What is a Carving Knife Used For?
A carving knife may be a specialized tool, but that doesn't mean you have to be a professional to have one. The whole thing about specialized tools and appliances is that they're there to make your life easier, and a carving knife will do just that.
They're made for carving meat, and for allowing you to create immaculate slices that you wouldn't otherwise be able to achieve. What kinds of meat? A carving knife can be used for pretty much anything, including cooked meats, poultry, and even some larger fruits and vegetables.
But, a carving knife isn’t exactly the most versatile tool in the world - it's not like a chef's knife or a utility knife that you can use for just about anything. And surely there are other kinds of knives that you can use for meat that’ll be just as effective?
Well, no, a carving knife may not be the most versatile knife out there, but, having said that, it's also not like it can only be used for one very specific thing. As we said, it can be used for just about any type of meat or poultry, as well as heavy duty vegetables. And, if you're somebody who eats meat, it's bound to be something you'll use often enough to make it worth having.
Secondly, as we said, there are other types of knives that can be used in specific scenarios when it comes to cutting meat, sure. But carving is very different to simply slicing or cutting meat. For instance, a chef's knife may be perfectly adequate for cutting up a chicken breast or slicing a delicious sirloin. But when it comes to carving a turkey, you really won't do better than a proper carving knife. That's because it's specifically designed, in terms of the sharpness and shape of the blade (among other things), to be good at that job in particular.
So, in order to have a good understanding of what a carving knife is used for, we're going to explain exactly what a carving knife is and what it looks like. Then, we'll give you a step-by-step guide to how to sharpen a carving knife and to best look after it so that it lasts as long as possible.
What Exactly is a Carving Knife?
Carving knives are made and designed for the purpose of not only cutting and slicing meat, but and also carving it off the bone, carving large pieces of meat, and carving whole animals. For instance, slicing a gammon or carving a turkey.
For this reason, they have long, narrow blades, and they tend to have a pointed tip. The purpose of this is to allow for effortless slicing with minimal resistance.
The handle, on the other hand, is ergonomically designed so that you can enjoy comfortable grip and excellent control while you're cutting, slicing, and carving.
So, what are the specific uses of a carving knife?
The main purpose of a carving knife, hence its name, is to be able to slice through cooked meats with precision and finesse. Whether you're carving a Thanksgiving turkey, a roast beef for Sunday lunch, or a simple roast chicken for dinner, a carving knife will ensure that each slice is neat, clean, and uniform.
Removal of Bones
If you’re used to working with meat, you'll know that it can be tough to find a knife that's good at removing meat from bones, especially removing bones from cuts of meat.
Now, a carving knife is ideal for this purpose because its sharpness allows you to carefully separate the meat from the bones, making it far easier for you to serve boneless cuts.
Presentation and Aesthetics
Because a carving knife is good at helping you achieve thin, clean, and uniform slices of meat, it's a great tool to use when presentation is a top priority. This is especially relevant for professionals and those who work is fine dining establishments, as it'll help you achieve the desired results, and it provides consistency too.
Slicing Big Fruits and Vegetables
Of course, a carving knife isn't made for fruits and vegetables, but as we said earlier, it can be perfect if you're dealing with something big. For instance, when you want to slice watermelons, pumpkins, or squash, you need to use a knife that’s big, long, and sharp enough to do the job, and a carving knife is perfect. Now, I'm not saying that it should be used for all vegetables, but it's perfect for big vegetables. It also makes the process safer.
The Construction of a Carving Knife
We've already given you the gist of what a carving knife looks like, but here are a few more specifics.
- Blade: The blade is long and narrow and is normally made from high-quality stainless steel or carbon steel. It has a fine point.
- Tang: The tang is the part of the blade that extends into the handle. Carving knives can be either full tang or partial tang.
- Handle: Handles may be made from wood, plastic, or composite materials. That not normally very big, but they're ergonomically designed for comfort.
- Bolster: A carving knife may or may not have a bolster - but it does add balance.
- Hilt/Guard: Sometimes, a carving knife may have a hilt or guard between the handle and the blade. This is a protection for your hand.
Types of Carving Knives
If you want to be technical, there really is only one real carving knife - that is, the traditional type. But, we're going to tell you about a few variations that are sometimes slipped into the mix.
Traditional Carving Knife
Sometimes referred to as a turkey carving knife, a traditional carving knife is long, slender, and has a pointed tip. This is what we're talking about when we simply refer to a carving knife.
A ham slicer is quite similar to a traditional carving knife – it is also a long, narrow knife. However, it's the blade is a little thinner. But it's mostly used for slicing very thin, even slices of prosciutto, cured meats, and, of course, ham.
Hollow-Edge Carving Knife
A hollow-edge carving knife boasts much of the same shape as the traditional version, but it has shallow divots along the blade that create air pockets. This prevents the knife from sticking to the meat, so it's ideal for rarer cuts of meat. It's very similar to a hollow-edge carving knife, but the edge is slightly more concave.
Granton-Edge Carving Knife
A granton-edge carving knife is much like a hollow-edge carving knife with its shallow divets, but the edge is a little more convex. The main purpose of the design of a granton-edge carving knife is to prevent food from sticking to it.
Electric Carving Knife
If you're looking for a heavy-duty meat carving knife, try an electric knife. With serrated blades that move rapidly, carving can be done super quickly and easily. It's also very consistent, and is ideal for large, non-delicate cuts of meat. But, having said this, it's no good with cartilage, so it's not the best knife for carving turkey.
A slicing knife is very similar to a traditional carving knife, but they tend to be a little more narrow and more flexible. This makes them ideal for delicate meats, like sashimi or smoked meats like smoked salmon.
How to Sharpen a Carving Knife
The general procedure for knife sharpening is pretty similar from one knife to the next, but when it comes to a carving knife, there are a few specifics that you need to be aware of. Here's how to sharpen a carving knife.
- Whetstone, Water, Honing Rod, and a Towel: Gather these three things - as well as your knife, of course - and find a suitable place to get working.
- Wet the Whetstone: Using either water or honing oil (depending on the specific whetstone you're using), wet the whetstone. This means you need to soak it for 10 to 15 minutes if you're using water, and if you're using oil, follow the manufacturer's instructions.
- Perfect the Angle: Sharpening is all about angles, and when you're dealing with the best turkey carving knife - or really just any traditional carving knife - you're going to want to go for a 15 to 20-degree angle. Now, this may vary depending on the specific knife, so make sure you check the manufacturer's recommendations.
- Start with the Coarse Side: Place the knife's edge against the stone (the coarse side of the whetstone) at the angle you've chosen and begin. Apply even pressure and start moving the blade across the stone in a smooth, sweeping, circular motion. Do this several times.
- Repeat on the Fine Side: Then, flip the stone over to the fine side and repeat the process. This is the part that will help you really refine the edge of the knife and make it seriously sharp.
- Evaluate the Edge: Test how sharp it is by running your finger across the edge carefully. If it's smooth, you've done a good job.
- Hone the Edge: Take out your honing rod and gently run the blade along it - use the same angle you used on the whetstone. This will help you realign the edge and get rid of any burrs (when the lip of the knife is raised).
Sharpening your carving knife regularly and properly is one of the most important aspects of taking good care of it. But, here are a few more tips for maintaining a carving knife.
How to Maintain a Carving Knife
- Handwash: Always handwash your carving knife with warm (not hot) soapy water. Don't ever put it in the dishwasher.
- Dry Carefully: Don't put it on a drying rack to airdry - this can lead to a build up of rust and corrosion. Rather, dry it immediately with a soft cloth.
- Use the Right Cutting Surfaces: Use the appropriate cutting surfaces - that is, opt for a wooden cutting board rather than something more abrasive.
- Store it Carefully: Store your carving knife on a magnetic knife holder or in a knife block. Or, if you really have to put it in a drawer, put it in a sheath. Never put it directly into the drawer - it's likely to get damaged when bumping up against other things.
- Hone it Regularly: Use your honing rod after every time you sharpen the knife, and try and use it before you use your carving knife too. This will extend the time period between sharpening.
- Avoid Frozen Food: Carving knives are made for meat, so don't use them on hard items - this will chip and damage the blade.
- Clean Immediately: Never leave your carving knife to sit while dirty - this will lead to staining and corrosion.
- Oil the Blade: Every now and then, apply a thin layer of food-safe mineral oil to the blade - this protects it from moisture and oxidization. This is especially important if you don't use it regularly, which may be the case for a carving knife.