Kitchen knife sets often come with a few different types of knives, from the hefty chef’s knife that serves as the workhorse in the kitchen to the little paring knife that serves as the perfect tool for delicate work. One knife that isn’t always included in a set but probably should be is the boning knife.
A Guide to the Boning Knife and its Uses
Before we get into the many boning knife uses – and yes there are many because, despite its name, the boning knife’s skills aren’t limited to just meat – let’s first define what a boning knife is.
What is a Boning Knife and What is it Used For?
Out of all the different types of knives included in most kitchen knife sets, the boning knife is easy to spot once you know what to look for. Featuring a narrow and thin, semi-flexible blade, the boning knife can be used for a variety of tasks around the kitchen. Although the name of this handy knife comes from the original purpose of extracting bones from various cuts of meat, this style of knife is now used by professional and home cooks alike for a variety of food prep tasks.
While there are variances from model to model, common characteristics of a boning knife include:
- A long, narrow, straight-edged (non-serrated) blade measuring between 5 and 7 inches long
- A flat cutting edge with a slight curve up to its sharp point
- A small guard (bolster) to keep your hand back from the blade
- A semi-flexible blade, although some are rigid
Boning Knife vs Fillet Knife
If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between a boning knife vs. a fillet knife, don’t worry – you are not alone. These two knives are quite similar and are, in fact, used interchangeably in many instances.
The main difference between the two is their intended uses. With a boning knife, the main task is pulling meat away from bone. The fillet knife, on the other hand, is used to pull skin away from and is most commonly used for fish. Where a boning can be either rigid or flexible, a fillet knife is always going to be flexible, which is why it’s often the go-to for fish dishes; however, some boning knives are specifically designed to cater to both removing meat from bone and skin from meat.
How to Choose a Boning Knife
It’s always important to focus on quality when purchasing any kitchen knife. As you shop for a boning knife, there are a few key points to keep in mind:
- It should be reasonably heavy – this is a small knife, but one which is too light indicates poor quality materials
- Look for a blade length of at least 6’’ for sufficient cutting surface
- A full tang design is best, meaning that the steel runs all the way down through the handle to the base of the knife
You can find a selection of quality boning knives at reputable home goods stores near you and, of course, through countless retailers online. Right here at F.N. Sharp, we offer a beautiful 6-knife set featuring the essentials every home cook should have – including a high-quality boning knife that can also be used as a fillet knife – along with a unique sharpening and maintenance service to keep them in tip-top shape.
How to Use a Boning Knife
One of the keys to using a boning knife correctly is your grip, which can vary based on the task at hand and what feels comfortable for you (without losing control over the knife). For example, when using a boning knife to separate meat from bones, you can use either the handle grip with all of your fingers wrapped around the handle, or the ‘pinch’ grip which involves pinching the blade between your thumb and forefinger and the rest of your fingers wrapped comfortably around the handle. The pinch grip, also known as the ‘blade grip’, gives you a firm grip that shouldn’t slip as you work, offering greater control over the knife. When using the boning knife to remove skin or fillet meat, you’ll grip the knife a bit differently (more on that next.
Top Uses for a Boning Knife
As mentioned above, the boning knife has many uses in the kitchen, from preparing meats to carving treats, making it an essential tool in any home kitchen.
Using a Boning Knife to Prepare Meat
The core utility of a boning knife is to prepare meat for cooking. The flexibility and shape of its blade allows you to maneuver in tight places, and its slender tip can break away the cartilage in joints, which is especially helpful for breaking down a chicken into different cuts. and for carving that Thanksgiving turkey! This handy knife can easily separate the breast from the carcass and help break away the drumstick and thigh from the backbone without cutting splinters off of any bones.
The boning knife can also be used for peeling the skin and fat away from meats. Several cuts of meat, such as a rack of lamb, certain beef and pork cuts, such as pork tenderloin, have a layer of fat that should be removed before cooking. The thin blade of your boning knife is perfect for this task, and its flexibility and sharpness allow you to remove the fat and skin from your meat without carving away the flesh underneath. If your task involves removing the skin off of a fish fillet, a boning knife is also a good option as it can produce clean results, granted the blade is at least semi-flexible.
When using a boning knife to prepare meat, you’ll want to work with a standard grip and keep the blade against the meat while using long strokes. You also don’t want to be sawing back and forth – instead use the length of the blade to your advantage and make long, smooth strokes to pull the meat away from the bone. When using the boning knife to fillet meat, you’ll want to hold the knife with the blade angled horizontally to your cutting board with your forefinger resting on the flat of the blade just before the bolster and the rest of your fingers safely wrapped around the handle. You’ll then slide the blade horizontally through the meat while gently pressing your guide hand on top to hold the meat in place as you make your way all the way through.
Using a Boning Knife to Prepare Fruit
A boning knife can also be helpful when preparing fresh fruit for fruit trays, decorative arrangements, and other fruit dishes. The small blade makes it easy to work with, even when dealing with small produce, and the sharp tip comes in handy, as well. One of the most common ways to use a boning knife outside of meat preparation involves peeling the skin or rinds of fruits. The shape and size of the blade makes it possible to carve the rind off of melon slices, peel papayas and mangoes, or remove the bark from a pineapple without carving away too much of the fruit beneath.
A boning knife can also be used to peel the skin of an apple and remove the core by carefully sliding the knife just outside of the core, then turning until you’ve completely removed the center. When using a boning knife for peeling fruits, place the handle of the knife across the base of your four fingers with the blade facing toward you. Then, simply hold the blade steady with your thumb and slide the blade under the skin, moving the fruit as necessary to peel away the skin.
Using a Boning Knife for Baked Goods
That’s right! You can even use your boning knife to work with baked goods like cakes, cookies, and more. For instance, if you love baking cakes and would like to venture into carving them into different shapes, you’ll definitely want to keep a boning knife on hand. The thin blade is perfect for precisely carving straight and rounded lines to even out round cakes, sharpen the edges of square cakes, even out layers for layered cakes, or to shape them into hearts and other fun shapes.
When it comes to coring and filling cupcakes, the boning knife’s thin, pointed blade is perfect for the job. All you have to do is make sure your cupcakes have completely cooled, then use the tip of the knife to carve a small circle into the center of the cupcakes, about ¾ deep. Then use a piping bag to add some filling for a sweet surprise. Once your cupcakes are filled, add a little bit of frosting and enjoy!
If cookies are your thing, you can use your boning knife to cut your cookie dough into unique shapes for any occasion. Just be sure your cookie dough is cold to prevent it from tearing and sticking to the knife. A great way to keep your dough cold is to use that glass or ceramic cutting board you shouldn’t be using for daily meal prep (more on which cutting board you should be using for daily meal prep here). Simply stick in that board in the fridge or freezer to get it nice and cold, then roll out your dough on top and very gently use the tip of your boning knife to cut different shapes – the tip should be sharp enough to avoid applying much pressure.
How to Care for a Boning Knife
A boning knife should be treated like any other knife in your collection, as in never put them in the dishwasher and make sure they’re sharpened regularly (and properly). Also be sure to store it properly, along with the rest of your kitchen knives.
How to Clean a Boning Knife
Every time you use your boning knife, be sure to wash it immediately with warm, soapy water using a soft cloth or gentle brush if necessary to remove debris, then wipe with a dry with a towel. Make sure it’s completely dry before putting it back in its place (preferably a knife block, but never loosely in a drawer) and it will be ready to use again next time.
How to Sharpen a Boning Knife
All knives go dull with regular use, it’s inevitable – especially when you’re working with a knife that is designed to remove meat from bones. When it comes to sharpening a boning knife, you have a few options, from home sharpeners to professional services. If you’re considering sharpening at home, you’ll first need to familiarize yourself with the sharpening process along with the specifications of your knife, from the type of steel used to create the blade to its edge type and sharpening angles.
Sharpening a knife involves taking bits of metal off of the blade to reveal a new, sharp edge, while honing (which usually involves a sharpening rod or honing steel) simply realigns the edge. When using a whetstone for sharpening, it’s best to work with at least two stones at a time, and both must be kept moist during the entire process. You’ll need to hold your knife at the precise angle for each side of the cutting edge (if sharpened on both sides), then use light pressure to glide the blade back and forth along the stone. You may need to repeat the process several times for each side. Whetstones come in a variety of grits, which refers to the size of the abrasive particles on the stone and is another reason why you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the specifications of your knife.
Home electric sharpeners seem easy enough, however, they can easily damage or totally destroy your blades. Electric sharpeners usually come with preset angles without any customizing options, which means it could sharpen your knife, but at the totally wrong angle. The preset angles can also blind you to the damage or allow you to overwork the blade, as in taking too much metal off of the cutting edge, which is the last thing you want to do when it comes to the already narrow blade of the boning knife.
Your best bet for keeping your boning knife in its best shape is to leave the sharpening to the professionals, from local sharpeners to mail order services. And if you’re in the market for a new set of kitchen knives, you can find a high-quality boning knife and other essentials right here at F.N. Sharp!