by Aly Walansky
Often relegated to the junk drawer or left to gather dust in a knife block, the serrated knife is of more use to us than just slicing crusty bread.
The Serrated knife, known for a somewhat toothed or ridged appearance on its blade, is made to cut through a tough outer layer and into a soft one, and this unique approach - unlike any other option in a chef’s arsenal of kitchen knives - makes it quite useful, and essential! “Personally, my kitchen wouldn't be complete without one,” said Christina Pirello, a chef known for her long running PBS show Christina Cooks.
An essential part of a home kitchen is knowing and understanding that every tool has its place and its own important role. While we may use a frying pan to make eggs, it’d not be the ideal vessel to boil pasta. The same is true for knives, and while a chef’s knife is great for chopping, slicing, and dicing, the serrated knife is designed to be different.
Chances are, if you find yourself struggling when slicing a loaf of bread, it’s not about you or your bread. It’s probably because of the knife being used!
While slicing through a loaf of crusty sourdough, for instance, it’s about getting through that crusty outer layer, but doing so without damaging the soft inner layer of bread that is also delicious. Doing this cut with a chef’s knife could end up crushing the inner layer but a serrated edge can use its teeth to dig in, make that first cut, and then gently slide inward.
While the average home kitchen may give a lot of focus to the chef and paring knives, a serrated knife deserves a spot among the staples. “Serrated knives are the best for any foods with tough skins like peppers, tomatoes and bread,” said Julie Gordon of Inspiring Kitchen.
Which brings us back to crusty bread, for instance. “The serration grabs the crust of the bread to hold it so the user can slice through the bread without tearing it,” said Gordon. Serrated knives are so associated with bread that they are often known as bread knives, as well. But they are about so much more than bread!
Why This Knife Stands Apart (and often alone)
Think of serrated knives sort of like a saw, in that the “teeth” of the blade can catch onto and then slide through a food. But because it doesn’t look quite like the other more popular knives in the knife set - it’s not one that is grabbed often. Until it’s needed, that is! One really big reason people reach for serrated knives is that their other knives are dull. “Since serrated knives aren’t used as often as chopping (chef’s) knives, they tend to stay sharp longer,” said Gordon.
So, people use them instead of sharpening their straight edge knives - depending on the manufacturer/type of steel, that is at least twice a year. FYI: Gordon maintains the way to keep your knives sharp and in good condition is to use a wood cutting board (no plastic or glass!) and never put your knives in a dishwasher.
Serrated Knives and Fruits
The same premise that makes this knife useful with breads also makes it a great option for certain fruits and vegetables. Take for example, a ripe tomato or melon.
These fruits have a thin layer of skin and a soft inside. Much like with bread, you need to slice through that outer layer of skin but do so without crushing the fleshy fruit on the inside. “I use mine to peel pineapples without losing much of the flesh; to achieve a clean slice through a watermelon: to slice through a winter squash's hard skin with ease,” said Pirello.
For the same reason, this type of knife can be very helpful to cut the rinds off of melons. The flexibility of the knife makes cutting around the shape of the melon easy and fast. That’s the best anyone can ask for with a kitchen tool!
Holiday Turkeys and Roasts
This may seem like ideal chef’s knife territory but a serrated knife can also very much get the job done when it comes to beautiful roasts around the holidays. The serrated knife will make all that carving easier because it helps the carver to cut against the grain of the meat. This can be useful for making thinner or more precise slices, but also breaking through that crispy turkey skin without damaging the juicy breast flesh hidden beneath.
Sweets and Desserts
“Aside from bread and tomatoes, my favorite trick is to use a serrated knife to chop chocolate,” said Clare Langan, a San Francisco Bay-based chef and culinary consultant. It chops into perfect chunks for melting or adding to cookies. “A chef’s knife tends to shave the chocolate and can make a mess on the countertop,” said Langan.
As the weather cools, many get into the habit of freezing cookie dough into logs for DIY slice-and-bake. “I always use a serrated knife to slice the cookies,” said Langan. The sawing motion keeps any chocolate pieces intact and the cookies always look more even than if I used a chef’s knife.
A serrated knife can be helpful in cutting clean slices of cake, brownies and most other pastries. “Dip the serrated blade in hot water before cutting the cake and it will yield the cleanest slices,” said Pirello.
So, while it may look like little more than a food saw, this type of knife can make or break your kitchen game, from crusty bread to thinly sliced tomatoes for that caprese salad!