Most German knives are made of stainless steel with a high-carbon content. This blend that melds the best qualities of both metals: High carbon steel holds an edge well but can stain, rust, and turn black; stainless steel looks great but is harder to sharpen. Each maker possesses a trade-secret recipe for a steel mixture that can include cobalt, manganese, chromium, nickel, and other alloys that are of interest only if your hobby is metallurgy.
How a chef knife is made distinguishes inexpensive knock-offs from long-lasting quality products. A stamped knife is created cookie-cutter style from a large sheet of steel, to which a handle is attached. In contrast, a forged knife is heated and shaped from a single bar of steel. In the stamped version, the tang—the unsharpened continuation of the blade metal—may run only partway through the handle (called a partial tang), making the attachment less secure and prone to breakage.
Forged knives always boast a full tang that continues to the end of the handle, creating better weight and balance for easier use. In addition, they feature a bolster, which is the thicker, shoulder-like part where blade and handle meet. (The bolster assists in effecting a comfortable, high-control pinch grip, where the bent index finger touches the blade, the remaining fingers are wrapped around the handle, and the thumb rests on the blade.) Stamped knives,
in contrast, never have a bolster.
Chef knives are made from 8 to 12 inches in length to accommodate different tasks—extra length translates to extra leverage—and different sized hands.
You may wonder whether divots on the blades of many Santuko knives, and more recently chef knives, are decorative or functional. In fact, these indentations create tiny air pockets that reduce friction and help prevent food from suctioning to the blade.
“I like them because when you’re cutting a protein, which can stick to a regular blade, it will fall off. So you’re cutting as fast as you can,” says Chef Shawn Doyle. To further reduce food adhesion, some blades are made with a series of holes. These, however, he cautions against, as they offer places for food particles to hide and bacteria to grow.