Knives are among the most used tools in any kitchen. From professional chef’s kitchens to food preparation for family dinners, nothing gets done without the use of kitchen knives.
Among these is the humble yet highly capable utility knife. Yet both the definition of this blade, as well as what it is used for, can vary widely among those you ask.
In general, the utility knife is a great ‘all rounder’, useful in a wide range of situations and scenarios, and capable of handling a variety of food types. In this way, it shares a lot of characteristics with the traditional chef’s knife, but with some major differences.
In this guide, we’ll put the question of “what is a utility knife used for” to rest, covering everything from the knife’s unique anatomy and parts, to the type of cook most likely to need it, and the various types of handles, blades and more that make it more (or less) useful for some tasks.
What is a Utility Knife Used For? – an Overview
Smaller in stature, but mighty in function, the utility knife is often best used for dealing with smaller food items or when a greater level of precision is needed than that which other larger knives are capable of.
Occasionally referred to as a “sandwich knife”, the utility knife features a moderately sized blade, shaped similar in fashion to that of a chef’s knife. However, two notable differences are in its stature (it is a narrower wedged shape) and in the type of blade it sports (which can be either straight or serrated).
These features (among others) make the utility knife a ‘Jack of all trades’, but a specialist of none. In fact, many chefs just don’t know what to do with it because of its non-specific role in the kitchen. In some cases, the knife may even feel redundant when you have other options available.
Even so, there are several situations in which the utility knife reigns supreme, making it a welcomed addition to any chef’s arsenal.
Quick Facts About the Utility Knife:
Size: Shorter than a chef’s knife and longer than a pairing knife, the utility knife generally ranges between 4-7”, with 5” being among the most commonly preferred size.
Blade Type: Available in both serrated or straight edge
Ideal Use: slicing bagels, buns, bread, meat (bone out/deli), cutting sandwiches, chopping small to medium-sized vegetables, dicing herbs, and general kitchen tasks.
Should Not Be Used For: Cutting meat with the bone in, cleaving meat, slicing loaves of bread, tasks involving large or awkward sized food items, tasks requiring delicate or intricate slicing or carving (i.e. mincing or peeling), or with any tough or dense food items.
Great For Everyday Cooking Activities
In the day to day preparation of meals, from simple lunchtime sandwiches to fruit or veggie snacks for the kids, or a quick and easy dinner, you want a knife that is versatile.
For this role, the utility knife fits the bill. It is agile enough to handle small items, yet big enough to handle basic tasks or even something a bit larger in a pinch.
A Necessity For the Aspiring Chef to Be
Those interested in becoming a professional chef someday, or simply looking to upgrade their cooking skills will need to become comfortable with all of the chef’s tools, including the utility knife. If you enjoy cooking regularly, entertaining guests or trying out new dishes, the utility knife is a must-have.
A Must-Have for the Professional Chef or Chef Apprentice
At this stage of your professional career, you need to be well-acquainted with every readily available knife in your kitchen. Increasingly complex dishes and a broader range of food items means you’ll need a larger set of knives capable of catering to unique kitchen techniques and food preparation. In this case, a utility knife is guaranteed to get put to a lot of use.
When Portability is Required
Chef’s knives might be the workhorse of the kitchen, but try lugging one around a big kitchen or taking one on the go and you’ll wish you had something a bit more compact. Sporting the same shape as the chef knife (and thus similar in capability), the utility knife is a more slender and shorter version, yet almost just as capable. This makes it an ideal substitute for larger blades when portability is a must.
When You Need Maneuverability Without Delicate Precision
Some blades are simply too unwieldy for smaller tasks, making the use of them inefficient as well as dangerous. When the outcome demands a bit more maneuverability, yet a pairing knife is either too small or too weak to handle the task, put your utility knife in coach!
A Knife that Lives Up to Its Namesake, Offering a Lot of “Utility” in a Compact but Capable Package
We hope that this guide on the many uses of the utility knife has opened your eyes as to just how beneficial this blade is for your kitchen. It’s versatility makes it capable, while its ergonomics and size make it maneuverable, yet sturdy enough to tackle a wide range of tasks.