The chef’s knife is the core backbone in any good cutlery set, and found on cutting boards the world over. The utilitarian design provides flexibility and makes this a first choice for most kitchen tasks. The knives typically handle all matters of work, whether that be meat and fish butchery, vegetable prep, pastry work, and even garnish prep. A chef’s knife handles it all.
It’s important to have a grasp of the various parts of a knife to better understand how it can be used. We’ll go from tip to tail: The point of the knife is where the blade’s edge and the spine meet. Because of its small surface area this is going to be the most pressure-inducing point of the knife, and is primarily used to pierce things which can assist the beginning of a cut. The next section is the tip; this part of the blade includes the point, and is typically tasked with more delicate precision work.
The edge is the entire sharpened cutting portion of the blade, and runs from the point to the heel. The middle section of the edge is going to be where the majority of cutting work is preformed. The heel is the rear portion of the edge closest to your hand. Because of its proximity to your hand, this is going to be the part of the blade where you can exert the most weight onto. This can be useful for tasks like cutting through animal joints or tough skinned vegetables. On the opposite side of the edge, or what I’ll call the top side of the blade, we have the spine. The spine can also be a versatile part of the blade due to its blunt nature, handling tasks where crushing is needed, though extreme caution needs to be given to where the edge is pointed in regards to your positioning. The broadside of the blade can also be used for particular needs like crushing garlic. Moving towards the handle of the knife, we have the bolster, which is the point where blade joins the handle.
The bolster acting as the junction point helps create balance between the lighter weight handle and heavier blade. The tang is the section of metal that flows from the blade into the handle, and provides rigidity and strength. There are different types of tangs: a full tang means the blade is a single piece of metal that extends the full length of the handle and the grips are attached to this piece of metal. This is the strongest design. A partial tang means the blade only partially goes into the handle, and is typically held into the handle with some type of bounding compound. This design is inherently weaker than a full tang. Not all knives necessarily need a full tang; it all depends on their intended design. For full tang knives, you will find rivets that attach the grips to the blade. Lastly, there is the butt of the knife, which is just the back end of the handle. This, too, can be used for pounding things out or even acting as a citrus reamer, though caution has to be given to the sharp edge when handling.
Regional differences have developed between the creation of chef’s knives due to cultural differences and availability of types of foods. European-style blades have been designed over time to tackle heavier meats and fibrous vegetables, leading to a knife design that is thicker, heavier and with a sturdier edge profile. Asian-style blades have been designed for delicate seafoods and vegetables; these knife blades tend to be thinner and sharped to a finer edge. The difference in blade designs can be felt in the way they handle, with Eurostyle knives lending to a more rocking style motion compared to the more vertical chopping type of motion of an Asian styled knife. They both can typically handle the same various tasks, though I personally wouldn’t want to try much butchery with an Asian style chef’s knife due to its thinner blade being more fragile to chipping. It all comes down to preference in how your knife handles and feels while performing.