Last Updated Feb 2023 – There’s a lot of personal preference involved in any sort of kitchen knife. Boning knives are no exception: while there are some general tips we can give, you’ll want to pick a knife that fits your kitchen and cooking style.
Boning knives are used in the second stage of processing meat. Once you’re done working with your cleaver to make rough cuts, you’ll break out your boning knife to remove bones and other unusable bits.
Boning knives are used to skin some meats, and their thin, flexible blades are handy when it comes to butterflying fillets and performing some other cuts.
They should NOT be used to actually cut bones of any real thickness. While they’re designed to resist damage from the occasional graze, you’ll quickly damage your knife if you start trying to chop through a pig femur. Choose something more appropriate for the task.
Traditional boning knives are long and flexible. The tips of these knives are fairly thin. They’re designed to slide in between a bone and the surrounding muscle with a minimum of effort. The flexibility means that the knife will follow the easiest path through the meat and separate connective tissue without any micromanagement.
While the tips of these knives are thin, the base tends to be quite a bit thicker, allowing you to make tougher cuts without any fear of damaging your knife.
To support this paradigm of use, are deliberately made of a softer metal. Manufacturers tend to shoot for about a 55 on the Rockwell hardness scale. While this means you won’t maintain a super sharp edge easily, it also means that you don’t mind grazing bone occasionally as you work with the knife.
There’s very little risk of you damaging your knife. Most chefs don’t sharpen their boning knives to the same polished edge you might expect. They’ll settle for just sharp enough instead — often settling on a 2,000 grit stone.
If you plan to use your knife as more of a filet tool or you don’t think you’ll see much pork or beef in your kitchen, this might seem a little crazy to you. Look for a less traditional boning knife that’s made of 60+ hardness steel and has an edge that’s a bit less flexible. As long as you avoid bones, you’ll do just fine and you’ll have a much sharper edge that supports the style of cut you prefer.
With both traditional knives and more modern filet knives, be especially mindful of the handle type. Many boning knives have skinny blades and fat handles. This can quickly result in your hand slipping onto the base of the blade if you’re not careful.
Be sure to carefully investigate the type of grip that each knife has and make sure it fits with your paradigm of use. If you’re going to be making stabbing motions, make sure that there’s some sort of stop to help prevent your greasy fingers from sliding onto the blade.
In order to get you started on your search, here are our 3 favorite knives on the market today:
– DALSTRONG Boning Knife – Gladiator Series
We think Dalstrong has the best knives on the market right now. This isn’t a claim we make lightly. Dalstrong knives are equal in quality to anything coming out of Shun or Wusthof, if not better.
More importantly, they tend to be quite a bit cheaper, depending on where you’re located. We’re frankly blown away with how consistently excellent these knives are.
The Gladiator series boning knife has a 6″ blade and is a bit soft, coming in at 55 on the Rockwell scale. It holds an edge reasonably well, although you’ll have problems sharpening the curved base on a whetstone. The knife has just the right amount of bend. It’ll curve a few inches in either direction with a bit of pressure while remaining fairly solid.
The handle on this knife is absolutely our favorite feature. It’s got a full, thick pakkawood handle sandwiching a full tang. The handle feels more like a chef’s knife or other full sized knives than a boning knife.
The weight and balance are excellent. The blade has a generous bolster to keep your hand from slipping accidentally. It’s a welcome inclusion, but it hardly seems necessary. This is one of the most comfortable, secure handles on the market.
Dalstrong offers a lifetime warranty on all of their knives. Each knife comes with a sheath to protect the knife in the case, a polishing cloth, and a fancy magnetic cardboard box that’s honestly nice enough to store the knife in the long-term.
If you want a traditional flexible boning knife, we think this is your best pick.
The Shun Killer
If you’re more into the harder, sharper end of things, check out the Dalstrong Shogun boning knife instead. It’s a fair bit harder (62 Rockwell units) and less flexible. While the handle isn’t quite identical, it offers the same thick, comfortable grip as the Gladiator series.
The blade itself has a similar S-curve. Instead of a smooth German finish, however, it’s got patterend Damascus styling that will rival any Shun blade.
We think this is your best pick if you want something a bit harder and sharper than the Gladiator above.
– Wusthof Classic Ikon Fillet Knife
This beautiful traditional boning knife is the standard by which other knives are measured. It’s forged from German steel with a full tang and has a unique curved taper to help with difficult boning tasks. The knife comes with a beautiful leather sheath for storage. It’s equally at home in your kitchen or out in the field. You’ll have no problems processing big fish or game with this exquisite tool.
Wusthof’s classic line clocks in at a 58 on the Rockwell scale. This means it’ll hold an edge a bit longer than the Dalstrong Gladiator, but it’s also slightly more prone to being damaged. The thin, flexible blade is easy enough to manuver around bone that this shouldn’t be a problem.
With a wonderful contoured handle and a bolster designed to keep your fingers out of harm’s way, you’ll feel confident working with this knife for long periods of time in the kitchen.
This knife is an excellent choice for serious professionals and hardcore enthusiasts. If you’re looking for one of the best boning knives in the world, choose this Wusthof.
– Victorinox Cutlery Boning Knife – On the cheap side
Victorinox offers a number of related knives in various styles. You can get these knives with a curved or straight blade that’s flexible or stiff.
There’s a big difference between the Dalstrong options above and this family of knives. For one, the Dalstrong knives feature forged blades with full tangs and beautiful wood handles, while these Victorinox blades are made from machine stamped steel and have fibrox grips. They’re fantastically cheap, making them easy to dismiss as a budget option. While they certainly won’t break the bank, a ridiculously large number of American professionals choose to use these knives in their workplace.
This is paritally due to FDA regulations prohibiting knives with wooden handles. Higher end knife manufacturers don’t like putting “cheap” fibrox handles on their blades, so these Victorinox knives start looking quite nice when compared to the competition. If you’re actually using a knife all day, the softer synthetic handle is much more comfortable and ergonomic than a fancy wood handle.
Victorinox offers a lifetime quality guarantee with each knife. While they’re certainly much lighter than forged knives with a full tang, they’re extraordinarily durable and sharpen easily. You *shouldn’t* throw these in the dishwasher, but they’re cheap enough that you could probably get away with it.
If you’re not sure about this whole boning knife thing, you’re on a tight budget, or you need a knife for work, choose one of these Victorinoxes. You won’t regret it. They’re cheap enough that you can always come back and pick up a Dalstrong later if you feel like you need something fancier.
Let Your Kitchen Evolve
Whether you choose the Dalstrong Gladiator for dealing with pork ribs, a straight Victorinox for filleting chicken, or a Wusthof to impress your guests, remember that your preferences will grow and change over time.
Pay attention to the things that you like about your knife and the things you could live without. Does your knife struggle with handling certain types of meats or fish? Make a note of what kitchen tasks it handles best.
Your kitchen habits and preferences aren’t made of granite. Over time, you’ll expand your cooking horizons and try new dishes. You’ll learn new knife techniques that may change the way you value certain features in your knives.
When this happens, don’t be afraid to let your kitchen grow and change. Continually review your options and evaluate your tools in the context of your new habits and cooking repertoire. What may have been the best knife for you last year might be the second best today. When you realize this, don’t be afraid to pick up an additional boning knife!
Knives last for years and hold their value very well. You’ll have an extra set of cutlery to use when there’s another pair of hands in the kitchen, and you’ll have some tools to hand down to your kids when it’s time for them to move out.