Fillet Knives

Wednesday, 12 January 2011 | Tags: , , ,

When it comes to cutting up your fresh catch, a good knife can make all the difference. Flexibility, weight, and sharp edges make for the best precision cutting. We test out a few to see which earns the A & K Stamp of Approval.

Thank you to Northern British Columbia Tourism, Tourism BC, and Hudson Bay Lodge, and the ‘Ksan Historical Village for helping with our visit up north to Hazelton, British Columbia.

Also, a big thank you to Verna and Victor Mowatt, Elders of the Gitxsan First Nation and renowned filleting experts, for their hands-on lessons in filleting our fresh catch.

The Basics

  • A fillet knife is a handy kitchen tool for preparing fresh, bone-in fish.

  • It typically has a thin, flexible blade between 6 to 9” long, which makes it ideal for precision cutting fresh fish and other kinds of meats.

  • The length, width, and flexibility of a fillet knife blade is the key to getting a nice clean cut along the backbone of a fish, carving around the bones and evenly slicing the skin away from the flesh.

What to Look For in a Fillet Knife

  • The most important feature to look for in a fillet knife is a quality stainless steel blade.

  • The knife tang (the part of the blade that goes into the handle) can be either full, meaning that it extends into the full length of the handle, or partial where it extends only part way into the handle as a socket or file end.

    • Extending the tang into the handle improves the weight and balance of the knife, and adds strength and durability.

  • For an average-sized fillet, use a blade around 7 or 8” long. The bigger the fish you are filleting, the longer the blade should be.

  • The more thin and flexible the blade, the more easily it will slice around the backbone of the fish.

  • Look for a thicker, sturdier blade if you also want your fillet knife to de-bone firmer meats such as chicken and duck.

  • Remember that price doesn’t always indicate quality – you want a knife that feels comfortable and balanced in your hand, and suits the job you want it to do.

  • Consider the construction of the knife before purchasing:

    • A knife made of forged steel (a single piece of stainless steel that runs from tip to handle) may be more hygienic than a steel blade with an affixed wooden or poly handle since pieces of food or bacteria can get caught in the seams and rivets.

  • Look for a warranty – most quality knives come with one.

Caring for Your Knife

  • Wash your knife by hand in hot, soapy water with a mild detergent, and let air-dry completely before storing.

  • Many manufacturers recommend storing any kind of knife on a magnetic strip, in a knife block, or sheathed in your cutlery drawer.

  • Never store knives unsheathed where the blades can damage and dull each other.

  • Fillet knives can be sharpened with most types of sharpening tools, but always check the manufacturer’s guide before proceeding.


We recruited two of Northern British Columbia’s well-known filleters, Verna and Victor Mowatt, to help us test these fillet knives.

  • Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Cuisine 7″ Fillet Knife: $114
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Wusthof Classic Gourmet 8″ Fish Fillet Knife: $90
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Victorinox 7″ Fillet Knife: $39
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Rapala Fish ‘n’ Fillet Knife: $30
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com

(Note: prices listed above are approximate and in Canadian dollars)

Usage Test

  • The Victorinox was sturdy and flexible. We thought it would be a good budget choice. 

  • Wusthof was a contender, but not quite as flexible as the Henckels.

  • The J. A. Henckels had a nice weight and really made a difference for the heavy duty tasks like removing the head and the backbone.

  • The Rapala was a bit stiff, and we weren’t fans of the wood handle, which can harbour bacteria.

Victor & Verna’s Filleting Tips
Our teachers, both Gitxsan First Nation Elders known for their filleting skills, say that the key to filleting is to first lift the side fin, then cut below the gills. Cut to the bone, rotate the knife, then cut along the spine. If knife is always moving along the bone, you can’t go wrong.

Our Top Pick

The all-around unanimous vote was for the J.A. Henckels fillet knife, which had a good weight, nice flexibility, and was easy to manouever through the flesh.

 Thank you to the following companies
for providing products for
our Anna & Kristina’s Grocery Bag Test Lab



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