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Jan 30, 2012 03:07 AM

Boning knife—Flex or Straight?

I'm interested in purchasing a boning knife, primarily to cut up chicken. I may, on occasion, be interested in using it to fillet fish but I probably buy a full chicken once every 1-2 weeks and buy a whole fish only a couple of times a year (though this may change).

My understanding is that a flexible boning knife is better for fish, and sometimes poultry, and a straight boning knife is better for heftier cuts of meat. But I've read comments and reviews indicating that some people prefer a flex boning knife for chicken while others like the control of a straight knife.

For those of you who use a boning knife for poultry, which type would you prefer or recommend?

I'm wondering whether I should go with the flex boning knife. I've been in a situation where it would have been nice to have a boning knife for filleting some fish. But perhaps even a straight boning knife would suffice for the occasional fish.

Thanks for your thoughts!

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  1. Usually the choices are between flexible vs stiff blade, and curved vs straight blade. I will assume you meant flexible vs stiff.

    I do use a boning knife for chicken, and I prefer a stiff one. I also use it for fish some time -- much rarer. A flexible boning knife (sometime refered as a filet knife) is a more specialized tool. It is particularly useful, when you want to remove the skin of a fish. You press and bend the flexible boning knife against the cutting board and slice it across the skin (skin side down). This is really where it shines. I won't even say a flexible boning knife is must for a fish.

    In fact, some people here can even talk to you about their experience of using a deba for deboning chicken and filet fish with a deba knife.

    1. I have several Dexter-Russell boning and filet knives. The only time I use the flexible blade is to filet fish. I think the 5" stiff/curved blade is about perfect for cutting up chickens.

      1 Reply
      1. re: kengk

        Same here. 6" straight blade for fish (stiff/flexible doesn't matter much to me) and 5" curved for chicken. You just don't need all that extra blade for chicken and I wish someone made an even shorter boning knife. I also use the 5" for trimming connective tissue from meats. Both are your basic restaurant quality stamped blades.

      2. I use a very stiff and fairly sturdy Japanese boning knife called a honesuki for chicken and fish. What I especially like about a honesuki is that it narrows to a very precise point for working in tight joints but also can cut right through chicken bones and fish necks due to the heel of the knife and its thickness. It's not great at removing skin from a fish fillet though, and for that job I use a thinner and longer gyuto (Japanese chefs knife) with no difficulty.

        Assuming you go with a Western boning knife, flexible vs stiff is mainly a matter of what 'feel' you prefer. As Chem said, a flexible knife makes it easier to skin a fillet, but that's it's only major advantage. A stiffer knife can be a little easier to control. Frankly, I don't see why a flexible boning knife would be advantageous for chicken unless you just prefer the feel of that kind of blade. You could get along fine with either one.

        If you don't already have a preference formed and don't see yourself buying fish a lot more often, I suspect you'll be slightly better served with a stiff boning knife.

        7 Replies
        1. re: cowboyardee

          I use my honesuki as well for chicken, fish and breaking down a roast for the reasons you've mentioned.

          I've read that a knife that's too sharp is not great for removing fish skin since it can cut through the skin if not held to the correct angle. I assume any knife will cut through the skin, just not as fast. I use my gyuto for skin removal but use to use a thin flexible boning knife which does a good job for skin removal due to it's flexibility.

          Do you hold your knife steady and pull the skin against the knife or visa versa?

          1. re: scubadoo97

            I hold the skin steady and slide the knife. Of note, my gyuto (the yusuke) is just a tiny bit flexible. My gyuto is pretty sharp - as such I can't hold the knife at a steep downward angle and scrape the flesh from the skin as easily as you might with a duller knife. It works well enough for me, though I'm not one of those guys who is absolutely masterful at filleting and skinning fish.

            1. re: cowboyardee

              "I'm not one of those guys who is absolutely masterful at filleting and skinning fish."

              I bet you hold your own.

              1. re: scubadoo97

                There's holding your own, and then there's...

                The embedded video is especially worth watching. He's another guy who prefers a knife that's not too sharp.

                1. re: cowboyardee

                  great video. That guy has a real talent and passion for what he does.

            2. re: scubadoo97

              "I've read that a knife that's too sharp is not great for removing fish skin since it can cut through the skin if not held to the correct angle"

              That is probably from me. I notice that probably when my boning knife is very sharp. It just cut right through the skin. When I use a duller knife, the edge will stop at the skin and I can slide the knife along the skin and cut very close (more like scrapping) along the skin.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Really, skinning fish is easy, once the cut between the skin and meat is made the type of knife doesn't matter, lay the knife flat and slid.

          2. You can also use a Utility or smaller Chef's knife.

            For through bones, some larger Chef's knifes like a 10 in. Dexter (which I'm now using at work) will go through drumstick and thigh bones with some pressure. Forschner 8 in Breaking knife are also useful for this purpose.

            1. I use my 7 inch stiff boning knife for beef and pork. The 10 inch flexible fish knife is used solely for fin fish. My 10 inch chef's knife is almost exclusively used for breaking down poultry. While the 10 inch fish knife may seem excessive, I deal with 4 foot sharks as well as a variety of grouper, snapper, and mullet. My experience has been that no one knife, or fry pan, does all things well.