Know your knife!
What makes a better blade
A high-carbon, high-alloy stainless steel blade enhances the sharpness, edge holding, and corrosion resistance of a professional grade knife. Why?
- The steel is harder. Edge life is proportional to hardness;
- High-carbon, high-alloy stainless steel creates a more stable edge and is more resistant to micro-chipping and edge rolling;
- These blades better resist abrasion and dulling;
- They stay sharper longer because of the finer grain of the steel.
Turners, spatulas, servers, and scrapers
A Spatula usually has a long, narrow, flexible blade that is used to mix and spread material such as batter or icing. Spatulas may have flat or offset blades.
- Baker’s Spatulas come in various lengths and blades may be offset. To remove contents quickly and completely, they are flexible to conform to standard mixing bowl shapes.
- Spatulas are also employed for the general spreading of frosting, condiments and other food materials. Smaller, offset spatulas are ideal for cake decorating.
A Turner has a wider, offset blade that has a specific flex point and is used for turning, flipping, or serving food. Turners come in many sizes.
- Blades commonly come solid or perforated with rounded or square corners.
- Beveled edges and balanced blades to keep the handle off hot grills are also available.
Servers for pizza, pie, and cake are size appropriate and flex in such a way as to maximize efficiency and presentation
Spreaders are essential for fast food preparation. Plain edge blades are ideal for spreading tuna fish, cream cheese or condiments. Scalloped blades provide the added ability to cut sandwiches, toast or bagels
Griddle, pan and baker’s scrapers serve various functions including cleaning of grills and pans, and cutting/separating dough.
What to look for when buying
Thin stainless steel blades bend where they want to bend, but higher quality steel and manufacturing processes can control the location of the flex point. Some tips:
- Spatulas and turners shouldn’t flex near the handle, they should flex further down the blade.
- After a professional tool is flexed it should return to a straight position and not retain the bend or “set”. Improperly heat-treated or paper-thin blades may not return to a straight position to perform properly.
Shopping for the knife that’s right for you
As is often said, you get what you pay for. The higher quality tool always yields a better result. A quality professional knife begins with the finest cutlery steel. Here are the features you should look for when shopping for a knife:
- A small, tight uniform grain in the steel
- An ultra sharp edge right out of the box
- Edge geometry that allows for quick and easy resharpening
- Weight and balance that feel right
- A comfortable, ergonomic grip
What to look for in an edge
- The highest quality blades are heat treated to stay sharper longer. The edge grinding goes far up the blade. When sharpened, only minute particles of steel come off. The edge is maintained because of the long, streamlined edge grind.
- Most other knives have a large, irregular, uneven grain structure, and the edge is ground only a short way up the blade, creating a friction point and quick dullness.
Types of knives
Paring Knife: Four styles are most common: curved, spear, sharp, and clip point. Delicate pepper rings finely sliced or slivered olives or cherries can be done with a curved or sharp point paring knife to dress up fancy salads. A cook's paring, or spear point knife, can be used to remove corn from the cob, break up heads of lettuce or cabbage, peel fruit or vegetables, cut beans, etc. The clip point is used for eyeing potatoes, seeding, peeling, and pitting.
Utility Knife: A sharp 6” utility knife is most efficient for slicing non-solid fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes or squash. For acid fruits, a stainless steel blade is preferred. Useful for cutting large melon rings, cutting heads of lettuce into wedges, preparing cabbage for shredding,halving grapefruits and oranges, etc.
Boning Knife: Blades vary in length from 4” to 8”. Many cooks simplify carving and get extra servings by boning out a roast when it is partially cooked. For boning roasts, whole hams, lamb legs, veal legs, and filleting fish, a narrow flexible blade is best. The wider stiff blade is used for cutting raw meat and many other trimming operations on less thick cuts of meat.
Cook’s Knife: Available in blade lengths from 6” to 12”, this knife has more uses than any other one knife in the kitchen. The blade is wide at the handle and tapers to a point. Deep choil protects knuckles when dicing or mincing celery, onions, nutmeats, parsley, peppers, etc. When properly used, the chef positions the point of the knife on the cutting board beyond the food to be diced or sliced and, without lifting the point, works the knife in a rocking motion to cut evenly and rapidly. Used for carving hot roasts also. The blade may be forged or not forged.
Slicers and Carvers: The most important carving knife is the roast beef slicer, most often used to carve rounds, boneless roasts, boiled briskets, pot roasts, butt roasts, and standing rib roasts. The narrow cold meat slicer or ham slicer is used to slice ham or leftover cold roasts of all kinds. The wide, stiff blade does a better job on hot meats, whereas the narrow, more flexible blade cuts cold meat more efficiently. Although there are many patterns to select from, a slicer or carver should have adequate length to permit smooth slicing action.
The most common edge is the straight edge. We see it mainly on chef’s knives, fillet knives, slicers and paring knives. A straight edge allows us to cut, chop, mince and dice. Straight or plain edges are designed to cut without tearing or shredding.
A scalloped edge is made of points and valleys. The points are used to penetrate the product, while the valley is used to slice. A scalloped edge is efficient on anything with a crust, peel or rind.
The Dexter Tiger Edge, an aggressive form of scalloped edge, is commonly used on whole fish and frozen foods.
The duo edge employs a series of alternating small hollows on the side of the blade that look like footballs (hollow ground ovals). This allows the introduction of air, juices and fats helping to lubricate the blade for smooth effortless slicing.
Commonly seen on retail knives, the serrated edge is often mistakenly used in scalloped edge applications. It is not considered a professional food service edge because it saws, leaving a jagged edge rather than slices.
Stainless Steel or High Carbon Steel?
Stainless Steel blades have lots of good points.
- The steel is composed of at least 12% chromium which does one thing for the blade: it makes the blade able to resist rust and corrosion better than high carbon blades.
- Stainless steel knife blades are generally tougher than high carbon blades.
- Flavor Preservation: Stainless steel knives do not require any protective or non-stick coating so there is less chance of contaminating your food if you do use it for food preparation. Stainless steel also tends not to leach off its metallic properties onto your food. Some discerning pallets sometimes can tell if the knife used in the preparation of the food was high carbon because it sometimes leaves that slight metallic taste.
- Recyclable: Stainless steel is one of the most recyclable materials today.
- Appearance: Stainless steel knives look good for a very long time. Less time used in maintaining the knife gives you more time to do what it is you like to do.
High Carbon Steel is the hardest element with both advantages and disadvantages.
- Unmatched sharpness and cutting properties preferred by professional chefs.
- Superior edge retention over long periods of use.
- Lasts for years
- Less costly than Stainless Steel
- On the downside, High Carbon Steel blades rust. You need to thoroughly clean and dry the knife after each use.