An Expert Guide to Bread Knives

Published on 02/20/2024 · 10 min readSlice with precision: Our expert guide to bread knives covers the top picks for serrated edges that glide through crusts and preserve the soft interior.
Di Doherty, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Di Doherty

Photo by RDNE Stock Project

TL;DR: A bread knife has a long blade and a serrated edge, which enables it to cleanly slice through delicate baked goods without tearing them. When picking out a bread knife, consider what the blade is made out of, the length of the blade, and if it has a full or partial tang.

Growing up, I had an interest in both knives and cooking, making my interest in kitchen knives a no-brainer. I’ve acquired a varied collection since I’ve gotten my own kitchen, which means that I’ve tried out a number of knives. While the bread knife isn’t the knife I use the most, its usefulness can’t be overstated — it’s the only reasonable way to cut bread or cakes.

Thinking of getting yourself a new bread knife? Don’t let questions, unfamiliar terminology, or brand differences get in your way. Curated Kitchen Experts can answer any questions you may have, explain how to properly clean and care for a knife, and make recommendations on a bread knife you’ll love. And it’s all free!

What Is a Bread Knife?

A bread knife is a thin, long serrated blade that is designed for slicing bread. Bread has a tendency to tear rather than be cut, which is why the serrations are essential. The teeth grip what you’re cutting, causing the knife to slice through it rather than just tear parts of the bread off.

Serrations also make it easier to get through a crusty loaf of bread or a crispy roast because the teeth bite into the outer layer rather than slipping on it. Serrated knives are also excellent for other baked goods, like cakes, and slippery foods like tomatoes or citrus fruit.

In short, they work well on anything that has a hard exterior and a soft interior, such as breads, melons, grapefruits, and roasts with a crispy fat cap.

What to Consider When Buying a Bread Knife

A bread knife is a must-have type of knife for any kitchen. Not only are they the only suitable way to get through a loaf of crusty sourdough bread, but they also make clean cuts on cakes, and buns and produce even, thin slices of tomato. When looking for a bread knife, here are some questions to ask yourself.

How Long Should the Blade Be?

Bread knives come in a number of standard sizes. The blade length is important because you want it to be long enough that it can reach across whatever it is you’re cutting and give you leverage so that you don’t have to press down when slicing.

  • 8 inch: This common size for bread knives is ideal for most home cooks. An 8-inch bread knife will be able to cut sandwich bread, baguettes, melons, and cakes. However, if you have a bread machine or buy a lot of boules or large loaves, then this may be too small. Knives with a shorter blade will likely be labeled as serrated utility knives.
  • 9 inch: A serrated bread knife this size will work for almost every task, even larger loaves of bread. It gives you some extra length and leverage to work with while still being easy to manage.
  • 10 inch: If a 9-inch or 9.5-inch blade just isn’t enough, then there are also 10-inch bread knives. This size is still small enough to be reasonable to use — it won’t extend past the end of a cutting board — though it's more knife than most people will need. But if you cut up a lot of large, crusty bread loaves, then this is a great size to pick.

What Should the Blade Be Made From?

The blade is the most important part of your knife. You want to make sure the blade has a razor-sharp edge so that it won’t slip when cutting, will slice instead of tear, and is easy to maintain. Here are the common materials blades are made from.

  • Stainless steel: This is an alloy of steel and chromium (each knife company has its own special blend) that resists rust. Stainless steel is the most prevalent material for knife blades because of how easy it is to care for.
  • Carbon steel: In the past, almost all knives were made of this alloy, though it still sees some specialty usage. Carbon steel is exceptionally hard without being brittle, making it ideal if you prioritize a sharp edge. The reason it’s used so rarely, though, is that it rusts after any prolonged contact with moisture.
  • High-carbon stainless steel: Sometimes shortened to high-carbon steel,** **almost every high-quality knife now lists the blade as being forged from this alloy. The high carbon content allows the metal to be harder and, therefore, sharpened to a keener edge, while still maintaining its resistance to corrosion.
  • Ceramic: Serrated ceramic knives are uncommon, but it’s an option. These are specialty knives, as the nature of ceramic is that it’s amazingly hard (and sharp!) but has no give, making it easy to chip or break.
  • Damascus steel: This isn’t a material but a forging process. Damascus steel is created by folding layers of steel over itself and then hammering them together. The result is a beautiful wavy pattern on the blade.

Photo by Ben Garratt

Do I Want a Full Tang or Partial Tang?

The construction of the knife is important in terms of quality. The tang is the part that fits into the handle, and it has a big impact on how durable it is, as well as how well it's balanced.

  • Full tang: A full tang extends to the end of the handle and is often visible as a strip of metal that’s sandwiched between the two pieces of the handle (though not all full tangs are visible). Full tang knives have the dual benefits of being sturdier, as the tang distributes the strain across its entire length. They also have better balance, as there’s more equal weight in the handle and the blade. A properly balanced knife should have its center where the blade meets the handle.
  • Partial tang: A partial tang extends partway down the handle, often about halfway, which is why it’s sometimes called a half tang. These knives are lightweight and less expensive than their full-tang counterparts.

What Are the Different Types of Bread Knives?

There are two primary types of bread knives, which have a slightly different blade shape from each other.

Standard

A standard bread knife is going to be what most people imagine when thinking of one. It has a long blade that’s roughly even with the handle and a line of teeth on one side of the blade.

Benefits:

  • More options on the market
  • Less expensive than equivalent offset knives

Be Aware:

  • Has limited knuckle clearance
  • Some options aren’t well-made

Offset

An offset bread knife gets its name from the fact that the blade is lower than the handle, giving it a hunched appearance.

Benefits:

  • Has clearance for your knuckles, making it easy to use
  • Are typically higher end, meaning that they’re well-made

Be Aware:

Photo by Claire Marino

Features to Look Out for When Buying a Bread Knife

When picking out a bread knife for yourself, here are some features to look for. While not each one is necessary, they do point to it being a high-quality knife.

Scalloped Serrations

The serrations on the blade are usually of one of two types: scalloped or pointed. Scalloped serrations are usually the better choice, as they work well for all sorts of cutting tasks, from bread to butternut squash. There’s also usually more of a gap between them, meaning that they’re designed to be sharpened, even at home.

The sharp teeth can be handy for bread with a very hard crust, as they're more able to bite into it. But they’re harder to sharpen, and knives that aren’t designed to be sharpened often have pointed serrations that are grouped tightly together, making it essentially impossible, even for a professional.

Forged

There are two ways to manufacture knives, called forging and stamping. The latter is done by using a die to cut the knife out of a piece of steel. The process is inexpensive, resulting in an affordable, light knife.

But if you’re looking for a long-lasting knife that can maintain a sharp edge, then you want a forged knife. Forging harkens back to the way that blacksmiths used to make knives. They’re shaped at high temperatures, which affords more control and results in a better grain to the steel, meaning that it’s both more durable and better able to hold an edge.

Rounded Tip

While there are a lot of good knives out there with a pointed tip, for a bread knife it’s unnecessary. If you have a sharp serrated knife, you don't need to pierce the crust with the tip to get it started.

A rounded tip makes it less likely that you’ll accidentally injure yourself when using the blade. It’s also more durable, so accidentally banging the tip against something is far less likely to ding or damage it.

How to Pick the Best Bread Knife for You

As bread knives are considered an essential kitchen tool, every knife company makes them. While the variety is a good thing, it can make finding the perfect knife for you time consuming. To streamline the process, I'm going to describe three different people and what my top picks for them would be.

Lars: Hobbyist Baker Looking for the Best Tool to Serve His Creations

Lars has loved to bake ever since he was a kid. He makes all sorts of baked goods, including cakes, quick breads, yeast breads, and muffins. He’s looking for a high-quality knife with a serrated edge that will cleanly cut through his baked goods without leaving a sea of crumbs like his current knife does. As he’s going to use this knife a lot, he wants something durable and sharp.

Features to look for:

  • Western-style knives, as they focus on durability
  • A synthetic handle for ease of care

Recommended products: WÜSTHOF Classic Bread Knife, Zwilling Pro Bread Knife

Kitty: Young Cook Looking for a Practical Knife

Kitty has recently started cooking and has done some research to find out that the knives that every home cook should own include chef’s knives, paring knives, and serrated knives. As she already has an 8-inch chef’s knife and a paring knife, she’s looking to get a bread knife. She doesn't have a lot of extra money, so she’d like a well-made knife for an affordable price.

Features to look for:

  • Plainly styled knives to get more bang for her buck
  • Knives made in China, as they’re cheaper

Recommended products: Cangshan Helena Bread Knife, Misen Serrated Knife

Maura: Avid Cutlery Collector

Maura has loved knives for as long as she can remember, but now she’s finally gotten a good job and wants to splurge. She’s been building up a collection of gorgeous, high-end knives and is looking to add a new bread knife to her collection. She’s not too concerned with price or needed maintenance, as she loves her knives, so taking care of them isn’t a chore.

Features to look for:

  • Wooden handles for elegance and a comfortable grip
  • Knives made in Germany, the USA, or Japan for craftsmanship and quality guarantees

Recommended products: Zwilling Twin 1731 Bread Knife, STEELPORT Carbon Steel Bread Knife

Find the Right Bread Knife for You

A bread knife beside a loaf of bread. Photo by Artur Rutkowski

Bread knives are hugely useful in the kitchen, which is why it’s important to make sure that you get the right one. Starting a free chat with a Curated Kitchen Expert will ensure you’re on the right track. Every Expert is familiar with the kitchen knife lexicon, brand differences, and handle types, and would be more than happy to help find the best bread knife for you!

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

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