All Kitchen Knives (Cutlery)
Before you go out and buy an expensive knife or set of knives, let's look at a few knife basics so you know what you are talking about.
Most knives consist of the front of the knife, tang, bolster and handle. Let's look at each of these sections:
The front of a knife that contains the blade, spine, tip, and heel. The blade is the sharp part that does the cutting. The spine is opposite the blade and adds weight and stability.
The tip of a knife is at the point and is used for cutting small items, making small cuts (and opening packages.)
The tang is that piece of metal that extends from the blade to the back of the knife and the handle attaches to. Not all knives have tangs but most of the higher quality pieces do. The tang also gives a knife some weight and balance or the knife would be front heavy.
The bolster is that little collar that separates the blade and the handle. It adds strength, balance and most importantly prevents you from injuring your finger if the knife slips when cutting. The bolster can run from the spine to the edge or just part way. Again, most of the better-made knives have a bolster.
The handle is what you hold on to and can be made out of wood, plastic, composite or stainless steel. You might think a handle is just a handle but since this is what you will be mostly in contact with, it's important the handle feels good in your hand. Wood and stainless handles a very resistant to heat and will obviously not melt, though may scorch and stain. Plastic handles, which can be found on many economy quality knifes can melt if left in high heat for too long of a time. Many mid-range cutlery pieces have Bakelite handles that are resistant to both staining and melting. The term "Bake-lite" refers to thermo-set resins that are cured at extremely high heat, and once cured, cannot melt.
Knives are blocked, forged or sintered.
Blocked knives are cut from a single sheet of metal usually of the same thickness. The blades are ground to form the edge and handles are added to the tang. They typically don't have bolsters, are less expensive to manufacture. They won't have the balance or feel of a better-made forged knife.
Forged knives are made the way we think medieval swords may have been produced. The manufacturer takes a piece of metal, heats it up and pounds it into the correct shape using a drop forge machine. These knives typically have thicker bolsters, more weight, and cost significantly more. Though with the extra expense, you of course get a better made, better balanced knife that you may have forever if properly taken care of.
Sinter is a process where the manufacturer takes a separate blade and fuses it to a separate tang. It's less expensive process than forging but it allows for creating beautiful Eastern style knives where the blades are flat but have tubular handles.
Choosing the right knife
Knives are made differently for different functions. You could slice a roast or loaf of bread with a paring knife, but both jobs will be much easier and performed more effectively if you use the right knife.
Below are several fairly common types of knives.
Chef's: The chef knife will have a triangular blade from 6 to 10 inches long (with the most popular being 8"), usually at least 1 1/2" tall which gently tapers to the point. French chef knives will have thinner, longer blades to better slice thick items, while German-style chef's knives will be wider across the blade and shorter in length for better chopping. The chef knife often seems too large to novices, but with some practice it becomes the knife of choice because it is efficient for large or multiple jobs. Use this knife to chop, slice and mince; the side of the blade can be used for crushing garlic and some spices. The chef knife is best used in a rocking motion for chopping. Another knife to consider in this genre is the Chinese knife. While they may look like a cleaver, the Chinese knife is thin, well balanced and made for chopping and mincing vegetables. They are often called "the Chinese Chef's knife" and are never used to chop through bone.
Paring: The paring knife has a blade of about 2.5 inches to 4 inches that is only about 3/4 inches wide at its widest point. It can be used to peel vegetables and fruit, trim meats, and cut pastry dough - any job that requires some delicate cutting work.
Serrated/Bread: The long serrated knife is often called a bread knife because it is particularly good for slicing breads that require a back and forth sawing motion. Beyond breads, the serrated knife can be good for tomatoes and peaches and other fruits that have a skin that can bruise easily. The serrated knife must be sharpened professionally, and should not be used on a sharpening steel. However, the properly cared for serrated knife should not become dull because it is rarely drawn across a cutting board or other surfaces.
Utility: These are smaller than a chef knife and larger than a paring knife, usually with about a 6 inch blade. Utility knives, as the name implies, are used for many jobs and often serve as an extra knife for a kitchen helper to use. Sometimes it is called a sandwich knife, although now, most makers have an offset knife pattern that is more suitable as a sandwich knife.
Boning: The boning knife is used to cut meat off of bones, hence the name. The blades may be 5" or longer and are usually quite narrow. They are available in straight, curved, stiff or flexible.
Slicing: This is a long, thin knife, up to 8 to 10 inches, that is used for slicing roasts, hams, and turkeys. These are commonly available in either straight or serrated edge.
Butcher This knife is similar to a chef's knife with a blade of up to 8 inches but is usually a bit heavier.
Cleaver These are used to do heavy chopping and cutting of meats and for cutting through bone. They will either have a straight or slightly curved edge. A Chinese Chef's knife will look like a cleaver in profile but will be lighter because it is used for chopping vegetables rather than meats.
Steak The steak knife is a dining knife used at a table setting when meats are served. However, it can function in the kitchen as a paring or utility knife.