Woman's hand using a chef's knife to chop a green vegetable on a bamboo cutting board (with logo overlay)

Common Kitchen Knives and their Uses

A standard set of kitchen knives comes with a variety of knives. Each knife has a specific use, and proper care means they can last for years.

A standard block of kitchen knives comes with quite a variety of knives. But do you know what to do with all of them? I sure didn’t when we got one when moving into our first house years ago. I knew what to do with a steak knife, but that was about it.

As it is, even with how much I cook, I still don’t use a few of the knives from the block. I know what they are for, but I don’t have a need. My go-to knife has always been the chef’s knife. I use it all the time. The other kitchen knives have their uses, though.

Originally Published On: March 30, 2020

Kitchen Knife Uses

A standard knife block comes with a list of kitchen knives, though the list may vary depending on which set you purchase. But these are the basics and how to use them.

8-inch Chef’s Knife

This is my favorite knife in the block. I use mine almost every single day. The chef’s knife is the most versatile. There are many ways to use a chef’s knife. But it was originally designed for making large cuts of beef.

Some basic uses for the chef’s knife include:

  • Chopping herbs, fruits, vegetables
  • Slicing herbs, fruits, vegetables, meat
  • Mincing herbs, fruits, vegetables

The knife can be gripped in one of two ways:

  • The “pinch grip” refers to holding the blade between the thumb and forefinger just past the grip.
  • Holding the knife completely by the grip is a standard grip

The chef’s knife is large but it can be used for fine cuts as well. The easiest way to do this is to rock the knife on the point. Slowly move the food to cut past the blade as you rock it up and down, keeping the point on the cutting board.

Woman's hands using a chef knife to slices vegetables on a bamboo cutting board

7-inch Cleaver/Butcher’s Knife

The cleaver or butcher’s knife is typically used for cutting through large chunks of meat. It’s also strong enough to go through bones. While it was designed for meat, there are many uses for a cleaver.

  • Cut through meat, bone, sinew
  • Make large cuts in hard melons, squash, coconuts
  • Use the flat side to crush garlic, tenderize meat

The cleaver is different from the rest of the knives. It is used by sheer force and strength rather than motion. The fun but sometimes dangerous way to use the cleaver is with the momentum from raising it high and bringing the knife down on the food. It’s not very precise, though. The knife can be used with straight pressure when you need to be a bit more exact.

7-inch Santoku Knife

The Santoku knife is the Japanese version of the chef knife. The shape is similar except for the edge of the knife because it has a sheepsfoot blade. This means it has a scalloped look to it.

Similar to the chef knife, the Santoku knife can be used for:

  • Chopping vegetables, meat, fish
  • Slicing vegetables, meat, fish
  • Dicing vegetables, meat, fish
Santoku and chef kitchen knives on a wooden surface

5.5-inch Utility Knife

The utility knife is a good all-round knife for the kitchen. It’s in between the chef knife and the paring knife. It fills all of the gaps by doing the odd jobs around the kitchen that no other knife is designed to do.

The utility knife is perfect for slicing small foods in the kitchen.

  • Slice through small fruits and vegetables
  • Chopping herbs
  • Slicing hard cheese
  • Cut meat such as salami, sausage, hot dogs, etc.

8-inch Slicing Knife

A slicing knife is exactly as it sounds. It’s a knife that’s designed for slicing. The slicing knife is long and thin. The blade can be either pointed or rounded at the end.

The slicing knife is best used for:

  • Slicing thin cuts of meat
  • Slicing fruit and vegetables thinly
Slicing knife on a bamboo board next to meat, peppercorn, salt, garlic, and seasonings

6-inch Boning Knife

Boning knives are thin curved knives meant for removing the bones from meat and fish. But they are best used by separating small pieces at a time. You can use the boning knife to cut sections off, such as removing the wing from a whole chicken before removing the meat from the bones. The boning knife can also be used to remove the scales from a fillet of fish.

8-inch Bread Knife

I feel like this is the most obvious of all of the kitchen knives. But, only if you know which one is the bread knife. It’s the long and serrated knife that’s round at the end. The blades are serrated so they can easily cut through soft bread. The saw-like motion will keep the bread from getting crushed.

The bread knife is useful for more than just slicing bread.

  • Slicing a bagel in half
  • Cutting and shaping a cake
  • Cutting melons or other tough fruits like pineapple
Bread knife next to a slice of bread

3.5-inch Paring Knife

The paring knife is the smallest kitchen knife in the block, so it’s best for small projects. You’ll want to keep the paring knife sharp because that’s best for the intricate work done with it.

  • Mincing vegetables and herbs
  • Deveining shrimp/prawns
  • Slicing or dicing small or delicate fruits and vegetables
  • Deseeding fruit

(8) 4.5-inch Steak Knives

The steak knife is the only kitchen knife that’s commonly found at a typical table setting. The steak knives were designed for cutting steak, as their name suggests. Steak knives are serrated so they can easily saw through any meat on the table. The steak knife can be used in place of a utility knife if needed.

8-inch Kitchen Shears

While this isn’t one of the kitchen knives, it often comes in a knife block. I LOVE my kitchen shears so much I bought an extra set of two because I use them so often.

I use mine for so many things, including:

  • Cutting meat into strips/chunks
  • Cutting hot pizza into pieces for the kids
  • Chopping herbs
  • Cut soft foods

RELATED: The 7 Wonders of Kitchen Shears

Pile of biscuit dough cut into quarters next to a pair of kitchen shears with a glass pie pan with melted butter behind all on a white and grey marble surface

Caring for Kitchen Knives

Caring for your kitchen knives doesn’t have to be complicated. There are a few simple things that you need to do and not do to keep your knives in the best working condition.

Handwash your Kitchen Knives

The dishwasher can be hard on knives because they end up banging into each other which can ding and dent the blades.

Dry your Knives

Don’t let your kitchen knives stay wet. Even stainless steel can get mold or mildew, especially where the blade meets the grip.

Don’t Leave Knives in the Sink

Not only is this dangerous, but it let the knives possibly sit in water. As mentioned before water is not good for knives in the long run.

Use a Cutting Board

A wooden cutting board is the safest option for your kitchen knives. A knife won’t damage a counter made of granite or marble. But the countertop can damage the knives.

Store Knives in a Block

When kitchen knives are thrown in a drawer they can end up hitting each other. This invites damage to the blades since they can hit each other. Either use the block they come in, a block in the drawer, or a magnetic strip.

Shop for Kitchen Knives

When working in the kitchen, it helps to make sure you have the correct equipment. The following items are hand-selected for this post and are all items I have personally used and/or recommend.

These are affiliate links. See disclosures for more information.

Working in the Kitchen

Kitchen Must-Haves

17 thoughts on “Common Kitchen Knives and their Uses”

  1. I’ve always admired folks with knife racks in their homes and I grew up with a Gourmet chef Mom who had every sized knife and cooking tool under the sun. I’m uncomfortable around big knives so I keep about 3 different sized knives in my utensil cabinet and that’s it.

    1. I used to be very uncomfortable with knives. I sliced my finger really badly and had to go to the ER when I was carving a pumpkin in middle school. It took a while, but now I use all the knives in the kitchen.

  2. awesome read! I love cooking but in all honesty I had no idea about the different kitchen knives and the ones that should be used for what…Great info.

  3. This is so helpful! I am such a novice in the kitchen I hardly know what the knives are called or what they are for. This is perfect to help me learn!

  4. thank you for the lowdown on each kitchen knife and their intended purpose. This also prompted me to nake sure to get a block for our knives cause it’s currently just swimming in the drawer 😀

  5. My husband is def more of the chef in our house. I have no idea what about half the knives do. Although I did look it up recently when I needed to chop some things!

  6. I’m pretty sure we have all of these other than a cleaver. When we moved into our new home last year we treated ourselves and bought all new knives x

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