Have you ever wondered why there are so many different types of kitchen knives? What’s the purpose of them all? And which do you actually need?
In this guide, I break down the 21 most common types of kitchen knives. You’ll learn about each knife’s design, uses, pros, cons, and more.
I also explain which kitchen knives are essential and which are nice-to-have, so you know where to start.
And if you’re short on time, I put together a comparison chart so you can quickly compare each knife side-by-side.
Use the links below to navigate this guide:
- Types of Kitchen Knives: Comparison Chart
- Chef’s Knife
- Paring Knife
- Bread Knife
- Utility/Petty Knife
- Santoku Knife
- Nakiri Knife
- Gyuto Knife
- Steak Knife
- Boning Knife
- Fillet Knife
- Chinese Cleaver
- Carving Knife
- Usuba Knife
- Deba Knife
- Kiritsuke Knife
- Honesuki Knife
- Yanagiba Knife
- Tourne Knife
- Tomato Knife
- Which Knives Are Truly Essential for Most Home Cooks?
Use the chart below to compare different types of kitchen knives side-by-side. I provide much more detail (including pictures) about each knife throughout this guide.
|Knife||Blade Shape||Blade Length||Uses|
|Chef’s Knife||Broad blade with a curved edge||6-10 inches||All purpose knife|
|Paring Knife||Short, narrow with a pointed tip (or sheep’s foot)||3-4 inches||Peeling apples and cutting small pieces of fruit|
|Bread Knife||Long, narrow with serrated edge||8-12 inches||Slicing breads, sandwiches, and tomatoes|
|Utility Knife||Slim, tapering to a pointed tip||4-7 inches||Peel, slice, dice, and chop vegetables, herbs, and meats|
|Santoku Knife||Broad, straight edge with a slight curve||5-7 inches||Slicing, chopping and mincing|
|Nakiri Knife||Straight edge, squared-off tip||6-8 inches||Cutting vegetables|
|Gyuto Knife||Broad, tapering to a pointed tip||7-12 inches||All-purpose knife with harder steel and sharper edge than a Western chef’s knife|
|Steak Knife||Slim with a serrated or straight edge||4-6 inches||Cutting small pieces of steak and other meats (used during meals, not for prep)|
|Cimeter||Broad, curved blade||8-14 inches||Cutting large pieces of meat into smaller portions (like steaks and ribs)|
|Boning Knife||Slim, flexible with a curved tip||5-7 inches||Removing bones from fish or poultry|
|Fillet Knife||Slim, flexible with a pointed tip||6-11 inches||Removing skin and filleting fish|
|Cleaver||Broad, heavy with a straight edge||7-8 inches||Cutting through thick cuts of meat and bones|
|Chinese Cleaver||Wide, straight edge with a slight curve||7-11 inches||Cutting vegetables and dicing meat|
|Carving Knife||Long, slim with a tapering point||8-15 inches||Carving meat|
|Usuba Knife||Straight edge, thin, squared-off tip||6-8 inches||Cutting raw fruits and vegetables|
|Deba Knife||Thick, curved to a pointed tip||4-6 inches||Cleaning, filleting, and portioning fish|
|Kiritsuke Knife||Angled tip, straight edge with slight curve||8-12 inches||Slicing fish and vegetables|
|Honesuki Knife||Triangular or angled tip||4-6 inches||De-boning and breaking down poultry|
|Yanagiba Knife||Long, slim with a one-sided edge||8-12 inches||Slicing sushi and sashimi|
|Tourne Knife||Short, curved with a bird’s beak tip||2-3 inches||Tournéeing root vegetables|
|Tomato Knife||Short, serrated with a forked tip||4-6 inches||Forked tip for piercing and slicing tomatoes|
The chef’s knife, with its wide, curved blade ranging from 6-10 inches long, is the ultimate all-purpose knife. Its medium length and gently curved edge allow you to chop, slice, and mince various ingredients efficiently.
The chef’s knife has a sharp, tapered tip, which lets you quickly make precise cuts and slice shallots or garlic. Its versatility makes it one of the few essential kitchen knives.
Compared to similar alternatives like the Santoku, the chef’s knife’s gently curving blade makes it easier to rock back and forth when mincing herbs. And its sharp tip lets you slice tomatoes, create slits in a large roast for marinating, or cube meat in a way that a Santoku can’t match.
Whether chopping mounds of vegetables or slicing a roast chicken, the chef’s knife can handle almost all kitchen tasks, both large and small.
If your budget only allows for one quality knife, make it a chef’s knife – it’s the most versatile investment for any kitchen.
Read this guide to learn the pros and cons of different chef’s knife sizes.
With its short blade ranging from 3-4 inches, the paring knife allows you to make precise, delicate cuts that a larger chef’s knife cannot.
Its compact size gives you greater control for tasks like peeling apples, coring tomatoes, or slicing strawberries. While the chef’s knife is ideal for chopping, the paring knife’s agile blade lets you maneuver into small spaces and make intricate cuts.
Compared to utility knives, the paring knife’s slightly curved edge and pointed tip make it better suited for peeling. The tip lets you easily remove potatoes’ eyes without digging into the flesh. And the curved edge is easy to control when rotating fruits and vegetables.
Though small, a paring knife still packs versatility. Its blade is large enough to mince small quantities of herbs or garlic, while its pointed tip can decorate garnishes.
A paring knife’s precision is invaluable for doing detailed work like deveining shrimp, removing bruises, or slicing citrus fruits.
Its versatility and precision make it an essential knife for every kitchen.
A bread knife, with its long, serrated blade ranging from 8-12 inches, is specially designed to slice through crusty loaves without tearing the soft inner crumb.
The scalloped edges of the blade act like tiny saws that break through bread’s crisp exterior with ease.
You could slice bread with a chef’s knife, but the non-serrated edge won’t cut through a crunchy crust as efficiently, so you risk flattening the loaf.
While excellent for bread, this knife also handles delicate foods like overripe tomatoes without turning them into mush. Its long blade lets you swiftly slice everything from cakes to sandwiches.
A bread knife is essential because its long blade and straight serrated edge enable it to do tasks that chef’s and paring knives can’t.
With its slim 4-7 inch blade, the utility knife (also called a petty knife) is a lightweight alternative to a chef’s knife.
Its medium size allows for better control than a large chef’s knife on delicate tasks like slicing small fruits, cutting the crust off bread, removing melon rinds, or peeling oranges.
Compared to a paring knife, the utility/petty knife’s longer blade also chops quickly through ingredients like herbs and garlic.
While not essential if you already own a chef’s and paring knife, the utility/petty knife is a convenient and lightweight hybrid of the two.
The Santoku knife first emerged in Japan in the 1940s as an all-purpose alternative to the array of single-use blades in traditional Japanese kitchens.
Its wide 5-7 inch blade and straight edge make it ideal for precisely slicing, dicing, and mincing – the “three virtues” it’s named after.
The Santoku’s edge has a slight curve but is much straighter than most Western chef’s knives. The blade’s spine is also straight from the handle to the end of the blade, where it bends down at a steep angle.
Most of the flat edge makes contact with the cutting board on each cut, allowing you to produce clean, uniform slices.
With only a slight curve to the edge, it’s best suited for an up-and-down chopping motion (rather than the rocking technique often used with a chef’s knife).
While the Santoku easily handles vegetables and boneless meats, its thin blade and lack of a pointy tip make cutting through bones and piercing meats difficult. It’s not the best knife for breaking down a whole chicken or piercing a watermelon rind.
Learn more in my in-depth comparison of chef’s knives versus Santoku knives.
The nakiri is a Japanese-style knife designed for chopping vegetables. It has a thin, rectangular blade with a straight edge and squared tips. The blade length is typically 5-7 inches.
The Nakiri knife’s flat edge enables clean, straight slices in a single up-and-down motion. Its complete contact with the cutting board prevents sticking, resulting in thin uniform cuts ideal for julienne or ribbons.
Since the blade is the same width from heel to tip, weight is evenly distributed — knives that come to a pointy tip are heavier towards the heel. The blade’s even weight distribution makes fast up-and-down chopping more effortless; the weight of the blade does most of the work.
Nakiri knives are shaped like Chinese cleaver, but the blade is narrower and lighter. Therefore, the Nakiri is more agile and easier to maneuver.
If vegetables are a significant part of your diet, a nakiri knife can be a worthwhile investment for your kitchen.
With its gently curved blade ranging 7-12 inches long, the Japanese Gyuto resembles the Western chef’s knife. However, the Gyuto is crafted from harder Japanese steel and forged with specialized techniques to produce a thinner, sharper blade.
Compared to the softer steel and thicker blades of traditional European knives, the Gyuto’s razor-sharp edge stays sharp longer. And its slimmer profile slices smoothly without wedging or tearing delicate foods.
While the Gyuto excels at clean, precise cuts when dealing with vegetables and boneless meats, the heftier Western chef’s knife is more durable and better suited for heavy-duty splitting and cutting through bones.
The Gyuto’s flat belly edge also contrasts with the larger curve of Western knives. With its flatter edge, this knife is designed for an up-and-down chopping motion; it’s not ideal for rocking.
If you’re looking for a Japanese knife that handles like a chef’s knife but holds an edge longer, the Gyuto is an excellent option. But if you want a thicker blade with a more durable edge, you’re better off with the Western version.
Steak knives are designed to easily cut through seared meats at the table.
These knives have sharper blades and thicker handles than most regular dinner knives, allowing you to get more leverage and easily slice through fibrous meats.
They come in two main types: serrated and non-serrated, each with distinct advantages.
Serrated steak knives saw through tougher cuts like flank or skirt steak without crushing the meat, thanks to their jagged teeth that grab and slice meat fibers smoothly.
Non-serrated steak knives produce cleaner slices, particularly on tender cuts like filet mignon, preserving the moisture and flavor by not releasing the juices.
But unlike serrated steak knives that don’t require frequent sharpening, you need to sharpen these knives occasionally. A dull steak knife will tear the meat fibers and release juices onto your plate.
Steak knives are necessary if you regularly cook steaks, chops, and other thick cuts of meat. But a standard dinner knife is sharp enough for chicken, fish, and more tender meats.
The cimeter, also called a scimitar, is a large curved knife used for cutting meat. It has a blade typically 8-14 inches long. Butchers often use cimeters to slice large cuts of beef or pork into retail steaks or chops.
While designed for processing large cuts of meat, the pronounced curve also allows for precision fat trimming and slicing steak portions. Beyond slicing, the cimeter handles trimming, portioning, and light chopping. Its curved ergonomic grip reduces hand fatigue from prolonged use.
However, its size makes it unwieldy in home kitchens or if you have small hands. It looks and feels more like a sword than a kitchen knife.
While valued in butcher shops, the cimeter is unnecessary for most home cooks. With an 8- to 10-inch chef’s knife, you can slice and break down meat of almost any size.
That said, owning a cimeter can be helpful if you’re an avid griller or buy meat in bulk for a large family. Just know it requires space and skill.
With its narrow 5-7 inch blade, the boning knife is designed for removing meat from bones. Its thin, sharp blade can cleanly separate meat without creating waste. Unlike stiffer knives, the boning knife’s flexible blade allows you to maneuver around joints and contours.
A boning knife’s narrow tip fits into tight spots that a wider knife cannot. However, it lacks the chopping power of heavier knives.
While invaluable for getting every morsel of meat off the bone, boning knives have limited use elsewhere in the kitchen. Their specialty makes them ideal for butchering tasks but impractical for most vegetable or bread cutting.
Though not essential for the average home cook, the boning knife is purpose-built for seasoned cooks breaking down poultry and meat.
A fillet knife is designed to remove skin and bones from fish and other meat. Its 6-11 inch razor-thin blade can slide just under the skin to separate pieces cleanly, and the narrow, pointed tip fits into hard-to-reach areas.
Compared to a rigid chef’s knife, the fillet knife’s flexibility allows it to glide smoothly around bones and joints without tearing delicate flesh.
Unlike a boning knife, its extra length allows you to break down larger fish in a few clean slices rather than multiple cuts.
While this knife excels at breaking down fish and meat, its specialized nature makes it less useful for most tasks. It lacks the heft for cutting through hard vegetables, thick meats, or bones.
Though not essential for most home cooks, these knives are a staple in most commercial kitchens where filleting fish and other meats is a daily job.
The cleaver’s wide 6-8 inch ultra-thick blade and heavyweight design allow it to chop through thick cuts of meat and bones.
Its significant heft generates enough momentum to split chicken joints or hack pork chops. The rectangular blade’s broadside can also be used as a tenderizing mallet, crushing garlic cloves, or pounding meat.
For context, cleavers can be twice as heavy as a standard chef’s knife. For example, this 7-inch Zwilling Pro cleaver weighs 19 ounces, and the 8-inch chef’s knife within the same collection weighs around 9 ounces.
However, due to its size, weight, and relatively dull edge, it lacks the finesse for boning, filleting fish, or any task requiring precision. It operates more like a wedge or an ax than a razor-sharp knife.
While essential for butchers and meat packers, a heavy cleaver is overkill in most home kitchens. With care, a good chef’s knife can handle most meat-cutting tasks. However, cleaver enthusiasts praise its ability to chop small bones while protecting the edge.
Adding a cleaver to your collection makes sense if you regularly break down whole chickens, racks of ribs, or other sizeable meats. But it’s not a must-have for most residential kitchens.
Unlike bulky meat cleavers, the Chinese cleaver’s thinner 7- to 11-inch blade is built for slicing vegetables. With a fine 25-degree bevel, its lightweight frame provides precision versus brute force. The wide rectangular blade also aids in scooping up ingredients after chopping.
You can use a Chinese cleaver to smash garlic cloves or ginger with a quick whack from the broadside of the blade, and its lightweight design makes repetitive veggie chopping less tiring.
The edge is too thin to cut through hard bones (it would chip), but you can flip the knife over and crack them with the blade’s spine.
The main drawback of Chinese cleavers is their straight edge and lack of a pointed tip, which makes them poor tools for intricate tasks like removing pineapple eyes or coring tomatoes.
While many professional chefs and home cooks praise Chinese cleavers for their even weight distribution, flat head that you can use to clean a dirty cutting board, and broad blade for scooping, they’re not a necessity for most home cooks.
A carving knife is used to slice thin, elegant cuts of large cooked meats like roast beef, ham, turkey, or pork. It has a long, slim blade ranging from 8-15 inches. This specialized design allows you to carve precise, thin slices while maintaining the meat’s structure.
Compared to larger chef’s knives, the carving knife’s slender shape encounters less friction when slicing. This results in a cleaner cut with less tearing. The blade’s length also enables consistent slice thickness. Additionally, the tapered tip provides maneuverability to carve around bones or other obstacles.
Beyond meat, a carving knife’s precision and thin cuts make it versatile for slicing fruits, vegetables, and breads. However, the narrow blade limits chopping ability. It also lacks the heft needed to cut through thick cartilage or bone.
While specialized, a carving knife can refine the presentation of holiday roasts or hams. But it’s not an essential knife for most home cooks. With skill, you can use an all-purpose chef’s knife on most meats. Consider adding a carving knife if you regularly cook large roasts or hams where elegant slices matter.
The Usuba is a traditional Japanese knife used for vegetable prep. It has a thin, single-beveled blade typically 6-9 inches long. The straight edge and flat profile are ideal for precise, thin cuts.
The single bevel (sharpened on one side) on a Usuba knife allows for extremely precise slicing, making it ideal for fine julienne, brunoise, or decorative cuts. It is also great for specialized techniques like katsuramuki rotary peeling due to its rectangular profile and razor-sharp edge.
However, single bevels have a learning curve to master. They tend to drag to one side instead of cutting straight through. You’ll need to learn to adjust your technique to achieve straight, precise cuts. The single bevel can be challenging to adapt to if you’re used to double-beveled Western knives.
While valued in professional Japanese kitchens, Usuba knives are not essential for most home cooks. If you want a straight-edge knife to make clean, uniform cuts, a Nakiri or Santoku can get the job done — and their double-bevel blades are more familiar and easier to maintain.
The Deba is a traditional Japanese knife for breaking down fish and poultry. Some consider it the Japanese version of the cleaver. The blade is relatively short (4-6 inches) but extremely thick, sometimes up to 5 mm thick at the spine.
The broad edge at the heel allows you to easily remove fish heads and tails without damaging the blade, and the pointed tip helps you navigate around bones.
The Deba’s weight and single bevel allow it to chop through small bones while retaining enough finesse for filleting. Most Deba blades are made of high-carbon steel known for superior edge retention (you don’t need to sharpen these knives often).
While indispensable for professional fishmongers, the Deba is not an essential knife for most home cooks unless you regularly break down whole salmon or chicken.
The Kiritsuke is a versatile Japanese knife that’s a hybrid between the long, thin Yanagiba used for sushi and the flat-edge Usuba for vegetables.
The Kiritsuke has a blade profile similar to a Santoku, but the 8-12 inch Kiritsuke blade is longer. Also, instead of the Santoku’s sheep’s foot tip, the kiritsuke’s spine drops sharply at the end to form a pointed tip.
Most Japanese knives are designed for specific ingredients or techniques, but this is one of the few multipurpose knives. It’s ideal for fish and vegetables but hefty enough for chicken, beef, pork, and other more dense ingredients.
With its long blade and sharp tip, the Kiritsuke is ideal for decorative cuts, slits, and piercing. Its straight edge is suitable for up-and-down chopping (or the push/pull technique). But without any curve to the edge, it’s not ideal for rocking.
Traditional Kiritsuke knives have a single beveled, straight-edge blade with a flat, sword-like tip. But many modern versions have a double bevel, which makes them more versatile and easier to use.
Should every home cook have a kiritsuke? No. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend this type of knife for most home cooks. While Kiritsuke knives are highly regarded among professional chefs, the long blade, single bevel, and high cost make them impractical for the average home cook.
With its sturdy 4-6 inch blade, the Japanese Honesuki knife is designed for deboning and breaking down poultry and meat. It’s the Japanese version of the Western boning knife.
The key difference is the blade shape. Western boning knives have narrower blades and a gradual curved edge, while the Honesuki has a taller blade, triangular profile, and a sharp pointed tip that allows you to trim closely along bones. The thicker spine and large heel provide strength for getting through joints and cartilage.
The Honesuki’s thin, angular tip can get into nooks more easily, and its thickness resists twisting. It also provides better leverage around bones than a fillet knife, although it lacks the flexibility sometimes needed for filleting fish.
While it’s an excellent tool for processing poultry and meat, a small chef’s knife or utility knife can perform the same tasks almost as efficiently. That’s why I consider a Honesuki knife nice to have but not essential.
The Yanagiba is a traditional Japanese knife used specifically for sashimi and sushi. It has an extra long, slim blade ranging from 8-12 inches designed for precision slicing.
The length enables smooth, uninterrupted slices to preserve the texture of delicate fish. And its razor-sharp single-beveled edge creates perfect cuts with minimal tearing.
The Yanagiba’s specialized design comes with some drawbacks.
- Unlike the more versatile Kiritsuke or Gyuto knives, the Yanagiba is strictly a single-purpose knife only for raw fish.
- The single beveled edge also requires particular honing and sharpening skills to maintain properly.
- Due to the intricate forging process, high-quality Yanagibas carry a premium price tag that may not suit a casual home cook’s budget.
While indispensable for sushi chefs, the Yanagiba’s specialized single-purpose design makes it unnecessary for most casual home cooking. Unless you regularly prepare traditional raw fish dishes, a versatile chef’s knife can likely handle your slicing needs.
The Tourne knife, recognized by its 2- to 3-inch bird’s beak-shaped blade, is designed to make intricate cuts on vegetables and fruits. It’s ideal for decorative garnishes and, as its name suggests, achieving the seven-sided tourne cut, a classical French culinary technique.
However, its specialized nature limits its versatility. Unlike a chef’s or paring knife, it’s not suited for everyday kitchen tasks like chopping or slicing. The narrow focus of the Tourne knife makes it non-essential for an average home cook.
With its short 4-6 inch serrated blade and forked tip, the tomato knife is designed to pierce and slice tomatoes without crushing their delicate interior flesh.
The small saw-like teeth on the blade easily puncture through tomato skins without requiring pressure that could damage soft interiors. And the dual tines on the tip provide a way to lift freshly cut slices.
Compared to paring knives, the tomato knife’s serrated edge slices cleanly through tomato skins without requiring multiple sawing motions.
While useful for tomatoes and other small fruits, this knife’s role is limited. An adequately sharp chef’s knife or a serrated utility knife can slice a tomato without smushing it.
Now that you know the pros and cons of the most common types of kitchen knives, the question remains:
Which do you need? And which are nice to have?
While countless specialty blades exist, most home cooks only need a core set of 4 knives:
If you only have the budget for one knife, buy an 8- to 10-inch chef’s knife. Its long, wide blade, curved edge, and pointy tip make it a versatile workhorse for almost every cutting task.
In addition to a chef’s knife, I recommend a 3- to 4-inch paring knife for smaller ingredients and finer cuts. Its compact size allows for greater precision and control.
Although slicing bread with a chef’s knife is possible, it’s not the ideal tool. Every kitchen should have an 8- to 12-inch serrated bread knife for slicing crusty loaves of bread, bagels, sandwiches, cakes, and tomatoes. The serrated edge ensures clean slices without tearing the soft interior.
Lastly, a set of steak knives to slice a ribeye or filet mignon at the table is a must.
Cutlery brands will try to sell you knife sets with over 15 pieces. But you won’t use half the knives in those sets. Start with the essentials, then grow your collection over time based on your needs and style.
The two non-essential knives I like the most are the Nakiri and Sanotku.
The Santoku is an all-purpose knife similar to the chef’s knife, but the edge is flatter, so you can get straighter, cleaner cuts.
If vegetables are a major part of your diet, you could benefit from owning a Nakiri. The flat edge makes full contact with the cutting board, and the rectangular blade profile distributes weight evenly, making up-and-down chopping effortless.
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