Types of knives

The basic shapes of knives reflect their purpose:

 

Chef's knife

Different sizes of chef's knives.

This is the most commonly used knife. It is used for chopping, slicing, precision cutting, crushing and carving. The most practical and commonly used size is 25 cm however smaller versions with the same basic shape are extremely useful. It is essential to master the 25 cm size before using a smaller Chef's knife.

There are a number of basic styles of Chef's knife but they all have a long, curved edge and a broad blade.

It is worthwhile paying for the knife that will suit you best, however the best quality for you may not be the most expensive. It is important to talk to working cooks and other knife users as well as retailers about the choices available before you purchase.

 

Cleaver

The traditional European cleaver is a thick and heavy blade with the edge set at a broad angle. They are generally not cheap and most chefs would find little use for these.

Cleavers are designed to force their way through bones like an axe. Because they often leave bone splinters a better alternative for bone cutting is a saw.

cleavers

 

Chinese cleaver

Chinese cleaver

While these are not part of the traditional chef's outfit, they are extremely useful and versatile. Knives like these have been part of European tradition – the short deep knife of Portuguese and Spanish chefs has a very similar pattern and has a curved blade suited to fine chopping.

A big advantage of these knives is that they have a large blade area which is excellent for lifting and carrying whilst you work.

Chinese cleavers are available in a variety of sizes and weights, both in stainless and carbon steel of good quality. They are well suited to any chopping process but are very useful for slicing and precision cuts such as julienne and chopping herbs.

 

Boning knife

This knife has a thin pointed blade about 12cm long. The blade and especially the tip must be very sharp. The blade can either be stiff or may have some flexibility. Some boning knives have a straight blade, while others angle upwards. The choice of blade flexibility and angle is personal.

Boning knives

This knife is used for separating meat and connective tissue from bones during butchering and trimming. The tip of the knife does most of the work. The boning knife is generally held reversed in the hand and extra care must be taken to keep the knife pointed away from your body.

 

Alert icon

Do not use any knife on frozen food or partially frozen meat as this generally requires greater force to be applied and a slip could result in serious injury or death!

 

Paring knife

Paring knives

Pronounced 'pearing', this small knife with a blade about 7 cm long has many uses. It can be used for peeling and trimming, cutting and turning, garnishes and creative work, including fruit and vegetable carving.

Paring knives are often accidentally lost or thrown away, so there is no need to purchase the most expensive brand. Inexpensive but good quality paring knives are available with brightly coloured plastic handles that help to prevent misplacing them.

 

Turning knife

This knife is the same size as a paring knife and may be used for many of the same jobs. However, as it has a curved blade it is most suited to shaping vegetables by turning.

Turning knives are easily lost or accidentally thrown away, so there is no need to purchase the most expensive brand. Inexpensive but good quality turning knives are available with brightly coloured plastic handles which may prevent misplacing them.

Turning knives

 

Palette knife

Cranked palette and straight palette knives

The palette knife or spatula is neither sharp nor generally used for cutting. There are two common forms: one is a straight broad blade with a rounded end and the other is the same except that there is a double bend or crank in the blade. The straight blade is used principally for lifting, shaping and scraping.

In addition to the uses listed for the straight blade, the cranked palette knife is also used for spreading and shaping on a flat surface, and lifting where access would be difficult without the crank. The cranked palette knife comes in a variety of widths and shapes according to its primary purpose, e.g. cake slice.

 

Carving knife

The carving knife is a long, thin, narrow blade with a sharply pointed tip which can slice and separate meat from bone. There is generally no depth in the blade as the cut is directed to slicing a standing piece of meat, rather than cutting down through the meat to a cutting surface.

Carving knives

The carving knife will generally be used in conjunction with a carving fork. Carving is part of Gueridon preparation for table service. Carving is always used with cooked meat and, as it is often used in a service area, a carving knife should be both clean and well cared for.

Carving knives generally have a plain edge but serrated knives are also available. Serrated knives are not easily sharpened and they may produce a rough looking product.

 

Ham slicer

Ham slicers

The ham slicer has a long, thin blade with a rounded end. There is no depth in the blade as this knife is principally designed to remove thin slices of ham from the bone. This knife may also be used for any fine slicing, including slicing smoked salmon or fish for sashimi.

 

Serrated slicer

Serrated slicers

This knife is a variation of the ham slicer and though it may be used to slice ham, it may produce a rough looking product. These knives cannot be easily sharpened but since they are more often used for slicing soft items such as cakes they will maintain a good edge for many years. They are an essential part of a toolkit.

 

Serrated utility knives

Serrated utility knife

Serrated utility knife of about 25cm is useful for cutting through crayfish and other crustaceans and many other miscellaneous tasks, such as cutting cardboard and string.

 

Decorating knife

This knife has a horizontally zig-zagged edge, which enables decorative cuts and patterns to be made generally in softer materials like margarine, butter and chocolate.

This knife is not used for general cutting or slicing.

Decorating knives

 

Vegetable peelers:

Three types of different vegetable peelers

There are a number of patterns of peelers. Most have a two-sided internal blade, which is hinged at either end so that the blade can follow the contours of a vegetable whilst removing a fixed thickness of material.

Different styles of peeler suit different people. Generally the more you pay the better the peeler will work and longer it will last. Don't pay too much as it is easy to lose a peeler in disposing of vegetable peelings. As many are made of brightly coloured plastic, it is a good idea to choose a colour that will contrast with the materials that you will be peeling.

 

Steak knives

These are not the knives used at the table (which could be a sign of tough meat to follow) but rather the knives that butchers use to slice steaks from whole cuts of meat such as sirloin and rump.

Steak knives

The typical steak knife has a sharp point, a 25-30 cm broad blade and curves upwards toward the tip. The blade is evenly thin throughout its length with no bolster.

Steak knives come in shorter lengths that are well suited to trimming and dicing. If you are preparing a lot of steaks you may find having one of these knives in your kit helpful but your 25 cm Chef's knife will also cut steaks with ease. Choose a knife with a slip resistant handle that will be comfortable in your hand.

 

Butchers trimming knives

Butchers trimming knives

These are similar to the butcher's steak knives but with a straighter blade usually angled upwards slightly. This knife is used for trimming the sinew and fat from meat.

Choose a knife with a slip resistant handle that will be comfortable in your hand.

 

Filleting knives

Fish filleting knives are very similar to boning knives in pattern and shape although for dealing with larger fish a longer blade may be an advantage. If you do a lot of work with fish and seafood then this knife is a must.

Choose a knife with a slip resistant handle that will be comfortable in your hand.

Filleting knives

 

Flexible filleting knives

Flexible filleting knives

These are made to fillet fish with fine and soft bones, such as flatfish. The blades are usually so flexible that they can be bent around onto themselves. This is not a common knife in the chef's toolkit, unless you have a specific use for it.

 

Carving forks

These come in two basic patterns: straight pronged and curved pronged. Curved prongs may look more stylish but they are not as versatile or useful as straight prongs.

Carving forks are used to hold roast meat whilst carving and to pick up the carved slices and move them. They can also be used to test the internal temperature of a roasting piece or to test the doneness of a cake.

Carving forks

Sometimes you may use a carving fork to pick up large pieces of meat. It is worthwhile to buy the largest and strongest carving fork that you can afford and manage. The best carving forks have been forged into shape but there are also good quality forks made from stamped sheet steel.

 

Parisienne cutters

Parisienne cutters

These are also called melon-ballers and are available in different sizes and shapes, both plain and fluted. They are for cutting out spherical pieces from soft materials such as melon, potato and cucumber.

 

Apple corer

There are various patterns of these, some with a curved blade and some with a circular plunge cutter. Some of these have a serrated edge and some are straight. Personal taste will dictate the best choice for you. Before purchasing an apple corer it is a good idea to try out a few on real apples before buying. The most expensive are not always the best.

Apple corer

 

Channeling knives

Channeling knives

Whilst these are called a knife they are more like a small chisel. They are designed to cut a groove in the surface of a piece of fruit or vegetable for decorative purposes. Large fruit can be cut in this way.

 

Zester

Zester

This is a specialised tool with a line of small circular cutting edges at the end. It is dragged through the outer skin of citrus fruit to cut out fine shreds known as zest, which are used for garnishing and flavouring.

 

Grapefruit knives

This is another specialised tool which is specifically designed to make a curved cut to loosen the flesh of grapefruit from their skin for service. These knives have a blade formed into a sideways curve and are usually serrated.

Grapefruit knife

 

Skinning knife

skinning knife

Unless you are removing the skin from animals you won't find any use for this knife. They have a short blade (around 19 cm) which is curved upward for the full length of the blade.

 

Sharpening steel

A sharpening steel is a hard, smooth metal rod which is drawn along the edge of a knife to literally straighten the edge.

Steels come in several styles and are made out of metal, ceramic or metal coated with diamonds. There are two basic shapes: round and oval. The most expensive steel is not necessarily the best.

The surface of the steel may have a fine pattern of thin grooves on it. These grooves are cutting edges which can remove small amounts of metal from your knife blade. Better quality steels have very fine or almost none of these grooves.

Sharpening steel

Whilst the selection of a steel is a matter of personal taste, there are several important points to consider: the steel should not be too short – no less than 25 cm – and the steel should not have a coarse or very obvious pattern of grooves.

Diamond-coated steels are light and strong and will not corrode. Ceramic steels will not corrode and are very effective but will crack or shatter if dropped.

 

Electric knives

Electric knife

These are not suited to most professional cutting but are excellent for bulk sandwich production and can produce acceptable results when used by properly trained staff for bulk carving of hot meats.

Proper cleaning must be observed as they have two blades working side by side and food can be trapped between them. They must be cleaned and sanitised when changing commodities to avoid cross-contamination.

 

Electric slicing machines

Electric slicing machines are extremely useful. For large scale food production they are essential for precision slicing which ensures a uniform product, minimises wastage and provides good portion control.

Even for short production runs they can make uniform precision cuts which save time and enable even unskilled staff to produce cutting of a high standard with minimal training.

Electric slicing machines require special cleaning techniques and must be cleaned thoroughly to maintain hygeine standards.

Electric slicing machine

 

Meat saw

Meat saw

If you are carrying out any kind of butchery involved in bone cutting, the meat saw is a very useful tool. However, meat saws are not cheap and as butchers will prepare almost any specified cut to order it is hard to justify buying one if you are not working in butchery.

Meat saws have a thin, flexible blade held under tension on a metal frame. It is essential to fully dismantle the blades after use and ensure that all parts are cleaned, sanitised and reassembled after drying.

 

Cutting board

Use a wood, rubber compound or plastic cutting board. Don't cut on metal, stone or ceramic surfaces, as they will damage your knives. To prevent a cutting board from slipping, place a wet swab or towel under the board when setting up your bench and change it as you change commodities.

Cutting boards

The most common type of board in use is made from dense plastic. These boards are available in a number of colours coded to different food types to avoid cross contamination. When plastic boards become warped or damaged they are cheap enough to be easily relaced.

Wooden boards and chopping blocks are relatively gentle on knives but because of its fibrous structure wood cracks easily in wet conditions and the end-grain can become soft and spongy. The cracks and spongy parts will harbour bacteria and contribute to cross contamination.

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Cutting boards must be cleaned and sanitised after every use, at the end of each day and once a week.

Any board should be discarded when it develops cracks or becomes warped. Every cut on a board will potentially harbour bacteria.