In this guide, we’re taking a deeper dive into what your kitchen needs! We’ll be talking about one of the most misunderstood, misused, and even mistreated kitchen knives. We’re talking – of course – about the utility knife! “What is a utility knife?” you ask. If you’ve never heard of that before, don’t run away just yet, you’re not alone.
These smaller cousins to the chef knife are incredibly capable and versatile knives that you probably don’t know you need until you try one. As an enthusiast who didn’t have a utility knife for several years (I know – shameful, right!). I can confidently say that my utility knife is now an inseparable part of my kitchen. You couldn’t convince me otherwise.
The main issue a lot of budding chefs and kitchen enthusiasts have with the utility knife is that they don’t know where it slots in. Utility knives are like that new student at school that nobody wants to sit with at lunch – until they see him at basketball tryouts. Now they all want to be his friend and he’s an invaluable part of the team.
Once you’ve had a little experience with a high-quality kitchen knife. And you’ve built great food prep habits around it, you’ll find them to be incredibly functional and useful. Whether you’re an on-the-go waiter at a restaurant, needing to carve up a roast on the fly, or a home chef with a minimalistic mindset, the utility knife might be the perfect choice for you! Let’s see why!
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What is a Utility Knife Used for?
Knowing exactly where the utility knife fits in is the first step in understanding how and when to use it. Let’s look at the gap these versatile knives fill. On the larger end of the kitchen knife spectrum, you have the chef’s knife. It’s not as big and beefy as the revered butcher’s knife or cleaver – but still capable of an assortment of kitchen tasks.
The chef knife is the workhorse of your kitchen. It can cut through chicken bones, cut through thick pieces of meat, make quick work of thick or tough vegetables and fruit, etc. You’ll find a chef knife in most kitchens thanks to their versatile function. The issue is that they aren’t always super-accurate. The thicker blade can be a bit troublesome for intricate and delicate cutting.
On the other end of the scale, you have the paring knife. They have much shorter blades at around 3-4” long, as well as being far thinner and lighter than a chef knife. Paring knives are fantastic for intricate and delicate cutting, like peeling an apple or grape or deveining a shrimp. Using a chef knife here would be disastrous and quite messy. They lack the nimbleness that a paring knife has.
By contrast, paring knives struggle with larger fruit and vegetables, as well as being too small to carve with, or work on meat and fish with. This is where the utility comes in! They fill this gap with exceptional versatility and they do it well. Utility knives are fantastic for carving poultry and roasts – although they shouldn’t be used to cut through or too close to bones (except for fish).
Along with being able to handle some heavier cutting tasks, the utility knife (often referred to as a sandwich knife) can handle tasks that require a more precise cut – such as peeling fruits, and chopping vegetables. You might be thinking that it’s the same type of work that a paring knife does.
This is true to an extent, but the paring knife shies away from larger fruits and vegetables. It’s not as well-suited to chopping as the utility knife is. The paring knife will always offer a more delicate and accurate touch, but it has its limits. The utility knife fills the void between the chef knife and the paring very well.
In combination with a boning knife, these 3 knives should be able to cover everything you’d need to get done when preparing food! To summarize, utility knives are used for light to medium tasks while prepping food. When you need to quickly slice up a cucumber, and then carve a roast up – a utility knife will get the job done.
They’re great for waiters in restaurants who have to carve up roasts and poultry while moving around the floor. A full-size chef knife is often a little too hefty and large to squeeze between table members and work with effortlessly. They’re also well-suited to the home chef.
If you enjoy a minimalistic kitchen, or simply don’t have space to safely and carefully store a full range of knives, the utility knife is the middle ground choice. You’ll find they easily handle heavier-duty tasks (but no bones) and light, precise cutting without much stress. Utility knives are great all-rounders for the home chef or on-the-go, busy restaurant user.
What Are the Features of a Utility Knife?
Utility knives usually have a 4-6” blade on an almost equally sized handle. It’s this balance between the blade and the handle size that gives these knives excellent balance, functionality, and ease of use. The utility is much lighter overall than the slightly larger chef knife, and this leads to it being a very versatile knife capable of both precise and heavier cutting.
You’ll find utility knives have a rather straight and exceptionally sharp cutting edge. Since this knife isn’t used for rocking-motion cutting or cutting through bones, harder steel can be used. As a result, you get a razor-sharp cutting edge that holds well. But still quite brittle, so make sure you use the knife as it’s meant to be used.
Most utility knives have wide handles that are ergonomic and easy to use for different types of cutting tasks. Despite the added girth, they’re still very lightweight and nimble. There’s usually a wider ridge at the base of the handle to stop your hand from slipping off the bottom.
You’ll find most utility knives have a full-bolster. This is perfect for ambidextrous pinch grips, especially since the blade isn’t very tall. The tip is very sharp and close to the centerline of the knife. It’s possible to find some serrated cutting edge utility knives.
But they’re less common (though excellent for slicing pastries and bread). Almost all utility knives use stainless steel/high-carbon steel to make their blades. This is extremely important for kitchen knives (especially in professional kitchens) as it keeps them rust and corrosion-free.
How to Use a Utility Knife
Learning how to use a kitchen knife is just as important as learning when to use it. Before you even think about using the utility, you need to make sure you’re not using it on the wrong types of food. If you’re taking your utility knife to pry open packages and cut through bony meat, you’re asking for trouble.
They have thin blades that aren’t meant for that kind of work. With this in mind, feel free to work on meat, vegetables, and fruits – but beware of very hard seeds and rinds that can damage the cutting edge. When you’re using the utility knife, the pinch grip is the best option.
The lightweight design and large handle to blade ratio give you plenty of control over the knife. You can use the tip for piercing (so long as you don’t push too hard). You might need to get a firmer grip when you’re carving up roasts and working on poultry.
Remember that you should touch up or strop the blade quite often to make sure the cutting edge is at its best. If you feel you need too much pressure to slice or cut, it probably means you need to sharpen the blade.
Utility Knife vs Paring Knife
The utility knife is larger and heavier than the paring knife. Its blade is longer, thicker, and taller than the paring knife. Most paring knives have a basic handle without much ergonomic design.
But the utility knife has one slight curve near the handle and a steeper one near the handle’s butt. The paring knife has a more pronounced and centered tip for piercing and stabbing, whereas the tip of the utility sits a little higher than the blade’s centerline.
Utility Knife vs Chef Knife
Other than size and blade length, one of the main differences between the chef knife and the utility knife is the bolster. Due to the chef knife’s blade height, there’s quite a steep curve between the handle and the blade. The utility knife doesn’t have the same blade height (when compared to its handle) and this means the transition from handle to blade is almost seamless.
The chef knife’s handle usually thickens closer to the blade and gets thinner closer to the butt – which is the opposite of a utility knife. Chef knives are heavier, heftier, thicker, and longer than utility knives.
Hopefully, we’ve cleared up any confusion you might have about the function and purpose of the utility knife. We’ve covered quite a bit of information, so take your time to go through it at your speed. The utility knife is very important as it does the work the chef knife is too big for and the paring knife is too small for.
Take what you learned here from our “What is a utility knife?” guide, go and take a look at a couple of knives, and you’ll never look back! Utility knives are incredibly versatile and quickly earn their place in your kitchen – and your heart!