Knife in Cooking: A Guide to Common Kitchen Knives

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 28, 2022

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A knife (plural knives) is a cutting tool with a cutting edge or blade, hand-held or otherwise, with or without a handle. Knife-like tools were used at least two-and-a-half million years ago, as evidenced by the Oldowan tools.

Originally made of rock, bone, flint, and obsidian, knives have evolved in construction as technology has, with blades being made from bronze, copper, iron, steel, ceramics, and titanium. Many cultures have their unique version of the knife. Due to its role as humankind’s first tool, certain cultures have attached spiritual and religious significance to the knife.

What is a knife

The Anatomy of a Knife: Understanding the Nomenclature

The blade is the most important part of the knife, and it is the portion of the knife that does the cutting. It is made of metal and has two main parts: the point and the edge. The point is the very end of the blade, and it is used for piercing and delicate cutting. The edge is the sharpened portion of the blade that extends from the point to the heel. It is beveled on both sides to create a sharp cutting surface.

The Heel

The heel is the portion of the blade that meets the bolster. It is the thickest part of the blade and is used for cutting through thicker portions of meat or vegetables.

The Spine

The spine is the thicker, non-cutting portion of the blade that extends from the bolster to the point. It adds strength to the blade and keeps the knife balanced.

The Finger Guard

The finger guard is the portion of the bolster that extends towards the blade, giving the user a place to rest their finger while cutting. It keeps the finger from slipping onto the blade and prevents injury.

The Tang

The tang is the portion of the blade that extends into the handle. A full tang extends the entire length of the handle, adding extra strength and balance to the knife. A partial tang only extends partway into the handle, making the knife lighter and less expensive.

Understanding the nomenclature of a knife is essential for any cook. Knowing the different parts of a knife and their functions can help you choose the right knife for the job and use it more effectively.

Get to Know the Different Types of Kitchen Knives

The ideal blade design for a kitchen knife depends on the type of cutting you will be doing. Here are some things to consider:

  • Slicing: A long, thin blade is ideal for slicing meat and vegetables.
  • Chopping: A heavy, wide blade is ideal for chopping through tough vegetables and meat.
  • Delicate work: A short, thin blade is ideal for delicate work like peeling and trimming.

The Importance of a Sharp Edge

A sharp edge is essential for any kitchen knife. Here’s why:

  • A sharp knife requires less force to cut through food, making it easier and safer to use.
  • A sharp knife produces clean cuts, which look better and are more appealing to diners.
  • A sharp knife is less likely to slip and cause injury.

The Handle and Blade Material

The handle and blade material are also important factors to consider when choosing a kitchen knife. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Handle: The handle should be comfortable to hold and provide a good grip. Wood and leather are popular materials for knife handles.
  • Blade: The blade should be made of a hard material that can hold a sharp edge. Stainless steel and high-carbon steel are popular choices.

The Alternative Knife Designs

While the standard kitchen knives are pretty common, there are a few alternative designs that you might want to try:

  • Chinese Cleaver: This knife has a rectangular blade that is ideal for chopping through tough meat and vegetables.
  • Santoku Knife: This Japanese knife is similar to a chef’s knife but has a shorter, wider blade that is ideal for slicing and chopping.
  • Turkey Carving Knife: This knife has a long, thin blade that is ideal for carving through large pieces of meat like turkey.

Meat Knives: The Versatile Blade for Preparing Meat and Vegetables

Meat knives, also known as butcher knives or boning knives, are designed to break down tough muscle fibers in a piece of meat by carving, cutting, deboning, and disjointing it. These versatile knives are also great for dicing, slicing, and chopping herbs and vegetables.

Types of Meat Knives

There is a wide range of meat knives available, depending on the specific tasks they are designed for. Some of the most common types include:

  • Boning knives: These knives have a thin, flexible blade that is ideal for removing bones from meat and fish.
  • Carving knives: These knives have a longer, straight blade that is designed for slicing meat into thin, even cuts.
  • Utility knives: These knives are smaller than a chef’s knife but larger than a paring knife. They are ideal for a variety of tasks, including peeling, cutting, and chopping fruits and vegetables.
  • Bread knives: These knives have a serrated blade that is ideal for slicing through bread, bagels, buns, and sandwiches.
  • Paring knives: These knives have a shorter, pointed blade that is ideal for intricate tasks like peeling and mincing.

Blade Length and Thickness

The ideal length and thickness of a meat knife blade will depend on the specific task it is designed for. Some general guidelines include:

  • For larger cuts of meat, a longer blade (around 8-10 inches) is ideal.
  • For smaller cuts of meat and precision tasks, a shorter blade (around 4-6 inches) is better.
  • A solid, thicker blade is better for cleaving through dense, tough cuts of meat.
  • A thinner, more flexible blade is better for delicate tasks like filleting fish or slicing through fruits and vegetables.
  • Serrated blades are ideal for slicing through bread and other baked goods.

Japanese vs. Western-Style Meat Knives

There are two main styles of meat knives: Japanese and Western. Japanese knives are typically lighter and have a thinner blade, while Western knives are heavier and have a thicker blade. Some other differences include:

  • Japanese knives are designed for precision tasks like slicing sashimi and other delicate cuts of meat.
  • Western knives are designed for more general tasks like carving and chopping.
  • Japanese knives have a rounder blade while Western knives have a more pointed blade.

Where to Find Meat Knives

Meat knives can be found at most kitchen supply stores and online retailers. They come in a variety of price ranges depending on the quality of the blade and the brand. Some popular brands include Wusthof, Shun, and Global.

Cheese Knives: The Perfect Tool for Slicing and Serving Cheese

Cheese knives are specially designed to slice through different types of cheese with ease. They have a wide blade area and a comfortable handle that makes cutting through hard or soft cheese a breeze. The blade of a cheese knife is usually shorter and thinner compared to standard kitchen knives, allowing for more delicate cuts. Cheese knives come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each designed to serve a specific purpose.

The Presence of Cheese Knives in the Kitchen

Cheese knives are a popular addition to any kitchen, especially for those who love to entertain. They are ideal for creating a beautiful cheese board or serving a variety of cheeses at a party. Experienced cheese lovers know that having the right knife can make all the difference in the taste and presentation of cheese. So, if you’re looking to add a new tool to your kitchen, a cheese knife is a good place to start.

Small Knives: The Unsung Heroes of the Kitchen

When it comes to knives, most people think of the large, heavy blades that are used for chopping and slicing. However, small knives are just as essential in the kitchen, especially when it comes to delicate tasks like peeling, trimming, and slicing small vegetables and fruits. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the different types of small knives and how they can help you in your cooking.

The Different Types of Small Knives

There are several different types of small knives, each designed for a specific function. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Paring Knife: This is the most common type of small knife, with a blade that is usually 2-4 inches long and a handle that is designed to be held in one hand. Paring knives are ideal for peeling and trimming vegetables and fruits, as well as for making delicate cuts and creating decorative garnishes.
  • Boning Knife: This type of knife has a thin, flexible blade that is designed to remove bones from meat and fish. The blade is usually 5-6 inches long and has a pointed tip that allows you to get into tight spaces.
  • Slicer Knife: This type of knife has a long, thin blade that is designed to slice meat, particularly beef and pork. The blade is usually 8-12 inches long and is slightly curved to allow for a smooth slicing motion.
  • Utility Knife: This is a smaller version of the chef’s knife, with a blade that is usually 4-6 inches long. Utility knives are good for a variety of tasks, including slicing, chopping, and dicing.

Specialty Knives: The Blade for Every Specific Task

Specialty knives have several features that make them ideal for their specific function. Some of the features of specialty knives include:

  • Blade: Specialty knives have a specific blade design that is ideal for their function. For example, slicers have a long, narrow blade that tapers to a point at the tip, while boning knives have a narrow, flexible blade.
  • Handle: Specialty knives have a handle that is designed to improve grip and control. Some specialty knives have a wooden handle, while others have a plastic or rubber handle.
  • Size: Specialty knives come in different sizes depending on their function. For example, slicers are typically longer than boning knives.
  • Sharpness: Specialty knives are built to be sharp, allowing them to cut through tough meats and vegetables with ease.
  • Bevel: Specialty knives have a specific bevel that is designed to improve their cutting ability. For example, slicers have a double bevel that allows them to slice through meat and vegetables with ease.

Why are Specialty Knives Essential in the Kitchen?

Specialty knives are essential in the kitchen because they allow chefs to perform specific tasks with ease. They are built to handle certain tasks that cannot be effectively done with a regular knife. Specialty knives also improve the quality of the cuts, making it easier to prepare food for cooking or serving.

In fact, specialty knives are so important that they are often found in restaurant kitchens. Chefs use specialty knives to prepare food quickly and effectively, allowing them to serve high-quality dishes to their customers.

How to Store and Sharpen Specialty Knives?

To keep your specialty knives in good condition, it is important to store them properly and sharpen them regularly. Here are some tips for storing and sharpening your specialty knives:

  • Store your specialty knives in a knife block or on a magnetic strip to protect the blades.
  • Sharpen your specialty knives using a sharpening stone or honing rod. This will improve the sharpness of the blade and improve the quality of the cuts.
  • Use a honing rod to maintain the sharpness of the blade between sharpenings.
  • Clean your specialty knives after each use to prevent rust and corrosion.

Building Your Arsenal: Essential Kitchen Knives

When it comes to knives, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the variety of shapes, sizes, and styles available. But fear not, there are only three knives that are crucial in a kitchen:

  • Chef’s Knife: This is the most important knife to have in your arsenal. It’s perfect for chopping, slicing, and dicing all kinds of food. The blade is heavy and wide, with a pointed tip that allows for maximum control.
  • Paring Knife: This small knife is perfect for getting into tight spaces and making precise cuts. It’s great for prepping veggies and fruits, and for cutting thin slices of proteins.
  • Serrated Knife: This knife is designed for cutting through bread and other soft foods with ease. Its edge allows for easy cutting without squashing the food.

Expanding Your Arsenal

If you’re seeking to expand your knife collection, there are a few other knives that can be useful for specific tasks:

  • Slicing Knife: This knife is perfect for slicing meats and fish into thin, even slices.
  • Fillet Knife: This knife is designed for filleting fish, with a flexible blade that allows for easy maneuvering.
  • Bread Knife: If you love your carbs, a bread knife is a must-have. Its serrated edge allows for easy cutting without squishing the bread.
  • Bench Knife: This small, rectangular blade is great for scraping dough off surfaces and dividing dough into portions.

Knife Foundations: Carbon vs. Stainless Steel

When it comes to choosing a knife, the blade material is an important factor to consider. Here are the two main types:

  • Carbon Steel: These knives are sharper and easier to sharpen, but require more maintenance to prevent rust and discoloration.
  • Stainless Steel: These knives are easier to maintain and won’t rust, but are generally not as sharp as carbon steel.

Ultimately, the type of blade material you choose will depend on your personal preferences and skills.

Sharpening Your Knives

No matter what type of knife you have, it’s important to keep it sharp for maximum efficiency and safety. Here are a few tips for sharpening your knives:

  • Use a honing steel to maintain the edge of your knife between sharpenings.
  • Use a sharpening stone to sharpen your knife when it starts to dull.
  • Always sharpen your knife at the same angle as the original edge.
  • Don’t be afraid to drop your knife off at a professional sharpener if you’re not confident in your own skills.

In summary, while there are many different types of knives available, a chef’s knife, paring knife, and serrated knife are the three essential knives that every home cook should have in their arsenal. From there, you can expand your collection with specialized knives for specific tasks, or simply stick with the basics. Whatever you choose, remember to keep your knives sharp and well-maintained for maximum efficiency and safety in the kitchen.


So, that’s what a knife is for cooking. You can use them for slicing, dicing, chopping, and cleaving, and they’re an essential tool in the kitchen. 

You should now know the different parts of a knife and how to use them properly. So, go ahead and get yourself a good knife and start cooking!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.