text.skipToContent text.skipToNavigation
  1. Home
  2. Lockhart Catering Blog
  3. Cutting it fine: Proper etiquette for chef's knives
blog feature 19
A good chef’s knife is the single most important tool in a commercial kitchen – or any kitchen for that matter.

Most chefs are fiercely protective of them, sometimes because they’re the only thing in the kitchen the chef actually owns himself, but more usually because the knives have been carefully selected to match the chef’s hand, preferred grip and cutting styles.

So they’re not just expensive tools; they’re personal treasures that deserve to be well looked after.

Sharpening, honing and maintaining Chef’s knives are largely about common sense, and you can find reams of articles and videos elsewhere on the web showing you how just how to do this. People being what they are of course, there’s as much downright bad advice as there is good.

So in the interests of convenience, and because our advice pages wouldn’t be complete without at least touching on the proper etiquette for chef’s knives, here’s a succinct recap of some “whats” as well as some “dos and don’ts”:

Honing

The realigning of the full cutting edge of a knife, which over time becomes microscopically twisted or bent over in hundreds of spots. The most popular tool for honing is a kitchen steel. Regular honing (i.e. before and after each use) will stave off the need to regularly sharpen your knives. Here is a very good 5-minute video showing the proper technique.

Sharpening

No surprises here. Grinding the cutting edge of the blade back into something that can split atoms isn’t going to happen, but doing that amazing silk scarf trick in ‘The Bodyguard’ isn’t so far-fetched.

Putting a keen edge back on a blade isn’t all beard-stroking and smoke and mirrors. It takes patience and practice though. And lots of time. This video gives you a good idea and has a graphic display of sharpness at the end.

There are ceramic and diamond kitchen steels which sharpen as well as hone, and a plethora of whet stones and clever gadgets on the market. But the general opinion among the pros is - leave it to the pros. Even with intensive commercial use, a well-kept chef’s knife shouldn’t need sharpening more than two or three times a year. A professional mobile sharpening service will charge you less than £5 for a 10-inch knife, and around £20 for a full set of half a dozen. It’s a small price to pay.

Maintaining

The storing and general care taken over your knives when they’re not in use. And that really means don’t:
  •  Store your precious Chef’s knives in a tray or drawer without blade guards on them at least.
  • Wash your knife in a dishwasher. It’s not the detergent that’s nasty, it’s the salt from food and the very hot water – a very corrosive combination.
  • Try to open tin cans by stabbing them with the pointy end of your knife. There is a special place ‘Underground’ for people who try this.
On the other hand, do:
  • Use knife-friendly cutting boards (wood or plastic).
  • Wash the blade properly after use and dry it completely.
  • If you’ve paid good money for a carbon steel knife, wipe it down with mineral oil after using it to reduce the rate of corrosion.
Finally here’s a small handful of useful reminders, tips, facts and links.

A good chef’s knife has an 8-10” blade made of sharper carbon steel (iron and up to 2% carbon) or softer but corrosion-resistant stainless steel (iron and up to 15% chromium, nickel or molybdenum).

The debate over who makes the best chef’s knives continues to rage, but pretty much everyone acknowledges that the Japanese are peerless in combining function with aesthetics by laminating types of steel in alternate layers to give us beautiful knives that perform superbly.

The harder the steel at the cutting edge, the sharper that edge can be made. Steel sharpness is measured using the Rockwell scale. Chef’s knives have a typical Rockwell value of 55-60. Anything above that gets into serious money (over £100) and into the realms of Kevin Costner silk scarf-splitting.

The most blade-friendly storage option for any knife is a bristle fibre rod block, which is a beautifully simple and practical concept. It’s a wood block, hollowed it out and filled with long, thin plastic fibre rods. You can slide and park a dozen knives into one of these without compromising their sharpness in any way. Highly recommended, but if your commercial kitchen is a seriously busy place you’ll probably opt for a magnetic rack.

The best way to grip a chef’s knife is to pinch the rear of the blade with thumb and forefinger, then lay the rest of your hand back onto the handle and let your fingers naturally adjust as you do so. Your middle finger should end up curled around the front of the handle and snug against the bolster. You’ll get the best in terms of control, safety and comfort from this grip.

For the interested among you, here is probably the most exhaustively detailed article about kitchen knives you could ever hope to find. It’s over ten years old, but knives aren’t like microchips. The detail the author goes into is just as valid today as it ever was, and boy does he know his stuff.

Finally, a chef’s knife is also a lethal weapon. So as our last lesson in etiquette today, please remember that waving one around while screaming at your sous chef can and probably will end in its confiscation and you ending up in a police cell.

Especially if you’re in Front of House at the time…


Comments

Lockhart Catering on 22 May 2014 1:35 AM

Latest Blogs

preview image
8 May 2024
preview image
25 April 2024
preview image
24 April 2024
preview image
4 April 2024

Categories

Baking
Budget
Buyer's Guides
Buying Guides
Chefs
Competitions
Continental Chef Supplies
Education
Events
Guest Articles
Hints & Tips
Industry News
Infographics
Insight
Interviews
Jobs
London Innovation Centre
National Chef Of The Year
New Products
News
Quizzes
Recipes
Restaurants
Schools
Services
Surveys
Sustainability
Themes
Uncategorized