What Is a Chef’s Knife Used For?
Have you ever watched celebrity chefs on the Food Network with their fancy, super-sharp tools and wondered, “What is a chef’s knife used for, anyway?” Sure, knives are important, but what’s the point of having a chef’s knife? Is there anything that you can do with a chef’s knife that you can’t do with a trusty steak knife or any other knife from the best knife block set in your kitchen?
You might be surprised, and once you understand how a chef’s knife elevates the prep-work experience for a variety of dishes, you’ll never grab just any old knife again. Read on to learn all about this special piece of cutlery and how to use a chef’s knife to get the most out of this crucial kitchen tool.
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- What Is a Chef’s Knife?
- Uses for a Chef’s Knife
- How to Hold a Chef’s Knife
- Our Favorite Chef’s Knives
What Is a Chef’s Knife?
Many people assume that a chef’s knife is just any knife used by chefs in their kitchens. But the term “chef’s knife” actually has a more precise meaning. A chef’s knife is one of many specific types of kitchen knives in use, with its own history, shape and range of uses.
In general, the blades on chef’s knives are about 8 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. While this is the traditional sizing, chef’s knives come as small as 6 inches and as large as 14 inches. Depending on what a chef’s knife is used for, it’s sometimes advantageous to have a longer or shorter knife than what’s considered within the typical range.
Chef’s knives have several shapes, but the most common are French or German blade shapes. French blades are straight but curve up at the tip. German knives are curved along the entirety of the cutting edge. What particular knife cuts the chef’s knife is being used for, as well as the chef’s personal preference, will dictate the “right” shape of the blade.
What a chef’s knife is used for may also determine the material of the knife (though they’re all versatile). Generally, they’ll be made of carbon steel, stainless steel, laminate or ceramic. The handles, on the other hand, can be wood, steel or composite materials.
Handles consist of a bolster (though not always), rivets, tang and the “butt.” While handle features may not seem as important as the blade, they do play their part in the knife’s functionality.
Chef’s Knives Facts
- Length: 6-14 inches, with an average of 8 inches
- Weight: 6.6-12.2 ounces
- Price Range: $10 to $1,000 or more
Uses for a Chef’s Knife
So what is a chef’s knife used for?
A chef’s knife is used for a wide variety of tasks. It’s an incredibly versatile tool. If you’re only going to keep one knife in the kitchen, the chef’s knife is a good choice. There are a few things that a chef’s knife isn’t used for, such as cutting bread, but otherwise, they’re multifunctional.
Slicing and Dicing Fruits and Vegetables
Some people think that they don’t have any use for a chef’s knife if they don’t eat meat. This isn’t true! A chef’s knife is used for slicing, dicing and mincing fruits and vegetables of all kinds.
A sharpened chef’s knife can make quick work of even the most difficult-to-cut fruits, like pineapples and watermelons. It’s also excellent for chopping fruit into bite-sized pieces for fruit salads, snacks, drinks and more.
A chef’s knife is used for finely slicing and dicing vegetables as well. If you need thinly sliced onions, perfectly diced shallots and perfect julienned carrots, you’ll want to keep a chef’s knife in your kitchen. For delicate slicing like this, it’s best to keep the tip of the blade on the cutting board and press down on the handle to “chop” rather than holding the handle and bringing the whole blade down. It’s somewhat of a rocking motion. You have more control this way.
Even soft tomatoes won’t be squashed by the sharpened blade of a chef’s knife.
You might be wondering about the difference between chopping and dicing vegetables and fruits with a chef’s knife. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference.
When chopping something, you’re cutting it into smaller pieces that are similar, but not identical, in size and shape. You chop fruit for a fruit salad, for example.
When dicing, you’re cutting it into tiny uniform pieces no larger than 1 inch (and more often than not, closer to ¼ inch) in size. Dicing is good for releasing flavor. You may dice jalapeño peppers before putting them in soup or salsa.
Mincing and Cutting Herbs and Spices
The best kitchen knives are perfect for preparing herbs and spices. Ditch the pre-dried herbs. Once you start chopping your own with your chef’s knife, you’ll realize that the flavor can’t be matched by dried versions.
For leafy herbs, the chiffonade cut is best. You start by creating a stack of your herbs. Then, you roll them into a bundle. Put the bundle on the cutting board underneath the part of your blade that’s closer to the handle, and quickly pull the knife toward you to create tiny ribbons of herbs.
To mince your herbs and other flavoring ingredients, you’re going to first roughly chop or dice them. Then, you’re going to keep the tip of the blade down on the cutting board as a pivot point. Put your hand on the back of the blade.
Rock the knife in a semicircle to quickly mince your ingredients into fine and almost uniform pieces. You’ll never go back to buying pre-minced garlic and dried herbs now that you know how a chef’s knife is used for easily preparing spices.
Slicing, Cutting and Filleting Meat
If you ask any person on the street, “What is a chef’s knife used for?”, they’ll probably guess it’s for preparing meat. While chef’s knives have many purposes, preparing meat is a major one. A good chef’s knife is the perfect tool for everything from taking apart an entire bird to thinly slicing a roast for lunch meat.
A chef’s knife is used for cutting through thin bone and cartilage. As long as it’s sharpened and you’ve learned the right techniques, you should have no trouble with the toughest parts of the animal. While it’s not as strong as a butcher knife, it’s more versatile.
You can use it to quickly remove meat from a bone, fillet a fish, and so much more. A chef’s knife is used for meat because it’s heavy enough to do all of these tasks without the user having to exert too much force or strength.
How to Hold a Chef’s Knife
When it comes to figuring out how to hold a chef’s knife, it partially depends on personal preference and on the task at hand. Novice chefs tend to only grip the handle with all five fingers regardless of what they’re cutting. Depending on what the chef’s knife is used for, this could work against them.
For smaller and more precise tasks, it’s best to hold the back of the blade itself with your thumb and index finger. This gives you more control. Wrap your pinky, ring and middle fingers around the handle of the knife. Position your index finger on the back of the blade and your thumb on the opposite side of the blade, so that these fingers are “pinching” the blade.
Alternatively, you can put your index finger on the top of the blade for better control.
Our Favorite Chef’s Knives
Below, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite chef’s knives loved and recommended by chefs:
- Steelport 8-Inch Carbon Steel Chef Knife
- Miyabi Kaizen II Chef's Knife
- Zwilling Pro Chef's Knife
- Miyabi Artisan 8" Chef Knife
- Zwilling Pro Le Blanc 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
So what is a chef’s knife used for? So many things!
Do you have a favorite chef’s knife in your kitchen? Whether you’re dicing vegetables like a pro, making quick and neat work of herbs or slicing through meat with ease, a fantastic chef’s knife is used for so many things! You’ll want to have one ready. Choose one of our favorite chef’s knives and impress your friends and family by upgrading the way you prep your meals this year.
For even more ways to elevate your kitchen, check out chef-recommended cutlery in the Cozymeal Shop.
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