Chef Knife Vs. Utility Knife

  • Team Made In
  • May 18, 2019
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Every professional chef needs a quality knife set. But how do you tell the difference between blades, and what’s the perfect pick for each prepping task?

Here’s a simple breakdown of the chef’s knife vs. utility knife.

When examining your knife block, you may find yourself wondering: which knife is which? If you’re tackling a massive piece of meat, instinct tells you to grab for a bigger knife. Likewise, small precision cuts call for more petite cutlery. Seems simple enough.

But while this line of thinking is a decent start, it isn’t exactly correct. In fact, most professional chefs know that each knife in the block is specially designed for completing one or more specific tasks. It’s a pretty long story, but for today’s purposes, we’re tackling two of the most popular knives in your arsenal: the chef’s knife and the utility knife.

What’s the big difference?

Chef’s Knife 101

To start, a chef’s knife is generally larger, ranging in size from 6 to 14 inches. The longer, broader design is conducive to cutting, slicing and dicing most medium- to large-sized ingredients. Also, the blade of a chef’s knife has a slight curve to it, which enables the user to execute that traditional ‘rocking’ motion used by the pros.

This unique style of slicing helps you achieve speed, consistency, and accuracy, as the user grips the knife and moves the blade back-and-forth while pinching the top for leverage. Of course, the chef’s knife doesn’t stop there. If you prefer to chop in a straight up-and-down motion, or to mince finely by using the tip of the knife as a pivot point, this tool works just as well. In short, it’s super versatile.

A good chef’s knife is also exceptionally strong, as the blade goes all the way to the end of the handle and is forged with a single piece of metal for durability.

General characteristics of a chef’s knife:

  • Average size: 8” L x 1 ½“ W
  • Construction: hand-forged or stamped
  • Blade: smooth-edged, slightly angled
  • Material: stainless steel, carbon steel or ceramic
  • Common origin: French, Japanese, German

What to use a chef’s knife for:

  • Chopping bigger fruits and veggies like lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cantaloupe, melon and more
  • Slicing and dicing large cuts of meat and poultry
  • Chopping garlic and onions
  • Chopping leafy herbs like parsley, cilantro or basil
  • Breaking down small cuts of meat prior to cooking
  • Sectioning large foods prior to serving

What to NOT use a chef’s knife for:

  • Cutting through bone or big cuts of meat (leave it to cleaver!)
  • Slicing bread, bagels or buns
  • Super meticulous slicing or mincing
  • Paring small fruits and veggies
  • Sectioning off sandwiches, paninis or quiches

Utility Knife 101

Now, on the other side of the block, we have the trusty utility knife. This slightly smaller, less menacing tool still competes with the chef’s knife as one of the most-used knives in the home and restaurant kitchen. Still, it’s important to understand how it differs and why you should choose it for performing certain prep tasks.

The utility knife falls somewhere in between your fruit paring knife and the larger chef’s knife, measuring around 4 to 9 inches in length. Now, unlike the chef’s knife, this one comes in a couple of common varieties.

While a chef’s knife almost exclusively arrives with a sharp, smooth-edged blade, the utility knife also comes serrated, which makes it ideal for slicing a roll in half or breaking down pieces of bread from the average-sized loaf. When it comes to the smooth variety, the purpose of a utility knife is best described by its name. That’s right—go ahead and utilize it!

Since the utility knife is shorter and smaller than a chef’s knife, it’s easier to maneuver for precision cuts. And while it’s not so great for rocking back-and-forth, it gives you exceptional leverage once you have a firm grip on the handle. The construction is quite similar to its counterpart.

General characteristics of a utility knife:

  • Average size: 6” L x 1“ W
  • Construction: hand-forged or stamped
  • Blade: smooth-edged or serrated, straight
  • Material: stainless steel, carbon steel or ceramic
  • Common origin: French, Japanese, German

What to use a utility knife for:

  • Chopping smaller fruits and veggies like apples, oranges, bananas, carrots, cucumbers and peppers
  • Slicing bread, bagels, English muffins, rolls and buns
  • Cutting your sandwiches and toast in half (diagonally tastes best!)
  • Slicing very thin cuts of meat or poultry
  • Mincing garlic and onions
  • Mincing delicate herbs like rosemary, thyme, dill and oregano

What to NOT use a utility knife for:

  • Cutting through any kind of bone or big cut of meat
  • Chopping large fruits or veggies
  • Sectioning off food for serving
  • Anything requiring super strength

The verdict?

The chef’s knife and utility knife share many common characteristics, but their differences justify the need for both. Equip your block with a collection of high quality kitchen knives, and your food will be on its way to the top chef hall of fame!

Keep slicing and dicing your way to culinary perfection! Stick with Made In for more back-of-house secrets.

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