What are the Different Types of Silverware?

Mandi R. Hall

Silverware — also known as cutlery, flatware, dishware, household silver, kitchenware and tableware, amongst other monikers — is the traditional Western world name for the hand utensils used when serving and eating food. Historically made of silver, silverware’s overall popularity was replaced by stainless utensils in the 20th century, though the original name stuck.

Silverware, in Western culture, typically refers to hand utensils used for eating.
Silverware, in Western culture, typically refers to hand utensils used for eating.

Regardless of the material, utensils are often purchased in sets. Silverware has since been made with other materials such as electroplated nickel silver (EPNS) or plastic — called plastic ware — and continues to evolve. Cutlery gadgets also continue to be manufactured, though the time-honored silver flatware maintains its prestige as it is traditionally used during elegant functions and formal occasions.

Silverware can be made out of plastic.
Silverware can be made out of plastic.

True silverware requires proper upkeep and maintenance. As it easily tarnishes, it must be carefully polished by hand and never washed in the dishwasher. Additionally, silver utensils should be stored after being gently rubbed with an anti-tarnish treatment. In addition to traditional eating and serving utensils, the term silverware is extended to goods such as tea sets, candlesticks, gravy boats, and platters.

"Silverware" can be extended to include gravy boats.
"Silverware" can be extended to include gravy boats.

In general, cutlery refers to eating utensils such as forks, spoons, and knives. Chopsticks are often included in the grouping, as well. Additionally, combination utensils including the knork, spork, spife, and sporf, among others, are becoming increasingly more familiar. These instruments combine two or more common utensils, such as the spoon and fork, to form a spork, creating one utensil that can easily be used to eat two separate dishes that would have required two separate utensils. Such utensils are considered functional when it comes to outings, such as camping, as well as novelty.

Chopsticks are the preferred eating utensils in most Asian countries.
Chopsticks are the preferred eating utensils in most Asian countries.

Silverware items also exist for very narrow, specific uses. Crab crackers, for instance, are used for the distinct function of cracking crab legs. Likewise, nutcrackers are used to crack nuts, while silver lobster picks may be used to extract small pieces of meat from seafood that comes in shells, such as lobster. Oyster and crab forks, grapefruit spoons, and fondue forks have also become popular. Such instruments may be true silverware — that is, made of silver — or they may be made from other materials.

Silverware comes in a variety of sizes, often indicative of difference uses. Proper table settings generally include two forks, for example. The salad fork is smaller than the meat fork. Typically, the order the utensils are placed in is the order in which they are used. From outside in, the diner uses the salad fork before the dinner fork, as salad is generally served before dinner in North America.

Various types of forks are considered silverware.
Various types of forks are considered silverware.

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Discussion Comments


@jmc88 - Given the economy over the past several years, I'm willing to guess that the next trend will be toward more discount silverware. The article even mentions people using combination utensils like sporks much more often now. At the very least, I think a lot of people will start moving toward more discount silverware.

I am in college now, and I know I have a pretty inexpensive set of silverware. I've had it for 5 years, and it is still working fine. I know some of the really cheap silverware gets worn out quickly, but as long as you spend money on something in the mid-range, there's no reason your silverware couldn't last for a long time.

Since everyone seems to be looking at ways to save their money, I can't see how the trend wouldn't be to buy more basic silverware. As long as silverware gets the food in your mouth, it works.


@stl156 - I would probably agree. Especially since you can't clean real silver in a dishwasher, I'm sure that turns off most people. I know I wouldn't want to hand wash and do all the upkeep for real silver.

I love that there are so many quality types of stainless steel silverware now. No matter what your kitchen style is, there is something that can match. Now, a lot of companies are also making knife sets and other things that will coordinate with the cutlery.

Since I grew up in the 60s, I have seen how a lot of the silverware has changed over time. I don't know what the next trend in silverware will be, but I'll be interested to see it happen.


Do people still use real silverware anymore? I know that my grandmother had a set of silverware that has since been passed down to me. We always used it at family dinners. Since that time, though, our family has gotten too big, so there isn't enough silverware for everyone. We just use whatever is available now.

Like the article says, keeping real silver in good condition is a lot of work. Since it didn't get used more than four or five times a year, there was always a lot of cleaning to get any of the tarnishing off of the silver. Now I just keep everything around as something to give to my kids.

I guess I was just wondering if people anywhere still went through the trouble of keeping real silver to eat with. I can imagine it being used in nice restaurants, but besides that, I'm assuming most people eat with stainless steel.


I would highly recommend remembering the outside to inside rule for using silverware. I was just at a conference a couple of weeks ago where I was having dinner with several important people in my industry. Them being a little bit more wealthy than me to say the least meant that they were much more used to having formal dinners. Luckily, I knew the outside to inside rule. I doubt in most cases you'll be shunned for grabbing the wrong piece of cutlery, but it can be kind of a faux pas.

That all being said, I'm sure if someone gave me a set of dinnerware and told me to set up a table, I'd be completely lost.

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