Beginner’s Guide to Kitchen Knives

Beginner’s Guide to Kitchen Knives

Publish Date March 20, 2023 5 Minute Read

If you’re an experienced home chef, you likely know that your kitchen knife is your most important tool when it comes to quickly and efficiently prepping meals. As the workhorse of the kitchen, a good kitchen knife can slice through tough vegetables with ease, finely mince garlic and herbs, and even help slice up a delicious roast. Knowing how to use and care for your kitchen knives is essential for helping them last as long as possible, and protecting you from accidental cuts. Here, we’ll break down all the components that make up a standard kitchen knife, walk you through the most common types of knives and offer a few tips on how to care for yours.

Parts of a Kitchen Knife

Anatomy of a Kitchen Knife


The top section of the blade. The tip can be used to pierce food before slicing.


The part of the knife that’s used to cut food. The blade connects to the handle to form the knife.


The sharpened part of the blade that’s used to slice into food.


The lowest section of the blade, opposite the tip. This part of the blade is great for chopping with more force.


These are used to secure the handle to the blade. From the outside, they appear as small circles in the handle of the knife.


The bottom end of the handle. It helps stabilize your hand while you’re cutting.


The sharp end of the blade at the tip. The point is very sharp, but can be fragile if too much force is applied unevenly.


The top edge of the blade that isn’t sharpened.


The smooth curve at the bottom of the blade, just above the handle. This balances the blade and protects hands and fingers from accidents.


The part of the blade that meets the handle. The tang is essential for balance.

Kitchen Knives 101

Learn how to select the right type of kitchen knife for each type of job with our guide to kitchen knives.

Types of Kitchen Knives

Chef’s Knife

Known for its versatility, a chef’s knife is a multi-purpose tool that can be used for a variety of food prep tasks. Measuring anywhere from 6”-12”, a chef’s knife features a pointed tip and a gentle curve along the bottom of the blade. The curve facilitates a rocking motion during chopping so you don’t have to lift the blade away from the cutting board, making prep work easier and faster.

Paring Knife

Often used for peeling fruits and vegetables like apples and potatoes, a paring knife is compact with a short blade about 3”-4” long. Paring knives are used for precise tasks like peeling, cutting, trimming or even dicing.

Serrated Knife

Also called a bread knife, this type of knife has a thin, serrated blade like a saw. It can easily slice through foods with hard or resistant surfaces, like crusty baguettes, without crushing them. To use this knife, you’ll make a sawing motion across the edge of the food instead of slicing downward.

Butcher Knife

A butcher knife features a larger blade ranging in length from 6”-14”. The curved, ultra-strong blade is specially designed to slice cleanly through tough meat and gristle to create clean cuts of meat.

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How to Sharpen a Kitchen Knife

Safely maintaining your kitchen knives is essential for their longevity and performance. When cared for properly, even low-cost kitchen knives can last for years and help you prepare meals with ease.

Part of regular knife maintenance involves having them sharpened regularly. The easiest and safest way to do this is to go to a local knife retailer once or twice a year (depending on how often you use your kitchen knives) to have them professionally sharpened. This is often the best option for serrated knives, which can be especially tricky to sharpen at home.

However, once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to sharpen your knives at home. The best method involves using a whetstone, also known as a sharpening stone. Though other sharpeners are available on the market, a whetstone works very well (and it’s relatively inexpensive).

Note: Your whetstone may be a “splash” whetstone or a “soaking” whetstone, which means it’ll need to be splashed or soaked with water before use. Be sure to follow the instructions for your particular whetstone.

To begin, rest the whetstone on the counter with the coarser side facing up. To sharpen, hold the knife at about a 45-degree angle with the edge facing toward you, then move it up and down along the whetstone, only applying force when pushing the knife away from you. Repeat along the entire edge of the knife, then flip to the other side. Once completed on both sides, repeat the steps above using the smoother side of the whetstone. When you’re finished, you can gently feel along the edge of the knife to check its sharpness, or you can grab an onion or tomato for a test run.

How to Safely Clean a Kitchen Knife

When it comes to safe and effective cleaning, it’s best to hand-wash kitchen knives in hot water immediately after use. Letting a knife sit until you’re ready to do the dishes later may be tempting, but can lead to stuck-on food or residue that can be difficult to remove. And since you need to take care not to cut yourself when washing a knife, it’s safest to clean it as soon as possible to avoid any extra scrubbing. Simply use a soft sponge or towel with dish soap, and be sure to always point the knife away from yourself and others. Once clean, use a towel to carefully dry the knife or leave it to dry on a rack.

And while dishwashing your knives may seem like the easiest and most convenient solution, it’s never recommended to put kitchen knives in the dishwasher. The extreme heat of the dishwasher can warp some knives or lead to premature dull blades in others. Plus, an unprotected knife that gets jostled during the wash cycle can cause damage to other dishes or even cut into the protective coating on the dish rack, leading to rust.

Ready to get chopping? Check out our meal planning page for recipes, meal prep ideas and much more to hone your knife skills.