Types of Kitchen Knives and How to Use Them
Good knife skills are an important part of learning to cook – and cook well. Not only will your finished recipe look better, it will most likely cook more evenly as well. Proper knife skills will prevent injury and save you time in the kitchen as well.
There are a variety of knives and each has a different use. Learning how to hold the knife safely and use it in the way it was meant to be used is a skill that anyone can develop with a little practice.
Types of Knives
You may not need every type of knife out there, especially not at first, but it is good to know what they are and how they are used so that you can make informed choices about the knives that you add to your collection.
A chef’s knife is the basic knife that everyone needs in their kitchen. It can be used for nearly any type of cutting, chopping, mincing, or julienne.
This knife is easily recognizable by the blade which is made with an upward curve toward the tip. The blade is broad enough to cut through larger ingredients and it comes in a variety of lengths from six inches to twelve inches. When choosing a chef’s knife consider the size of your hands and your experience in the kitchen. Short bladed knives are easier to control and fit better into smaller hands than the larger blades. Longer blades will speed up cutting chores but are harder for most people to control.
To cut ingredients you should grip the handle between your forefinger and thumb, wrapping the rest of your fingers around the knife handle to stabilize it. Cutting is done in a rocking motion, keeping the tip on the cutting board and never bringing the blade up higher than the knuckles on the hand you are using to hold the ingredients. Keep the fingers of your non-cutting hand curled under so that the knife cuts just in front of your knuckles
Bread knives have a long, thin blade and serrated edges that allow you to cut through bread cleanly and easily. Cut the loaf of bread with a sawing motion, gently moving the knife through the loaf.
Boning knives range from about 4 ½ inches to 7 inches long. The blade is narrow and curved to allow you to cut around the bones in meat, poultry, and fish.
The carving knife has a long, thin blade with a straight edge. It carves easily through meats and poultry, as well as cutting through large items like watermelons.
A cleaver has a short, wide blade reminiscent of an ax. It is used for chopping through bones and joints of meat.
A paring knife is used to trim and peel produce of all kinds. The blade is usually between 2 and 4 ¼ inches long. The blade is thin and narrow and tapers to the tip. Its shape allows you to dig out the eyes of potatoes or cut away bruises on apples easily.
A utility knife is made to “do everything else”. It is usually about 5 to 6 inches long and may or may not have serrated edges. You may want to have both a smooth edged blade and a serrated blade, depending on how much you cook.
The serrated edge cuts easily though the skin of tomatoes and peaches to make even slices while the smooth blade is great for slicing cooked meats for sandwiches.
How to Sharpen Knives
Technically you will want to have both a whetstone and a honing steel to keep you knives sharp. The honing steel looks like a long thin rod, and often comes with knife sets.
Sharp knives are safer to use and more efficient that dull knives so it is important to keep them sharp. About once or twice a year (or as needed) you will want to use a whetstone to keep the edges clean and sharp. Some people prefer to take this to someone who specializes in sharpening tools and blades.
Once a week or oftener if you are cutting a lot you will use the honing steel. To do this follow these steps.
- Hold the honing steel with the point downward. The tip should rest on a solid surface like a wooden cutting board.
- Hold the knife crosswise to the steel with the part of the blade that is nearest the handle touching the steel. The majority of the blade will be in front of the steel, pointing away from you.
- Tilt the knife at a shallow angle to the steel and gently pull the blade toward you and down the steel maintaining the angle.
- Repeat this step several times (5 to 10 should do it) and then repeat on the other side of the blade.
Cleaning you Knives
A good set of knives is an investment that you need to protect. Use these tips and your cutlery will last a lifetime.
- Never wash your knives in the dishwasher but always use hot, soapy water and wash them by hand.
- Do not let knives soak.
- Dry the knives carefully and put them away in a knife block or other protective spot. (My mom saved paper towel rolls and kept knives in them – it protected her from cuts and protected the blade as well.)
Don’t buy the cheapest knives or the first ones you see. Go to a store that carries quality cutlery. Hold the knives in your hands to see how they feel and how they are balanced. Make sure that they are comfortable for you to hold.
Most of all, buy the best you can afford. They will last a long time and you will save money in the long run.