Master chefs will tell you that there are just a few types of kitchen knives a home cook should have in his or her arsenal.
Most agree on these four: a good-sized Chef’s knife, a long, thin, and serrated slicer for bread, a paring blade, and a utility knife.
The first two are pretty easy to identify since it looks completely different from each other.
The last two are a whole different story.
While we all know that the first is generally for peeling fruits and vegetables and the second is used for random slicing and dicing, their sizes make it seem like one can be used for the task of the other and vice versa.
So, can these two share responsibilities?
If that is the case, why do most professional cooks say that these two are must-haves?
Let’s Get One Thing Straight
These two aren’t interchangeable.
Kitchen newbies often have that misconception because of the size. And it’s perfectly understandable.
More often than not, an inch or less in length is the only disparity between the duo.
Also, most home cooks don’t bother making the swap in case they pull out the wrong blade when they’re only going to chop an onion.
That’s probably fine if it’s just a piece of vegetable. But if you’re going to be slicing and dicing several items on the board, you will realize that the right tool must be used for a specific task.
It all starts with understanding what each is for.
Everything You Need to Know About the Paring Knife
What Is It?
This is a small knife with a blade measuring 3 to 4 inches in length and ¾ of an inch in width at its widest part.
It has an almost straight spine and a very slight curve at the belly.
The standard handle should be about 4 to 5 inches in length so that it is still easy to grip, just like any other piece in your block.
What Is It For?
Many think that this is just for peeling fruits and vegetables but you will be surprised at so many other tasks this can cover.
• Peeling fruits and vegetables
• Skinning mushrooms and tomatoes
• Coring apples, pears, etc.
• Hulling strawberries and similar berries
• Removing seeds
• Crushing garlic (using the butt of the handle)
• Mincing aromatics (garlic, onions, ginger, etc.) and herbs
• Eyeing potatoes (with the sharp tip)
• Segmenting oranges and other citrus fruits
• De-veining shrimps
• Shucking clams and oysters
• Trimming fat from slabs of meat
• Carving poultry
• Scoring meat and seafood
• Fileting small fish
How Do You Handle This?
Wrap your fist around the handle, positioning your thumb and index finger on either side of the spine.
Instead of using the heel of the hand for directing the motion as you would in larger pieces, use your wrist.
As aforementioned, the handles are usually long enough to be properly gripped. And gripping this comfortably is important so that you can wield it with control.
You can use this on a chopping board, especially when you’re dicing and mincing.
But if you’re peeling and garnishing, it’s best to do this ‘off the board’, holding the tool with your dominant hand and the item you’re working on with your other hand.
While the standard 3 to 4-inch paring device works for various tasks, some bladesmiths have developed different kinds of paring tools intended for more specific chores.
• Victorinox’s serrated parer looks very much like the regular type except it has serrations. This is perfect for slicing tomatoes and similar fruits and veggies.
The great thing about this is that it will stay sharp for a very long time as the teeth protect the sharpened edge.
• Shun’s Classic bird’s beak has a 2-inch sharpened edge that is curved like a bird’s beak or a claw.
It is used by pro kitchen workers for garnishing and for cutting open meat, like the spine of a salmon.
• Henckel’s Mini Boning device has all the characteristics of a large boning tool – narrow and flexible steel, straight spine, and an almost scimitar-like curve on the belly – but compressed into a small paring tool.
• Kasumi’s Titanium paring tool is a Japanese-style parer that has a slight convex curve on the spine and a straight belly ending in a spear point.
This is used for intricate garnishing and carving jobs.
Everything You Need to Know About the Utility Knife
What Is It?
An all-rounder kitchen device, this is longer than a parer but shorter and smaller than the Chef’s knife.
The standard piece measures 5-6 inches in length and ¾ of an inch in width at its widest.
It has a straight spine and a slight curvature at the belly which meets to make a very pointy tip.
What Is It For?
As the name implies, this is used for so many chopping board chores.
Very similar to the workhorse that is the Chef’s, this is the go-to tool for people who aren’t too comfortable with longer and wider blades or want to do more precise slices.
Here are some tasks it can accomplish:
• Dicing, chopping, thinly slicing, and julienning fruits and vegetables
• Skinning the rind of citrus
• Mincing aromatics and herbs
• Slicing meat
• Scoring meat and seafood
• Creating cavities in poultry or slabs for roast
• Fileting meat and fish
How Do You Handle This?
The handle of a standard utility knife is almost the same size as that of a Chef’s.
Start by wrapping your pinky, ring, and middle fingers around the handle.
Your index finger and thumb should be positioned on either side of the spine, near the top of the bolster.
This technique of gripping the piece is the most comfortable as it keeps your wrist aligned with the blade.
You will also be able to make more precise cuts doing this rather than wrapping your whole fist around the handle.
Unlike the paring knife, it’s not safe to use this tool off the chopping board.
But because utility knives are generally more slender and flexible than their larger counterparts, you can skin citrus and trim the fat off meat effectively on a flat surface.
Despite this being such a versatile piece, some manufacturers have decided that there is a need for specificity. Here are some interesting variants:
• Serrated types are great for slicing tomatoes and other items with hard crusts or tough skins.
• The Scalloped kind is similar to the serrated one but instead of triangular teeth, this has waves instead. often measuring 6 to 8 inches in length, this is great for slicing bread and sandwiches.
• Retractable ones, just like the cutter or pocket knives, are also considered utility blades. However, these aren’t used in the kitchen.
Pro Tip: Can You Forgo One for the Other?
If you already have a Chef’s and a paring knife in your block, you do not need the utility tool anymore. Remember, it basically does the job of the two.
But if you’re just about to start your set, getting a standard-sized utility blade is enough as it can do the job of the other two.
Since these two are the smallest of all the knives in the block, these are the least expensive of the lot as well.
A Victorinox Fibrox costs $7 to $10 apiece while a high-end Henckels can be had for $50 or less. If you can afford these two, get both.
It’s All About Efficiency
There is one very important guideline in the kitchen: find and use the right device for a certain job.
As aforementioned, this may not matter when you’re simply mincing a clove of garlic. Use a cleaver, if it makes you happy.
But if you’re going to do a whole lot of them and several other ingredients on top of that particularly in a professional setting, efficiency is a must.
If you didn’t know the disparities between our featured blades back then, you now do after the comprehensive explanation above.
Try using each for what it’s meant for and you won’t be having any trouble when you’re whipping something scrumptious for dinner.
Last Updated on July 19, 2021 by Andy Wang