If you enjoy serving large cuts of meat for dinner parties or preparing your meals at the beginning of the week, you’ve got to have the right knives and know which tasks they’re best suited for.
Luckily for the home cooking enthusiast, most common kitchen knives can be used for cutting meat – but each one does have a specific purpose. Choosing the right knife and knowing how to use it will help you get the most out of your kitchen toolset.
The Best Knife for Slicing Through the Meats
Some of the most common kitchen knives best suited for cutting meat are:
- The Chef’s Knife: This multi-purpose knife is designed to perform well at many different kitchen tasks, rather than excelling at one in particular.
- The Boning Knife: This knife has a sharp point and a narrow blade. Although it has other skills, the boning knife is designed for removing meat from bones.
- The Carving Knife: A carving knife is a large knife used to slice thin cuts of meat, and it usually comes with a serrated edge.
- The Cleaver: A large, often rectangular knife used for heavy-duty jobs, like breaking down beef.
- The Bread Knife: This knife comes with a serrated edge designed to cut through bread and soft-shelled fruits without damaging or crushing them. Depending on how it’s designed, it can also be used in place of a carver.
- Utility Knife: This knife usually measures between the size of a chef’s knife and a paring knife and serves as a multipurpose tool in the kitchen.
These knives all have their specific purposes in the kitchen. With a better understanding of each type, you’ll be slicing up different kinds of meat in no time.
The Chef’s Knife
The chef’s knife is considered one of the most important knives in your kitchen. Designed to perform many different tasks, the chef’s knife comes with many uses, but here we will focus on how it is best used for cutting meat.
The heel of a chef’s knife is used to cut through thick slabs of meat, including bones. The tip of the blade is used for trimming fat and removing sinew, and the edge is used for slicing meats and disjointing bones.
When using a chef’s knife to prepare meat such as beef or pork, it’s important to start by slicing with the heel of the blade. While applying gentle downward pressure, pull the knife carefully toward your body, letting the weight of the knife do most of the work. Make sure to use the entire length of the blade. The good thing about this technique is it can work with most types of boneless meats, such as poultry and lamb.
The Boning Knife
Boning knives have sharp, thin, flexible blades that are used to remove the bones and skin from various meats like pork, beef, and lamb, as well as poultry and fish, making them ideal for preparing meat for cooking.
Some cuts of meat, such as a rack of lamb and various beef or pork cuts, have a layer of fat that should be removed before cooking. The boning knife is perfect for peeling away the excess skin and fat, and it can help break away cartilage in joints, like separating the drumstick or thigh from the backbone of a chicken. It can also be used for butterflying meat, like a flank steak to make stuffed flank steak.
When preparing meat with a boning knife, you’ll want to use a standard grip, keeping the blade against the meat while using long strokes. You’ll also want to avoid using a “sawing” motion and instead utilize the length of the blade to make long, smooth strokes, as you pull the meat away from the bone.
The Utility Knife
Kitchen utility knives range from 4-7 inches, making them longer than a paring knife but shorter than a chef’s knife, and a solid all-rounder in the kitchen.
Some utility knives have a serrated edge, which calls for an unfavorable sawing motion when cutting meat. Straight edged utility knives, like what you’d get from premium manufacturers like F.N. Sharp, make clean cuts without compromising the visual aesthetic of food.
Utility knives can also be used for trimming fat and removing the skin, as well as slicing smaller pieces of meat. These knives are also great for slicing cured meats for a charcuterie board. You can even use them for small fish fillets or cutting chicken breasts.
The Bread Knife
The bread knife is yet another versatile tool for home cooking enthusiasts to keep on hand. With its serrated edge, the bread knife can perform a wide variety of tasks.
As the name implies, bread knives are used to slice crusty loaves of bread without crushing the delicate interior. Other uses for this handy knife include slicing tomatoes, melons and certain kinds of cake – but a bread knife, in theory, can be used for slicing meat as well. Although most professional chefs would never recommend doing so, a bread knife can also be used as a stand-in for a straight-edged slicing knife when carving cooked meat with a hard outer crust, like a prime rib or a brisket.
In most cases, a bread knife’s serrated edge can tear and mangle meat when used for slicing, especially pointed serrations. A wider, scalloped serrated knife, like the F.N. Sharp Bread Knife, not only reduces the crumbs and tearing of slicing bread, but also allows for cleaner slices of meat and better juice retention.
The Carving Knife
Carving knives have slender blades with sharp, pointy tips. The design is meant to reduce resistance as you move the blade back and forth. These knives are mainly used for carving a ham or leg of lamb, but are also great for poultry (like the Thanksgiving turkey you look forward to eating all year).
It’s important to make sure the blade of your carving knife is long enough. Otherwise, you’ll end up with unevenly sliced meat. When using a carving knife, it’s best to stabilize your meat in place and slice from top to bottom carefully, as to avoid injury.
Since a carving knife’s main task is to carve meat, it isn’t an essential knife for every home kitchen. You can get the same results with a sharp chef’s knife or utility knife depending on the size of the meat – and both are included in most kitchen knife sets.
Cleavers, commonly called “meat cleavers”, are among the largest knives a chef keeps in his toolkit. These knives come with a wide, stout blade and are used for a number of tasks. As their size and shape suggest, cutting meat is one of their primary uses.
Given the larger portion sizes these knives are best used for, most home cooks won’t find this knife a necessity in the kitchen. There are also certain meats, like a whole roast duck, that require you to use the cleaver in a way that performs more like a chef’s knife. However, in professional settings where whole animals are being prepared, a cleaver is useful for tasks such as hacking through bone. The key is to hit the bone with the top third of the blade to allow for more leverage if it doesn’t go all the way through.
Three Tips for the Perfect Cuts
Last but not least, a few things to keep in mind when preparing your own meat cuts at home:
- Know your meats. Certain meats often slice better than others. Knowing the difference can affect the time you spend preparing a dish.
- Freeze your meat beforehand. This may not be common knowledge, but that’s okay. As the water inside the meat freezes and crystallizes, it adds structure to the cut that makes it easier to slice.
- Cut against the grain. This means cutting perpendicular to the muscle fibers you find in the meat, creating tender pieces that can be chewed far more easily.
Choose the Right Knife Set for Your Meals
Most knife manufacturers package their knives into various sets. You can find individual knives available at almost any retailer, but a full set is worth the investment. Here at F.N. Sharp, we offer the durability and cutting power of Damascus steel – and the sharpest edge around – all in one kitchen-ready package. Both our 3- and 6-knife sets come with a complimentary Acacia wood knife block featuring exterior magnets and interior flex rods for the best in knife storage, and our Acacia wood cutting boards are designed to help keep those edges sharp! Upgrade your kitchen today with F.N. Sharp!