IDIOT’S GUIDE: The definitive guide to silverware
While many of us have become accustomed to dull dining hall knives and one-size-fits-all forks, in truth there is a whole art to dinner utensils. If your grandparents have a fine silver set, you might be surprised at the sheer variety of different forks, knives, and spoons. Silverware has evolved to handle the myriad dining situations we find ourselves in. Here are some common shapes and sizes you might see at a fancy restaurant or a holiday meal:
Table Knife: These knives can be easily distinguished by the lack of a tip. They are some of the most common knives at the table. The table knife is often serrated, as it is the knife used to cut a meal into edible portions. While very versatile, one should never use a table knife if a better knife has been provided.
Butter Knife: The butter knife is a very specialized serving knife. Coming in a variety of designs (often with a sharp tip and a very wide, short blade), they are intended for one use: cutting and serving butter. To actually spread butter one uses a table knife, though a dull-tipped, short knife (also called a butter spreader) may be provided, especially at breakfast, for this purpose.
Cheese Knife: Typically encountered on an appetizer plate, a cheese knife is similar to a butter knife. It often has a sharper or even serrated blade in order to facilitate cutting slices of cheese.
Steak Knife: The distinctively sharp, serrated steak knife is the only sharp knife one will typically encounter at the dinner table. Its presence indicates that a cut of meat will be served with a meal and should only be used to cut the meat
Dining Forks: You may not be immediately aware of the distinction, but in fine silver sets there are distinct forks for lunch and dinner; the latter being larger so as to avoid the possibility of using the same fork twice. Otherwise, a dining fork is the most typical four-pronged design.
Salad Fork: Often the most confusing piece of silver, the salad fork is always to the left of the dining fork (unless the salad comes after the entrée). Otherwise it may be distinguished by its size (smaller than either dining fork).
Dessert/Sweet Forks: These forks may not be familiar to most readers. Dessert and Pastry forks will have a wide, dull-edged side to facilitate light cutting. Ice cream forks are somewhat spoon-shaped, often with small tines. Don’t expect to see these outside of fine silver sets.
Seafood Forks: You may find these forks at oyster bars or fine restaurants. Lobster and Crab forks tend to be long with a small pronged tip to facilitate the consumption of the entire animal without risking a mess. Other seafood forks tend to have a trident design: you can distinguish oyster forks as being one of the smallest pieces of silver.
Table/Soup Spoon: The most typical spoons are so large as to make delicate use difficult, however they facilitate consumption of soup and cereals.
Dessert Spoon: Another typical spoon size, for eating more delicate or smaller portions, such as a mousse or pudding. If you’ve been to the dining halls, these are the smaller spoons they provide.
Coffee/Tea Spoons: Smaller than a dessert spoon, their diminutive size makes these spoons ill-suited for soup but allows them to fit in a tea or coffee cup.
Grapefruit/Citrus Spoon: With a serrated edge, these can cut in a rounded shape which is ideal for spherical fruits like melons, oranges, and grapefruits.
Cover photo source.