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A Utility knife is a kitchen knife that is midway in size between a Chef's knife and a Paring knife.

Although I own a Utility knife, I don't believe that I have ever used it except when my Chef's knife was unavailable. I took a look around to see what uses I might have missed. Wikipedia says (without citation) that this knife is "derided as filler for knife sets" which squares with my experience. A few links call this type of knife a Sandwich knife because it is, ostensibly, good for cutting sandwich cheese and meat. Here's what one source says:

The utility knife is good for cutting larger vegetables and sandwich meats that are not large enough for a chef's knife

I have a hard time swallowing this because, whether I'm chopping very small items, say Kaffir lime leaves, or large vegetables, say an aubergine, the Chef's knife still feels most comfortable in my hand.

Can someone help me picture a legitimate use for this knife where a Chef's knife or Paring knife wouldn't do better?

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8 Answers 8

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There's no question that a 4 or 5 inch utility knife is going to see a lot less use than your chef's knife or your paring knife, both of which have innumerable uses. The utility knife is a lot more specific, really being for cases where the paring knife is too short and the chef's knife is too heavy or thick. I have a 4" utility knife, which (of course) I got for free with a 6" Sabatier chef's knife. It gets used a couple times a week, for:

  • scoring onions in order to mince them
  • cutting limes in half (a chef's knife seems like overkill here)
  • splitting small peppers
  • slicing large California shallots
  • cutting cheese

... and similar occasional, accessory uses.

Part of the problem with the 4" utility knife is that it's really a dwarf 6"-8" utility knife. The 6" or 8" utility knife, now commonly called a "vegetable knife", is far more useful; the long, thin blade is excellent for making paper-thin vegetable and fruit slices, and can be used as a fileting knife if you don't have one. At the 4" size, though, the utility knife is useful only for cutting things which happen to be small, and only if you don't already have a more general knife dirty.

If what you're really asking is "can I get rid of this knife?", the answer is "yes".

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Plus 10 for your excellent get-directly-to-the-point in the last sentence! :^D A caveat, though: if someone with smaller hands than the OP has or will have occasion to use his kitchen, it might be worth whatever annoyance it brings for their safety and comfort. –  MargeGunderson Nov 19 '12 at 7:19
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And the one other use -- when you have to put out a cheese plate or similar, and the paring knife is too small (as I'd never put out a Chef's knife for that). Also, as mine gets so little use, it tends to stay sharp enough that it's good for slicing tomatoes ... and it's the backup for when I've dirtied my other knives and don't want to stop & wash. But yes, I don't really need it. –  Joe Nov 19 '12 at 15:59
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Marge, I don't know about that. My sweetie has tiny hands (her father is an oral surgeon), and she uses a 6" chef's knife most of the time. Maybe the 4" utility would be good for a child ... –  FuzzyChef Nov 20 '12 at 6:57

I though it possible that the Utility knife was once a cost-cutting alternative to buying both a Chef's knife and a Paring knife. So a "legitimate use", to answer my own question, would be, when you can only afford one knife. I looked into the history of this knife to see what truth there might be in this.

Amateur History of the Utility Knife

According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the term "utility knife" was in 1946. My own amateur efforts uncovered culinary uses of the term going back as far as 1921. It is only in 1940 that I find a reference to this knife where it is defined to any extent,

Utility knives. We believe every set should contain a knife suitable for general utility purposes-a blade somewhat longer than a paring knife's, so that it can slice tomato, cut grapefruit or melons and take care of dozens of cutting jobs. --Good housekeeping (1940): Volume 111, Number 3 p105 and p191

There was nothing in this article to suggest that a Utility knife should be considered as an alternative to owning more specialised knives. Quite the opposite, the reader is told that every kitchen should have a Paring knife, a Slicing knife, Carving knife, Bread knife, Butcher knife and a Utility knife.

The earlier references to Utility knives also follow this pattern,

The most important items of cutlery and small equipment for the kitchen include: One bread knife, One carving knife, One utility knife, Two small paring knives, One grapefruit knife [...] --The new book of etiquette (1924) Lillian Eichler Watson p179

The size of the blade varies between 4 and 8 inches depending on sources and at times this knife is confounded with both the Paring knife and the Chef's knife. The stated uses also vary, as would be expected from the name. To give just two examples,

Utiity 5" Slices, cuts and core fruits and vegetables; trims meats. --The Industry Leader Hardware Retailer (1968) p176

and somewhat more convincingly,

A six-to-eight-inch blade for cutting small vegetables, deboning chicken when a chefs knife is too clumsy and a paring knife to delicate --The home answer book (1995)

The rather curious conclusion (curious to me at least) is that the Utility knife appeared at a time when it was common to own a number of specialised knives. It seems that the Utility knife was as superfluous then as it is now. Nevertheless, Utility knives started to appear in product catalogues somewhere between 1924 and 1947 and increased in popularity from thereon.

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Here is what I use the shun classic 6" utility for. When my chefs knife in use with other foods and need to make some slices in small light work too big for a paring knife, and to avoid washing the chefs knife, I then use the utility knife. I also use the utility knife to slice sandwiches, de-bone foul, and on small portions of fish, because the blade is short, thin, more flexible and easier to manuver than the 8" chefs knife.

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Usually utility Knife used for general purpose but when you have specefic task e.g - Slicing a Potatoe, Removing hull from Strawberry, removing skin from a fruit then you shoud go fo Paring Knife.

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Hello, and welcome to Seasoned advice. Your answer got flagged as spam, probably because it does not add any new information, but includes a link. I will give you the benefit of doubt and just delete the link instead of the entire post. In the future, you are more likely to gain upvotes if you add new information to the discussion, instead of repeating what has already been said. –  rumtscho Sep 18 '13 at 10:29

Utility knives are tweeners, not good for paring and far less useful than a 6-8" chef's knife for cutting vegetables and meats. After looking at mine for years, and using it only rarely, I converted it to a letter opener, a task at which it excels.

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The bust use of the utility knife that I have found (and I use it often) if for what it sounds like... Utilities. I use it for cutting wire, tape, opening up boxes, everything under the sun. Heck, I've even used it to cut a hole in my drywall for an electrical switch. I think its a great knife to own in a knife set because lets be honest, you know when you need a knife to open something up you turn to the kitchen knives. This way I only end up dulling one useless knife instead of a precious chef knife or paring knife.

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Previously I answered that a legitimate use for a utility knife might be when you can only afford one knife. In the same post I undermine my own answer showing how I found no historical evidence for this. I wonder if I wasn't more interested in venting frustration at having a poor knife than providing a good answer.

Leaving aside my dubious attempt at an answer, I did find a good use for my utility knife a while back when peeling fresh ginger. I alternated between in-the-hands peeling and on-the-cutting-board chopping off of medium sized chunks of root to peel.

This seems to me both a general and legitimate use for the utility knife.

A good use for the utility knife is when you need to alternate between in-the-hands and on-the-chopping-board use.

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A utility knife does what a chef's knife does, but not as well, and is intended to paired with a different chef's knife than what 99% of home cooks use. It may sound redundant, but I think of it this way: a utility knife is cheaper, usually smaller, lighter, easier to use/sharpen/clean, and less intimidating for someone who isn't in the kitchen much.

Chef's knives came out a professional setting, and do need practice and maybe some training to use safely and effectively. 50 years ago, not only did households not have the money for a nice pro knife, it would have been looked down upon as a domestic interest, unneeded, too much for a woman etc. Not only that, most home cooks wouldn't have had any influence from the cooking industry like we do now with magazines and tv shows, so they probably would have just bought the cheapest knife-looking instrument available.

We live in a different age, where we all have access to all the equipment and information of any "professional" field we want. I think the 8 inch chef's knife is the anomaly of history, not the utility knife. 8 inch chef's knives are the in-between knife in all reality if you ask me. Too small to make easy work of a big chunk of protein, and too fatiguing for a pile of vegetable. I think a 10 inch chef's knife and an 8 inch utility is the proper kitchen setup. When you have those and start to use them, it becomes clear what the SUV style home knives lack, and why they don't get used.

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