Knives made to work with meats come in various shapes and sizes. Amateur chefs can struggle to distinguish between many of them, especially those with a similar purpose. Take the case of a boning knife and a fillet knife. Both look the same to the casual eye yet are dedicated to separate tasks in the kitchen. Does this mean you can't use a filleting knife on lamb, or a boning knife on a side of salmon, definitely not. It comes down to personal preference and the types of tasks you are looking to do.
So whether you’re looking to augment your toolkit or buy one for a friend, here is the definitive guide to explain the differences between a boning and fillet knife.
What is a Boning Knife?
As the name suggests, boning knives should be used for removing meat from bones. Their thin blade’s sharpness and moderate flexibility make them indispensable for any kitchen that works with raw meats. A boning knife can help you separate the meat from the bone in tricky places like the joints and necks.
While the blade seems slim, it is strong enough to debone chicken, beef, and turkey. The width of the blade means that amateur chefs can use it safely and effectively. For its size, you can get a lot of cuts from a single boning knife without much maintenance.
What is a Fillet Knife?
The word “fillet” comes from a French word that means “to remove.” Fillet knives are slim precision knives adored by professional chefs who work with meat. Those who work in high-end restaurants need a careful approach when removing bones from fish and fat from steaks.
You can easily manoeuvre fillet knives in softer meats since they have slim and lightweight blades. It is the ideal knife to remove the scales or skin off of a salmon within minutes. You can further divide fillet knives according to the type of steel used. There are variants with carbon steel, although stainless steel is the most popular choice.
Boning Knife and Fillet Knife: What's the Difference?
The casual eye may not make out a boning knife from a fillet knife, yet there are several differences you can consider when looking at them side by side.
Shape of the Blade
A boning knife's blade is 5 to 7 inches (12.7 to 17.8 cm) long and broadens at a slight angle towards the handle. It allows smoother movement when running the knife across a tough bone like a turkey or prime rib.
The blade of a fillet knife is comparatively slimmer and flexible. It stretches 5 to 9 inches (12.7 to 22.8 cm) ahead of the handle. The curvature makes it easier to work around fish bones and remove softer materials such as cartilage and skin.
A boning knife can help you remove the meat off the bone easily, but it can also double up as a fillet knife, albeit with less precision. Its non-serrated blade can easily cut through the fat, muscle, or connecting tissue, so soft fish bones and cartilage are not a problem.
Similarly, you can use a fillet knife for filleting and deboning meat. Although, the latter is not usually recommended. It puts a lot of physical pressure on the blade, making it flex or even break. Furthermore, your hand can tire out quickly since the flexible blade will demand a lot more energy to cut through the tissue.
Weight of the knife
A fillet knife will be much lighter in your hands, weighing around 4.2 to 4.6 oz. (119 to 130 grams). It is primarily due to the flexibility of the blade. Combined with its slim design, the knife is highly manoeuvrable and can make cuts within short spaces, for example, the spine of a halibut.
A boning knife is a bit heavier. A typical piece can weigh around 5.4 oz. (153 grams). It is much sturdier and requires a firmer grip to work around a meat piece. However, the design also makes performing more straightforward deboning strokes without tiring out your hand, provided you apply an appropriate technique.
The Sharpness of the Blade
Boning knives have the maximum sharpness of the blade at the tip. It allows the user to pierce through thick meat pieces without much effort. The side's edge is also sharp, but not so much as a fillet knife. Most boning knives have a sharpened angle of 15-18 degrees, which balances sharpness with durability.
The cutting edge of the fillet knife is where it is the sharpest. Most knives have an edge 12 to 15 degrees lower than the rest of the blade. It allows for improved cutting action while diverting the removed material away from the knife, keeping the blade clean during operation.
A fillet knife is an ideal choice if you want a precise cut. The curved, slim blade can work along sides of fish or long cuts of meat, providing the user with a quality cut without wasting any meat.
For those looking to debone meats extensively, boning knives are the perfect solution. Their straight edge is more convenient to work along the large bone portions. With boning knives, it's all about speed. They are faster in removing a huge volume of meat from the bone but can leave fat and muscles on, reducing the cut's quality. Boning knives are best around joints and connective muscle groups, where the smaller blade can be articulated easier than the longer filleting knife.
A boning knife doesn't go dull until after a few weeks of continued use. You can notice a few spots on the blade that indicate that it will not be effective for long. Still, sharpening it is a pretty straightforward process, and you can store it with other cutlery in your inventory without worrying about humidity or reactive wear.
On the flip side, a fillet knife requires careful handling. You not only need to observe the sharpness but the integrity of the blade as well. Bending it too much can weaken it from the inside, which can be impossible to spot. Moreover, the alloy of the fillet knife can get damaged when stored with other cutlery. It is best to keep fillet knives in a blade box or use a magnetic strip close to the working area.
There is a significant difference in the handle type of a boning and fillet knife. A boning knife typically has a broad handle that allows the entire hand to wrap around. It provides a good grip when deboning sizeable chunks from a chicken or turkey.
A filler knife has a shorter handle with a slight curve. Its shape allows resting the thumb near the blade and gives more control during removal. Wood handles work well for both boning and fillet knives, though you can get variants with composite or resin handles as well.
Most commercial butchery knives will come in a composite handle material to stop slipping and to prevent bacteria build up from handling meats.
Type of Tip
The boning knife has a curved tip to easily pierce through tough meat, whereas a fillet knife has a straight tip to assist in the easier removal of softer tissue.
The Material Used for the Knife
Fillet knives are usually made from high-carbon steel or high-carbon stainless steel. Boning knives typically have stainless steel, although more expensive versions with high-carbon steel are also available.
A boning knife has a satin, stainless finish that makes its edge sharp and shines last long. Fillet knives have a smoother finish, often contoured and waxed to give their signature texture.
Which Knife Should You Choose: Boning or Fillet?
It depends on the food you plan to cook. A boning knife can cater to your needs at much lower costs if you are into heavier cuts like beef and chicken. In contrast, a fillet knife will serve you better if you often need precise cuts, especially for seafood like bass and halibut. It can be more expensive, but you're paying the premium for the better quality of cuts.
Boning knives are:
- Great around joints and connective muscles
- Have a rigid spine and curved tip
- Mostly have composite handles
Filleting knives are:
- Straighter and more flexible
- Best suited to long slicing cuts
- Tend to have slimmer handles and longer blades.