An ode to the Chef’s Knife

Like a painter has a brush, a chef has a knife. From humble burger to Michelin-star plated perfection. With bold strokes or minute precision. A sharp chef's knife enables the Chef to paint his plate. Of all the kitchen equipment you will ever own, nothing is more vital or more indispensable than a good knife. Most Chefs have an array of knives to choose from. But if only given the choice of one: The Chef’s Knife would be the top pick.

BARE Knife with lemons on cutting board

Like food is so much more than fuel, a Chef’s knife is so much more than just a knife. With this single knife you cut, dice, mince, chop, and slice anything from a fine steak to fresh veggies. A good knife feels right, balanced. It stays sharp and true. It looks good. It is taken care of with love. A good knife has a soul.

BARE Cookware is about that soul. Because we want to make tools that last. That inspires you to cook better. BARE Knives is about craftsmanship. Because making knives is an art. Just like cooking. Simple, but hard to master.

Knife anatomy 101

In this article we'll look at the differentiating factors between Chef’s knives, let's call it knife anatomy 101. This should help you in choosing the right knife for you. We’ll also explain which choices went into designing our BARE Cookware 8” Chef’s knife.

1. Blade profile

The first thing that separates knives is their shape. The blade profile of a (Chef’s) knife can be rounder or flatter. A rounder blade profile is referred to as having more belly. Works for Chef’s too. A knife with a more pronounced belly is better suited for rocking. A flatter blade edge is better geared towards straight up and down chopping. We have a complete overview of knife types here.

The width of the blade profile is a design choice too. A wider blade offers a wider base for the fingers to rest against. On the downside: a wider blade is heavier, resulting in less speed during fast work.

Lastly a knife blade can be profile tapered, meaning that it gradually gets thinner from spine to cutting edge. This is seldomly used, as the primary bevel accomplishes most of the benefits gained by this difficult to produce geometry design. More on that further down.

2. Spine profiles

Obviously, the thickness of the spine is a defining factor in knife design. A thicker blade is stronger, but heavier. A thicker spine is also more comfortable when pushing down on the spine of the knife. For our BARE Chef’s knife, we have settled on a straight spine thickness of 2.5mm. This allows the knife to withstand all daily cutting tasks without becoming cumbersome.

Besides thickness, the spine of a knife can be shaped to. There are two varieties of knife spine types:

  1. The straight spine. Straightforward and functional. The straight spine does not vary in thickness. It offers the most strength and durability.
  2. The tapered spine. Here the spine gets thinner from handle to tip. If a blade gradually thins toward the tip this is called a full distal taper. This is especially useful in knives for delicate or fast work. A full distal taper adds significant cost in manufacturing. A drawback of a full distal taper is the decreased strength of the blade near the tip. This means increasing the risk of breaking the tip of your knife should you drop it.

3. The bolster

The bolster is the part that merges the handle into the knife. Structurally, a bolster is not necessary. It can be a very beneficial part to improve the balance of a knife. Some knives come with a full bolster that extends to the heel of the knife. This adds a strong point at the heel of the knife that can then be used to hack through small bones. We’re no fans of the full bolster as it makes sharpening almost impossible.

BARE Knives come with a half-bolster that balances the knife out and increases ergonomics when pinch-gripping the blade. The half-bolster ensure you can easily sharpen your knife yourself. Read more about knife sharpening here.

4. The tang

The tang is the part of the blade steel that extends into the handle. There are two types of tangs.

  1. The full tang. Extends fully into the handle. A full tang does not always have to be visible, but almost always is. A full tang provides more weight in the handle and is stronger than a partial tang. It should be noted that this added strength is only beneficial in survival or hunting knives. Kitchen knives should never be strained to the point where such added strength would make a difference.
  2. Partial tang. Extends partially into the handle. Japanese knives are traditionally made with a partial tang and no bolster. For kitchen work this construction is plenty strong enough. In the kitchen it is a question of aesthetics and weight balance whether you prefer a partial or full tang.

5. The handle

Where the rubber meets the road. A handle should feel right. This is very subjective. We encourage you to try different types before you buy a knife. A handle should provide good grip, also in wet or oily conditions.

Besides ergonomic, a handle must last. That is why BARE Cookware knives come with a natural hardwood handle. These handles last a lifetime when taken care of. See our hardwood maintenance guide for more info.

Looks

Lastly, there’s look. Though we are very utilitarian here at BARE, we love a knife that just looks good. Additionally: a beautiful product is more sustainable and durable. Because you will care better for a beautiful knife. Beautiful tools do not get thrown out so fast. That is why we have designed our knives to look as they do. We want to make a lasting impression.

In future articles we will dive deeper into edge geometry and grind types. Stay tuned!

Steel alloys - From a Chef’s perspective

Ingredient choices

Like a chef can fine tune a recipe by adding or removing ingredients we can fine tune steel alloys to ensure certain characteristics. To make a dish sweeter, you can add sugar. To make steel softer or harder you can add carbon. In its most basic form steel contains iron and carbon. The amount of carbon (C) ranges from 0.02% to about 1.70% for high carbon steels. This includes mild steels and exotic high carbon alloys. For knife steels the usable range is commonly in between 0.30 and 0.85%.

Other elements can be added for certain characteristics. Chromium (Cr) adds corrosion resistance. Vanadium (V) and Molybdenum (Mo) drive grain formation. This results, among other things, in a steel that can be better heat-treated. In a future blog post we will dive into more detail per ingredient and include some more exotic ingredients.  

Cooking technique

Process matters too: searing a steak changes its texture and flavour. Heating or cooling steel changes its characteristics. Just like multiple dishes can be made from the same set of ingredients, a steel can have greatly varying characteristics depending on the way it is processed.

Forging steel on anvil

For example: even high carbon steels can have a very low Rockwell-C Hardness rating if they are not quenched and tempered properly. The steel alloy only determines the upper and lower bounds for the characteristics of a knife. Just like a chef can go all sorts of ways with a set of ingredients and equipment, it is up to the knife maker to get the best results out of a certain steel alloy.

Common recipes

Every chef knows how to make basic recipes from basic ingredients. In the same way there are alloys and tempering procedures that every knife maker should know. This helps when you pick a knife. There are a dozen steel types you will commonly see. Their characteristics are well known, and how to process them is standardized.

Just like it is unwise to eat something without knowing the ingredients, don't buy a knife of which you don't know the steel alloy. We advise you to stick to the 'tried and tested' types of steel when starting out: you really cannot go wrong here. Once you know your style in cooking and have a solid grasp on the basics of knife skills and care you might want to branch out into more exotic steel types or boutique handcrafted knives. Or you might not! There is a lot to say for standardization when consistent quality is desirable.

The check please

As any chef will tell you cooking is a balancing act. Just as there is no dish that has the perfect flavour, there is no perfect knife steel. It is about personal preference. The ‘right’ steel type and treatment is very relative. For example: a harder steel will be more prone to rust and cracking. And a hard and rust-resistant steel will cost significantly more. A big part of the balancing act that is alloy composition comes down to cost. Just make sure you understand the trade-offs involved with your steel type of choice before buying a quality knife.

BARE Knives

At BARE Cookware we choose to use X50CrMoV15 steel for our knives. This is a well-known knife steel with excellent corrosion resistance. Our steel alloy contains:

BARE Cookware knife over pile of orange vegetables

In our experience X50CrMoV15 strikes a perfect balance between price, rust-resistance, and hardness. Our knives bolster an impressive Rockwell-C hardness of 58. This hardness ensures our knives are razor sharp and stay that way but are still resistant to chipping or breaking. Can you get a harder steel? Sure, but you'll either compromise on rust-resistance, chip-resistance or pay dearly for it. In future posts we will elaborate on steel characteristics, alloy elements and composition, quenching and tempering methods, and the result of these factors in the final product.

Knife types: the basics

Anyone who’s ever set foot in a specialty knife shop or even a specialty kitchen shop will know: there are a lot of different knives. In this post we’ll go over the essential knife shapes. We hope to give you a sense of direction. What knife to choose for what? Let's understand the basic knife types from a functionality standpoint. Then we can look at more in depth properties that define knives. Properties like steel type, hardness, and grind type. 

Broadly speaking we distinguish two types of knives: standard and specialty. Standard knives are multi-purpose knives that can be used for a plethora of tasks. Specialty knives only have one purpose, but are extremely efficient in that one purpose.  

When choosing a knife you logically want to start with the knives that do the most. Like a Chef’s knife. This will give you the most value for money. Only after that you have your daily tasks covered you’ll want to expand into specialty single-purpose knives. 

So what are the essentials? Let's start with the holy trinity of western knives. 

1. Chef's knife

The most versatile and popular of all knife types. The Chef’s knife has it’s name for good reason. This is the daily driver of any chef. The chef's knife can perform about 90% of tasks in a kitchen. Check out our detailed article on the things you can do with a Chef’s knife here

2. Paring knife

For smaller work like peeling or whittling vegetables this is an indispensable addition to a Chef’s knife. We use it for all sorts of small cutting tasks, even dicing onions works well. 

3. Serrated knife

Or the bread knife. Really only necessary for cutting hard crusted bread. But since that task is so common and difficult without a bread knife we still consider a serrated knife to be essential. We would not recommend using a serrated knife for anything other than bread or pastries. A good serrated knife is long and tall. This keeps slices straight and allows you to efficiently saw through large loafs. 

From these three knives above we’d recommend branching out to include some Japanese style knives. Here are a couple of solid basics. 

4. Santuku

A very popularized shape. The santoku is slightly smaller than the Chef’s knife. It also has a straighter blade profile. As such it lends itself better for vegetables and chopping with an up-and-down-forward motion (vs the circular motion used with a Chef’s knife). This knife is almost as versatile as a Chef’s knife and could even be used as a replacement for it. 

5. Kiritsuke

One of our favorite knife shapes. A Kiritsuke is usually longer than a Chef’s knife. This is just a gorgeous knife type. The straight front, low point, and flat blade profile make this knife particularly suited for push chopping and for finely dicing herbs. The extra size over the Chef’s knife comes in handy when handling large products or when making even slices through fish or meat.

6. Nakiri

A knife for greens. The nakiri has a straight cutting edge, allowing for a push-cut motion straight down to the cutting board. This knife is particularly suited for cutting vegetables into thin strips or slices. Subsequently those slices can be stacked and cut into strips. The tip of this blade has a slight rounding that makes it easier to lift the handle up after chopping down. The rounded tip also helps the knife plunge-cut straight down into harder vegetables. 

With the first 3 knives above 99% of your kitchen work can be done easily. The next 3 we would consider a luxury for the home cook. After that we would recommend looking for specialty knives for those tasks that you find yourself doing frequently. We haven't covered boning knives, cleavers, steak knives and many more. We’ll cover some specialty knife types in a next article.

11 things you can do with a Chef's Knife

Like a painter has a brush, a chef has a knife. Of all the kitchen equipment you'll ever own, nothing is more indispensable than a good knife. Most Chefs have an array of knives to choose from. But if only given the choice of one: the Chef’s Knife would be the top pick. The fact that we were able to list 11 cutting techniques speaks to the versatility of the chef's knife.

With this single knife you are able to cut, dice, mince, chop and slice anything from a fine steak to fresh veggies. Whether you are a beginning cook or experienced chef, the most important tool at your disposal is your chef's knife.

So what are some of the things you can do with a Chef's Knife? Let's list some examples! Oh and be sure to check our guide on how to hold the knife safely.

The 'Chef'

Obviously! The most straightforward cutting technique is the 'Chef's chop'. Put the tip of the blade on the cutting board and push the knife through the product. Lift on the backstroke and repeat. This technique takes a little time to master but is essential in any kitchen.

Chop

Simply move the blade up and down. The flat part of the blade near the handle is perfect for chopping. This technique gives a nice straight cut. A more classic approach is to simultaneously move the knife back and forth a little so you are cutting diagonally.

Rock

Rocking is done by placing your free hand on top of the spine of the knife for added control and safety. The upward curve towards the tip of the Chef's knife allows you to lift the handle up without the blade leaving the cutting board. Rocking the knife from heel to tip is perfect for finely cut fresh herbs. It's also a great cut for breaking down hard vegetables like sweet potatoes safely.

Julienne & Dice

The julienne cutting technique is synonymous with high-end kitchens. While not the easiest to perform constantly, a sharp knife goes a long way. When cutting even strips or cubes, you can use the side of the knife to square up your work. This gives you a straight reference to start slicing or chopping while maintaining evenly sizes pieces.

Peel

Yes, even peeling is possible with a Chef's knife. Admittedly: the peeler often works better. But when in a pinch you can move your hand from the handle toward the blade of the knife to gain more control. This takes some skill. When done right is yields a very straight cut. For example when peeling a cucumber.

Fillet

The pointed tip and curved end of the Chef's knife's blade is perfect for filleting fish or deboning meat or poultry. Fish can even be de-skinned by laying the knife flat.

Score

The sharp pointed tip of the chef knife is perfect for piercing and scoring. For example when grilling salmon, scoring the skin yields a crispier result. To score the salmon skin position the knife almost straight up. Push the knife down until the fish skin is just pierced. Don't go to deep. Then drag the tip of the knife toward you to score the skin, keeping the cut shallow.

Mince

Steak tartare? Salmon tartare? Minced meat? Yes, it can be done with a Chef's knife! For a fine mince, use a rocking cut. Simple keep rocking the knife until the result is as fine or course as you want. For a more classic tartar use a slicing technique to get small, even cubes of meat or fish.

Crush

Yes! A chef's knife isn't even limited to cutting. The side if the knife is perfect for cushing! Especially useful for garlic and ginger. Simply place the knife flat over a clove of garlic and smash the side of the blade. Much faster than a garlic crusher. And one less tool to clean.

Bruise

Most aromatics and herbs benefit from being bruised to release more flavor. For this we use the back (or spine) of the knife. For example: to bruise lemongrass, simply hit is a couple times with the spine of the knife to soften it. Same goes for rosemary, sage, ginger, garlic.. you name it!

Grind

Even grinding hard spices can be done with a Chef's knife. Use the side of the blade as mill-stone. To crush pepper for example, place the knife flat over the peppercorns. Push down hard on the side of the knife and rock the handle side to side to start crushing. A trick you can use for this technique is to add some salt as an abrasive to speed things up. We've found the forging pattern on the side of our knives is perfect for this technique.

Just as food is so much more than fuel. A Chef’s knife is so much more than a knife. A great knife feels just right and is balanced. It stays sharp and true. It looks good. It is taken care of with love. A good knife has a soul.

BARE Cookware is about that soul. Because we want to make tools that last. That inspires you to cook better. BARE Knives is about craftsmanship. Because making knives is an art. Just like cooking. Simple, but hard to get perfect.  

This list of cutting techniques is by no means comprehensive, we probably missed a few. While a chef's knife is versatile, some tasks are better suited to specialised knives. Would you like to read more about specific knife types? Continue reading here.

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