What Exactly Is a Carving Knife? Do You Need One? And Which One Should You Get?

updated Nov 8, 2023
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Man carves the roasted turkey on platter during Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Vegetables and trimmings around turkey.
Credit: fstop123 | Getty Images

“When it comes to recommending specific gear for Thanksgiving, for the most part I actually prefer not to,” says Sharon Franke, one of Kitchn’s go-to gear pros. “I hate telling people they need to buy something special, knowing they’ll only use it once a year — twice, at best.” And honestly, all the editors on Kitchn’s staff totally agree with her.

But, of course, there’s an exception to every rule. And we all agree that this exception happens to be a carving knife and fork.

“If you’re hosting Thanksgiving and plan on serving turkey, you kind of do need to make this purchase,” Sharon says. “Yes, you could get away with using a chef’s knife and a giant serving fork, but a specialized set really will make the task at hand easier.”

What’s a carving knife? Who makes the best carving knife out there? And what the heck is a slicing knife? With Thanksgiving dinner only a couple of weeks away, we thought we should take some time explaining these things.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

What’s the Difference Between a Carving and a Slicing Knife?

This is a great question because you may see companies use these terms interchangeably. But they are technically different. Let’s take a look.

Carving knives have long, narrow blades that taper to a sharp point. They’re thin and flexible so that they can get into all the turkey’s nooks and crannies — around bones and cartilage — to cut out every last bit of meat. In addition to turkey, a carving knife can be used for chicken, a leg of lamb, ham, and more.

Slicing knives have a similar long and narrow blade but instead of that sharp point, they have rounded tip. It’s great for, you guessed it, slicing! That long blade helps you make even slices of even the largest roasts. If you’re going to get just one, we vote for the carving knife (and a fork, which usually comes with it) because it will be the most versatile for what you need.

Should a Carving Knife Be Serrated?

We can see why you’d think that a carving knife should be serrated, but most aren’t. And we prefer it that way. Because the serrations (little teeth or scallops) can actually tear the meat as you slice, and then you don’t end up with pretty, smooth, pieces. A straight, sharp blade will slice through meat like butter and leave you with a perfectly clean cut every time.

What Is the Best Knife for Carving Turkey?

Our very top pick is this 2-piece set from J.A. Henckels because it includes a carving knife and a fork, which is long and narrow to give you a good grip on the bird and help guide the knife. And because it’s relatively inexpensive compared to other options out there.

From Sharon, who also picks this set: “The knife blade is constructed of one piece of stainless steel that extends into the handle, which is riveted on to keep it firmly in place. While these pieces look like serious cutting tools, they’re also attractive enough if you like to do the Norman Rockwell thing and carve at the table. The blade is long and sturdy enough to make those beautiful, wide slices of white meat but is also nimble enough to work around the bones when you’re cutting off the wings, drumsticks, and thighs. These utensils are easy enough to wash by hand but if you’re the type who likes to put everything in the dishwasher, they’ll take the heat.”

While you may be tempted to go with something even cheaper, we don’t suggest it. A $15 or $20 set might not be sturdy enough to give you good control or include a blade that glides smoothly. Plus, there’s the chance that it will only last through one Thanksgiving. Want some other suggestions? Here are two others we love.

This set is pretty, budget-friendly, and does its job. We honestly didn’t pick it as our first choice because we’ve grown to trust and love the Henckels brand so much over the years, but we do support this one too.

If you’re looking to make an investment on a set that you can use for countless Thanksgivings to come, go with this Wüsthof set. It is ridiculously sharp (sharper than other knives out there!) and easy to maneuver for novices and pros, alike. It is NOT cheap, though, so this is more for someone who is serious about meat and plans to host holidays for many years to come.

Do you have a carving knife you swear by? We want to hear all about it! Tell us about your favorite finds in the comments below.