There are many wonderful traditions associated with Thanksgiving — watching football for hours on end, bickering with almost-forgotten family members, midday naps. Pulling out that old, dusty electric carving knife, however, is not one of them.
You know the one. It has a big plastic grip and an impossibly loud electric motor. You use it twice a year and it comes with its own weirdly formal, felt-lined storage box. After 15 minutes of shuffling through the back of every drawer in your kitchen, you find it tucked behind the juicer. It is that useless.
The electric knife was invented by one Jerome Murray, who also invented the airplane boarding ramp and a medical pump used for open-heart surgery, and it is essentially two serrated blades clipped together with a motor tacked on. Murray’s idea was to make carving larger cuts of meat, such as whole turkeys, a simpler task. And, frankly, electric carving knives aren’t absolutely terrible at that one thing. During a thorough test, Cook’s Illustrated found them especially adept at keeping the crispy skin of turkey and chicken adhered to the meat. The problem is everything else.
Between the twin blades, clip area and the space left between the bottom of the blade and the handle, an electric carver has lot of areas for leftover grease and food residue to go uncleaned and corrode the blades (apart from just being generally disgusting). And though turning an electric knife on acts as a sort of dinner bell, it’s ear-damaging. For this article, I tested the electric knife my family has used to carve birds for a decade and recorded a consistent sound output north of 90 decibels — which is just under concert levels of ear destruction and just above standing next to a lawnmower.
Beyond this, the electric knife is unforgiving. If you push down on the wrong area of the bird, you’ve cut through three-quarters of it before you’ve corrected. The reason slicing and carving knives are longer and (typically) thinner than the other knives in the kitchen is because they need to bend a bit to accommodate the anatomy of birds like chickens and turkeys. With electric knives, it’s extremely hit or miss. Some, as noted in the Cook’s Illustrated rundown, are able to glide through the meat and serve up serviceable portions. Others shred and tear the meat, leaving you with stringy, uneven slices.
For your family, your turkey’s and your sake, just use a regular knife.