Contrary to popular belief, kitchen knives are not divided into two categories, dull and sharp. There are a multitude of different types of kitchen knives each with their own design and purpose. Most cooks have a drawer full of knives they rarely use, and a few they can’t live without. Understanding the purpose of each knife will make it easier to select the ones you want and need.
The Chef’s Knife is the most common kitchen knife in use today. They come in a variety of lengths, usually 6, 8, 10, and 12 inches. The heft and weight of a good chef’s knife makes it ideal for use in heavy duty work such as cutting thick cuts of meat and hard to cut vegetables such as winter squash. The length of the chef’s knife is a personal choice. I prefer the eight inch chef’s knife while my husband reaches for the twelve inch one.
Bread Knives are typically serrated knives between 6 and 10 inches in length. They are ideal for cutting foods that have a hard surface and a soft interior. Cutting bread with a smooth blade is often difficult if not impossible.
The Paring Knife is one of my favorite knives. It’s a small knife, just 3 to 4 inches in length, with a plain edge blade. I use it to peel vegetables, remove seeds, and de-vein shrimp. It’s a great all-purpose knife and a must-have in every kitchen.
The Filet Knife has a thin flexible blade which is ideal for filleting fish and deboning chicken. It has a thin blade typically 6 to 11 inches long enabling the user to slide it along the backbones of fish and around areas adjacent to bones. A sharp filet knife will slide along the skin easily removing it from the flesh.
Living on the coast, an Oyster Knife is essential. It is used to pry the oyster or clam open to remove the meat. It is typically a short knife with a strong, sharp, beveled edge. It is inserted into the shell and twisted to pry it apart.
The Cleaver is a wide rigid blade knife. It is usually 6 inches in length and tapers to a sharp cutting edge. The blade is thick and heavy. It is used to chop through thick skinned vegetables and fruits as well as through bone. The flat, blunt side is often used to pulverize meat or crush garlic. The cleaver often has a hole at the end of the blade to make it easier to handle and store safely.
Take Care of Your Knives
Knives are tools and if you handle them properly, they will last for many years. They should never be washed in a dishwasher. The harsh detergents dull the cutting edge and the temperature of the water can affect the temper of the steel. Wash them is warm soapy water, but don’t leave them soaking in the water. It is best to wash and dry them immediately after use.
Keep your kitchen knives sharp. Using the knife when the blade is dull can permanently damage the knife. Store them in a drawer designated just for knives or in a block on the counter. DO NOT THROW THEM IN A DRAWER WITH OTHER KITCHEN UTENSILS. The blades are sharp and can cause injury to the unsuspecting.
Shopping for Knives
There are a multitude of knives available on the market today. Some are worth buying, others are not. When purchasing knives, determine what kind of knife you need, and then buy the best you can afford. Although more expensive, a good quality knife will be a better deal in the long run. It is less likely to end up in a drawer with the rest of the knives too dull to cut through hot butter, and dotted with rust.