The essential tool in a kitchen is a knife. Culinary professionals have different knives for each specialized jobs in the kitchen. Some knives are used for detailed work or work with smaller items, some knives are used for butchering, and some knives are used for slicing and some for chopping. A personal set of culinary knives is the first tool a fledgling chef will arm themselves with. Learning how to use these tools is essential in the performance of culinary crafts as well as the safety for the handler.
Culinary Knife Blade Materials
First how culinary knives are made is the knowledge that will allow you to invest in tools that will last a lifetime. The material for making the blade is the number one most important part of the culinary knife.
Older knives are made of carbon steel that is made with many minerals carbon being the main one. High carbon steel of 1 to 2% carbon is the hardest that can be made into knives. Over 2% carbon is cast iron. Carbon steel knives can be sharpened to a better edge but also can lose that sharp edge quicker than other materials. Carbon steel culinary knives need extra care as acidic foods can discolor. The carbon steel material itself tends to be brittle.
Stainless steel culinary knives are harder and stronger than carbon steel. They keep an edge longer but are more difficult to get a good edge on. Stainless steel culinary knives do not discolor with use.
A newer material called High Carbon Stainless steel is just that a mix of high carbon steel and stainless steel making a more superior blade. A sharper edge on a blade that will not discolor is the advantages of high carbon stainless steel knives. Ceramic culinary knives are the newest type of knives available for the kitchen. These ceramic culinary knives are heat pressed from a ceramic powder and then sharpened. The edge on a ceramic knife stays sharper than steel and the ceramic material is harder than stainless steel. Ceramic culinary knives are more fragile and can break or chip. For this reason they are better suited for softer vegetable work rather than meat or butchering.
How Culinary Knives are Made
Culinary knife blades are either stamped from a sheet of steel or forged where the knife is strengthened through heating and cooling repeatedly hardening the steel with each pass.
The edge of a culinary knife is either hollow-ground or taper-ground. Hollow-ground blades are made from two sheets of steel joined and beveled to an edge. The taper-ground blades are normally on forged steel blades that form an edge tapering from the spine of the blade to the edge with no beveling. The taper-ground blades are the more desirable for they will last longer.
Parts of a Culinary Knife
The back of the blade is the spine, the point or tip is the sharp pointy end of the knife and the cutting edge is the sharp part of the blade.
The tang is the part of the blade that extends into the handle. Some culinary knives have a Full Tang, which extends the full length of the handle. These types of knives are used for heavy work and include the Chef’s knife and the Cleaver. Partial tangs are acceptable for knives that are used for lighter, more detailed work or get less use. A rat tale tang is a very small tang that may not be visible in the handle. These tangs are less desirable for working knives.
Rosewood is the wood of choice for handles as it is less porous than other woods and resists the wood from absorbing moisture. Plastic can be added to the wooden handles to make the knife more durable while being subjected to the chemicals in a professional kitchen. Butcher shops use knives with plastic handles because it is more sanitary than other materials. The bolster is a little flared part of the blade right before the handle.