Get Your Fork On: The Ultimate Dinner Fork Primer

It’s happened to all of us: You sit down at a formal place setting and have no idea which fork to use.

Many people start at the outside of the plate and work inward, or sneak a glimpse at their host for guidance. But if you’re the one setting the table, well, you’re 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. 

Salad Fork 
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’s 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’s no need for the knife.

Dinner Fork 
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’s 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 
Slightly smaller than the salad fork, it’s 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’s placed on the right side of the plate.

Entertaining According to Molly Ringwald

Published on October 1, 2015
Topics: Hosting Guide
About the Author
Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen
Entertaining and Lifestyle Editors

Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen are Wine Enthusiast's Entertaining and Lifestyle Editors. DeSimone tastes wine from Israel and the Mediterranean Basin, while Jenssen tastes wine from Eastern Europe, including the former the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Both co-authored Wines of California, Wines of the Southern Hemisphere, and The Fire Island Cookbook. Wine educators and presenters, both gentlemen serve as frequent guests on national and local television. Email: mikeandjeff@wineenthusiast.net




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