Photography by Ahmad Iskandar
Apart from cold rooms, dry-aging cabinets, bandsaws, and meat grinders, a butcher’s set of knives is clearly essential. So, we went behind-the-scenes with the experts at Huber’s Butchery, where we were taken through the different tools a butcher wields. Despite how effective they are when used appropriately, we must not discount the skill it takes to use them properly. As Atlanta chef Eli Kirshtein’s said, “It’s really the magician, not the wand that makes the magic.”
A butcher knife has a blade 25-30cm in length and is mostly used for cutting, slicing and sectioning different meats. It is usually used by professional butchers or chefs for segmenting the larger cuts of meat and trimming them down into smaller, retail portions such as steaks.
Generally, these type of knives are heavier, wider and have a slightly curved blade for going through thick cuts of meat. The end will have a little more girth than the handle, which differs from the tapered chef’s knife.
Compared to a butcher’s knife, chef’s knives are lighter and can be used for numerous tasks apart from hacking through flesh. A chef’s knife is an all-purpose knife varied utility and comes with a blade which curves upward, which allows the user to pivot the knife on the chopping board. They have blade lengths of 15-30cm and the spine is heavier to add weight and strength. There is usually a metal collar between the handle and the blade for protection. A chef’s knife is used for slicing, dicing, chopping and mincing – and basically everything in between.
Boning knives need to be finely-honed so that they don’t slip along the during the boning process. They have a curved blade 12cm-17cm in length, a sharp point and a narrow blade for intricate work. Boning knives have varying degrees of stiffness, depending on which type of meat they will primarily be used for. It helps cut and slice the meat away from the bones of meat, poultry and fish. In order to facilitate the easy removal of the bone, it is slightly flexible.
Flexible blades are used by experienced butchers for shaping, denuding, and seaming and also for boning roasts, whole hams, lamb legs, veal legs, and filleting fish. Semi-flexible or semi-stiff blades, which are able to bend to keep the edge close to the bone or table are great for jointing. Stiff blades are used for making precise, straight cuts and are also great for jointing.
Despite its name, a sharpening steel does not sharpen a knife. Its purpose is actually to align the edge of it because as it is used, it will become curled. Although the curl isn’t visible to the naked eye, a microscope would reveal that the edge is askew. This is because tiny microscopic fibres tend to bend over and this dulls the edge of the knife. The sharpening steel will straighten or re-align these fibers. The more often you steel, the longer the sharp edge will last. Steeling also helps to maintain your knife’s edge. Compared to honing, sharpening your knife actually takes away steel, and creates an entirely new edge.
A paring knife has a small handle for maximum maneuverability as it is small and safe enough to cut food while it is being held. It is extremely versatile and indispensable in the kitchen. Its blade is typically between 2 ½ and 4 inches long and is ideal for intricate work. Crucial for anything done in-hand (when you’re holding the object you’re cutting instead of resting it on a board), its size makes it convenient especially when you want to make quick work of minor tasks like peeling skin off fruits or deveining shrimp.
A carving fork is a two-pronged fork with long teeth. It is used to turn or move meat during cooking or to keep it in place while it is being cut or carved. The carving fork prevents you from touching the meat too much and also keeps your hand out of harm’s way. There are different variations of carving forks and one with curved teeth is more suitable for turning the meat while cooking. However, a fork with straight teeth is better for slicing meat. It also makes for easier keeping, especially if you’re using a knife block for storage.