One common mistake operators make when specifying cutlery is not choosing the most efficient knife type for the task. For example, a serrated bread knife, though sharp, is not designed for slicing roast beef and other meats.
Operators can choose from a variety of blade materials, including high-carbon stainless steel, stainless steel, Damascus steel and ceramic. The most common material is stainless steel. High carbon stain-free steel is used more often than carbon steel, which can be susceptible to rust and corrosion.
What distinguishes commercial cutlery is the manufacturing method of the blade types. Forged blades are created from a steel blank, or piece of steel, that is heated in the forge. The steel is then pounded with either a hammer or machinery to create a knife shape. The forged steel is then continuously heated, hammered and cooled in order to temper the steel. This creates a lighter yet stronger blade that resists breaking. It is the preferred type for executive chefs at higher-end restaurants.
For operations that want to avoid the expense of forged knives, a new process provides the benefit of this blade type at a lower cost. The fake forged process involves electrically charged welding to form the bolster, which is a simpler process than that used to produce conventional forged blades.
Also a more affordable option, stamped knives are produced when a steel sheet is passed under a hydraulic press, which cuts the desired shape. Similar to the method of a cookie cutter creating shapes in dough, these more economical knives are more often used by cooks than chefs.
Depending on the task, operators can choose from knife blades that are straight, curved, stiff, heavy, flexible or semi-flexible.
Like blade materials and shapes, operators can choose from various knife handle options to find the one that meets their application and preference. The most common are nylon and various forms of plastic, including polypropylene and rubber coated. Ergonomic rubber handles can provide a more comfortable grip that is non-slip.
Although wood handles are still available, and some cooks prefer this type for grill use, these have become less common, since this material is not as resistant to cross contamination. While polypropylene melts at 275 degrees F, this new plastic material can withstand temperatures of up to 500 degrees F without melting.
One big and more recent development in cutlery is the dedicated use knives. Geared for HACCP compliance, these knives feature colored handles to designate each for specific use in the kitchen. For example, knives with red handles may be restricted to use with meat, while those with yellow handles are used with chicken and green-handled knives are relegated to chopping and slicing produce. This type of cutlery has become increasingly more common in chain restaurants. Knives with different color handles also can be segregated to avoid allergen cross contamination, if necessary.
Safety features represent another important consideration with these tools. Most commercial cutlery is NSF certified for enhanced food safety in the kitchen. Some manufacturers offer antimicrobial protection, which is a coating on the knives that helps prevent the buildup of bacteria. This is typically effective for the life of the knife.
When specifying knives, operators need to be aware of the edge, grind and geometry. This provides insight into how the blade should be used and resharpened between use.
Due to the frequency of use, knives can quickly become beaten up. To lengthen the service life, proper storage is key. Commercial knives are typically not stored in blocks, and leaving them on top of counters for long periods or stashing these sharp tools in a drawer can be unsafe. A number of operators utilize magnetic bars hung on the wall for convenient storage. Some manufacturers offer knife protectors that slide over the blade. These not only protect the knife, but also enhance safety in the kitchen.
The cutlery category also includes commercial-grade spatulas, turners, grill scrapers, pizza cutters, pizza rockers and pie cutters. With spatulas and turners, flexibility provides easier use. These tools need to flex appropriately to properly lift cake and pie slices. The flex point should be within the blade area. Handles should be stable and stiff. Turners used in conjunction with hot cooking equipment should have handles that can withstand high temperatures.