Every chef, whether classically trained or self taught, understands the importance of keeping their kitchen knives sharp. A sharp knife not only makes food prep cleaner and faster, but also safer. A sharp knife is smoother at cutting, which means it is much less likely to slip and cause injury. And if you were to accidentally cut yourself anyway, doing so with a dull knife causes a more mangled, more painful, and often deeper wound than a sharp knife would.
You know your knives are getting dull when they begin mutilating food (a common food to test on is a tomato) or are unable to easily slice through a sheet of paper. When this happens, it’s time to hone (a fancy word for sharpen) the blade.
Tools for Honing
There’s more than one tool to sharpen a knife. Here are some:
- Sharpening Steel. Many chefs simply reply on the old fashioned, tried and true sharpening steel (also known as a honing rod). A sharpening steel takes a bit of practice, but once mastered it makes for easy, frequent sharpening sessions.
- Sharpening Stone. Another old fashioned tool is the sharpening stone (or honing stone). This is simply a stone that you slide the blade precisely across.
- Manual Sharpener. Ceramic will sharpen knives, which is why a manual sharpener like this one is handy. This kind of sharpener typically hones both sides of the knife simultaneously.
- Electric Knife Sharpener. My go-to is the Angle Adjust Adjustable Electric Knife Sharpener. I like this sharpener because it has a coarse diamond slot and a fine ceramic slot–both with interlocking wheels that sharpen both sides of the blade simultaneously according to the individual knife’s angle. It also has a manual sharpener on the side for serrated knives.
- Self-sharpening Knife Block. My day-to-day kitchen knives are kept sharp on a consistent basis every time I pull them from the knife block. This is because I have one of Calphalon’s Self-sharpening Knife Block sets. Very handy!
- Mug. Yes, a mug. Somewhere a while ago I learned this trick from Pinterest or something else online. But it’s true, a regular mug like you drink your morning coffee in can sharpen a knife (or at least most of them can). Flip the mug over and around the bottom edge is an exposed bit of ceramic. You can slide the knife blade along this to get it decently sharp. This trick has come in very handy when visiting people who don’t have sharpeners or working in church kitchens without sharpeners (because dull knives drive me nuts!).
10 Tips for Keeping Your Kitchen Knives Sharp
Once you have sharpened each knife, abide by the following tips to ensure that your knife stays sharp and performs at its best.
- Don’t use the blade to scoop up food. Scraping the knife along the cutting board to scoop up food to add to the pot looks cool and is often done by celebrity chefs on cooking shows, but it’s bad for the blade. Opt to use a food scraper instead or use the spine of the knife.
- Don’t otherwise misuse your knife. Scooping up food is the most common misuse of a knife, but there are others. Things like using it to cut non-food items (like plastic packaging, tape, paper, cardboard, etc.), prying things up or open with it, or stabbing it into a wooden cutting board so that it stands up (fun, maybe, but bad for the blade). Refrain from these things.
- Clean your knives properly. Hand wash your knives with warm water and a mild dish soap. Never run your knife through the dishwasher as this speeds up the dulling of the blade.
- Store your knives correctly. Keep them in a sheath, knife block, or on a magnetic strip. Do not simply toss them in a drawer as this causes the blades to rub against other knives, thereby dulling them, plus presents a safety hazard when reaching in for a knife.
- Put your knives carefully onto a magnetic strip. If you store your knives on a magnetic strip, put the knife on the strip spine first, not blade first. This prevents the force of the magnet from slamming against the knife’s sharp edge.
- Cut correctly. Knives are designed to slice, not chop. Using safe, proper technique will not only cut your food faster, but also prevent your knives from dulling. Check out this free video course on how to cut various foods correctly and safely.
- Use a cutting board. Never cut anything on your counter tops or on any surface other than a cutting board designed specifically for cutting food. If at all possible, use wooden cutting boards as they are gentler on the blade than plastic ones, and never use glass cutting boards.
- Never cut frozen food. Although cutting meat while it is partially frozen might make for easier, neater cutting, it also dulls your knives more quickly.
- Sharpen your blades often. The best way to keep your knives sharp is by sharpening them. When I worked in a professional kitchen, someone would come in about once per week to sharpen our knives for us. So I have used this as a basis for how often I sharpen my extra knives. Since I now cook about half as long as I did when working professionally, I’ll sharpen my knives about once every 2 weeks (or as needed if they’re exhibiting signs of being dull).
- Sharpen your knives correctly. Improperly running the blade along a honing tool or jamming it the wrong way into an electric sharpener can cause damage to the knife and possibly to you! Be sure to read the directions that come with your sharpener and perhaps check out some YouTube videos on how to sharpen properly.