The 10 Best Fillet Knives
This wiki has been updated 25 times since it was first published in October of 2015. Whether you need to clean and gut fish at a river or lake, on your boat at sea, or in your kitchen, something from our selection of fillet knives will make it easy to remove scales, cut bone, and trim flesh. They are, of course, equally useful for slicing meat and poultry, and can be used for deboning in a pinch. Plus, most are inexpensive enough not to carve up your budget. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
February 07, 2021:
During this update added a couple of premium options for those who are preparing fish in their home kitchen, rather than on a boat. Specifically, we are talking about the Shun Premier Gokujo and Zwilling J.A. Henckels 31073-183. The former has a Japanese design that some may not be used to in a filet knife, but once you get familiar with it, you'll probably find it to be more versatile than the very flexible blade often found in Western filet knives. Neither of these includes a sheath, so if you want a top-of-the-line option you can safely store in your tacklebox or hang from your belt to take out on fishing trips, you should turn to the Wusthof Grand Prix II 4625WS instead. Also during this update, we decided to eliminate the Rapala Lithium Ion, as an electric model is just going to be too rough on delicate fish flesh.
June 24, 2019:
It may not be as fancy (or expensive) as many others, but the Mercer Culinary Millennia Narrow remains a top choice, since it is simple to use, simple to clean — and plenty sharp. The company also offers a wide range of matching knives, so if you're looking to build a set, it's a good place to start. We like the Wusthof Grand Prix II as a step-up option, although some people find it hard to insert into the included leather sheath. This is a minor annoyance for the high quality, however, especially since it's warrantied for life. The Zelite Infinity is another popular "luxury" choice, although it should be noted that it's made in China from materials imported from Japan, which some users do not like. Nevertheless, this model, along with the rest of their Alpha-Royal Series, feels well balanced and holds up admirably to use. Finally, we added the Silver Creek from Buck Knives for those who need a truly portable option. Its blade seems to be less flexible than many, though, so it might not be your go-to in all instances. Considering that it's not too expensive, however, it could be a good addition to your gear.
Williams Knife Waccamaw Although the price may give you pause, the Williams Knife Waccamaw is made to extremely high quality standards, so you'll be relying on it for years to come. You can customize the handle, trim, and liner colors, too, which makes it a great personalized gift. williamsknife.com
Cutco Fisherman's Solution The blade of the Cutco Fisherman's Solution is made from extremely flexible, high-carbon stainless steel that allows it to glide effortlessly over rib bones. Its sheath doubles as a pair of pliers that keep your fish stable while cleaning and removing hooks. cutco.com
Choosing A Great Fillet Knife
Before you choose a fillet knife, know how and where you will use it.
There are two basic ways to differentiate between fillet knives: those that are designed to look lovely and work well, and those that are designed to get the job done, looks be damned. Before you choose a fillet knife, know how and where you will use it.
If you're going to do your filleting in the kitchen (at your home or at the restaurant where you serve as executive chef), then it's a good idea to opt for a knife that looks great. Your cutlery is a part of the overall decor of the kitchen, and the more you appreciate the looks of your tools, the more you'll enjoy using them.
A knife that looks as good as it works is always welcome on the countertops close at hand. Select a fillet knife suitable for cutting perfect slabs of succulent meat off of fish as well as for cutting the bones out of pork chops or steaks -- if you're willing to spend a decent amount of cash, you can obtain a versatile fillet knife that will last for years if cared for properly.
On the other hand, if you need a knife that's going to be used to cut fresh slabs of fish fillet mere minutes after the fish come out of the water, you need a knife that's rugged and ready with aesthetics as a distant afterthought. A good fish fillet knife will have a long, slender blade that can easily penetrate flesh and scales and then slide along the axis of a fish's body, removing steak cuts in a single slice without getting caught in the process. Look for a knife with a strong, resilient blade but also be ready to resharpen your fillet knife regularly; event a top quality knife will lose its edge if you use it regularly.
If you will be filleting slippery fish while on a rocking boat potentially sprayed with seawater splashing over the gunwales, make sure to get a fillet knife on which it's easy to get a grip. As important as a great sharp blade may be, of equal importance is a handle with a texture and/or ergonomic design that ensures the knife won't slip from your grasp as you work, potentially injuring you or someone nearby.
Preparing Perfect Fish Fillets
If you have watched an experienced fisherman fillet a freshly caught fish, you know the process looks effortless. The first time you try your own hand at it, you'll realize that looks can be deceiving: fast and efficient preparation of fish fillets comes only with practice.
To prepare most fish, you can follow a few basic steps that will become second nature with enough repetition. First you should remove the scales from the fish using a dedicated scaling tool. A dull butter knife or similar implement can be used if needed. Next it's a good idea to gut the fish, removing its stomach and entrails to keep the flesh you will later cook and consume cleaner and safer.
Use the spine as your guide, letting the knife touch but not cut through these bones.
Next you may want to remove the fish's head -- this step is not necessary, but it can allow easier access to the meat you want on the side of the body. Chop the head off just past the gills if you wish to complete this step. Lay the fish flat on its side and, if the head is on, cut down into steadily but gently, stopping when you hit the spine. Now turn the blade parallel with the spine and slide it along the length of the fish. If you removed the head, you should be able to commence the lengthwise cut with ease. Use the spine as your guide, letting the knife touch but not cut through these bones.
Don't worry if you don't remove all of the flesh from the side of a fish: it's better to leave some of the meat behind than to end up with bones in your fillet. The more practice you get, the more meat you will remove.
Depending on how you will cook your fish fillet, the next step will be to remove the skin from the fillet. (If you will be grilling the fish, you might want to leave the skin on, as it can help hold the meat together during the cooking process; for baking or pan searing, removing the skin is a good idea.) Using either your fillet knife or a sharp, wider knife, make an initial cut between skin and flesh, allowing you to grasp the skin. Then pull up on the skin with one hand as the other guides the knife along between the skin and meat, using the side of the blade to exert slight downward pressure on the fillet as the edge of the knife separates the skin and meat.
Fillet Knife Sharpening And Care
There are two stages to properly sharpening a knife: there is the actual sharpening, wherein a bit of metal is removed from the blade and its edge is reshaped, and then there is the honing stage, when the edge is straightened to properly align with the overall blade.
But many purists will tell you that the only way to get a fillet knife properly sharpened is to use a great whetstone.
You can always use a purpose built device to sharpen a knife; there are myriad tools designed to put an ideal edge on various types of blade. But many purists will tell you that the only way to get a fillet knife properly sharpened is to use a great whetstone. A whetstone is, as the sound of the object denotes, a stone that is wetted with water or special oils prior to its use sharpening a knife.
To sharpen the slender blade of a fillet knife using a whetstone you can mimic the motion of slicing at a hard cheese or charcuterie. Hold the knife's edge at an angle of about twenty degrees and "cut" away from your body along the whetstone, making sure the entire length of the blade passes against the stone's surface.
You should complete three to four passes on one side of the blade, then repeat the same action on the other side of the blade. Alternate again, this time completing two passes each time, followed by one final pass on each side of your knife.
To hone the edge, simply complete one or two passes at the same angle using a steel honing rod.