The Different Types of Kitchen Knives, Explained

Stay sharp on the function of each knife in your block.

Emily Borst|Jun 22, 2021
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Every meal requires the use of a knife. You can have the most high-tech kitchen appliances that practically cook your meal for you, but without a good knife you’ll be unable to chop, slice, mince, or prepare your ingredients.

There are many different types of knives you can add to your knife block, from staple knives, like a

Chef

or

Paring Knife

, to specialty ones, like a

Nakiri

or

Santoku Knife

. If you’ve ever wondered what

knives you need in your kitchen

or have gotten overwhelmed with all the options out there, don’t worry. Read on for an exploration into the types of kitchen knives and their uses.

Chef Knife

The carpenter has their hammer. The painter has their brush. The chef has their

Chef Knife

. This is an essential knife for any kitchen tasks large or small. If you invest in a high-quality one and care

for it properly

, you’ll never need to replace it.

The blade of a Chef Knife is long, triangular, and pointed. It also has a slightly curved blade, which allows you to utilize the rocking method and finely chop your ingredients. Chef Knives are occasionally as small as

6 inches

or as long as 12 inches at the blade,  but an 8 inch-long blade is the sweet spot for most home cooks.

Uses:

This knife’s uses are virtually limitless. You can chop, slice, dice, or carve gourds, fruits, vegetables, meats, herbs, nuts, and more. Expect to use your Chef Knife to do around 80% of your

cutting

in the kitchen.

Paring Knife

While a Chef Knife is an essential addition to any knife block, there are some tasks that require a smaller blade—and that’s where the

Paring Knife

comes in. With a blade just under 4 inches long, a Paring Knife is what you’ll reach for when you need control and precision for smaller ingredients.

These knives look almost like a mini version of our  Chef Knife, with a short, triangular, pointed blade. The blade has no serrations and is slightly rounded to allow for maximum maneuverability when peeling or slicing small ingredients. Of the dozens of kitchen knives available, the Paring Knife is unanimously hailed as a necessity and is second only to the Chef Knife in its importance.

Uses:

Whether you want to peel an apple or a sweet potato, slice up delicate vegetables like mushrooms, core a tomato, or finely mince a clove of garlic, the Paring Knife can handle it. When you’re making fine cuts, intricate slices, and delicate minces, you need a short, sharp blade with no serrated edge.

Bread Knife

When you need to slice a loaf of whole wheat bread, a baguette, fresh-baked

sourdough

, or a crusty bagel, you should  reach for a

Bread Knife

. This is another universally praised must-have in the kitchen knife section.

Unlike a Chef Knife, which is designed to chop tip-first on your butcher’s block, a Bread Knife is designed to be used in a back-and-forth sawing motion. That means longer is better—the ideal length for a home chef’s Bread Knife is 9 inches.

Bread Knives are an important blade for any chef or bread baker due to their design. The serrated blade allows the  knife to tear through the crust of a loaf without crushing it, preserving its texture. Compare this to a Chef’s Knife, which requires you to press straight down, potentially mashing bread and soft vegetables.

Uses:

Bread Knives are ideal for slicing breads of all varieties, fluffy cakes like a sponge or chiffon, or chopping up a tomato without losing any juices.

Nakiri Knife

This is a traditional, Japanese-style knife that is revered by many professional chefs for its ability to chop  vegetables. You may wonder why you’d need a

Nakiri Knife

just for vegetables when a Chef Knife can handle them just fine, but the answer is in the shape.

The edge of a Nakiri blade is almost perfectly flat. This means you can make long, even cuts by simply pressing straight down. With a Chef Knife, some rocking back and forth is required to complete the cut. But with a Nakiri Knife, almost all of the  blade makes contact with your cutting surface simultaneously.

This advantage along with the blade’s flat tip makes it easier and more efficient than a Chef Knife when you’re doing a lot of push-cutting. This means that slicing vegetables finely and evenly will be that much easier.

Uses:

For everything from carrots cut lengthwise to thin-sliced eggplant and precisely cubed beets, our Nakiri is the right knife for the job.

Santoku Knife

Like the Nakiri, a Santoku is a Japanese knife by origin. If you haven’t had the pleasure of using a Santoku Knife, we recommend giving it a try. It’s one of our favorite shapes.

The Santoku Knife is almost as long as a Chef's Knife, typically between 5-7 inches. The Santoku’s blade is slightly thinner as well, measuring about 15 degrees, while most other knives, including the Chef  are roughly 20 degrees. This thinness, combined with its shorter length, makes the Santoku easy to control and perfect for more delicate work.

The Santoku blade, like the Nakiri, is almost entirely flat. This makes it ideal for slicing, dicing, and mincing vegetables, as well as meat and fish. In fact, “santoku” translates to “three virtues” referring to those three preparation techniques.

Finally, the Santoku Knife has a fluted edge (small dimpled depressions running the length of the blade) that allows you to slide the knife through wet food, similar to a

steak knife

, without any sticking or dragging. This makes it one of the

best knives for cutting meat

or vegetables with a high water content, like zucchini or onions.

Uses:

The Santoku Knife’s thin blade makes it perfect for slicing fish, dicing vegetables, and mincing meat.

What About Other Knives?

There are plenty of other knife shapes out there, and so you might be wondering,

how many knives you actually need

?

Today, most culinary experts will tell you that there are really only three essential knives: the Chef Knife, the Paring Knife, and a serrated knife of some kind. We’d include the Nakiri and the Santoku Knife on that list, for reasons we covered above.

This doesn’t mean you can’t still stock up on other knives if you’re a collector, or if you find yourself wishing you had a knife for a specific task. A

fishing knife

, a

carving knife

, a boning knife, an o

yster shucker

, a

Yanagi

, and even a grapefruit knife can fill a satisfying niche in your kitchen.

If breaking out an extremely specialized tool adds joy to your cooking experience, then there’s no reason to avoid it. But if you’re just in the market for the kitchen knives you really need, stick with 3–5 of the essential ones we profiled above. They’ll get you through any imaginable culinary task with grace and style.

How to Find Quality Knives

Knives come in a truly staggering range of quality and price. You can pick one up at the grocery store for $10, or spend 100 times that on a  professional or custom-made model. So how do you know what to look for when you’re

shopping for knives

?

First, consider whether the knife is stamped or forged. A forged knife is made from a single piece of stainless steel. The metal is heated in a furnace until it’s red hot and malleable, and then beaten into a blade shape. This time-honored technique creates incredibly strong blades that can be

sharpened and honed

again and again.

Alternatively, some knives are stamped. A stamped knife is cut from a larger piece of metal, like a cookie cutter. Stamped knives are easier and cheaper to make, and tend to be flimsier, less durable (they can snap in half), as well as more difficult to sharpen.

Second, check whether the knife is full tang. The tang is the part of the blade that extends into the handle. To be full tang, the metal must  extend all the way through to the hilt of the knife, giving the blade maximum strength and rigidity. Cheaper, lower-quality knives skimp on metal by shortening the tang to ¾ length, half-tang, or even a “stub tang” length. Naturally, this makes the knife weaker and more prone to breaking under pressure.

Finally, consider the manufacturer. Was this kitchen knife mass-manufactured by an unknown retailer? Or was it made by artisans skilled in their craft, drawing on centuries of knowledge?

At Made In, all of our knives are produced by a

family-owned factory

in France, the knife-making capital of the world. We believe that quality and care will shine through the very first time you handle one of our knives, and will still be there when you pass it on to the next generation.