HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >


Fish fillet knife

What's the ideal shape and flexibility for a fish fillet knife?

When its salmon season, I tend to find that Costco has the best price for sockeye salmon during their Costco Seafood Road Shows. But, you have to buy the whole salmon, minus the head and guts, and you're on your own after that- you have to scale it and break it down yourself and remove the pinbones.

I've bought a whole salmon before from Costco, and tried to break it down with a chef's knife but I ended up leaving so much meat on the bones. To avoid that waste, I figure I should get a fish fillet knife. Right now, I'm leaning towards getting a Forschner knife to break down fish. But, I'm confused by all the different shapes they come in as to which shape would be the best to break down salmon and fishes smaller than that.

In terms of flexibility, I noticed that the Forschner fillet knives ranged in flexibility from very flexible to flexible to stiff: http://www.osograndeknives.com/Victor...

I thought the main difference between boning and fillet knives was the flexibility, but I must be wrong because there's stiff fillet knives as well as flexible boning knives. Could you use a flexible boning knife to break down fish?

And, then, in terms of shape, I see that some variations in shapes for fillet knives. Some are straight along the spine like this: http://www.osograndeknives.com/Victor...

While these cimitars have an exagerrated curve along the spine:

When would you want to use a knife that's straight along the spine and when would you want to use a cimitar shaped knife? And, would you recommend getting a cimitar with or without those graton edges?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Proper technique is just as important as the proper knife.The Japanese use a deba(for the most part),a heavy duty, single beveled knife that makes short work of any fish,head and all.European and North American fish mongers use(for the most part) a flexy or semi flexy boning knife with the same results,minus lopping off the head.

    I'm sure others will chime in with a more detailed answer..
    There's some great youtube videos out there.

    1. I keep a Rapala folding fillet knife in my camping gear
      A fishing tackle shop or section of a sports store (even Walmart) will have fillet knives like this.

      Or if you want pretty Finnish knife

      1. I wrote my long response, and then I lost it. Anyway, just want to say this for now. The flexibility of a filet knife is more important for removing meat from the skin, than from removing meat from the bone.


        4 Replies
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          I can remove the skin from fish easier with my gyoto(or any other knife for that matter as long as it's sharp) easier than a fillet knife.

          To the OP

          I now use a deba knife for all fish and it is so much easier once you get the hang of it and it leaves virtually no meat left on the fish when you are done. It is also easier to clean fish if you leave the guts intact.

          1. re: Dave5440

            "I can remove the skin from fish easier with my gyoto"

            I know, but the whole flexibility thing is a preference for removing skin for certain people. In my opinion, the flexibility aspect is pretty useless (and counterproductive) for anything else. I mean why would anyone wants a knife flexes and springs around as they cut. It just sounds dangerous.

            You are really getting me interested in getting a deba.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              The flexibility really is a hindrance for skin removal, if your knife is sharp and flexible you really have to be carefull to make sure it's flat as you run it along. If you push down to hard(as you do with a dull knife) the tip flares up from the bend point and cuts into the meat and either leaves it on the skin or splits it length wise.
              The offer is still open to try my deba out for you and petek

              1. re: Dave5440

                "The offer is still open to try my deba out for you and petek"

                Actually, my real limitation is less about buying a deba. It is more about I don't go fishing and have not had the need to buy whole salmons.

                I am seeing a lot of cool applications of deba on smaller fishes. Maybe I will start with those.

                I have just seen a pretty cool and simply recipe of "Vinegared Mackerel"

        2. Cimetars or breaking knives are commonly used as the first step to "break" down large fish. The tuna fisherman in SoCal love the Forschner 40538


          After cutting the fillet from the spine a long thin flexible knife is called for if removing the meat from the skin. A long slicer can work also.

          Other cuts the same knife can suffice.


          2 Replies
          1. re: knifesavers

            Here's a video of someone breaking down a striped bass with a mioroshi deba.


            Awesome knife..great technique..

            1. re: knifesavers

              I'm one of those SoCal tuna fisherman and I have that exact knife. It has broken down hundreds of tuna, yellow tail and dorado.

              I also have this one, which is good for filleting rockfish and bass:


            2. Hi, hobbess:

              If you're breaking down salmon and larger fish, a longer stiff scimitar-type blade is a semi-necessity. But a flexible fillet knife is a necessity (for me anyway) to do certain things well, e.g., fillet a salmon from the *top*, leaving the fish joined at the belly. The flexy blade excels at not only skinning, but removing the abdominal cavity lining and following bone lines.

              If you're shopping for the best, you might want to try a Phil Wilson. The man really knows his stuff, and has brought a lot of new steels into knifemaking. http://www.seamountknifeworks.com/ind...

              PS: IMO, a flexible boning knife *is* a fillet knife, albeit with a European profile.

              4 Replies
              1. re: kaleokahu

                First time I have to disagree with you Kaleokahu, flexible not needed, I'm about the most resistant to change there is but once I tried a deba, no looking back. But I do find it most difficult to do the right side of a fish(where you have to start at the tail and work forward) and I was happy to see the guy in the video the pete linked to had the same problem
                Phils knifes are awesome

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  So, if a flexible boning knife *is* a fillet knife, would you prefer to use a flexible boning knife or a flexible fillet knife to break down fish?

                  I was looking again at pictures between the two and saw that their shape/profile is slightly different and I'm curious how/why one shape/profile is better than the other for fish.

                  1. re: hobbess

                    A breaking is firmer than a typical fillet. There are firm fillets that are similar in stiffness. A firmer knife is better for cutting around the gills or steaking a big fish than a bendy fillet.

                    Lots of blades that can cover the same ground.

                    I used an old Chicago Cutlery 10" breaking knife to cut down a turkey at Thanksgiving.


                    1. re: hobbess

                      Hi, hobbess:

                      I like that the flexy knives can and do bend in filleting around the abdominal cavity. You can impart a little curve in the blade as you move it. Personally, I like the the trailing point profiles better than the Euro "boning" knife profile--I think the former puts more of the cutting edge to work where you need it, whereas the Euro design is cutting mostly out toward the tip.

                      Bear in mind that the flexy profile I'm calling the Euro also serves pretty well for poultry and meat, the upswept profile a little less so, IMO.


                  2. hobbess, in the mid 90s I had a Boston Whaler Montauk and fished almost once a week along the San Francisco coast. At that time Salmon was very plentiful.

                    It wasn't unheard of to get Salmon limits of 2 per person within a couple of hours. I cleaned, steaked, and fileted a lot of Salmon, ling cods, and some halibut.

                    I agree with knifesavers recommendation. I used a Forschner Breaking knife and Victorinox filet knife. The Forschner Breaking knife was used for removing the head and fins, steaking, and the first step of fileting-removing the filet from the backbone. The 2nd step, to remove the filet from the skin-I used a Victorinox filet knife.

                    Both knives are 8 inches although many times I wish I had a longer knife on the 15+ pounders we sometimes caught. I think with the Salmon size that Costco sells (mostly less than 10 pounders) the 8 inch knives would be OK.

                    I now use the Breaking knife to prep whole poultry or ribs and just used the filet knife today to process tofu into smaller steak like slices.

                    I have never used a Deba but I can attest that the above mentioned knives are used by fishermen and fishmongers.

                    btw, after fileting and with any meat left on the backbone we usually also cook that as well and when cooked scrap off the meat from the bones so that little goes to waste.

                    1. I live in Michigan and have fileted a lot of Lake Michigan salmon. The large scimitar knives available at any good tackle shop are fine for the initial cleaning at the marina. For breaking down a fish purchased at Cosco, the Chicago Cutlery #78S works just fine. No need to spend big bucks for a utility knife that you won't be using every day.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: SonyBob

                        Provided you can find an old CC 78s fillet. Those old CC made here in the USA were respectable blades the new CCs I have seen are underwhelming.

                        I have an old 45s breaking knife in the recondition rack that I will keep.


                        1. re: knifesavers

                          i visited the tsukiji fish market in tokyo. they were wheeling around tuna that looked like torpedos and breaking them down with what looked like swords. local area had knife shops but this was one place nobody seemed to speak english.
                          i don't know what my mom does with a fish head but she turns it into excellent soup.

                          1. re: divadmas

                            i visited the tsukiji fish market in tokyo. they were wheeling around tuna that looked like torpedos and breaking them down with what looked like swords
                            That's a Maguro. No practical application other than breaking down very large fish and they are VERY expensive. Here's a small one.



                      2. The Breaking knife or scimitar is killer fish knife. Wusthoff and Victorinox both make very nice options for this. I would not want one with a granton edge.

                        Unlike others I don't want a particularly sharp knife for skinning fish. A super sharp knife glides through the skin too easily. This can be a problem as when you pull the skin back you must keep the blade tipped down a titch towards the skin. For me this means that my Gyutos are a no go for this task.

                        I do keep both stiff boning and fillet knives in my kit.

                        What you use really gets down to personal preference. Some one mentioned the Rapala filleting knife and for $20 and a little time on a stone it's pretty amazing what those can do. They are a steal in the value department. If you want boning knives made in the USA look up Lambson but they run about the same price point as Wusthoff.

                        I'm not a fan of the Deba or any single bevel knife for breaking down fish. I find them to be more of a pain than they are worth not only with the steel but the bevel bias itself. Then there is the cost. A decent deba starts at $300. You can find them for a few hundred bucks but you really need to know how to open the knife or you have to add that cost for a professional sharpener to open the knife for you. Single bevel knifes should really be avoided by those who are not skilled free hand sharpeners (IMO). The cheaper Debas I have seen are OK at best to get some one started but for most they should be avoided. They really have nothing in common with less costly SS western style knives in construction, maintenance or cost.


                        1 Reply
                        1. re: TraderJoe

                          Dexter-Russell makes decent fillet knives at a good price, imo. They have worked acceptably for the fish I have caught.

                        2. I have one of these:


                          Too many $$$, but it's a fantastic tool.