Even with the technological advancements in cutting and slicing equipment, cutlery remains a staple in most commercial kitchens.
The biggest separation in manufacturing style for commercial cutlery is forged and stamped blades. Forged blades start as a piece of steel heated in the forge. The steel is pounded with a hammer or machinery into the rough shape of a knife. The forged knife is heated again, and more hammering follows. Several cycles of heating, cooling and hammering all serve to temper the steel and make the forged knife strong. Stamped knives are created by passing a steel sheet under a hydraulic press. The press cuts the desired shape out of the metal, similar to how a cookie cutter cuts shapes in the dough.
Blade materials include high-carbon stainless steel, carbon steel, Damascus steel, ceramic and stainless steel. Each type of material comes with its own benefits and drawbacks. While carbon steel will rust if not kept dry, stainless steel may not hold an edge as well. Some manufacturers use lasers to cut their knives in a more precise manner, but these are not necessarily sharper than those that are forged or stamped.
Ceramic knives contain an edge much thinner than steel, and the blades are made of a material containing either aluminum oxide or zirconium oxide. These knives take their form through a process called hot isostatic pressing, during which the material gets molded and fired simultaneously to produce a blade that holds its edge well after honing. Black blades use zirconium carbide as the base material. Ceramic blades are somewhat susceptible to breakage. Foodservice operators use these knives more often for slicing than chopping due to the sharp edge. Unlike steel blades, ceramic blades will not cause a chemical reaction with acidic or alkaline foods.
Plastic serrated knives have become more popular in recent years. Although not sharp, this type is known to keep vegetables from changing color when cut.
Kitchen knives and other specialized cutlery are designated for specific applications. Types include chef’s, paring, boning, slicing, bread, seafood, carving and butcher’s knives as well as cleavers. Chef’s knives, or cook’s knives, are the most commonly used and perform a variety of tasks. On the smaller side, paring knives are ideal for peeling and coring fruits and vegetables.
For removing bones from meats, many cooks use narrow-bladed boning knives, which have a rigid blade that tapers off to a point. Operators use these knives to carve out any remaining bones in red meats or to
completely debone a whole chicken. A filet knife is similar to a boning knife but is much more flexible.
Serrated slicing knives are best used for carving meats and slicing breads since this blade makes a series of short saw cuts. Some fibrous vegetables and fruits, like tomatoes, also benefit from a serrated knife’s cross-cutting design.
Butcher’s knives, which have a slightly curved blade, are good for trimming raw and cooked meats. A carving knife is generally larger than a chef’s knife, although the basic shapes can be similar. This type can be very rigid or very flexible, depending on the type of meat it is designed to carve. Carving a large pot roast may require a very rigid blade, while carving pork or fish steaks may require more flexibility.
One of the largest kitchen knives is the cleaver, which has a heavy, thick blade for cutting through the thickest portions of meat or bones. Despite its large size, this knife is commonly used for fine chopping and dicing. Cooks can also use the flat side of a cleaver to crush garlic cloves, whole spices or seeds.