Do you know what a petty knife is? How about a santoku? And do you need to be a real chef to use a chef’s knife?
Most of us just ask for the big wide knife, the knife with holes in it or the small knife—no, not that one, the other small knife.
All these edgy kitchen helpers can be described in simple words, but most have unique names and are especially designed for specific purposes.
Let us help you get to know the knives in your knife block. We’ll highlight the most common ones: chef’s knife, santoku, slicer, petty knife and paring knife. We’ll throw in some info about your all-purpose kitchen shears, too.
The chef’s knife
Typically 6-14 inches (15-35 cm) long and 1 ½ inches (4 cm) wide, this is your most versatile knife. It’s for slicing, dicing and mincing.
The broad, sharp blade can cut meat, slice herbs, fruits and vegetables and do a great job chopping nuts, as well. The curved blade makes these tasks quick and easy, too.
Bonus tip: If you want to cry less when you’re cutting onions, use this knife and make sure it’s sharp. A sharp knife slices the onion’s cell walls more cleanly, which means less irritation for your eyes.
This blade originated in Japan and is the one with the holes in it, usually 4-7 inches (10-18 cm) long and about 2 inches (5 cm) wide. Santoku means “three good things,” because the knife performs three actions: slicing, dicing and mincing.
It performs many of the functions of a chef’s knife well, but the holes, or hollow spots, on the side of the blade—called grantons—make the foods you’re cutting (like potatoes, meats and fish), release more easily from the side of the blade.
And unlike the chef’s knife, one of the distinguishing features of a santoku is its turned-down “sheep’s foot” tip.
The slicer, or bread knife
Some may know the slicer more familiarly as a bread knife. The blade is usually 6-14 inches (15-36 cm) long.
It has a rounded tip and serrated edges, which allow it to cut softer foods, like breads or tomatoes, without squishing them.
For most people, an 8-inch (20 cm) blade will suffice. It’s able to slice through most breads but is not overly long, which can make it easy to lose control of the blade while cutting.
The petty knife
Petty knives are small, versatile knives of Japanese design that are one the most frequently used knives in the kitchen. They can range from 3 to 7 inches (7-18 cm) long.
They are best for boning meats, trimming fat, cutting fruit or when you’re doing small, delicate tasks on a cutting board.
The paring knife
Like the petty knife, they are extremely versatile for small tasks. They are typically smaller than a petty knife, usually 2 ¾-4 inches (7-10 cm) long.
They are ideal for hulling strawberries, sectioning an orange or lemon, peeling other fruits and vegetables, deveining a shrimp, removing the seeds from a jalapeño and cutting small garnishes.
Most kitchen shears are designed to have multiple functions, making them extremely useful in a busy kitchen.
Grab them to help open food packages, trim meat, cut chicken bones, snip herbs or other greens and let’s not forget cutting pizza.
Some, like the iCook™ Multipurpose Shears from Amway, have several extra features: a nut cracker, cap twister, bottle opener, magnet, screw driver, wire cutter and wire stripper.
What knives are right for you?
Whether you should own a complete set or opt for a few quality pieces really depends on the amount and type of cooking you do. But the more you know about each blade’s purpose, the better your culinary skills will be.