No More Butcher Knives

Butcher KnifeDo I ever have egg on my face! For years, I have been extolling the virtues of the butcher knife for culinary purposes. No kitchen is complete without one of these knives; or so I thought. Just today, after years of pestering my sister about the lack of a butcher knife in her kitchen, it came to a head. “What is a butcher knife,” she asked. After several minutes of stammering and inept attempts at mime resulting only in bruised knuckles, I turned to the Internet. It was then that I saw just how ill-defined a term “butcher knife” is. Just check out the image on the left.

The dictionary definitions are especially useless in this matter. For example, defines a butcher knife as: “a large, very sharp knife for cutting or trimming meat”—somehow the modifier “very sharp” doesn’t seem to make sense; is there an “idiot’s knife”, defined as “a large, very dull knife for kitchen accidents”? Typical of a dictionary: unhelpful in practical matters.

Most butcher knives do look very much like the knives that I have always used. In fact, most people would say that the image above looks more like a cleaver and that the following image is a butcher knife:

Chef's Knife

But this is not a butcher knife; it is a chef’s knife. (Note how the former refers to the verb rather than the noun butcher—interesting, don’t you think?) This is what I have always thought of as a butcher knife. In point of fact, I have always thought that a butcher knife was any large, relatively triangularly shaped knife that allows one to chop ingredients without bumping one’s knuckles on the counter top. Now I know better.

Even with a chef’s knife, one can get into trouble. There are two kinds of chef’s knives: German and French. (This is amusing when one knows that the chef’s knife is often referred to as the French Knife. Thus, one might be using a German French knife or a French French knife. Imagine the problems the owner of the latter would have had at the start of the Iraq War: “No, no. It’s a Freedom Freedom knife.”) The German version—pictured above—has a rounder tip, so that it can be used more easily with a “rocking” cut: up and down. The French version is straighter and is used by pulling the knife toward the chef’s body: back and forth.

There is a Japanese knife called a Santoku, which I have called a butcher knife during my ignorant youth (that is, before about noon today).

Santoku Knife

It differs from the Chef’s Knife, primarily by having a straight edge—it is closer to the French Chef’s Knife. In general, I have not liked these knives as much. However, I have learned (thanks to a brief, unreferenced article on Wikipedia) that these knives are particularly good for people with small hands. Also: a skilled chef may do more precise cutting with the Santoku. As a result, I believe my past displeasure stems from unfamiliarity. The next knife I buy will be a Santoku. And, of course, I will write about it here. (Can you stand the excitement?)


It has been over a year since I wrote this. During this time period I have used several Santoku knives. The result: I’ve given up on them. I have small hands, and yet, I do not find them particular good. I just don’t find them useful. A chef’s knife, a paring knife, a bread knife: all of these are essential. It is never the case that I need a Santoku. In fact, I only use my Santoku when everything else is dirty and I need a knife for something I could just as easily do with a steak knife.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “No More Butcher Knives

  1. …..And how many Chicago Cutlery knives do you use now? What are you current favorite cutters and do they differ from the time of this posting?
    A belated Happy 4th!


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