You may think all cutlery sets look the same in a magazine, in an aisle, or on the Internet. But looks can be deceiving. The pricier sets are pricier for good reasons—reasons that are critical in a professional restaurant kitchen. The experts at Chicago-area foodservice equipment dealer Schweppe, Inc. tell you what to look for.
It starts with the steel. When you look at the features of knives see if the steel meets industrial specifications. Most brand names will indicate that their cutlery sets have met some type of industrial standard, which means they were manufactured using best practices.
Also, make sure the steel is stain-free and is high carbon. Stain-free steel ensures the blade will not rust as easily as other steels. Carbon gives the steel a toughness and strength to endure over time, maintaining a sharper edge for longer, and makes it much easier to have the edge re-sharpened and cleaned. Then, look to see if the steel is wear-resistant. Wear resistance protects the blade against abrasions when cutting tougher material and against corrosive elements that threaten to reduce the sharpness of the edge.
The blades should always extend to the end of the handle, otherwise known as a full tang blade. The longer the blade, the stronger and more durable it is. Furthermore, look to see how many rivets are on the handle—those little dots that are usually evenly spaced along the handle to secure the blade—the more the better for durability and strength.
Remember those days when you sat in a stuffy high school classroom learning about edge geometry? Well, edge geometry is very important on a blade (yes, some geometry can be applied in the real world). When the edge is properly made the blade is easier to sharpen and restore. This means far less work for knife owners when they decide their blades need sharpening. This feature is not to be underestimated unless you enjoy breaking out the whetstone and sharpening much longer than you would otherwise need to.
Now let’s talk about the handle. For professional chefs who use their knives a lot, the feel of a handle is as important as the feel of a racquet handle for a tennis pro. So pay attention here. Inspect the contours of the handle and pick it up to see how it feels. The catchall phrase in the cutlery industry is “ergonomic.”
This buzzword is common in cutlery advertisements and it just means the handle feels good when you hold it. It’s well balanced and won’t slip out of your hand. Believe it or not, a comfortable grip has an element of safety to it as well. You are a lot less likely to injure yourself using a knife that feels comfortable in your hands.
Once you get the comfort thing down, you will want to look at the material of the handle. If you want something that can withstand the rigors of the dishwasher you should go with a plastic, rubber or resin—often the cheapest—handle. These handles are the most common because of their affordability, durability, and, as previously mentioned, their dishwater-readiness. Wood handles are a good option, too, but they require more care due to drying and cracking.
Steel handles are impervious to water and germs. However they are slippery when wet and can easily become hot or cold when handled. Whatever you choose, look for a National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) certificate logo on the list of features. Its presence indicates that the handles resist the types of bacteria that can lead to food-related illnesses.
Now you have an idea of what to look for in knives and why one cutlery set might be $100 more expensive then the one next to it. That said, there is a lot of information out there about blades, handles, and edge geometry, and not all of it is covered here. Ask your salesperson about the difference between one brand of knives and another and explain what you will be primarily using them for. One person may value strength while another prefers toughness and durability. Most salespeople are experts and are more than happy to provide you with recommendations based on what you need.
If you’re attending the National Restaurant Show in Chicago next month, you might have time to head out to Schweppe’s 40,000 sq. ft. store in the Chicago suburb of Lombard. Its address is 376 West North Avenue. The company has a large online presence but, as this contributed article emphasizes, professional-caliber knives are perhaps best purchased in person rather than over the Internet.