No matter what you plan on smoking, you can be sure that you’ll have to chop, slice, trim or dice at some point.
While you could just grab a blunt old knife from your kitchen, the quality of your knives will determine whether your barbecue ends up looking as good as it tastes, or resembling roadkill, despite the hours of work you put in.
Luckily you don’t need to go nuts and spend upwards of $300 on a handcrafted Japanese steel knife. With just 3 knives you can assemble a knife collection that you could take on the barbecue competition circuit.
In this guide, we go through what knives are really essential for making barbecue, who makes the best knives on the market, and once you have a good knife, how to care for it.
Essential Knives for Barbecuing
Let’s cut to the chase. When it comes to barbecuing, you don’t need a draw full of knives to cover your every slicing and dicing need. In fact, with the 3 types of knives we have listed below, even at the competition level, you will have everything covered.
The Boning Knife
The boning knife has a thin, stiff, sharp blade with a narrow point. A boning knife also has a thick handle that allows for a firm grip when slicing through fat.
What it is used for:
A boning knife is actually very versatile despite its name. While it was designed to remove bones (for example if you need to butterfly a leg of lamb), it’s a great knife for trimming off fat and tidying up meat.
The knife’s design ensures that this can be done with clean, precise cuts.
In the video below you can see how Aaron uses the boning knife to remove the plastic and trim the fat off the brisket.
When trimming ribs, for example, the boning knife can be used to trim up the smaller bone end, to remove the skirt piece and to remove the chine bone, or backbone.
A boning knife can also be used to trim down the fat cap on briskets, and is great for removing smaller fiddly bones such as those found in chicken and fish.
Why essential: From removing fishbones to trimming ribs and tidying up briskets, there are many situations in which you will be reaching for a boning knife.
The slicing knife has a long blade, which is sometimes slightly curved at the tip. Others have a rounded end. Some slicing knives will have hollows in the blade where air, fats, and juices accumulate. This promotes smooth movement through the meat and prevents it from tearing.
What it is used for:
While this knife can be used to slice pretty much any type of meat, such as sausage, pork belly, or ribs, it really comes into its own when you wish to slice bigger pieces of meat such as brisket or ham. The long, sharp blade means you can make these cuts in one go.
In the video below you can see how easy the slicing knife makes carving up a brisket.
The outcome is beautifully cut slices, with no jagged edges.
The long, sharp blade of the slicing knife makes this knife an essential part of your arsenal, especially if you are hoping to cut thin, clean slices of meat.
The chef’s knife has a thicker, almost triangular shaped blade, with a pointy end. Sometimes these knives will have a scalloped blade.
What it is used for:
Useful in just about any kitchen setting, a chef’s knife is ideal for cutting, chopping, slicing, and trimming. With a deeper blade than the other knives we have mentioned, it is perfect for cutting into thicker items.
Being so versatile, this knife will round out your barbecue knife collection.
Knives that are nice to have
While you can easily get by with just the above 3 knives, these tools are super useful and you’ll find yourself reaching for them time and again.
With a thick, heavy blade, the cleaver is great for breaking up the meat fibers using a chopping action. The thick blade also comes in handy when tackling thicker slabs of meat that simply need to be chopped, rather than trimmed and tidied.
Resembling a heavy duty pair of scissors, these come in particularly handy when trimming chicken and tidying up fat.
Best Barbecue Knives
Now that you know exactly what type of knives you need, let’s check out some great knives that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
In case you are wondering, we don’t recommend knife sets. You can’t control what is included in the set, and nobody wants to pay for “filler” items that are useless and/or bad quality.
Best boning knife for trimming and prepping barbecue
Despite the affordable price tag, this knife performs like a much higher end piece of equipment. Dexter Russell is a trusted brand and always lives up to its reputation as a manufacturer of quality knives.
“These Dexter Russell basics line of knives are perfect for barbecue because they are inexpensive and very durable”.
What we like:
- This knife comes sharp and ready to use. You will not need to rush out and learn how to sharpen a knife straight away (although this is a still a skill you will want to master) as this knife will maintain its sharpness for a long time.
- When it does come time to sharpen, you won’t have any trouble getting a razor edge.
This knife is perfect for fine tasks requiring precision, such as removing silverskin. It is also up to scratch for heavier duty jobs like preparing meat before smoking.
We have heard the odd report of this knife rusts quickly, but so long as you follow our knife care guide later in this post and avoid cleaning your knives in the dishwasher this shouldn’t happen to you.
All in all, a very affordable knife that delivers great quality for the price.
A great slicing knife for carving your cooked barbecue
Victorinox is a well established company, and its knives are used by many professionals in the culinary world. While the price tag is a little higher than other slicing knives, if you barbecue regularly, you will be thankful many times over that you invested in such a quality knife.
You can expect excellent performance from this knife whether you are slicing hot, cold, soft or bony meat. Really, there is no task it does not perform with ease.
What we like:
- The long 12-inch blade means you can cut briskets and hams with one smooth stroke, without the need for multiple cuts. This ensures your expertly smoked meat not only tastes great, but looks amazing.
- This knife has a “Granton” blade, meaning it has scallops that create air pockets. This makes for added ease of use, as the meat does not stick to the blade as it slices through.
Made from high quality, yet lightweight European stainless steel, this knife is crafted in Switzerland. It comes with a lifetime guarantee against manufacturing defects.
Best all around chef’s knife for general kitchen work
We have already established that Victorinox make great knives, and this chef’s knife is yet another example.
Chef’s knives are so versatile in the kitchen that having a quality one is pretty well a must if you take cooking seriously. While we really aren’t here to talk about chopping watermelons or pumpkins, if you need to do that, this knife is up to the job.
What we like:
- Victorinox have balanced the characteristics of the steel in this knife perfectly. It is soft enough to sharpen easily, yet hard enough to hold the edge.
- This knife is made of lightweight steel, which comes as a surprise to some, as is just as tough as its competitors, which are made of heavier steel.
What we don’t like:
- There are a couple of issues with the handle on this knife, but not what you would expect. On some knives the handle stinks – literally. Those who have experienced this complain that the smell transfers to their hand after use, and no amount of washing seems to remove the smell from the handle.
- Another complaint about the handle is that it does not join flush with the metal, meaning there is a small gap where nasties could potentially collect and grow. However, if you care for your knife properly, this shouldn’t be a problem.
If you can stretch your budget then the Rosewood handle is a really nice upgrade. The metal runs right through the handle of the knife, and is riveted to the beautiful rosewood handle in 3 places. This knife is not going to fall apart any time soon.
Rosewood is a strong, heavy and durable timber. Therefore, not only is the handle an attractive feature of the knife, but it will not crack, discolour or corrode.
This knife is made from high quality materials by a company that knows their knives. The price tag is by no means exorbitant, making it well worth a look.
Value for money meat cleaver
This cleaver is great value for money. With a 100% stainless steel blade, this cleaver is lightweight yet strong. It is quite possible that this cleaver ends up being your go-to knife for many a task. Plus, nothing says “don’t mess with me” like wielding a cleaver.
What we like:
This knife comes in a great box, which is an added bonus if you are buying it as a gift. It is sharp on arrival, and the blade holds its edge well.
For a knife that could easily be heavy and cumbersome, it is lightweight and the wooden handle is comfortable, making it a pleasure to use.
The quality of the blade is such that it can cut through chicken without shattering the bones, and is equally as effective when dicing vegetables.
What we don’t like:
We have heard reports that this knife has a weak spot where the blade and the handle meet, meaning that for some, the handle has snapped off. On further inspection, this is because the handle is attached to the blade with a long screw, so this knife does not have a full tang blade.
While this is a concern with budget priced knives, many who use this knife still love it and have not experienced this issue.
Best value versatile kitchen shears
These kitchen shears are very affordable. While we stated that kitchen shears are more of an “optional extra” in the barbecuing toolkit, at such a small cost, they are an option worth considering.
This particular brand also includes a bottle opener and nutcracker on the shears. While these features are slightly off topic, we think you would agree that a few handfuls of nuts and a drink tend to go hand in hand with a barbecue.
What we like:
These shears are well made and heavy duty. They can tackle cartilage and small bones with ease, not to mention other, and possibly irrelevant household tasks, such as cutting cardboard and trimming the roses. Although you might want a second pair to do that kind of stuff.
The blades come sharp, and the handle is comfortable and sturdy.
What we don’t like:
These shears aren’t really designed to pull apart for washing, and while it is claimed you can do it, it seems to be too much of a hassle for most people, with many opting to leave them in one piece to wash them.
All in all a very cheap and versatile pair of kitchen shears.
An electric meat slicer can also be a worthwhile option, but we have a different guide on the best meat slicers for home use.
Caring For Your Barbecue Knives
Once you have invested in some decent knives, you are going to want to care for them properly so they go the distance. Here are some top tips to make sure you get the best out of your knives.
- Don’t put your knives in the dishwasher. This should be common knowledge but every time I have a guest over and they offer to wash up I end up having to swoop in at the last second to rescue my nice knives from the dishwasher. The heat and the harsh chemicals will damage them. Always hand wash your good knives.
- Get a honing steel and use it each time before you start to use your knife.
- Try and cut in a straight, smooth action, and avoid twisting and bending the blade.
- As tempting as it may be when you notice a loose screw on your smoker, do not use your knife as a backyard tool/screwdriver!
- Make sure you dry your knife thoroughly before you put it away. Using a paper towel might even be a good idea, as dishcloths can hold a bit of moisture and leave your knife damp and prone to rust.
- If you do notice some rust on your blade, clean it of as soon as possible to stop it spreading. Use rust cleaner, or a rust eraser if the rust is a little heavier.
- Use a wood or bamboo chopping board and avoid the plastic ones that blunt your knives.
Sharpening Your Knives
Even good quality knives will need to be sharpened regularly. However, you don’t need to be a professional knife sharpener to keep your knives sharp. There are plenty of products out there that you will find helpful.
These have been around for a while, and have stood the test of time as an inexpensive, easy way to keep your knives sharp.
Simply hold your knife straight and drag it from base to tip across the Croc Stick. As you bring the knife towards you, move it down the stick from top to bottom. Repeat on the other side of the blade with the other stick.
You can buy Croc Sticks in fine and medium grit. For barbecue knives, fine grit should be all you need.
Being such a simple product, there is little that can go wrong when using crock sticks to keep your knives sharp. Aside from cutting yourself of course. We recommend wearing a mesh glove while sharpening.
Japanese Water Stones
These will really take your knives to the next level of sharpness. By that I mean, slicing up paper sharp. And if you master this skill, you may have some of your friends lining up asking you to sharpen their knives too.
The Japanese take their knives, and their knife sharpening skills, pretty seriously. Check out this video by makesushi.org to see how it is done.
Pull through sharpeners
This is a controversial inclusion. Pull through sharpeners are quick and easy, yes. But if you have invested in a seriously good knife, then you might cop a bit of flack for using one of these.
To use one is easy enough. Simply pull the knife through the sharpener from the base of the knife to the tip. Pull through sharpeners will do the trick, and many users are happy with the result. But commonly these sharpeners will nick the blade, or take off too much metal.
Pull through sharpeners might be a good option for old, dull or cheap knives, but if you are considering some good quality knives, it might be a good idea to master one of the techniques mentioned above.
Don’t forget to regularly hone your knives, which is a very different process to sharpening.
Understanding the different parts of a knife
It can be helpful to understand what the different parts of a knife are called, and what perpose they serve.
Wrapping it up
Have you enjoyed this article on choosing and caring for barbecue knives? With knives ranging in price from a couple of dollars into the hundreds, it can be confusing to know how much cash you should be spending.
After putting hours into creating a delicious piece of smoked meat, you are no doubt keen to present a beautiful looking final product to your guests. If it has been ripped, torn and mangled by a blunt or jagged knife, it kind of takes the shine of the moment.
Do you have any tips on barbecue knives that you would like to share? Any more questions on buying and caring for your knives? Be sure to let us know in the comments below. And if you found this article helpful, be sure to share.