When you’re studying at a culinary school you’ll learn about the best chef knives – and the techniques to master them. Having the right tools for the trade, and learning how to use them appropriately and efficiently, will help you no matter where your culinary training takes you in the industry.
There are dozens of different knives a chef and his brigade will use in the kitchen…below are the top six that every chef should own.
A Chef’s Knife
A staple in virtually every kitchen, the chef’s knife is a versatile option for everything from dicing vegetables to carving meat. The blade is usually six to twelve inches long, giving cutting leverage for even the smallest hands. You’ll want to check the weight of the handle when choosing your chef’s knife – be sure it feels balanced because the rocking motion of the curved blade is the advantage with this knife.
The more comfortable you feel with the weight and balance, the more quickly you’ll be able to slice, dice and julienne vegetables during prep for a busy meal service. You’re looking for a knife that gives you a smooth and fast rhythm as you’re cutting.
A Paring Knife
When precision is needed, a paring knife is the chef’s choice. The blade will be no longer than 3.5 inches…ideal for detail work like creating a garnish. A paring knife is useful when you’re working with small or tender vegetables and fruit – ginger, strawberries, garlic, shallots – but isn’t suited for harder vegetables – carrots, beets, squash. You never want to apply force with a paring knife…choose a heavier blade for the harder tasks to avoid injury.
A Utility Knife
As the name suggests, this is a utilitarian knife – it does multi-duty. The blade is longer than a paring knife and more narrow than a chef’s knife. A utility knife is generally six inches long and works well slicing fruit, tender pieces of meat or sandwiches. The “knife of all trades,” it’s a handy go-to for the everyday chef.
A Bread Knife
The saw-like blade of a bread knife – or serrated knife – is ideal when you want to cut something without applying pressure. It’s great for gently slicing fresh bread, but also works well with soft fruits and vegetables, or ones that have a waxy surface. A serrated knife comes in handy when you’re slicing tomatoes, apples, citrus, or bell peppers. The sawing motion gently cuts through the surface without crushing the insides…though the cut won’t necessarily look as clean as the one you’ll get with a carving knife.
Keeping a bread knife sharp can be a challenge since you need a special tool to sharpen each surface of the jagged blade…but it’s worth the effort.
A Boning Knife
There are two versions of a boning knife, and both have a specific purpose. If you look at a chef’s knives, you’ll likely find both in their collection. A boning knife is narrow, comes to a very sharp point, and is usually five or six inches long. It will have either a flexible or stiff blade. The flexible blade is suitable for removing skin and bones from poultry and fish. The stiff blade allows the use of greater force when you’re working with thick cuts of meat like beef and pork.
A Carving Knife
When you want a clean, precise cut, the carving knife is ideal. A good carving knife is usually fifteen inches long. Its thin blade, and indentation that stops food from sticking to the surface, make it the perfect choice when carving turkey, ham, pork or a beef roast. Whether you’re slicing a sirloin roast into paper-thin slices or a pork tenderloin into thick, juicy portions, a carving knife is the perfect tool.
Don’t Forget the Humble Honing Rod
It’s important to have the right knife for the job…but just as important to have the right tool to keep a sharp edge on your chef’s knives. A honing rod should be part of your collection…
There’s a technique to using a honing rod that will work with all your knives – except your serrated knives. Be sure to sharpen them before or after a session in the kitchen. Dull blades will slow you down and also increase the risk of injury…they can slip off the food you’re trying to cut and slice you, instead.
There are so many skills and techniques you’ll learn at culinary school…like learning the alphabet in primary school, knife techniques are a foundation for chefs. Having the right tools in your kitchen – whether you’re an amateur or aspiring chef – will help with your journey as you make your way in the culinary world.
Escoffier chef instructor shows you how to sharpen your knife.
Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you:
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This article was originally published on December 21, 2015, and has been updated.