- The shape and number of serrations on a bread knife will affect how it cuts.
- Avoid bread knives that feature scalloped serrations.
- A longer blade creates less work.
Don’t be swayed by the siren song of those fancy and expensive knife sets. Most of us need only three quality kitchen knives. You’ll get by just fine with a chef’s knife for general chopping, a paring knife for hand-held precision, and a serrated knife — also known as a bread knife — for everything else.
Calling it a bread knife is really an injustice. It can do much more than cut even slices from loaves of bread with hard crusts. Think of all the hard-squishy combo types of food you encounter as you prepare meals. They’re easier to deal with when you can saw through them with a serrated knife.
There’s the seemingly unassailable pineapple for starters. Seasoned home cooks may think twice about using a very sharp knife to cut up vegetables with tough outer skins or rinds that will put up a fight. Even tomatoes are unable to put up any resistance against a bread knife. A serrated knife tames them for paper-thin slicing. The razor sharp blade of a straight-edged German carving knife is perfect for carving big pieces of brisket, but how often would you use a specialty knife like that? A bread knife makes a fine stand-in.
This essential piece of kitchen cutlery might be stuck with a name that associates it with just one type of food, but the serrated edge gives it the power to do much more than slide bread.
The Best Bread Knife Has a Specific Serrated Edge
A serrated bread knife’s jagged edge makes it the right choice for cutting through foods with a hard exterior and a soft interior — like a crusty loaf of bread. The teeth of a bread knife sink into the surface of what you’re cutting. The blade continues to slice smoothly as you use a saw-like motion. Nothing works better on bread. If you were to use a sawing motion with the sharp edge of your chef’s knife, you’d likely end up compressing the soft interior of the bread as you try to cut through the crust.
A bread knife’s serrated edge has chiseled gullets — moon-shaped and beveled indentations. They are more precise and less destructive than a saw blade’s angled teeth. Gullets cut without ripping or tearing. There’s less friction, and the flat blade travels in the direction you push or pull it.
Serrated blades are effective on food that’s hard — like a crusty loaf of bread — or squishy and slippery. Yes, Mister Tomato. We’re talking about you. A serrated knife can pierce into the skin of a tomato more easily than anything except for a seriously sharp chef’s or santoku knife.
Plus a bread knife rarely requires sharpening, especially when compared with the non-serrated knives in your kitchen that will need to be sharpened every six months or so. This is because the sawing motion of serrated blades means they’re not put through the same demanding chopping tasks as, say, a chef’s knife. The sharp points of the bread knife do the hard work while the indentations glide through the food.
The best bread knives share a common type of serration that make them more efficient at cutting.
Types of Serrations
The shape and number of serrations on a bread knife will affect how it cuts. Some bread knives have scalloped tips that are beveled. They resemble clouds instead of teeth. Others feature more aggressive concave and beveled “bites” that come to sharp points. Some bread knives have a greater number of small serrations, while others reduce the number in favor of wider gullets.
Wider gullets have one of the biggest impacts on how a bread knife performs. The size of the gullet determines how smoothly the knife travels while it cuts. Bigger and wider gullets produce greater cuts, allowing easier travel for the blade. This is your best choice.
A serrated knife also works well for grabbing and slicing thin layers of meat. Meat lovers sometimes prefer serrated steak knives for this reason. Misen offers both serrated and smooth steak knife varieties.
The shape of a serrated knife blade will affect its performance and how you use it. You can see this clearly in the three distinct shapes that are commonly found in bread knives.
- Offset: The serrated blade extends and then drops an inch or two below the handle. The design gives you knuckle clearance so your fingers are not dragging along the bread board when you make that final saw cut to get through the bottom crust. These knives tend to be shorter in length – only 6-9 inches – so they can come up short, literally, if you’re slicing up a large loaf of bread. The offset shape can also make precise cutting difficult.
- Curved: You’ll appreciate this shape if you need knuckle clearance but want more control over the knife. The slight curve also allows you to use a rocking motion when cutting through vegetables or fruit.
- Flat: This is the most common and classic shape for a bread knife. The lack of any offset or curve allows you to make level cuts where the whole blade reaches the final destination at the same time.
What to Look For
A bread knife should have a thin blade made of high quality stainless steel. A 10-inch bread knife will offer you the most versatility because the serrated blade is long enough to take care of a large loaf of bread but still offers the dexterity you want to slice an eggplant. You’ll also spend less time sawing back and forth with a longer blade.
The thin long blade is an important characteristic because nearly all bread knives have beveled serrations on just one side. If the blade is thick, it can veer off to one side and you’ll end up with uneven slices. The thinner blade will also let you make skinny tomato slices.
Narrow your search to bread knives that are made of sturdy, high-carbon stainless steel. Once sharpened they will hold their angle longer than other types of steel. This is an important characteristic of serrated knives because they’re not as easy to resharpen. You’ll spend less time maintaining a bread knife made of high carbon steel.
Avoid bread knives that feature scalloped serrations. This design doesn’t let the blade immediately grab and pierce the crust, and the result is a lot of flaking and crumbs that end up on your cutting board. Wide and proportionately deep gullets that end in pointed tips allow the knife to do the work for you. More serrations are not better, and irregularly shaped gullets will be difficult to sharpen.
Form and Function
While some bread knife designs extend and drop the blade, the most common and popular versions feature a handle that’s in line with the blade. A bolster is an important safety feature because it acts as a protective shield to keep your fingers away from the blade’s serrations. Don’t confuse thick or bulky with protective. Look for a bolster that helps you use your thumb and forefinger to comfortably grasp and control the knife, like a sloped bolster.
A quality bread knife should also feel comfortably balanced in your hand. It shouldn’t feel as if the blade is heavier than the handle, or vice versa, as you grasp and prepare to use it. One of the biggest contributors to balance is a full tang, which means the steel of the knife extends all the way to the end of the handle. Often you have evidence of this because the handle is designed to let you see the steel from the tip of the blade to the butt of the handle.
You don’t want to lose control of your bread knife, so make sure to choose an ergonomic handle design that favors non-slip practicality over aesthetics.
All quality knives deserve hand washing. Resist the convenience even if the manufacturer tells you your bread knife is dishwasher safe.
Bread Knife Recipe Test
Are you hungry for a sandwich made of thin slices of overripe tomatoes on artisanal bread with extra-thick crunchy crust? It might not be the combo of your dreams, but a serrated knife that can handle tough outer bread crusts as well as past-their-prime tomatoes with equal aplomb deserves a place in your kitchen.
Epicurious tested a collection of serrated knives using bread and tomatoes. They declared the Misen serrated knife as the best overall bread knife. The 10-inch blade length, sloped bolster, quality Japanese steel, and the right amount of heft to handle both crusty bread and ripe tomatoes won their choice as the top pick.
Tomato knife? Nobody would know what you’re talking about. Serrated knife? You’d get some nods. Bread knife? Everybody knows it’s the knife with the teeth. It’s got a wider range of skills, but maybe it’s the best name. No matter what you call it, you need one for your kitchen.