John Hoffman, DU_Cooking.jpg

John Hoffman, DU


Your knife block or drawer probably holds more than a few knives that are rarely used. I can usually tackle just about any job in the kitchen with a good 8-inch chef’s knife. Most cooks claim that, in addition to a chef’s knife, you need a paring knife and a serrated knife. Those of us who cook the ducks and geese we bring home will also get quite a bit of use out of a boning knife.

You can buy the best, most expensive knife available, but just having it isn’t enough; knowing how to use it is what will save you a great deal of time in the kitchen. My advice to people who want to improve their knife skills is to buy a large bag of carrots and start properly slicing, dicing, and chopping. If you have to saw, rather than slice, your blade needs sharpening.

These are some of the most popular knives available to today’s cooks.

Chef’s Knife

One of the most important kitchen tools is the chef’s knife. Most tasks can be completed with it, and I’ll go weeks without picking up any other knife. These knives come in different lengths, thicknesses, and styles, so finding the best fit for your needs requires a little research.

Most commercial kitchens are stocked with the standard thin-bladed, white-handled chef’s knives. They are cheap, around $20, and they get washed hundreds of times in the dishwasher. Most working chefs carry their own knife rolls with them to work. Good chef’s knives are not cheap, and both the handles and blades will last longer when washed by hand.

Most chefs like knives made in Germany, France, or Japan. I’m partial to Japanese knives, but they require more finesse and don’t hold up to abuse as well as some of the sturdier German knives. If you use the same knife to break down birds as you do to chop vegetables, your knife will require frequent sharpening.

Boning Knife and Fillet Knife

The difference between boning knives and fillet knives is the flexibility of the blade. Fillet knives are more flexible and are best used for filleting fish. Boning knives are much more rigid and are great for separating meat from bones—something duck hunters do often. Boning knives can fillet a fish, but a fillet knife is not the best tool for breaking down a greenhead. If I had to choose one, I’d take the boning knife over the fillet knife.

Kitchen Shears

Nothing beats a good pair of kitchen shears or poultry shears for cutting through duck and goose bones. Many a chef’s knife has been chipped by trying to hack through bones. The kitchen shears that came with your knife block are usually best used for cutting cardboard, not backbones or leg bones. Plan on spending $25 to $50 for good-quality kitchen shears that will last a lifetime. As with any other kitchen tool with an edge, they need to be sharpened often to do their job efficiently.

Paring Knife

The paring knife is a popular choice for detail work, but I rarely use one. Once you learn to finesse a chef’s knife, you will find that a paring knife becomes less essential. I can remove the hulls from strawberries or peel an apple just as easily with a chef’s knife as I can with a paring knife. The less I have to swap out knives while prepping for a meal, the sooner I can get out of the kitchen.

Honorable Mention: The Meat Cleaver

You will extend the life of your prized chef’s knife by using a meat cleaver to hack through bones and joints. Find one that fits comfortably in the palm of your hand and is well-balanced. Heavier cleavers take a little less effort than lighter models do, and thicker blades generally hold their edges better than thin ones. A decent meat cleaver will cost you around $50.