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Often described as the only knife you'll ever need in the kitchen, a chef's knife (also known as a cook's knife) is used for everything from chopping to slicing and dicing. Choosing the perfect Chef's knife is subjective because it's so dependent on how it feels and weighs in your hand. Some chefs prefer heavier knives to lighter knives, some prefer textured handles to plastic ones—there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to picking a knife. Ultimately though, you want a knife that will last. A knife that is sharp and can keep an edge longer will ensure even, consistent cuts. Unlike your at-home varieties, commercial knives are stronger and sharper, and are designed to withstand the rigors of the commercial kitchen.
The blade of a Western knife is cut differently from its Japanese counterpart. Western knives are often sharpened on both sides, often at an angle of 20°. Japanese blades on the other hand are sharpened on one side at an angle of 15°; this makes for a very light, very sharp blade. Many Japanese-style knives, like traditional Santoku knives, also feature sheepsfoot blade that curves in an angle; this results in limited "rocking" during cutting and lends itself to more of an up and down chopping motion. Compared to the traditional 8 to 10-inch length of a Western style Chef's knife, the Santoku blade is often shorter at around six to seven inches.
The Difference Between a Stamped Knife and a Forged Knife
When shopping for a chef knife consider whether a stamped or forged knife is for you. A forged knife is often hand-forged from a single piece of steel that has been folded hundreds of times. Because of this, a forged knife is often heavier and thicker than its stamped counterpart. You can identify a forged knife with a quick glance at the handle; a raised bump by the handle is often referred to as the "bolster," and many find it makes a comfortable grip for the hand.
A stamped knife on the other hand are literally "stamped" from a single piece of steel. These types of knives are thinner and lighter than their forged counterparts, and often the steel only goes halfway through the handle (referred to as the "tang").
There's no right or wrong answer when it comes to a stamped versus a forged knife, it just depends on what feels better to you. Both knives are equally sharp, though due to the flexibility of stamped blades you may find that forged knives hold an edge longer.
Knife Blade Edge Types
Most Chef's knives you'll encounter will feature a straight edge, which gives you a smooth, clean cut and makes it the best option for carving meat since it will not tear delicate fibers. In fact, the easiest way to test if your knife is sharp or not is to try slicing a single sheet of paper—a good, sharp knife will slice it in half without struggling. Some Japanese style knives will feature a hollow or granton edge, which has small "wells" on the side of the blade; these wells help to create pockets of air that prevents the food from sticking to the blade. Great for starchy foods like potatoes, you can easily achieve thin slices with a granton-style blade edge on your knife.