The term carving knife in cooking can be confusing because there seem to be other knifes that can do the same job. However, another name for a carving knife, or carver, is slicing knife (or slicer).
Carving Knife Uses
If you think of a carving knife as a knife that will produce slices of meat or poultry, then you understand the utility of this knife. Carving knives are generally used to carve thin uniform slices from cooked poultry like turkey or chicken, and to slice large roasts of meat. They can sometimes be used for filleting very large fish. The easiest way to envision the use of a carving knife is to think of carving the Thanksgiving turkey or slicing the Sunday roast.
Caver versus Slicer
Some sources will differentiate between a carver and a slicer. Naming conventions for knives are very confusing, so there is no use trying to understand the difference between a carving knife and a slicer, as one brand may call a knife a slicer that is similar to a “carving knife” by another brand. A carving knife can be called a carver or a slicer.
What Does a Carving Knife Look Like?
Carving knives have narrow, thin blades and pointy tips. The narrow blades, which are narrower than a chef’s knife, are meant to reduce the amount of resistance as you move the back and forth. Compared to a chef’s knife, which is quite thick at the spine (the part of the blade opposite the cutting edge) the blade is much thinner. If you compare this to even a very sharp chef’s knife, which many people substitute, you see that the wide blade and larger surface area making contact with the meat or poultry produces drag, hampering the slicing and reducing the ability to produce uniform, and thin, slices.
The blade of a carving knife should be long so that you do not have to saw the knife back and forth as much, and so that it is long enough to encompass large roasts, hams, or turkeys. They come in sizes ranging from 8 up to 14 inches. An important feature of a carver is that the knife should be longer than the largest item you plan on slicing. So, usually, the longest carving knife is the best and the less “sawing” you do, facilitated by the longer blade, the better, as this will cause less damage and tearing to the flesh. Buy the longest on you can find.
The sharp pointed tip can help get into and around joints or to work around bones as you are carving.
Modern carving knives sometimes have large shallow dimples along the sides of the knife. These are often called grantons but knives with indentations use other terminology as well. The indentations further reduce resistance and make for easier and thinner slices.
Rounded Tip Slicers
You will also see knives called ‘slicers’ but also sometimes called carvers, that have rounded-tips and long narrow blades. An example is the Mercer Culinary Renaissance 11-Inch Granton Edge Slicing Knife. Although knives like this are sometimes seen in restaurant with carving stations to reduce danger to guest from the pointed tips, at home, they are usually only used for ham, or for very uniform and boneless roasts. You probably do not need a dedicated meat slicing knife, and can use one carving knife for poultry and meat.
There is a sub-category of these knife type specially called salmon slicers. These are very long and very thin and flexible; thinner than ham slicers. They are meant for slicing the delicate flesh of smoked salmon, such as Nova lox (not to be confused with sashimi knives meant for sushi chefs). The reason the point is absent is to keep you from accidentally piercing the ham (or the salmon) as you saw the knife back and forth. These knives can be used for slicing the breast meat off roasted turkey, as well. Rounded-tip slices very often come with granton edges.
These rounded-tip slicers are further sub-divided into knives marketed specifically for slicing tomatoes A sharp chef’s knife, utility knife, etc. will have no problem slicing through a tomato, and you probably do not need a specific knife for slicing salmon.
Serrated Edge Slicing Knives
More confusion is caused by slicing knives with serrated edges as opposed to grantons. Serrated edge slicing knives are usually bread knives. A serrated edge is not usually a good idea for meats and poultry because of the soft texture of the flesh. Instead of helping to slice, the pointy serrations may tend to tear and shred the meat. However, slicers with serrated edges can be used for other things besides bread. On the other hand, a serrated slicer helps with very tough items, like slicing through a pineapple.
You will not be using a carving knife nearly as often as you will be using some other basic kitchen knives, like the chef’s knife. If you don’t cook many roasts, whole birds, or hams, you may not really need one at all. You do not need to put as much thought into purchasing one as you would a chef’s knife.
This covers the general features of a carving knife, but further clarification may be needed on another similar knife, the fish filleting knife.
Difference Between Carving Knife and Fish Filleting Knife
There is not really only one knife that is called a fish filleting knife. There are many different kinds of filleting knives on the market, but it is easy to confuse these knives with carvers. And indeed, a fish can be filleted with any very sharp knife, including a chef’s knife. However knives specifically mean for filleting fish have very thin blades flexible blades, making it easy to guide the knife along the spine of the fish, and then for carving the fillets or slicing them into very think slices.
The blades of fish fillet knives, like the blade on this Mercer 8-inch narrow fillet knife, are extremely narrow and curved with an extremely sharp tapering point (at least usually0. The blade will usually be more narrow than a carving knife since the soft flesh of fish makes reducing friction even more important. Some are more flexible than others, however, if the blade is too thin and flexible, it becomes difficult to sharpen. A fish filleting knife should have a pointed tip, which is needed for guiding the knife into the fish to start your cuts, and to help with any precision work.
As above, naming conventions are confusing, and there are no rules as to how a carving or filleting knife should be shaped, and you may find knives that don’t seem to fit the description here, such as quite wide knives meant for sushi chefs, suitable for filleting and slicing sashimi.
For most home cooks, a carving knife will be one of the least-used knives in the kitchen, but are good to have around Thanksgiving and Christmas, or if you cook a lot of bone-in roasts.
Carving station image © Kondor83