Stick a Fork in It

A quick guide to those fancy dinners with multiple forks at the table

Picture of different forks with their related food sources

Although ancient Romans used metal spikes to winkle out snails, the fork didn't appear with regularity until the 17th century.

In the gilded world of late 19th-century America, flatware sets could stretch to 30 types of forks, with various ones for shrimp, sardines, lobster, scallops, and oysters. "Americans became fork crazy. It played to social-status building," says Sarah Coffin, a curator at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City.

Gentle reader, should you encounter multiple forks at table, fear not. The rule is: Start with the one farthest to the left, and work in from there.

1. Oyster Fork: Size and shape determine a fork's use; this one's best for plucking oysters from their shell.

2. Cocktail Fork: Also for cold meat, this art deco Georg Jensen fork was designed in 1930.

3. Fish Fork: Fish forks and salad forks often look alike and can be used for either dish.

4. Shrimp Fork: This longer piece allows a diner to skewer shrimp from a chilled serving bowl.

5. Serving Fork: Splayed tines help serve cold meats or sliced accompaniments such as lemons or pickles.

6. Sardine Fork: The broad tines convey the long, flat fish fillets to the mouth intact.

7. Lobster Fork: The distinct profile of this fork is ideal for picking lobster meat out of the shell.

8. Octopus Fork: Gilded-age diners didn't eat much octopus, but seafood appetizers were popular.

Find this month's story from the National Geographic Future of Food series at