Most of us are familiar with the different types of knives included in most kitchen knife sets. The chef’s knife is the largest and most immediately recognizable, and the bread knife is always easy to spot. Most people can pick out the small utility and paring knives without issue, but a typical five- or six-knife set also includes either a boning knife or a fillet knife. These are the knives that many amateur home cooks will ignore, which is unfortunate since they are among the most specialized and useful in the set.

The fact that both boning and fillet knives share a similar shape adds to this confusion. Many home chefs don’t know whether they have one or the other, or what the difference is. This is mostly due to the fact that both knives share a similar curved shape.

Understanding what these unusually thin knives are for will help turn any fish or meat-based meal into a masterpiece.

How to Tell The Difference Between a Boning Knife vs. a Fillet Knife

Difference between boning knife and fillet knife

When comparing the boning knife vs. the fillet knife, you’ll find the two are similar in appearance; however, each one is engineered to meet a specific kitchen need. The naming of the two different knives gives a good indicator of what tasks each knife is best suited for when it comes to meal prep.

Boning Knives are designed to separate bones from meat and fish. The blade length falls between 5 and 7 inches and is usually flat with a straight and slightly curved, sharp tip. The design allows for precise cutting, whether cutting through ligaments and connective tissue, removing meat from heavy bones or removing tiny bones from fish. Boning knives tend to be slightly thicker and stiffer than fillet knives. 

Fillet Knives are thinner and more flexible than most other knives, with a blade usually measuring between 5 and 9 inches. They feature a prominent upward curve along the blade and a sharp curved tip. Since the blade is thinner, it can’t handle excessive force the way a chef’s knife can or debone meat the way a boning knife can. However, this knife is perfect for removing scales from a fish while flexing around the contours of its body without damaging the delicate meat.

The first difference that should be immediately apparent when comparing the two knives is that fillet knives are designed for use exclusively on fish, while boning knives can be used for both fish and meat, which makes them more versatile than fillet knives.

What is a Boning Knife Used For?

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Boning knives tend to be thinner than most kitchen knives, but also have varying degrees of flexibility. Since the knife’s main job is to separate meat from bone, different levels of flexibility will have different results with various types of meat.

For instance, a sturdy, firm-bladed boning knife will offer superior performance when slicing beef and game meat away from the bone. A thinner, more flexible boning knife will do better with chicken and poultry. Flexible boning knives are also well-suited for cutting off the silver sheen often present on pork or lamb. Doing this before cooking will result in much more tender meat.

A well-crafted boning knife can also be used for fish, but only if it places a priority on flexibility over hardness. A thin, flexible boning knife can double as a fillet knife, but the reverse is not necessarily true.

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What is a Fillet Knife Used For?

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A good fillet knife features a prominent upward curve that maximizes the size of the knife’s cutting belly. This, in the hands of a skilled chef, makes it easy to quickly transform a whole fish into a set of precisely cut fillets.

Since they’re designed for prepping fish, fillet knives often have to work in wet environments. This means they need to feature corrosion-resistant steel that is smooth and easy to clean. Hardness is less important since fish scales rarely present the kind of challenge that meat and bone offer.

Fillet knife blades also have to be very thin and flexible to gently squeeze their way around fish bones and skin. They are precision instruments, designed to be used with surgical proficiency. Misusing a fillet knife is sure to damage the delicate blade.

Fillet knives also feature a long, shallow-angled bevel. This makes the relatively soft blade razor sharp but sacrifices its durability in the process. This is best contrasted with a knife like the heavy meat cleaver commonly used in butcher shops, which features a short, wide-angled bevel that isn’t particularly sharp, but highly durable.

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What Is the Best Knife for Filleting Fish?

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While the fillet knife is the tool best-suited for preparing fish, it isn’t commonly included in a typical kitchen knife set. Home cooking enthusiasts who prize versatility often opt for a thinner, more flexible boning knife that offers excellent filleting performance without sacrificing the ability to detach meat from bone. Such a knife involves a fundamental trade-off between flexibility, toughness, and blade geometry. It takes world-class engineering to create a single knife that can deliver excellent performance in both deboning and filleting.

F.N. Sharp’s boning knife is flexible enough to handle delicate fish and strong enough to separate tough game meat from the bone without sustaining serious damage. The combination of high-quality, corrosion-resistant VG-10 stainless steel and a thin, flexible blade offers the best of both worlds, giving home cooks an accessible entrance into the world of professional-level home cooking.