Your Expensive Kitchen Knives Need To Be Properly Maintained For Safety And Top Performance
Honing and sharpening are two very important things to do for your kitchen knives. And just to be clear; yes, honing and sharpening are two different things. Some people incorrectly use these terms interchangeably.
Honing is a quick realignment of the knife’s cutting edge to increase cutting efficiency. This will make your knife FEEL sharper and it will cut more easily, but this is not the same as sharpening.
Sharpening involves using an abrasive to remove metal from the cutting edge, reshaping it into a fresh, newly sharp edge.
Sharpening only needs to be done once or twice a year, but honing should be done every couple of times you use the knife, if not every time. You should be able to tell if your knife is dull simply by how difficult it is to cut food, but there is another way to check. Hold the blade with its edge facing a bright light. If you see a thin line of light reflected off the knife’s edge, it is dull. If no light is reflected, it is still sharp.
The Different Ways To Sharpen Your Kitchen Knife
Electric sharpener: These are pricey, but are the easiest and fastest way to sharpen your knife at home. They have several slots with varying coarseness and angles. Knives typically have either a 15 degree or 20 degree edge, and an electric sharpener should accommodate both. Simply run the knife’s cutting edge through the appropriate slot with light but steady pressure as many times as needed. One common problem with these sharpeners is if your knife has a bolster, it will prevent you from sharpening part of the blade.
Manual sharpener: These are very similar to electric sharpeners, except the abrasive sharpening wheels are not motorized. You have to apply more manual pressure and may need more passes depending on how dull the blade is. These are much cheaper than electric sharpeners and are typically able to sharpen knives with a bolster.
Whetstone: These are relatively cheap, and can be used to sharpen any knife, but they require some skill to use. It is a flat, rectangular sharpening stone, usually with a coarse side and a fine side.
- It needs to be kept wet with water throughout the sharpening process to reduce friction and prevent damage to the blade. Add water to the stone frequently and keep wiping the knife blade clean.
- Start with the coarse side up and make sure the whetstone is securely sitting on the work surface. Use something like a rubber mat or damp towels to make sure it stays in place.
- Place the handle end of the knife edge on the whetstone pointing away from you. Hold the blade at a 15 or 20 degree angle. The angle does not need to be measured or super precise, just try to keep it as consistent as possible throughout the process.
- Use your other hand to hold the blade down by spreading your fingers and applying even pressure along the length of the knife blade.
- With even pressure, move the knife across the surface of the whetstone, away from you. As you are doing this, move the knife so the whetstone goes from the handle end of the blade to the tip. This movement should be done smoothly and quickly, in a wide sweeping motion.
- Repeat this several times, and then do the other side of the blade with the same amount of passes. Next, repeat this whole process with the smooth side.
- Remember to keep the whetstone wet and frequently wipe the knife blade clean.
Sharpening A Serrated Knife
A serrated knife can be sharpened with a manual sharpener that has sharpening wheels. These are capable of hitting the peaks and valleys of the serrations. Serrated knives do not need to be sharpened as often as those with smooth edges.
- Honing should be done after sharpening and frequently after use in the kitchen. This is done with a honing steel.
- Hold the steel vertically with the end pressed down on a firm, slip resistant surface.
- Hold the back of the knife blade at a 15 or 20 degree angle against the steel. Smoothly and quickly move the knife down and back so the steel hones the full length of the blade. Do this 3 or 4 times on both sides.
One More Option
If you don’t feel comfortable attempting to sharpen your own kitchen knives, you can pay a professional to do it.
Taking Care Of Your Kitchen Knives
How you care for your kitchen knives plays a big part in how long they last before they need to be sharpened.
As far as storage is concerned, knife blocks exist for a reason. They give you a way to store your knives so that the blades are isolated from anything that could damage them. If you put your knives in a drawer with other knives and cooking utensils, they bump into each other, which hurts the cutting edge. Also, you run the risk of cutting yourself when you reach into the drawer to get something. If you have several knives that aren’t part of a set, they make universal knife blocks.
Unless your dishwasher has dedicated knife racks, it is best to wash your knives by hand. Use the soft side of a sponge in warm, soapy water, and be careful not to cut yourself. If you put a knife just anywhere in the dishwasher, it can move around and hit other things, damaging the cutting edge.
It is important to use your knives the way they are designed to be used. For example, a chef knife should not be used to cut bones. If you need to cut bones, use a cleaver. Know what your knives are designed for, and use them accordingly.
Cutting boards are especially important, because the not only protect your counter top from the knife blade, but they also provide a relatively soft cutting surface that won’t damage your cutting edge. If you cut on a hard surface, like ceramic, your knife will dull very quickly. Wood or plastic cutting boards are should always be used for food preparation.