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A Guide to Chef’s Knives and Their Uses

27 Oct 2022, 4:33 PM

A Guide to Chef’s Knives and Their Uses

Kitchen knives are an essential part of a successful professional kitchen. With the right knives to hand, food preparation becomes faster, easier and safer. However, it's important to understand the different types of kitchen knives that are available and the right ways to use them in order to ensure they're used correctly and safely. In this guide, we'll outline some of the different types of popular kitchen knives and explain which applications they are best suited to.

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What is a chef's knife?

A chef's knife is a large knife usually between 8 and 10 inches long. It is tapered to a sharp, rounded tip, which makes it a versatile tool suitable for a wide range of applications. It's deemed a 'chef's knife' because it's the most commonly used knife by professional chefs and an essential piece of catering equipment. It's thought of as an extension of the chef's arm.

Chef's knives are capable of efficiently chopping and dicing fruit, vegetables and herbs, but they can also be useful for cutting fish, meat and poultry. They're usually not suitable for performing precise tasks such as peeling small fruits or vegetables because they are far too large. They're also not the best knife for carving cooked meat. However, most professional chefs will find themselves reaching for their chef's knife for the vast majority of cutting tasks when preparing food.

What are the different parts of a chef's knife?

The main part of a chef's knife is the blade - the part that is used for cutting - which is usually made from steel, ceramic or titanium. The handle is the part held by the chef and it's usually made from plastic or wood. In some cases, the handle and blade are constructed from a single piece of steel. The tip of the blade is the narrowest point often used for intricate cutting work, while the edge is the long, sharp side of the blade that does the majority of the cutting.

The spine of a knife is the blunt top side of the blade, usually much wider than the edge. The heel of the blade is opposite the tip and right next to the handle. The tang is the part of the knife blade that connects it to the handle. The length and thickness of the tang will affect the overall weight, balance and strength of the knife. Sometimes the tang serves as the knife handle, but in most instances, the tang is secured to the knife handle via rivets or epoxy. 'Full tang' knives, where the tang runs right the butt of the knife handle, secure by rivets are considered the best quality chef's knives.

The vast majority of kitchen knives are constructed with the same features as chef's knives. Let's take a look at some of the most common varieties of kitchen knives so that you can understand how they differ and what they can be used for.

What are paring knives and peeling knives used for?

Paring knives are handy tools for performing intricate tasks such as peeling, slicing, mincing and removing seeds. They have thin and sharp blades and their small size offers precise control. Peeling knives are similar, with a short, rigid, thin and sharp blade, but it is curved rather than straight. Peeling knives also usually have ergonomic handles which make them easier to handle when peeling fruits and vegetables. Although a paring knife is a perfectly good tool to use for peeling, a peeling knife can reduce the risk of slipping and often feels more comfortable in the hand when peeling large quantities of produce.

What is a carving knife used for?

Carving knives are very long and narrow knives designed exclusively for carving large cuts of cooked meat such as roasted beef or turkey. Their shape makes them capable of precision so that very thin slices can be carved if necessary. Plus, the long length makes them suitable for very wide pieces of meat. Carving forks are often used alongside carving knives. They allow you to hold the piece of meat firmly in place to support precise cutting.

What is a bread knife used for?

Bread knives are long, serrated knives that are designed primarily to easily slice through bread. When used in a sawing motion they easily cut through the bread with a minimal force so that you don't risk squashing or flattening the soft, fluffy texture. They also work through tough crusts with ease. You can use bread knives for cutting cakes, pastries and other baked goods, and they can come in handy for slicing through very large vegetables and fruits that have thick skins, such as melon and pumpkin, where a straight blade might get stuck.

What is a boning knife used for?

Boning knives have long, narrow and flexible blades which are capable of easily slicing through tough connective tissues and joints. They're designed to debone meat and fish as accurately and safely as possible, and they can help to reduce wastage in the process. Plus, they can allow the skin to be separated from the flesh when preparing fish. It's often cheaper to buy very large cuts of meat and fish with the bones in, but only if the chef has the appropriate tools and skill to handle deboning themselves.

What is a cleaver used for?

Cleavers are large, heavy and rectangular knives designed mainly for chopping through bones. However, they are very versatile and can be used for a wide range of tasks. They're great for rough chopping and dicing, particularly when dealing with hard or tough vegetables. The flat side of the blade can be used for crushing garlic cloves. They can also be used for slicing meat. Some chefs use them instead of a chef's knife, but it takes a great deal of skill and practice to use them for intricate tasks. There are several sizes and weights of cleaver available and it's important to use one that feels comfortable in the hand and not too heavy to ensure you have adequate control.

What is a palette knife used for?

Palette knives are long, broad, flat knives with dull edges. They're not designed for cutting, but they're useful for gently lifting up small items without damaging them which makes them a handy tool for carefully plating up dishes. They're also very effective tools for spreading which makes them suitable for frosting cakes, buttering bread or making pastries and desserts.

Is a knife set worth the investment?

For brand-new catering businesses or chefs, a knife set is a brilliant way to get started with everything needed for food preparation. Knife sets often offer better value overall compared to buying knives individually, provided that you'll make use of each knife in the set. Some knife sets also include additional restaurant equipment like citrus zesters, potato peelers and sharpening steels.

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