There are a few home skills that signal you've become a bona fide adult. At the top of our list are buying a quality vacuum cleaner and knowing what all the attachments do, the ability to cook turkey to perfection for Thanksgiving, and knowing exactly what every knife in your top drawer is actually used for. The latter might sound simple, but skilled chefs know that every knife is designed for a different purpose, and mastering each makes cooking so much easier.
Can you tell the difference between a chef's knife and a utility knife? What are you supposed to cut with a bread knife, apart from bread? If you don't know the answers to these questions or simply aren't sure which knives are worth investing in for a well-stocked kitchen, we've got the goods. No, a bread knife isn't just for cutting bread. This is what it’s actually for.
What is it? A small common knife with a shorter blade than a utility knife.
What’s it for? Precision cutting including peeling,trimming, and slicing small fruits. Anything that you need to hold in your hand to cut calls for a paring knife, says Zwilling J.A. Henckels expert Joanna Rosenberg.
Pro tip: Handle it like a pro by holding the small fruit or vegetable in your less dominant hand, clutching it with your fingers for control. When you cut with your dominant hand, use your thumb as a guide for precision.
For more of Rosenberg’s knife tips plus our market picks, click through the gallery, and pin or print our quick overview below for future reference!
What is it? It might look like a Halloween prop, but this knife is a go-to for serious home chefs. Cleavers have a wide, flat blade and large handle.
What’s it for? Use this heavy-duty knife to cut through meat and poultry bones or pierce the skin of large produce like pumpkins or watermelon.
Pro tip: The heavy, flat blade can also crush garlic cloves. Simply lay the peeled clove on a cutting board and place the flat side of the knife against it. Use the heel of your hand to press down and crush the garlic.
What is it? An Asian cooking utility player with a wide blade and rounded head.
What’s it for? Not sure whether you need a cleaver or chef’s knife? A Santoku knife combines the features of both for mincing, slicing, and dicing meat and vegetables.
Pro tip: This knife is best used in a fast chopping motion. Form a claw with your non-dominant hand to steady the food, and then position the knife blade so that the tip is in constant contact with the board. Press downward and forward to slice the food while moving your subordinate hand as you chop.
What is it? A long knife with a sturdy serrated blade.
What’s it for? Aside from cutting through the thick crust of a loaf with ease, you can also slice tomatoes and citrus with the sharp, serrated blade.
Pro tip: If you’re still unsure which food to use it on, use this rule: “Serrated knives are best for things that are hard on the outside and soft on the inside,” says Rosenberg.
What is it? A carving knife has a long, tapered blade that is thicker than that of a utility or paring knife.
What’s it for? This is your go-to for slicing turkey on Thanksgiving. Use the long blade to thinly slice cooked meat in neat, even portions. The blade is also wide enough to crush seeds.
Pro tip: Cut cooked meat with a carving knife with smooth, fluid motions. “These knives make single long cuts, which is easier on the cells in your food,” explains Rosenberg.
What is it? Larger than a utility or paring knife, this culinary staple is characterised by a 6- to-14-inch blade with a curve that becomes more pronounced at the tip.
What’s it for? “This is the go-to knife that most professional chefs use for just about everything,” says Rosenberg, including chopping, slicing, and dicing fruits, vegetables, and meat.
Pro tip: Adopt the chef’s knife grip: Don’t simply clutch the handle in your palm. Keep your grip soft and nimble, and rest your thumb on the inside of the knife, just above the blade.
What is it? A slim and thin knife with a five- to seven-inch-long curved blade.
What’s it for? Reach for this knife when you’re cutting meat with bones. The slim, curved blade is nimble and good for separating the flesh from the bone.
Pro tip: There are two types of boning knives: Opt for a boning knife with a firm blade for cutting beef but one with a flexible blade for chicken.
What is it? Utility knives are your typical common top-drawer staple, with a short, stout blade.
What’s it for? “Utility knives come in handy for just about everything,” says Rosenberg, from chopping vegetables to cutting sandwiches without crushing the bread.
Pro tip: When in doubt, use this knife. This is one staple that belongs in every grown-up kitchen.
Ready to dig your cleaver into something? Not so fast. Learn how to pick a perfectly ripe watermelon first.