If you’re not a professional chef, the specifics of each and every type of knife can be hard to remember, especially when there are several that look similar, like a carving or chef knife. Amateur home chefs are going to ask themselves, “what exactly is the difference between this carving knife and the chef knife?”
The primary difference between carving knives and chef’s knives is their design and use:
- Most carving knives are long with thin blades and are used primarily for carving meat.
- Chef’s knives typically have wider blades and are good general-purpose knives useful for chopping, dicing, and cleaving.
Read on to find out more about each type of knife, their different uses, and how to care for them, as well as a short list of some of the best carving and chef’s knives on the market.
What are the Differences Between Carving Knives and Chef Knives?
So, what exactly is so different about carving knives versus chef knives? Though the blade style is the main difference between them, it isn’t the only factor. Let’s take a closer look at some of the main differences between these two common types of kitchen knives.
Their Blade Is Designed Differently
Carving knives generally have longer, thinner blades than chef’s knives. The blade of a carving knife may be quite skinny, but most are of average width and look like elongated paring or utility knives.
Chef’s knife blades are wider, sometimes similar in appearance to santoku knives. The wide blade is excellent for many different uses, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.
So which type of knife is better? That is entirely up to personal preference. Many chefs and home cooks have both a carving knife and a chef’s knife in their kitchen. However, if it comes down to choosing one over the other, you may want to choose the multipurpose chef’s knife over the more specialized carving knife.
That said, before choosing one knife or the other, we should discuss the rest of the differences between carving knives and chef’s knives.
Carving Knives Are Usually Longer
Depending on the style of the knives in question, carving and chef’s knives may be similar in length. However, in a general sense, carving knives are usually longer than chef’s knives.
Some people believe the longer, thinner blade works better for carving thin slices of meat because it produces a cleaner cut. They argue that using a chef’s knife for slicing tends to tear at the meat and produce sloppier slices. Regardless of which knife you use, a sharp blade is a much more important factor in determining the quality of the slice.
However, the longer blade of a carving knife may slice around bones and joints more efficiently than the wider, shorter chef’s knife.
They Each Have Different Uses
A chef’s knife has many uses. It is a good choice for all different kinds of food and cutting techniques, and the wide blade makes it easy to lift the food you just chopped into the pan. Some of the many uses for chef’s knives include:
- Chopping and dicing all kinds of vegetables
- Mincing garlic
- Cleaving meat
- Cutting and serving cornbread, pie, and quiche
- Dicing raw and cooked meat
- Slicing meat and vegetables
- Peeling and cutting pineapple
- Chopping and dicing most fruits
A carving knife is used almost exclusively for slicing meat, but it can also be used for slicing some types of fruit and vegetables. It shouldn’t be used to hack through bone or other hard materials, as these may damage the blade.
In the end, a carving knife is a specialized piece of equipment. A chef’s knife is just that—a multipurpose knife that chefs use to perform a variety of kitchen tasks.
How to Use Carving Knives and Chef Knives
Carving knives and chef’s knives have different uses, so the techniques you use to cut with each type of knife will also vary. Let’s take a look at some basic tips for using carving and chef’s knives below.
Carving Knives Should Be Used for Meat
A carving knife is used almost entirely for carving meat into thin slices. The exact ways you carve your meat will depend on the type of meat and your personal style. As a general rule of thumb, choose the direction you want to cut, place the blade at a slight angle against the meat, and begin sawing with a quick back and forth motion.
Here are a couple tips on using a carving knife properly:
- Notice that, using this technique, the blade should never come in contact with the cutting board or serving dish. Doing so will dull the blade faster and could damage particularly delicate carving knives.
- You should also avoid cutting any bones. Use your carving knife to create clean cuts around the bones, but never try to slice through them directly. This could damage the blade.
If you want, you can also use a carving knife to slice fruit and vegetables. To do this, hold the fruit or veggie firmly against a cutting board and slice cleanly through the flesh. Depending on the size and firmness of the fruit or veggie and the sharpness of your knife, you may be able to create each slice in a single stroke.
Be aware, when slicing fruits and vegetables, that your carving knife will likely come in contact with the cutting board. Since this is not what the knife is designed for, be careful not to apply too much force to the blade and limit contact with the cutting board as much as possible to avoid damaging the knife.
Chef’s Knives Are Multipurpose Powerhouses
A chef’s knife, as we already discussed, is far more versatile than a carving knife. You can use it in place of a carving knife to slice meat, using the same techniques you would use with a carving knife. If you use your chef’s knife for carving, it’s extra important to make sure your blade is sharp, otherwise it may tear the meat.
A chef’s knife has a stronger blade than a carving knife, so it may be used for cleaving meat, cutting through bones, and chopping more solid fruits and veggies. That said, you should still take care not to abuse the blade by attempting to saw through large bones, using excessive force, or using the knife on non-food items.
For chopping and dicing fruits, veggies, meat, cheese, or boiled eggs:
- Hold the food securely against the cutting board, with your knuckles touching the flat of the knife and your fingertips angling away from the knife.
- Line the knife up across the top of the food with the point angled down toward the cutting board.
- Slice through the food from the point of the knife back toward the handle. Let the blade do the work—if you need to apply a lot of force, your blade is likely too dull.
Other Useful Tasks to Know How to Do with a Chef’s Knife
For mincing garlic, use the flat of the blade to smash the garlic clove, then, using a technique similar to chopping above, bring the blade through the garlic, rocking it from point to tip as many times as necessary to divide the garlic into small pieces.
To cut and serve dishes such as pies and quiche, simply draw the knife through the dish, dividing it into as many pieces as you want. Carefully guide the flat of the blade underneath a piece, lifting it up out of the pan to serve.
To cut and peel a whole pineapple, lay the pineapple on its side and cut off the top and bottom. Stand it on end and cut into triangular sections as though cutting a pie. Lay each section flat, cut off the piece of tough core, then slice just underneath the peel to remove it. Cut each pineapple section into small pieces.
How to Care for Carving and Chef Knives
Both carving knives and chef’s knives need the proper care to keep them functioning correctly. You may be wondering, what is the proper care? Below, we’ll take a look at how to hone, sharpen, wash, dry, and store your knives so they maintain their quality and appearance.
Hone Your Knife Before Each Use
You probably have a honing rod in your knife block, or you may prefer to use another type of honing tool. Honing is a process similar to sharpening, but it is gentler and produces more of a “fine tune” on your blade by straightening the cutting edge.
Depending on how often you use your knives, they may need to be honed every day or every few days. Chef’s knives will probably need to be honed more than carving knives simply because they’re more likely to be used the most.
Sharpen Your Knives Regularly
How often you sharpen your blades will, again, depend on how much you use them. Knives used regularly, such as your chef’s knife, may need sharpening every 2-4 months, but blades that only see occasional use, like your carving knife, may only need to be sharpened once a year.
Once you’ve determined that your blades need sharpening, you can either sharpen your knives at home using a whetstone or countertop sharpener, or you can have them sharpened professionally. Only sharpen at home if you know how, otherwise you may end up damaging the knives.
Only Wash Carving and Chef Knives By Hand
Wash your knives by hand as soon as you’re done using them to prevent food from drying and hardening to the blade. It isn’t a good idea to wash them in a dishwasher, as the pressure of the wash cycle may jostle them around with other silverware and cause damage.
Instead, use a sink full of hot, soapy water for best results and to kill any bacteria from the food (this is especially important after cutting raw meat or poultry).
After washing, rinse the knives thoroughly under hot running water.
Dry Your Knives Completely
As soon as you’re done washing and rinsing, dry the knives with a clean dish towel. Be careful not to cut yourself, but make sure the blade and the handle are completely dry before returning to the knife block or storage drawer.
If you have a safe place out of reach of children and pets, you may want to leave your knives laying on a towel to drain and air dry. If you do this, return the knives to their proper storage as soon as they are dry.
You can also simply allow your knives to drain and air dry by placing them in a drainboard. Keep in mind though, if your knives are sharp, they may cause damage to the drainboard and may become dulled or damaged themselves. If you use a drainboard, don’t jam the knives in with other silverware. If possible, keep the blade facing away from all parts of the drainboard.
Improper Storage Causes Damage to Knives
If your knives came as part of a knife block, then it’s best to return them to the knife block after each use. Knife blocks are the best way to store knives, as they keep the blades separate and secure and will guard against damage.
If instead you store your knives in a drawer, try to make sure they have space between them and other silverware or utensils. Any jostling or rubbing against each other could cause knicks in your silverware or utensils as well as damage to your knives.
If the knives came with blade covers, don’t throw away or lose the covers. Return the covers to the blades after each use, making sure the knives are completely clean and dry first.
Hopefully, you can see that there are definitely differences between carving knives and chef’s knives. Chef’s knives are multipurpose, while carving knives are more specialized. Though you can often use a chef’s knife in place of a carving knife, it may not produce as clean a slice as a carving knife would.
Both types of knife are good to have in your kitchen, especially if you do a lot of cooking. You will undoubtedly find uses for both the more you experiment and find out what each knife works best for.