Get Your Fork On: The Ultimate Dinner Fork Primer

Get Your Fork On: The Ultimate Dinner Fork Primer
Photo by Meg Baggott

Many people start at the outside of the plate and work inward, or sneak a glimpse at their host for guidance. But if you鈥檙e the one setting the table, well, you鈥檙e on your own. Most five-piece flatware sets come with two all-purpose forks, but those who entertain frequently keep an array of shapes and sizes in their cutlery chests.

One rule of thumb: Forks go to the left of the dinner plate in the order of use, with one exception, the oyster fork.

From left to right: salad, fish, dinner, dessert and oyster forks.
From left to right: salad, fish, dinner, dessert and oyster forks.聽

Salad Fork聽
Recognized by its often-reinforced center tines, the four-pronged fork has an extra-wide left tine that can be employed as a cutting edge for vegetables and lettuce. If salad is served after the main course, it will be placed closest to the left side of the plate, to the right of the dinner fork.

Fish Fork
This fork may be joined by a fish knife, which has a notch that鈥檚 used to separate bones. The fork may have three or four tines. The left tine will be slightly larger than the others, with a notch for removing bones. If the fish is tender enough to be flaked, there鈥檚 no need for the knife.

Dinner Fork聽
Usually the longest fork in a set of tableware, this fork has four tines of equal length and is used for the main course. Normally used alongside a knife for meat courses, it鈥檚 also known as the place fork. The heavy lifter of the fork world, it has no outstanding features besides being the biggest fork in the drawer.

Dessert Fork聽
Slightly smaller than the salad fork, it鈥檚 also called a pastry fork or pie fork. This fork may have three or four tines, and the left tine will be larger than the others, with a flattened edge. This allows the user to hold a plate in the left hand and cut through pastry with the left edge. The dessert fork may be placed above the dinner plate, or it may be brought to the table when dessert is served.

Oyster Fork
A narrow fork with three tines, this fork (also called a seafood or cocktail fork) is useful for handling shellfish, or for picking up shrimp from a shrimp cocktail. It can remove claw or tail meat from a lobster, although a longer and even narrower lobster pick is often used. This is the only fork that鈥檚 placed on the right side of the plate.

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Published on October 1, 2015
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