Chef’s Knife: Origin and Production Methods
The exact origin of the Chef’s knife, or commonly referred to as a Cook’s knife is difficult to pin down, it’s name is thought to have been coined from the title “Chef de Cuisine” (meaning head cook) in early 1800s France.
There are varied opinions about where and when Chef knives were first produced on any large scale, with the most common being that they were produced in Solingen, Germany in 1731, by Peter Henkel, the original founder of Zwilling J.A. Henkel, a cutlery company that pretty much monopolized the cutlery industry in Europe, such as it was, and one that would later become a virtual knife empire.
Today’s Chef’s knives are produced using a variety of blade materials and although stamped blades can be found, most cook’s knives are forged. The only notable exception are those produced in Japan.
The blade of a chef’s knife is made of a variety of materials: high carbon-steel, stainless-steel, a laminate of both metals, titanium, and ceramic, and can range in lengths from 8-14 inches with the 8 inch chef knife being the most popular and widely used in home kitchens as well as professional.
Here’s the breakdown of those materials:
A high quality carbon-steel blade is easier to sharpen and can typically hold an edge longer than a stainless-steel, however it is more susceptible to rust and stains.
Stainless-steel is also an alloy of iron (approximately 10-15% of chromium, nickel, or molybdenum) and contains only a small amount of carbon. Lower grades of stainless-steel cannot take an edge as well as quality high-carbon steel but are more resistant to corrosion.
High grade stainless-steel, such as that used by Global, Kasumi and others, can be made extremely sharp with excellent edge retention, and can equal or outperform carbon-steel blades.
Laminated Chef’s knives uses the best of each metals by creating a layered sandwich of different materials, using a softer but tough steel as the backing material and a sharper/harder but more brittle steel as the edge material.
Titanium is lighter than stainless-steel, holds its edge, is flexible, durable, and pricey.
Ceramic blades hold an edge the longest of all, however, they can chip easily and may break if dropped. Ceramic blades are chemically non-reactive meaning they will not discolor or change the taste of food.
Chef’s knife blade surfaces are available as flat or dimpled. Dimpled allows moist foods, such as salmon, to release from the blade while flat allows for smoother cuts through various meats.
The edge of a blade may be ground in the following ways:
- Double grind
- single or double Bevel
- Convex edge
- Single Grind
- Chisel edge
In order to improve a chef’s knife’s multi-purpose abilities, some owners employ differential sharpening along the length of the blade. The fine tip, used for precision work such as mincing, might be ground with a very sharp, acute cutting bevel; the mid-section or belly of the blade receives a moderately sharp edge for general cutting, chopping and slicing, while the heavy heel or back of the cutting edge is given a strong, thick edge for such heavy-duty tasks as disjointing beef.
Hot-forged: A hot-forged blade is made from one blank of steel which is heated to a high temperature and mechanically beaten to the desired shape to include a full-tang (The metal in the knife runs from the tip of the knifepoint to the far end of the handle.) The blade is then ground and sharpened.
Stamped: A stamped blade is typically cut from a sheet of cold rolled steel using a template. It’s then heat-treated for strength and temper, ground, sharpened and finally polished.
Chef’s blade design
The blade of a Chef’s knife is typically produced in two common and now universally standardized configurations: French (curved) and German (straight) and each is available in common lengths of 6 – 10 inches withe most commonly used being an 8-inch. (Some manufacturers do make a 5-inch and a 14-inch.)
A curved blade starts a slow curve from the heel to meet a curved spine ((top of the blade)) at the tip which creates a kind of smile’ this shape is for a rocking motion, where the blade never leaves the cutting board.
A straight blade has a curved spine that bends down to meet the tip of the straight edge which runs the full length of the blade starting at the heel; this shape is for a more forceful downward motion where the blade leaves the cutting board.
Note: Neither shape is inherently superior to the other as personal preference dictates which is best for mincing, slicing or chopping vegetables or cutting raw or large portions of meat.
In the last decade, the Santoku, a Japanese version of Western chef’s knives, has begun to make it’s way into many Western home cooks and professional chef’s arsenals because it is thinner and lighter than its Western counterparts making it perfect for cutting foods that require light precision such as a which is made to cut without any crushing so that meats, especially fish, retain their natural flavor.
10 best chef’s knives
The following is my list of the top 10 best chef’s knives. There are of course several other Chef’s knife brands to choose from but for the money these will definitely get the job done and last you a lifetime if properly taken care of:
- Chroma 8-Inch, Type 301
- Global G-2, 8-inch
- Mac Professional 8-inch Chef’s Knife Dimpled edge
- Kershaw Shun 8-Inch Alton’s Angle
- Victorinox (formerly Victorinox Forschner) Fibrox 8-Inch
- Sanelli 9.5-Inch Premana Professional Cook’s Knife
- Wüsthof Grand Prix II 8-Inch
- MAC Knives 8-Inch
- Kershaw Shun 8.25-Inch Ken Onion
- Glestain Indented-Blade 8.2-Inch Gyutou
Affordable chef’s knives
- Calphalon Contemporary Cutlery
- Global Cutlery
- Chicago Cutlery Walnut Tradition
- Farberware Pro Forged Chef’s Knife
- J.A. Henckels International Fine Edge Pro
- J.A. Henckels Twin Signature
- MAC Chef Serie
- OXO Good Grips
- Victorinox (formerly Victorinox Forschner) Fibrox
- Wüsthof Gourmet Cook’s Knife
Expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $300 for a good performing Chef’s knife. Prices will vary based on the brand and any additional bells and whistles, i.e., one that is made from special metals or alloys, such as titanium, and handle materials and unique design.
Filed under: Kitchen Knives Buying Guide
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