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September/October 2018

Flexible Boning Knives

A good boning knife can save you money at the meat counter. Which is best?

How We Tested

A chef's knife and a paring knife are all you need for most cutting jobs in the kitchen. But a boning knife can make it easier to perform certain tasks, as its thin, narrow, razor-like blade is ideal for getting in between joints and for carving around larger bones. Since bone-in meat is typically cheaper than boned meat, this can translate into money saved at the supermarket. And because we often use a boning knife to prepare expensive cuts—removing the silverskin from a beef tenderloin or frenching a rack of lamb—it can also help protect your investment, hewing closely to the valuable meat and allowing you to trim away only what you don't want, with little or no waste.

Boning knives come in different lengths and levels of flexibility: stiff, semistiff, semiflexible, and flexible. Each type and size excels at different tasks, but a 6-inch flexible boning knife is the most versatile option for those we most often perform at home, such as removing bones from smaller cuts of meat and poultry. We wanted to know if our longtime favorite, the Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 6” Flexible Boning Knife, still held up to the competition. We pitted it against five other flexible boning knives priced from $18.87 to $119.95, each with a blade about 6 inches long.

We're pleased to report that you can't go wrong with any of the knives in our lineup. All did a serviceable job of boning chicken breasts, trimming tenderloins, and removing the bones from cooked pork shoulder roasts. But a few factors made some models slightly easier and more enjoyable to use.

Slim and Sharp

The first and most important characteristic: sharpness. Because the blade of a boning knife is comparatively light, thin, and narrow, it can't use its heft to force food apart the way a chef's knife can. Instead, it relies almost entirely on the sharpness of its edge—particularly at the tip—to slice or make incisions. Some blades were sharper than others, effortlessly stripping away silverskin or scoring the fat cap on raw pork shoulders. We preferred models that had narrow edge angles of 14 or 15 degrees; one knife with an 18-degree edge angle felt less keen. And we liked very thin blades—0.84 millimeters or thinner when measured halfway between the spine and the edge. Surprising as it may seem, even a difference of 0.1 millimeter can make a blade feel less sharp. We also liked blades that maintained their sharpness over time; some started off sharp but felt duller over the course of testing.

Some Flexibility Is Necessary

Flexibility was critical. Unlike a chef's knife or paring knife, a flexible boning knife has a certain degree of give so that it can bend and maneuver around bones, cartilage, and joints. Although all the knives in our lineup were marketed as “flexible,” the level of flexibility varied from model to model. Some blades were more rigid—they couldn't hug the breastbone of the chicken or the bone of the pork shoulder quite as closely, leaving more flesh behind. Others were a bit too flexible and thus harder to control; at times, these knives felt dangerously slippery. We preferred blades that had a moderate level of flexibility, allowing for nimble but precise cuts with little or no wasted meat.

Getting A Grip

Finally, we looked at handle design. We liked handles that were made of textured, rubbery materials; slicker handles made it harder to maintain our grip when dealing with wet or greasy meat. But testers had different opinions when it came to the size of the handles. While a few large-handed testers thought thick handles (3.5 inches in circumference) were easier to grip, most preferred handles that were relatively slim—about 2.75 inches in circumference. Unlike a chef's knife, a boning knife is often held with your pointer finger on the spine for added control when directing the blade. In this context, a thicker handle can make for less dexterous maneuvering, and a slightly thinner handle can be an advantage, allowing users to switch their grip more readily. Ultimately, though, handle preferences were personal, depending on the size of the user's hands and how they liked to hold the knife.

A New Winner Has the Edge

We still like our old favorite. Its blade arrived (and stayed) relatively sharp and had good flexibility, helping it perform all the tasks well. And its big, grippy plastic handle is especially comfortable for large-handed users. Priced at $26.95, it's now our Best Buy, a solid entry-level option for home cooks who don't plan on boning chicken breasts or trimming tenderloins regularly.

We found a knife we like even better, though. Our new winner is the Zwilling Pro 5.5” Flexible Boning Knife ($99.95). It has a slender handle that allows users to vary their grip more easily. But it was this model's blade, one of the keenest in the lineup, that put it over the top. It was so sharp that flesh seemed to fall away at its touch, and it maintained its edge throughout testing. At 5.5 inches, its blade was the shortest in the lineup, but in practice, that shorter length turned out to be an advantage, as it afforded more control and precision. If you do a lot of butchering at home, this knife is a worthy investment that will make even the most finicky boning project seem effortless.

Methodology

We tested six flexible boning knives priced from $18.87 to $119.95, each with a blade about 6 inches long. We used them to bone chicken breasts, trim the silverskin and fat from a beef tenderloin, and remove the bone from a cooked pork shoulder roast. We also had cooks with different dominant hands, hand sizes, and levels of butchering experience use the knives to bone chicken breasts and to french racks of pork. At the conclusion of testing, we rated each model on its sharpness, flexibility, and handle design.

Rating Criteria

Sharpness: We assessed how sharp the blade of each model felt throughout testing, giving preference to those that maintained their edge better over time.

Flexibility: We evaluated how flexible the blades were, awarding the most points to models that were moderately flexible.

Handle Design: We evaluated how comfortable the handles were for users of all hand sizes.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.