Cutlery Cheat Sheet: Everything You Need to Know about Knives

professional-knives-instawaresWhen it comes to great food, texture is as important as taste. From slicing and dicing to chopping and mincing, a great cutlery set
can transform any ingredient into a culinary delight that looks and feels as good on the palate as it tastes. Knives are one of the most crucial elements of any kitchen, yet so many of us do not know what to look for when purchasing them for our restaurants and homes.  Here are three key factors to consider when shopping for knives.

Shape and Size

Cutlery comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, all designed for specific purposes. Every professional chef and home cook should own five basic types of knives.

Professional chef knives make slicing, dicing, and chopping large amounts of food easy. Although their blades are generally 6 to 14 inches long and about 1 ½ inches wide, chef knives vary when it comes to blade shape. Two of the most common chef knife blade shapes are French and German.  French
blades are straight with a curved tip while German blades feature a curve throughout the cutting edge.

Paring knives are constructed with small, sharp blades. These types of knives are generally used for peeling produce, coring fruit, and slicing smaller foods.

Carving knives are ideal for cutting large pieces of meat like hams, roasts, and whole turkeys. Built with a long thin blade approximately 8 to 15 inches in length, carving knives are excellent for creating thin slices of meat for sandwiches.

Unlike chef, paring, and carving knifes, which feature a smooth cutting surface, utility knives have serrated edges. Very versatile, utility knives can be used to slice a variety of foods.

Bread knives are designed to quickly and easily slice all types of bread. With serrated blades that are between 6 and 10 inches long, bread knives are designed to prevent crushing when cutting soft bread.


Professional knives are properly balanced and have a blade that goes completely through the handle. Blades can be constructed out of a variety of different materials. Four of the most common are:

Carbon Steel Blades – Although they are tough and have a great edge, carbon steel blades can become discolored when used to cut tomatoes and acidic fruits. Rusting may also be a problem for knives with this type of blade.

Stainless Steel Blades – Resistant to rust, stainless steel blades are durable but do not keep a sharp edge as well as other blades, requiring frequent sharpening.

High Carbon Stainless Steel Blades – More expensive than carbon steel and stainless steel blades, high carbon stainless steel blades are tough, won’t discolor, and hold a sharp edge.

Titanium Blades – The most costly kind of blade, titanium blades are of better quality than steel blades and offer more wear resistance. They are frequently used for boning and filleting.


Handles affect more than just grip on knives; they also impact weight, sanitization, and maintenance. Wood, plastic, composite, and stainless steel are among the most common handle materials.

Wood – Wooden handles look good and have a great grip but are harder to maintain. Their surfaces easily harbor bacteria, leading many local health departments to prohibit their use in restaurant kitchens.

Plastic – Inexpensive, light-weight, and microorganism-resistant, plastic handles are an economical and sanitary choice. However, plastic handles can be a safety hazard, becoming slippery when wet.
They are also not as durable as other kinds of handles, often cracking over time.

Composite – The most popular option for chefs, composite handles combine the benefits of wood and plastic handles. They feel like wood, are well-balanced, and are easy to sanitize like plastic.

Stainless Steel – Virtually maintenance-free and the most sanitary, stainless steel knives may become slippery so caution must be used when cutting with them. Steel is the heaviest handle material, so while it can help balance a big, heavy blade, it will usually result in an unbalanced knife that takes more effort to use.

Paying careful attention to the size, shape, blades, and handles of knives while shopping helps to ensure that you select the best cutlery pieces for your culinary endeavors.