Buying Guide for Professional Chefs' Knives
There are many valuable appliances in the commercial catering kitchen of today. There are no more important tools to the caterer, however, than the humble knife. Whether you’re filleting fish, boning joints, slicing, dicing or peeling, the right tool for the right job is paramount.
The clean and appetising appearance of a dish, attractively presented on the table, has already told the eye of the diner that good food is coming. This pleasure is less likely to happen if the wrong tools have been used to fillet a fish or to julienne some vegetables. And rather than a work of art to be consumed with enjoyment, you have a disconnected mess.
Kitchen knives are available in a bewildering array and choosing the right knife, or set of knives, can sometimes be just a stab in the dark – forgive the poor pun. This guide discusses the types of chefs knives, the quality of different blades and their uses. So if you’re thinking about purchasing a brand new set of knives or simply replacing one or two individual knives, then read on.
What’s the difference between stainless steel and hardened stainless steel? Damascus steel and chromium strengthened steel? What are ceramic blades? In effect, the question we need to ask is: what am I getting for my money? The single most important thing about the blade of a kitchen knife is its cutting ability, its sharpness – and the ability to then retain its sharpness. Less expensive knives need to be sharpened much more frequently because the steel used in their construction is of inferior quality; it is low in carbon, and consequently the cutting edge produced is less hard and prone to blunting.
The Mohs scale of mineral hardness has diamond (pure carbon) as the ultimate with a rating of 10. The more common low carbon steel has a rating of 4.5. Hardened steel one of 7.5-8, zirconia ceramic is at 8.5 and chromium strengthened steel is around 8.5-9. Quite a variation there, and the upshot is that low carbon steel blades just cannot replicate the razor sharpness of hardened blades, although they tend to be more flexible – which brings its own benefits. For some kitchen tasks a “softer” more flexible blade is indispensable. So, as hardness increases, the blade acquires and maintains a better, keener edge, but it becomes more arduous to sharpen, and more brittle. The process of laminating a hard steel between a softer one, sometimes in many layers, gives the benefits of both types.
Damascus knives are laminated and come from an ancient tradition. A core of extremely hard carbon steel is layered with alternating hard and soft stainless alloys to give an edge that is harder than most and which can be ground to super sharpness. The blade is strong yet retains flexibility. The best of both worlds.
Ceramic knives are manufactured from a very hard, tough ceramic mineral – usually Zirconium Dioxide, or Zirconia, which is up to 50% harder than steel. These blades are especially useful for the fine slicing and paring of fruit and vegetables. Zirconia ceramic blades will not corrode or develop rust spots because the material does not react with acids from foodstuffs. Ceramics though are brittle and may break if dropped. They are unsuitable for chopping through bones or frozen foods. The extremely hard edge of a ceramic blade rarely needs to be sharpened.
Chromium strengthened steel blades have augmented levels of chromium which increases protection against rust and corrosion. Stainless steel is a steel alloy with a minimum chromium content of 10.5%, hence the name “stainless”. Stainless steel will not easily stain, corrode or rust in the presence of water; ordinary carbon steel will. Higher levels of chromium form a passive barrier of chromium oxide on the knife surface; this also prevents the spread of corrosion “eating” in to the internal structure of the blade. In other words, rather than a film of rust (iron oxide) which is destructive, we have a film of chromium oxide, which is protective. This has obvious benefits in terms of longevity and durability.
There are quite a number of specialist manufacturers across the globe, some of whom have been producing quality kitchen knives for centuries. German blades from companies such as Gustav Emil, Dick and Wusthof are well-known. Victorinox is a Swiss manufacturer; Deglon Sabatier are French; Global Sai and Tsuki produce Japanese blades.
Chef knives and knife sets are also available in the extensive ranges of catering equipment suppliers including Hygiplas, Vogue and Chef Works. Knives from all of these manufacturers and suppliers, and more, can be found in the chef knife section.
Knife Type and Function
As we all know, there are countless numbers of different knives used for different jobs, so we’ve got to narrow things down a bit – so we can begin to make some rational choices.
It’s worthwhile to have a look at some broad categories.
Boning knives are an important tool in the commercial kitchen for jointing and filleting raw meat and fish; they are essential for enticingly presented dishes on the table. The blade should be flexible and extremely thin, to follow the contours of the joint or fish.
Boning knives are manufactured from high quality stainless steel and feature both broad and narrow blades. Some boning knives have riveted handles and safety grips.
Cleavers and Choppers
Cleavers usually feature a large rectangular blade for chopping through large joints. Check out our Chinese knives and Japanese cleavers; designed with traditional Asian craftsmanship married to German manufactured steel. Extremely thin tapered blades deliver absolute precision cutting and chopping. We offer remarkably inexpensive but high quality stainless steel blades for everyday use right through to top of the range finely made cleavers for perfect results time after time.
Featuring superior quality workmanship and utilising highest grade stainless steel, our cooks knives have blades ranging from 3” in length to 12”. A wide variety of colour coded nylon handled knives are particularly useful in preventing any cross contamination of raw or cooked meats and fish, fresh fruit and salads and vegetables. Cooks knives usually feature a tapered point, or tip.
A broad blade and a deep heel give plenty of space between the handle and the work surface for fast and precise slicing and chopping. Super sharp and beautifully balanced zirconia ceramic knives are featured here. Top of the range cooks knives and precision forged Global and Gustav Emil blades are designed for long life and feature riveted handles. These blades are designed to retain their sharpness and provide excellent service for years and years.
The best filleting knives have a flexible, slim blade with a straight cutting edge; perfectly designed for the clean filleting of meat and fish. Fillet knives are available in different styles with blade types of varying length. Good value for money fillet knives come with injection moulded handles that are colour coded for use on different foodstuffs, and so avoiding any chance of cross contamination of raw and cooked foods.
Fillet knives with chromium steel blades retain their edge and give unequalled sharpness; these knives are designed to last with riveted handles and are extremely wear resistant.
Paring knives are ideal for paring, peeling and de-seeding fruit and vegetables from the hand. Good food prep, a vital but labour intensive part in attractive food presentation becomes quicker and easier. Designs with a choice of serrated stainless steel blades or straight blades are available, as are colour coded paring knives. The Tsuki Japanese paring knife features a stainless steel core with a Damascus steel cover; these blades deliver long life and dependability.
Our superb collection of Santoku knives comes from top craftsmen Tsuki, Global Sai, Wusthof and many more. Santoku knives are a very popular multi-purpose kitchen knife originally from Japan, and typically between 5” and 7” in length. Classically, Santoku knives perform 3 tasks extremely well: mincing, slicing and dicing.
The knife has a flat edge and a sheepsfoot blade that curves to meet the point of the knife. The top of the blade and the top of the handle are in line. Our Santoku knives are beautifully balanced, the blade and the handle are in perfect symmetry.
Multi-purpose knives are a kitchen essential. Featuring both serrated blades and straight blades, our utility knives are manufactured from best quality stainless steel; they are also dishwasher safe. Ergonomic soft grip handles are robust but comfortable in the hand, supplying excellent balance to the knife.
Chromium strengthened steel utility knives provide unrivalled protection against corrosion and other stains. The range extends from great value for money knives to superior top of the range crafted blades that will last a lifetime.
Knife Sets, Wallets and Cases
If you’re starting out on your chosen career you may want to view our range of chef knife sets, wallets and cases from leading suppliers to the catering industry. Top brand Hygiplas offer a 15 piece starter kit and carry case at exceptional value for money, as well as smaller sets and colour coded chefs knife sets.
Check out the metal chef knife set with briefcase and plastic knife wall rack. Useful canvas knife wallets of different sizes are available from Vogue, while Dick Knives manufacture a durable magnetic knife case and splendid carving sets. Our incredible range features knife sets, wallets and cases from all the top brands world-wide including Victorinox, Chef Works and Tsuki.
Knife Care and Protection
Finally, we should have a brief look at products and systems that protect and care for your knives.
It’s pretty clear that fast and thorough food preparation tasks are facilitated by the sharpness of your blade, so it’s a good idea to invest in a high quality knife sharpener. You can choose from our extensive range of knife sharpeners from leading suppliers Vogue, Victorinox, Dick, Hygiplas and commercial catering equipment manufacturers including Waring and Buffalo.
From traditional sharpening steels to manual and electric knife sharpeners, we’ve got the lot. The range also includes useful accessories such as whetstone holders and sharpening stones. Traditional steels are available in many designs and lengths.
We shouldn’t forget knife storage and protection. Practical tools like kitchen knives and chef knives will perform their job better for longer if they are well stored and suitably cared for. Protect your blades with Dick Knives blade guards for knives with a blade length of up to 10”. Cut resistant gloves are available in varying sizes and Vogue offer magnetic knife racks and wooden knife blocks. Deglon Sabatier’s lockable knife case looks good as well as being tough and practical; it features a rigid internal box and several compartments. Dick Knives manufacture an equipment backpack for the safe transportation of your knives, tools and other equipment.
Cleanliness is next to godliness they say, and for best hygiene practices knife sterilising cabinets may be worth considering. Cross contamination of foodstuffs and possible bacterial infection of food always demand our vigilance in the catering industry. Knife sterilising cabinets are a tried and tested method of maintaining excellent levels of hygiene. They are effective against most bacteria including E coli, Salmonella and Listeria.
Our knife sterilising cabinets are sourced from well-known manufacturers Buffalo and Matfer Bourgeat. These cabinets are capable of storing and sterilising up to 20 knives in 90 minutes; they are robustly constructed of stainless steel with transparent see-through doors. They are wall mounted with lockable doors and are low energy in use. Designed to reduce cross contamination of foods, these cabinets play an important part in the catering kitchen.
We hope, if you’ve got this far, that this simple guide has cut away some of the jargon and helped in giving a bit of focus to a notoriously complex field. Everyone has their own favourites. Now it’s up to you to make the final choice.
It’s worth repeating that good quality knives will give excellent service for years and years and will always repay your investment.