A carving knife is a special knife used for carving roasts (typically chicken, turkey, beef, ham and pork). It is not the most essential kind of knife for cooking — that honour would belong to the chef's knife — but it is extremely useful when serving large chunks of meat or poultry.

When selecting a carving knife, the following attributes should be considered:

Length

A good carving knife's blade will be somewhere between 25cm and 35cm long. The optimal length depends upon the cutter's style — if possible, try borrowing a few knives of varying lengths before buying.

Thickness

A carving knife should be thinner than a chef's knife. This will allow far finer cuts of meat. Although it is possible to use a chef's knife for carving, thicker blades can lead to the meat tearing into wedges.

Sharpness

Most carving accidents are caused by blunt knives. A blunt knife can still easily slice a finger off or take a large chunk out of a wrist, and it is also far more likely to slip than a very sharp knife. The harder one has to press on the knife, the less control one has.

The point

A general purpose carving knife will have a sharp point. There are some carving knives with a blunt end; these are designed specifically for carving roast beef, which will not require the same degree of poking around as, say, chicken or turkey. Unless you plan to acquire several carving knives, select a knife with a point.

Some knives have nearly straight edges up to the last five or six centimetres followed by a point. This style is arguably the best of both worlds; however, this does remove several centimetres from the effective slicing length of the blade.

Serrated edges

Some carving knives will have lightly serrated edges. On a good knife, these will help cutting. On a badly made cheap knife, they are often there simply to disguise bluntness. Heavily serrated edges should be avoided.

Scallops

Some carving knives have a series of hollow recesses (known as scallops) perpendicular to the cutting edge. These help prevent meat from sticking to the blade, allowing thinner slices to be made.

Tang

The most important consideration when selecting a carving knife is the tang. The tang is the part of the blade which carries on through into the handle. A carving knife whose tang goes less than two thirds of the way through the handle is a bad idea — not only will the balance feel wrong, it will also be far more liable to break.

Material

Most carving knives are made from some kind of stainless steel, often with a high carbon content. There are very few ceramic carving knives — ceramics are not well suited for carving.

Handle

The knife's handle should be comfortable for the user. Hands come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, and a one size fits all handle is rarely the best fit.

A carving knife will need sharpening occasionally (yes, even the ones that say "never needs sharpening!" on the packet). Unless you are confident that you know exactly what you are doing, it may be better to get this done professionally.

A note on prices — the price tag is not a particularly good indicator of quality. Whilst a cheap knife will almost certainly be awful, an expensive knife may simply carry a high price tag because it is in a designer style. Also, prices for the same knife can vary wildly between sellers. A carving knife which cost me £30 from a specialist restaurant supplier (I am not a professional chef, but I will quite happily pretend to be one to get cheap kitchen goods) is on sale for £95 at a local department store.

Some carving knives are sold with carving prongs (two long thin parallel rods with sharpened edges that are connected to a handle). These are far more effective than a fork or skewer for holding a large piece of meat still whilst carving it.

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