steak knives.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Those are great suggestions to add to the article, thank you Darlene! Carbon steel knives tend to be harder than stainless steel, so it holds it’s sharp edge longer and is easier to sharpen.

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