What Are All the Knives in A Knife Block For?

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Buying a complete knife block set has its pros and cons. The list of pros includes convenience: You get all the knives you need and storage in one neat package. And on the cons list? It may come with more knives than you know what to do with.

This plethora-of-knives situation is why I usually recommend that people buy their knives a la carte. Doing so allows you to pick the knives you want. It’s usually a cheaper option, too.

That said, there are some great knife block sets out there — and they do make good presents (or wedding registry additions!). But, what’s actually included in one of these sets? And what are all those knives useful for?

Let’s take a look to see what commonly comes in most knife blocks (like this one and this one!) — and I’ll explain what each one is used for.

A good chef’s knife is an absolute must-have. I’d even say it’s the single-most important knife (and tool!) in any kitchen. It’s what you use to chop, mince, dice, and slice. And while there are different sizes of chef’s knives out there, an 8-inch knife will be the most comfortable and useful for most home cooks.

Santoku knives are also great for slicing, dicing, and mincing. Unlike a chef’s knife, which ends in a point, a santoku’s spine turns down at the tip. This type of knife sometimes has dimples on the blade, which is known as a “Granton” edge and keeps ingredients from sticking to the blade as you cut. Santoku knives are generally shorter (measuring 5 to 7 inches) than chef’s knives and have a straighter blades, which means they don’t rock against the board when you use them, like a chef’s knife does.

A utility knife has a narrow blade and falls in between a paring knife (see below) and chef’s knife as far as its size. This type of knife is useful for all sorts of kitchen tasks, like mincing herbs and shallots and slicing fruits and vegetables and cooked proteins.

A full set of steak knives is often included in larger knife block (this one comes with six!). A steak knife either has serrations or a smooth blade and is, of course, used for cutting cooked proteins, like steak or chicken thighs, or roasted or grilled veggies.

Paring knives are small, but incredibly useful (I have five in constant rotation!). They’re the right choice for small prep tasks like slicing cheese, coring tomatoes, hulling strawberries, segmenting citrus, and deveining shrimp.

You probably won’t use a carving knife that often — unless you make a lot of roasts or hold multiple Thanksgivings. Carving knives are long and narrow and taper to a point. Their size and thin blade makes easy work of carving meat into thin slices. Most carving knives are between 8 and 10 inches long.

A boning knife is used to prep bone-in meat, separating meat from the bone. It has a razor-thin, agile blade, which allows it to easily maneuver around bones and joints and cut through connective tissue and ligaments.

A peeling knife is also called a bird’s beak paring knife (because they’re shaped like a bird’s beak!). You can read more about it here, but basically this knife’s curved blade makes it super agile, able to peel with precision, hugging the curves of ginger, oranges, lemons, and limes. Its pointed, sharp tip also makes a good choice for hulling strawberries. That being said, this kind of knife does take practice to get used to.

This isn’t always included in a knife block, but some do have them! Spreaders, with their wide blades, make handy work of thinly spreading condiments, peanut butter, butter, and jam onto bread.

Bread knives or serrated knives are (you guessed it!) used to slice bread. However, they’re also helpful for halving or quartering sandwiches, slicing tomatoes, and halving cake layers.

A great pair of kitchen shears is a must-have. They’re the go-to for snipping herbs, spatchcocking chickens, cutting through packages — you name it!

A honing rod or steel does not sharpen your knife. Here’s a good summary: “A honing steel basically pushes the edge of the knife back to the center and straightens it. It corrects the edge without shaving off much, if any, of the blade’s material. Honing doesn’t actually sharpen the knife, but if done properly, the knife will seem sharper because the blade is now in the proper position. Honing should be done often — some even hone before each use.”

Do you have a knife block-related question? Leave it in the comments!

Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm

Lifestyle Editor, Tools

Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm is the Tools Editor at The Kitchn. A professional kitchen equipment tester, she’s worked for America’s Test Kitchen, EatingWell, and Food52. Her goal: to find the best gear for your kitchen so you don’t waste time or money on anything else. She lives in Boston, MA with her two dogs.

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