Types of Knives
Many different types of knives exist. How many you need and which you should buy depend largely upon personal preference, but even the most infrequent cook will find use for at least two or three inexpensive kitchen knives (one of which should be serrated). Here are descriptions of the more common cutlery pieces to help you choose knives for your own kitchen habits.
Boning Knife: This knife has a short, thin, very flexible blade that is used for cutting meat. Its original purpose was to remove the main bone from a piece of meat such as a ham or a beef roast, but it can also be useful for more delicate slicing.
Carving Knife: Some manufacturers call this a slicing knife. It is a large, often curved knife with a blade that can range from 8-15 inches in length. This knife is usually used for cutting large pieces of meat, such as roasted turkey or prime rib. Carving knives are often paired with a two-pronged meat fork.
Chef's Knife: Also called the cook's knife, this is the classic, all-purpose kitchen knife that can be used for slicing, chopping, dicing and mincing. The blades are usually fairly thick and rigid, and they can vary in length from 6-12 inches.
Cleaver: This knife has a large blade that is heavy, thick and rigid. A cleaver has many uses, including chopping, shredding and pounding. It is made for the really heavy kitchen work; there is no better knife for chopping a mountain of vegetables for a stew. The flat of the broad blade can be used to pulverize meat or to crush seeds or garlic, and some cleavers can even cut right through bones.
Filet Knife: This is like a larger version of a boning knife with a flexible blade that is typically 6-11 inches long. As its name implies, this knife is excellent for filleting fish.
Kitchen Shears: Many cutlery sets also include a pair of heavy scissors or shears. These can be very handy for opening packages of meat, snipping cooking ties and much more.
Paring Knife: This is a small, easy-to-handle knife with a thin blade that is usually only three or four inches in length. This type of knife works well for peeling, coring and slicing smaller foods.
Serrated Knife: This knife features a 5-10 inch blade with many saw-like notches. This knife works great for slicing softer foods such as tomatoes, and is especially useful for bread. In fact, many people simply refer to this kind of knife as a bread knife.
Utility Knife: This is a smaller, lighter-weight version of a chef's knife. Blades are usually four to seven inches long and are very stiff. This is a handy knife for lots of miscellaneous cutting, such as slicing fruit and cheese.
Most knife blades are manufactured in one of two ways: stamped or forged. Stamped blades are made by running a single large sheet of steel through a machine that punches out multiple blades, which are then ground and honed into a finished product. Forged blades are made in the more traditional way of super heating steel and then hammering it into shape. Forging is a more expensive process, and many people believe it produces a higher-quality knife.
The sharpness of a knife blade depends on the amount of carbon in the steel. The higher the steel's carbon content, the sharper the edge.
Another type of blade is known as the "never needs sharpening" blade. These knives are very handy and virtually maintenance free. Their main advantage, of course, is that they can be used over and over for many different purposes without any sharpening required. These knives do have a couple of drawbacks, however. Their cuts tend to be a little rougher than traditional straight-edge knives, which many cooks find unacceptable. Also, these knives will eventually lose their sharpness over a long period of time and, when that happens, the only option is to replace them.Knife handles can be made from wood, plastic, steel or just about any hard material. Comfort and durability are the most important factors in a knife handle, and each type of construction material has its own advantages and disadvantages in these areas.
Wood is a popular choice for knife handles because it is strong and easily shaped into a comfortable grip, but wood can warp or crack over time and can harbor bacteria.
Plastic handles are also very common because they are strong, easy to clean and sanitize, and are inexpensive to manufacture. Plastic can become brittle with time, and it can also melt if left too close to a source of high heat (such as a stove burner).
Steel handles are also a popular choice for kitchen knives because they are easy to clean and almost indestructible. These types of handles can become slippery, so some also include small pieces of soft rubber to allow for a better grip.
A knife's blade and handle work together to achieve a feeling of balance. Balance is probably the single most important factor in a knife because it relates directly to how comfortable the knife is to use, and good comfort means higher safety.
The portion of a knife's blade that extends down into the handle is called the tang. Quality knives will have a large tang, sometimes extending the full length of the handle, which helps balance the knife by adding extra weight to the grip area.