Welcome to part three of my introduction to cooking knives series, where we’re looking at a few specialized types of kitchen knives – including my personal favorite, the meat cleaver. >=) If you missed part one, What are kitchen knives made of?, or part two, Different Types of Kitchen Knives, be sure to check them out.
Types of Specialized Kitchen Knives
Last week we covered the three basic knives every home chef should have — a chef’s knife, paring knife, and bread knife — but there are countless other types of knives out there on the market. You’ve no doubt seen them glistening down from the display case at your local cooking store, many with a hefty price tag.
Most of these knives are supplementary and not necessary in the average kitchen, but they’re sure fun to use. So if you’re on a budget and looking to upgrade your kitchen equipment, I recommend you instead focus on the three knives I mention above.
But I want to talk about these knives because some folks really like them. So here are a few of my favorite specialized cooking knives.
One of the more popular types of kitchen knives, Santokus have become super trendy in the past few years. Originating in Japan, the word santoku means “three values,” which indicates that it’s a handy, all around good knife to have.
Santoku knives are shorter and generally have a more rounded tip, sort of a cross between a chef’s knife and a cleaver, making them lighter and easier to wield. They don’t have a pointy tip so they’re not quite as versatile as a chef’s knife, but santoku knives are still great for performing a variety of tasks, such as chopping and slicing.
Note: those little divots on the blade’s edge, known as the “Granton edge,” are not part of the traditional design of the Santoku knife. They came much later, in the beginning of the 20th century. Knife manufacturers swear up and down that those carved scallops keep food from sticking to the blade, but in my experience (and according to almost every chef I’ve ever talked to about it) those scallops on the blade don’t work very well to keep food from sticking.
Many high-quality santokus don’t have a Granton edge, so don’t let their presence or absence influence your buying decision.
I have a Wustoff Santoku and I like it a lot. It’s an awesome slicer. I’ve also heard wonderful things about the Global Santoku, but I don’t own one.
Almost everyone’s got one of these lying in a drawer somewhere, lost among the rest of their flatware. Cheese knives come in all shapes and sizes, from short, rounded blades to pointy affairs with a big piece missing out of the middle.
Crumbly cheese benefits from small cleaver-like knives that slice easily without complete annihilation. Rounded cheese knives are more for spreadable cheeses, while “skeleton knives” (with an open space in the blade) work great on cheese that is semi-firm and tends to stick to the blade. Skeleton knives minimize the amount of friction present when slicing, preventing your slices from stretching or distorting into a weird crumpled shape. Definitely not good eats.
Cheese knives aren’t necessary in your kitchen, but they’re cute.
There are two primary kinds of cleavers: one for vegetables and one for meat. What’s the difference?
Vegetables cleavers are thinner than their meaty counterparts, with a narrow edge that slices through veggies with ease. Super sharp and very lightweight, Japanese chefs love vegetable cleavers because in the hands of a skilled pro, they can beat out your chef’s knife when it comes to zipping through a bumper crop of carrots or zucchini.
Meat cleavers are hefty, weighty weapons made with one purpose in mind: cutting through meat and bone. As gruesome as it sounds, they do this job amazingly well. Their blades are less tapered, making them extremely durable, and they can be used for chopping right through a chicken carcass or hacking away at a rack of ribs. The broad spine and sides of a meat cleaver can be used for anything from crushing to pounding.
Of all the different types of kitchen knives, this one has the most dangerous reputation. I love meat cleavers because, well, I’m crazy like that. I love the fact that I can cut through an entire duck in one swift whack – I’ve been known to frighten company by dismantling an entire bird in four second.
Word to the wise: DO NOT GET YOUR HAND IN THE WAY OF THIS THING. If you think a cleaver makes short work of beef bones, you don’t want to see what it will do to your fingers.*
For veggies, I personally own a Global 7-inch hollow-edge Nakiri, and it is the most awesome vegetable cleaver I’ve ever used. It’s super lightweight and crazy-sharp. I’ve never seen something move so smoothly through a beet in my life. Since it moves so fast, it’s really easy to cut yourself if you’re not used to using it. So be forewarned. But in the end this is my go-to knife when I’m working on home cooked meals, as it makes short work of pretty much any vegetable I throw at it.
I also own a great meat cleaver, but it’s an old vintage cleaver that I bought when I was in France doing a whole hog butchery and charcuterie training program. I don’t know who made it, but I could almost take down a tree with this thing.
* Note: It’s worth mentioning here that you night want to take a knife skills or butchery class before attempting to wield a meat cleaver. They are no joke, and not really for folks who are just learning how to cook. The weight of the metal + the force you use to swing a cleaver can cause the blade to bounce up from its initial contact with the cutting board, swing a few inches to the side, and come down again with nearly as much force as the first thump. If your hand happens to be within that few inches of bounce-space, well… as I said, go take a basic butchery class to learn from a pro.
Boning knives generally come in two styles: flexible and stiff. Some are long and slender, others are short and stumpy. The type of knife you need depends on what you need to use it for.
- A stiffer boning knife is good for getting through beef and pork joints
- A more flexible boning knives are great for poultry and fish.
I own the Global Classic 6.25-inch flexible boning knife, and it’s dream for taking apart a chicken or fish. I also have a Victorinox 5-inch stiff boning knife, which I learned to use when I was working on the pig farm in France, and I love it for cutting down a large chunk of meat, such as a pork shoulder or lamb hindquarter.
Sushi Knives (aka, the Yanagi)
I’m mentioning these just because they’re interesting. Japanese sushi knives are long and narrow, easily slicing through fish without shredding the tender flesh. There is a special slicing motion you use while cutting fish, which includes a short forward and long backwards slicing motion. This yields perfectly smooth slices of fish.
The goal of these knives, which range from 8-inches to 13-inches, is to allow you to cut through fish without having to reposition the knife. The Japanese believe that the way foods are cut have a huge bearing on how they taste, so these knives have been specially designed to maintain the flavor and integrity of high-grade, sushi-quality fish.
This content was originally posted on FearlessFresh.com.