With so many different types to choose from, picking out a new set of kitchen knives can seem like a daunting task – especially if you’ve always used that one hand-me-down knife for every task. You might wonder why in the world you need a different knife for each task, or why you would ever need a knife “just for bread”. Well truth be told, the bread knife isn’t just for bread, and we’re here to tell you why it could become one of your go-to knives in the kitchen.
What is a Bread Knife and What Does it Look Like?
A bread knife is a kitchen staple because, despite its name, it can perform a wide variety of tasks. The key is its serrated edge. Unlike a chef’s knife or utility knife with their smooth, straight edges, a bread knife features toothy, saw-like scallops or serrations along its cutting edge. These act just like a saw, slicing through food as you move the knife back and forth, rather than using downward pressure. This gives a bread knife some distinct advantages when it comes to cutting certain types of food – especially bread since it’s designed to slice right through crusty loaves without crushing the soft center. The wider the scallops are, the better it performs.
What is a Bread Knife Used For?
This might be obvious, but you can use a bread knife to slice all kinds of breads, from baguettes and brioche to bagels and biscuits. It’s also the perfect tool for shaping and leveling cakes for decorating, along with cutting delicate slices to serve.
Tougher foods are no match for a bread knife either. Melons and squash, which can trap straight-edged knives and pose a cutting hazard to cooks, are easily sliced with a long bread knife. Prepping other fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes or pineapple, is also a good occasion to break out your bread knife. In a pinch, it can even be used to slice meatloaf and carve roasts!
How to Use a Bread Knife
It’s quite easy to learn how to use a bread knife, but it does take practice to make even slices: you simply hold the food in place on a cutting with your other hand, careful to keep your fingers out of the way, and draw the bread knife smoothly back and forth through the food. Don’t press down – let the serrations do the work for you.
Look for a knife with large, scalloped serrations as they are more effective than small ones and create less crumbs while slicing through bread. You want a bread knife that looks more like a saw than a steak knife. These knives tend to be fairly slender and have a bit of flex to the blade. Opt for the sturdiest knife you can afford, since less flexible blades tend to make more even slices.
The tips of these knives may be rounded or pointed, but it actually makes no difference since the tip of the bread knife isn’t used for cutting. Bread knives typically come in lengths from seven to ten inches, but a longer knife tends to be more versatile, and there is certainly no shortage of tasks at which this knife excels!
Using a Bread Knife for Bread
It’s rare to find a single tool as versatile as a bread knife. Not only can it easily tackle large, crusty artisan loaves, it also easily cuts through soft, delicate breads. It even handles specialty loaves loaded with extras like raisins or olives. These changes in texture would cause straight-edged knives to snag and tear, but the bread knife slices through with no problems. You can even use a bread knife to cut loaded sandwiches into more manageable pieces.
When cutting bread into slices, the key is to keep the knife perfectly vertical so that each slice is the same thickness from top to bottom. This takes some practice in order to achieve every time, but it’s a skill worth mastering.
As with all kitchen knives, it’s important to use a sharp bread knife. Because of its design, these knives tend to remain sharp far longer than straight-edged blades, but the serrations also make them harder to sharpen at home. Some people advocate simply discarding a dull bread knife and getting a new one, but with a high-quality knife, it’s worth using a sharpening service rather than replacing it entirely.
Using a Bread Knife for Sweets
If you’re a home cook with a sweet tooth, you’ll definitely want to keep a bread knife on hand. Just as with savory baked goods, there are many reasons to break out the bread knife for sweets, from cakes to pastries. Not only does it easily slice through the delicate sponge of a cake, its blade is also longer than most other kitchen knives, meaning you can slice through the entire layer in just one pass. If you do a lot of cake work, look for a bread knife with a more rounded handle so it’s comfortable to hold horizontally when leveling cakes.
You can also use a bread knife to prepare some of the accompanying ingredients for your sweet treats. It’s especially well-suited for breaking up blocks of baking chocolate, which is brittle and may snap under the pressure of a straight-edged knife. Use a bread knife to easily cut the chocolate into small, manageable pieces suitable for melting or mixing into doughs and batters.
Using a Bread Knife for Fruits and Vegetables
A serrated knife is good at one thing – cutting without downward pressure. That one trait makes the bread knife useful for both squishy, delicate foods and very firm, tough foods.
Use a bread knife to cut perfect slices from soft fruits and vegetables like tomatoes or citrus without covering your cutting board in juices. It’s also perfect for removing the bark from a pineapple. When it comes to thick-skinned squash and melons, using a straight-edged knife can actually be dangerous. These tough foods can trap a blade, requiring you to use more force to either push it downward or pull it back out, which increases the chances of cutting yourself in the process.
To properly cut rounded squash or melon, first cut off the stem or blossom end to create a flat surface. This keeps your melon from rolling all over the cutting board. Then use your bread knife to easily remove the rind or cut it into wedges.
For more irregular squash, it helps to cut the squash in half, then use a smaller knife (like a paring knife) to score the flesh and a spoon to remove it from the rind in cubes (like you would with an avocado).
How to Sharpen a Bread Knife
When it comes to sharpening your kitchen knives, there are a few different tools you can use. But, since bread knives feature serrated edges, it can be tricky to sharpen them yourself. It’s also quite common for serrated blades to be single-beveled (sharpened on one side only), which makes sharpening even trickier for a novice. If you’re set on sharpening your bread knife yourself, be sure to familiarize yourself with the specifications of your knife as they vary by brand – and be sure to practice, practice, practice!
Of course, with practice also comes a higher chance of destroying your favorite bread knife, so it might be best to leave it up to the professionals – not to mention, many knife brands might offer knife sharpening services and even “lifetime guarantees”, but such services can be nullified if you destroy your knife by trying to sharpen it yourself. In the meantime, you can prolong the sharp edge of your bread knife by properly cleaning and caring for it, by following the rules of kitchen knife safety, and making sure you’re using the best cutting board for your knives.
If you don’t want to sacrifice your bread knife for practice, then definitely seek a professional. And if you’d rather spend more time cooking and less time sharpening your knives (who doesn’t?), then it’s time to get F.N. Sharp!