Slicing up a turkey or carving a holiday ham is not a job for just any old knife. It requires cutlery suited for the job—a carving knife. A carving knife has a blade that’s at least 7 inches long and either tapers to a point or has a curved end, giving it the length needed to slice a large brisket or a 12-pound turkey.
Carving knives are made of hardened high-carbon steel that can hold a sharp edge. They have narrow profiles and divots that allow the blade to glide cleanly through meat along with ergonomic handles for a firm and safe grip while wielding the knife.
This guide shares the key features to look for in a good carving knife and includes some of the best knives for making perfect cuts through meat.
- BEST OVERALL: DALSTRONG – Slicing Carving Knife – 8″ w/ Sheath
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: MAIRICO Ultra Sharp Premium 11-inch Carving Knife
- BEST UPGRADE: Wusthof Classic Two Piece Carving Set
- BEST ELECTRIC: NutriChef PKELKN16 Portable Electrical Knife Set
- BEST FOR LARGE MEATS: Mercer Culinary Millennia Granton Edge Slicer
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Carving Knife
Carving knives are available as both manual and electric models in lengths ranging from 7 inches up to 14 inches. Keep reading to learn more about the type, size, and other crucial factors to consider when shopping for a carving knife to add to a collection of kitchen knives.
Manual vs. Electric
Carving knives can be either manual or electric. An electric carving knife consists of two blades that fit flush against each other and are held together by two small rivets. The rivets have channels they travel in, allowing the blades to oscillate back and forth against each other. The butt ends of the blades fit into a handle that has an internal motor that moves the blades back and forth.
Electric carving knives have serrated blades, which allow the blade to cut quickly through meat, and have a cord that connects to a standard 120-volt outlet. A pressure-sensitive trigger allows the user to adjust the speed of the blades while cutting. Electric carving knives are ideal for bigger jobs, like carving a turkey or a ham; however, their serrated edges do not cut as cleanly through meat as a smooth blade.
Manual carving knives consist of a long sharp blade that curves to a tip. The length and curve allow the user to slice through meat by making long fluid strokes with the knife. Since they have smooth blades, standard carving knives create cleaner cuts through meat than the serrated edges of electric knives, which can tear the meat and leave marks in each cut.
Some slicing knives are also suitable for carving. This type of carving knife has a long straight blade with a curved tip. This type of knife is ideal for slicing through boneless meats, such as brisket and beef tenderloin.
A carving knife should have a blade that is long enough to create large slices of meat. If the blade is too short, it will require the user to make a sawing motion (instead of a slicing motion) to cut through the meat, resulting in uneven and less appealing slices. A blade that’s too long for the job will be awkward to use. Most carving knives have handles that are about 4 inches long, which most adults can comfortably grip.
Most electric carving knives have blades between 7 and 9 inches long. Because the blades are motorized, it’s easier to carve larger pieces of meat with a shorter blade on an electric knife than it is with a manual knife.
A manual carving knife is usually at least 8 inches long to slice a small ham or a roaster chicken. Larger meats, such as a 10-pound turkey or an 8-pound ham, require a 10-inch carving knife. Large roasts, such as barbecue brisket, require a 14-inch blade. A typical manual carving knife will be around 12 inches long from butt to tip, while an electric knife is around 18 inches long when assembled.
All carving knives have a steel blade, but not all steel is created equal. Steel is an alloy of iron with a small percentage of carbon in it. The more carbon in a blade, the harder it is. A harder blade can hold a sharper edge. However, that edge will dull more quickly, requiring the user to sharpen it more often. The more carbon in a steel blade, the more brittle the blade is, making it susceptible to knicks and chips.
Knives are rated on the Rockwell scale for hardness. Knives that rate in the low 50s have less carbon in the steel, which makes the blade softer and less able to hold a sharp edge. Knives that rate in the upper 50s and low 60s on the scale hold the sharpest edges but also are more brittle. Most carving knives rate around a 56 on the scale, allowing the knife to hold a reasonably sharp edge while remaining soft enough to cut around bone without nicking.
Carving blades are long and thin with a narrower profile than a standard chef’s knife, which allows them to slice through meat without getting hung up. Many carving knives also feature divots along the blade. These dimples create air pockets between the metal and meat that help reduce drag, allowing the blade to glide through the flesh with each slicing motion.
Sharper blade edges will cut more smoothly, but they will also require sharpening between each use to hold their edge. The bevel on the cutting edge typically ranges between 14 and 20 degrees, which is sufficient for making clean cuts through most cooked meats. The lower the number, the sharper the edge.
Handles come in a variety of different materials, including plastic, wood, and steel. Steel and plastic handles require less maintenance and will endure cleaning in soapy water. Wood handles need more maintenance, requiring a few drops of mineral oil periodically to preserve the wood.
Quality carving knives will have full tangs, which means a single piece of metal extends from the blade’s tip to the butt of the handle. Knives made from one piece of steel are the most durable, but they are harder to grip.
Many carving knives have durable plastic resin handles that sandwich around the tang. The handles have ergonomic shapes that conform to the hand’s contours to allow the user to maintain a solid grip. Most carving knives also have a deep guard that prevents the hand from sliding forward onto the blade while slicing.
Weight and Balance
A good carving knife will have a balanced feel. The knife’s weight should balance at its bolster, which is the part of the knife that connects the handle to the blade. The bolster should be hefty enough to give the knife enough weight for driving the blade backward and forward through the meat, but not so heavy that it feels cumbersome or awkward to use.
Since electric knives have a motor, the bulk of the knife’s weight will be in the handle. Most electric knives weigh about 1.25 pounds. Carving knives typically weigh about 8 ounces.
Our Top Picks
To trim the field to some of the top carving knives by size and type, the knives in the list below are chosen based on the features needed for each category. The knives included are standouts for blade quality, balance, and durability, which means the knife you need for that next big meal may be on this list.
This slicing carving blade uses a long straight blade with a rounded tip instead of a curved blade with a pointed end, making it ideal for making clean slices of meat with one long stroke. With its 8-inch blade, this carving knife is suitable for slicing through meats that don’t have bones, such as beef or pork tenderloins, boneless hams, and briskets. Its straight profile also makes it ideal for slicing bread.
A full tang that runs from tip to butt provides plenty of strength and leverage for cutting large roasts, while its 14- to 16-degree edge slices cleanly through meat. With a hardness rating of 56, this blade will hold a sharp edge and still be malleable enough to resist chips and cracks. Divots that run along the entire length of the blade prevent hangs-up when cutting. This knife includes a sheath that protects the edge and the user when not in use.
High-quality cutlery doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. This carving knife from Mairico offers excellent performance at an affordable price. It features an 11-inch stainless steel blade with a straight profile and a rounded tip that’s ideal for slicing large roasts, turkeys, and hams. Its stainless steel finish resists rust while holding a sharp edge through extended use. Its full tang provides excellent strength and balance.
Divots running the blade’s length prevent the knife from getting hung up in the meat while slicing. A curved handle conforms to the hand, allowing for firm control while carving around the bone, while an ample guard prevents accidental cuts by keeping the hand from sliding onto the blade.
It’s tough to beat the quality of this carving knife from one of the most well-known names in cutlery. Its price is significantly steeper than other carving knives, but the high quality of its design and construction make it worth the price for serious chefs. With a hardness rating of 58 on the Rockwell scale, this is one of the harder carving blades on the market. This allows it to hold a superior edge that’s 20 percent sharper than other blades while requiring less sharpening to maintain its edge.
At 8 inches long with a curved profile, this knife is suitable for deftly carving around bones to produce beautiful slices of meat. It features a full tang with a hefty bolster that provides excellent strength and balance. This knife set also includes a carving fork with 6-inch tines for holding the meat secure while carving.
Carving a 12-pound turkey or 8-pound ham for big family gatherings is easier with the power of an electric knife. This model from NutriChef will dutifully handle the job. Its 7-inch stainless steel blade has serrated edges for making rapid and precise cuts. An ergonomic curved handle allows for a firm hold on the knife and features a curved guard that prevents the hand from sliding forward onto the blade while cutting.
A pressure-sensitive trigger allows the user to control the blade’s speed, helping to make precise cuts around bone. A safety lock prevents the knife from accidentally starting when not in use. This set includes an extra set of blades for slicing bread and a butcher block that keeps all the parts organized for countertop display or for drawer storage.
A large ham, turkey, or a brisket requires a carving knife with a blade long enough to deftly slice through its entire width. This carving knife from Mercer is well suited for big jobs with its 14-inch blade. It features a straight profile with a rounded tip that allows for long, even slices. A polypropylene textured handle provides plenty of grip for the user while making cuts, while a curved guard prevents the hand from sliding onto the blade.
The blade consists of high-carbon Japanese steel, giving it a harder and sharper blade. Larger cuts of meat can bog down a carving knife. Divots that run the entire length of the edge create air pockets between the flesh and the metal while slicing, eliminating drag that can hinder the blade.
FAQs About Carving Knives
Now that you know more about carving knives, you may have lingering questions. If you’re still wondering about some carving knife features, then read on for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about this cutlery.
Q. What is the difference between a carving and a slicing knife?
A carving knife has a long narrow blade that tapers to a point from handle to tip, while a slicing knife features a long straight blade that maintains its width throughout the length of the blade and has a rounded tip. Carving knives are more adept at cutting turkey, chicken, and other meats with bones, while slicing knives are better suited for carving boneless meats such as brisket and ham.
Q. How long should a carving knife be?
A manual carving knife should be at least 8 inches long to cut through chickens and beef tenderloins. Longer carving knives of 10 inches or more are suitable for large turkeys and brisket. Most electric carving knives have blades between 7 and 9 inches long. Their power blades allow them to cut through even larger 10- to 12-pound turkeys with relative ease.
Q. Should a carving knife be serrated?
A carving knife usually has a smooth blade. A serrated edge is not ideal as the blade may tear or shred meat instead of making a clean slice. With this in mind, while a serrated electric knife may allow the user to carve a turkey more quickly than a standard carving knife, it will not produce the same clean cut.