Ever seen one of those bulky 10-piece knife sets and wondered what each knife is for? If you have, odds are you’re using the wrong knives for the wrong tasks and making your cooking harder than it needs to be.
On the other hand, having the right knives and using them correctly can make your meal prep workload feel like a breeze.
In this article we’ll cover the different types of knives, their uses, and which ones you actually need (spoiler: most are completely unnecessary!).
1. The Chef's Knife
The first one in our list is a chef’s best friend and the most important knife. It can handle any cutting task and do the work of almost every other knife.
It features a long blade with a slightly curved belly that allows it to rock back and forth for fast chopping. Blade length can vary from 6 to 12 inches, but most home cooks will hit the sweet spot with an 8-inch Chef’s Knife. If you could have only one knife, this is it.
Being such an essential tool, it’s important for home cooks and pro-chefs alike to pick the right Chef’s Knife. After all, a well-made, quality knife can make all the difference.
Uses: This knife is super versatile and can do almost any cutting task. It can chop, mince, slice and cut all kinds of foods, including meats, fruits and vegetables.
2. The Santoku Knife
The Santoku is a traditional Japanese knife known for its functionality and versatility. Its name means “three virtues”, which symbolizes its great ability to cut, chop, and slice foods.
As an all-purpose knife, the Santoku Knife is very similar to the Chef’s Knife. However, it’s shorter (5 to 7 inches), thinner and lighter, making it a great alternative for less experienced cooks that need more control. It also has a flat, rather than curved, edge so it’s not meant to be used with a rocking motion like the Chef’s Knife.
You can tell it's a Santoku Knife if it has dimples on the side of the blade. These are useful to prevent wet ingredients to stick to the knife while chopping.
Uses: This knife excels at slicing cheese, mincing herbs, chopping-small sized ingredients, and cutting meat and fish.
3. The Paring Knife
The small but mighty knife you need for extra precision and control. If you’re looking to cut small-sized ingredients without a shaky hand, this is the knife to reach out for.
It features a short pointed blade, usually measuring 3 to 4 inches, making it very light and easy to handle. The Paring Knife excels at cutting small vegetables, peeling fruits, and trimming excess fat from meats.
Uses: The Paring Knife is great for tasks that require maneuverability, rather than force. You can use it to slice delicate mushrooms, peel an apple, cut small peppers, or mince a clove of garlic.
4. The Cleaver Knife
The cleaver is the strong, heavy knife you want for your heavy-duty jobs. It’s a Chinese knife by origin and it’s revered by many for its ability to chop all kinds of foods without requiring much force.
It’s built with a wide, rectangular-shaped blade and a thick spine that allows it to cut through the hardest meats, vegetables, and even bones. It usually weighs around 10 ounces and is front heavy, unlike the Chef’s Knife whose weight is distributed evenly.
Uses: The cleaver is more useful than most people think. It’s ideal to pulverize meat, chop vegetables, and cut hard fruits like squash and pumpkin.
5. The Serrated Knife
This knife is not as versatile as the Chef’s Knife, but it’s still essential to any knife set collection. It boasts a long, narrow blade with serrated teeth and gullets that make it look like a saw. This unique design allows the Serrated Knife to excel at cutting hard foods with soft insides without crushing them.
If you’re looking to slice fresh-baked bread, cake, or tomato, this knife will effortlessly do the job. Just remember that it’s designed to be used in a back-and-forth sawing motion without applying much downward pressure, and you’re good to go.
Uses: Also known as the “bread” knife, this knife is perfect for cutting all kinds of bread. It’s also great for slicing hard foods, like melon, squash and pineapple, or delicate items, like cake and tomatoes.
6. The Boning Knife
Are you struggling to get the most out of your premium cuts of meat? Time to reach out for your Boning Knife. As its name implies, it specializes in separating bone from meat by cutting through muscle, fat, cartilage, and connective tissue.
The Boning Knife usually features a narrow, flexible blade that makes it great at cutting around difficult shapes from tricky angles.
Uses: It’s perfect for deboning and removing tissue from meats like pork, beef, chicken, and lamb.
7. The Utility Knife
Measuring 4 to 6 inches long, the Utility Knife is bigger than the Paring Knife but smaller than the Chef’s Knife. Thanks to its narrow blade and small tip, it’s great for jobs that require extra dexterity. If you’re slicing fruits and veggies for your salad, flatbread, pizza or bowl, the Utility Knife will do the job.
Uses: Whether you’re cutting thin onion slices, dicing ham, cutting up lemons, or slicing some strawberries, this knife can handle it.
Which Knives You Actually Need
If you feel confused and overwhelmed about the infinite options out there, you’re not alone. There may be many different types of knives, but that doesn’t mean you need them all. The truth is there’s a lot of overlap between these knives and with only a few of them you can get all cutting tasks done.
For example, the Chef’s Knife can do everything a Santoku does (and more), and any difference in experience that a Santoku provides is trivial for the vast majority. Despite this, most people go for the bulky sets with 8 or more knives just because it’s what most brands try to sell you to make a bigger profit.
However, the only knives you actually need are the Chef’s Knife, the Paring Knife, and the Serrated Knife. Any other knives are surplus and unnecessary for 98% of home cooks, according to culinary experts. So next time you go shopping for knives, remember you’re not missing out on anything by not getting the huge knife sets.
What Knife Set Should I Get?
If you’re looking for a pro-grade knife set that is fairly priced, we recommend the Mëren Knife Set. It includes the three essential knives, and each knife is made of premium Japanese AUS-10 steel. We might be biased, but passionate cooks and professional chefs alike love this knife set. It’s a great option for home cooks trying to upgrade their kitchen knives without spending a fortune.
You can get it here: The Mëren Knife Set.