For cutting baguettes and more, we wanted a little knife with a big bite.
Published Mar. 6, 2020.
While the term “utility knife” might conjure up images of box cutters or hunting knives, it can also describe a handy all-purpose knife meant exclusively for kitchen use. Sizewise, utility knives fall somewhere between a paring knife and a chef’s knife, with a blade that’s usually between 5 and 6 inches long; they come in both straight-bladed and serrated styles. We’d never focused on them exclusively in a full testing before, and we wondered if they’d perform any task better than the knives most home cooks already have in their kitchens. We were particularly interested in the serrated models. While our favorite serrated knife, the Mercer Culinary Millennia 10" Wide Bread Knife, is great for cutting everything from large loaves of bread to delicate layer cakes, its long blade sometimes feels like overkill when we’re slicing just a tomato or a salami. We were intrigued by the prospect of a more compact serrated knife that could be used for these smaller tasks. We bought eight serrated utility knives, priced from about $7.50 to about $110.00, and used them to slice tomatoes, baguettes, kaiser rolls, and salami and to quarter avocados and loaded BLT sandwiches.
Contrary to their name, these utility knives varied significantly in terms of serration, blade shape, and handle size. The knives performed quite differently, too, with some cutting cleanly and others making more ragged, uneven slices. What made certain knives better than others?
Certain features that had been critical in our serrated knife testing—such as the number of serrations and their shape—proved less important with the serrated utility knives, perhaps because we use these knives for smaller, less difficult tasks. But if the serrations weren’t critical, what was?
As it turned out, the sharpness of the blade was the single most important factor in determining our preferences. Serrated knives are harder to sharpen at home than straight blades are, so it’s critical to have one that is sharp from the get-go. In theory, the sharpness of any blade is dictated by its edge angle—an angle that was actually fairly uniform (15 or 16 degrees) across the knives we tested, at least as reported by the manufacturers. In practice, however, knives can be sharpened incorrectly or incompletely at the factory, resulting in blades with improper (or inconsistent) angles or blades that have coarser edges that drag against food instead of slicing it fluidly.
Indeed, not all the knives were sharp from the start. When we initially tested their blades by using them to cut tomatoes, some just couldn’t make clean slices, leaving ragged edges or fai...
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Miye is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She covers booze, blades, and gadgets of questionable value.