With a blade that’s halfway between that of a chef’s knife and that of a paring knife, a petty knife or utility knife is the perfect blade for medium-size kitchen prep tasks. Which is best?
Published Jan. 7, 2021. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 22: Shrimp, Fast and Slow
We love our chef’s and paring knives; we rely on them for most cutting tasks in the kitchen. But occasionally we find ourselves wishing we had a knife that split the difference between these two workhorses—a midsize knife with more power and coverage than the paring knife but more precision and control than the chef’s knife. That’s where petty and utility knives come in. While both of these knives come in a variety of lengths, they’re most commonly found with a blade in the 5- to 6-inch range, almost exactly halfway between that of a paring knife and that of a chef’s knife. Historically, the two knives had very different origins, shapes, and advantages. Over the years, however, distinctions between petty and utility knives have blurred somewhat (see “Petty Knives versus Utility Knives: What’s the Difference?”). In practice, both terms refer to any midsize prep knife.
Curious to know which of these knives was best for home cooks, we bought 10 petty or utility knives, priced from about $28 to about $215, and put them through their paces, using them to slice tomatoes; mince shallots and parsley; quarter mushrooms; break down chickens and debone chicken breasts; and slice salami, firm cheese, and cooked skin-on chicken breasts.
We found a lot to like about these knives, and we think most home cooks would, too. They particularly excelled at finesse tasks performed with the tip of the blade—they were fantastic for mincing shallots precisely and for quartering mushrooms quickly and cleanly. The blades of most of the knives were very thin and very sharp, so they sliced the cooked chicken breasts beautifully, without shattering or pulling on the crispy skin, allowing for perfect presentation. We were especially impressed with the way the knives allowed us to break down half chickens and debone chicken breasts. Because their blades are smaller and narrower than those of chef’s knives, they were more agile and responsive, helping us to maneuver nimbly between joints and ably trimming away slippery skin and fat. And while their blades are stiffer than those of our favorite flexible boning knives, they also did a great job of hewing close to the bone as we removed chicken breasts, leaving very little meat behind. These thin, hard blades are a bit fragile, though; on hard materials such as bones, they can (and did) chip. With this in mind, we recommend using a pair of shears or a chef’s knife to do any heavier-duty butchery, such as removing the backbone or halving a bone-in chicken breast.
A few factors determined how well the knives handled and performed. First, sharpness. In prev...
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Miye is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She covers booze, blades, and gadgets of questionable value.