Cooking 101: Proper Knife Care

Maintaining good, sharp knives in your kitchen is a vital part of creating delicious food. A sharp knife will enable you to move quicker and make more efficient cuts.

Cooking Tips 101: Proper Knife Care

Why keep sharp knives?

Good question.  I have heard lots of people say they actually prefer their knives to be more dull than sharp, thinking they are less likely to “hurt” themselves if using a dull knife.  This is actually a faulty thought and here’s why.  When using a dull knife, you are more likely to slip off your food and cut yourself.  Sharp knifes provide much better efficiency and precise cuts, whereas dull knifes are more erratic and lead to sliced fingers.  Yes, it is true that, if you do cut yourself with a sharp knife, it has the potential to be more of a severe cut.  However, believe it or not, a cut from a sharp knife will actually heal faster and hurt less than if from a dull knife.

What’s the difference between honing and sharpening my knife?

Many people get confused about how to care for their knives and can, consequently, do more harm than good.

Let me first start by explaining the difference between honing and sharpening a knife.  Do you own one of those long-metal-sword-looking-things most people call a “knife sharpener” (see photos below)?  Well, that’s actually not a knife sharpener.  It’s called a knife steel and it’s used to hone your knife.  While a well-honed knife keeps your knife blade sharp, it does not actually sharpen your knife.  What it does is, if used properly, recalibrates your knife’s blade back to the way it was originally molded (at about a 20-degree angle).  Plus, it removes metal spurs and bits of food from the knife to maintain a nice, sharp edge.

How do I hone my knife?

So glad you asked!  To maintain a well-honed and sharp knife, it is recommended to use a knife steel after each use of your knife.  Yes, each use.  If you happen to be cooking a lot during a single time frame, like — say, on Thanksgiving — you could also go ahead and hone your knife part way through the day as well.

How to hone your knife

Honing your knife is super easy and just takes a second.  Just follow these easy steps:

  1. Hold the steel rod in one hand so that it is pointing away from you (this may also be done by resting the steel on a nonskid surface)
  2. Place the heel of the knife, which is the end that is closest to the handle, flush against the steel rod. The tip should point out at a 20-degree angle. To find a 20-degree angle, think about a 90-degree angle and then halve that, then halve that again.
  3. Slowly glide the knife down, taking care to maintain that 20-degree angle and for the blade of the knife to slide from the heel to the tip.  When you are finished with this motion, all parts of the knife blade (on that one side) should have touched the steel. Note: this should be an easy gliding motion and should not sound or feel like you’re damaging the knife’s blade.
  4. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 about 8-10 times for each side of the knife’s edge.
  5. After both sides of the knife have been run on the steel, it is necessary to clean off the microscopic remnants left behind.  Just wipe each side of the knife’s blade on a clean towel and the put your knife away.
  6. All done!

Cooking Tips 101: Proper Knife Care

How do I sharpen my knife?

Sharpening your knife comes around only about two times per year — and that’s if you cook regularly.  Not sure if you need to sharpen your knives?  Just try slicing through a single sheet of paper.  If it cuts through easily, there’s still time.  If not, it’s time to sharpen.  There are two ways to sharpen your knife: at home or professionally.  Sharpening your knife professionally usually costs about $8-$20/knife, depending on where you go while purchasing a sharpening stone you can reuse at home costs about $40-$70.   I choose to sharpen mine at home simply because I figured I can get more mileage out of that money from home than by having someone else do the same thing in the store for me.

As a general rule, if your knife can slice through a single sheet of paper, it doesn’t need to be sharpened.

Cooking Tips 101: Proper Knife Care

Got any more tips on how to take care of my knives?

Why, yes I do!  And here they are:
  • Never leave your sharp knives in the sink waiting to be washed.  This not only causes a potential safety hazard, as some unsuspecting person (or even yourself at a later time) might slice your fingers if you forget it’s in there.  Instead, wash your knife in warm, soapy water, dry with a clean towel and put away right after use.
  • Never put your good knives through the dishwasher.
  • Use your chef’s knife (6-8 inch blade, pictured above) for any food item larger than a tomato and your pairing knife for anything smaller than a tomato.
  • Use only wood, bamboo, epicurean or plastic cutting boards for your knives, as they don’t damage the blade like glass, granite or porcelain can.
  • If using your knife to transfer cut food from a cutting board to a skillet or bowl, use the back of the knife, not the sharpened edge.  This will help maintain a sharp edge.  Or, try using a handy dandy food scraper — made for just that purpose (pictured above).

Cooking Tips 101: Proper Knife Care

Lastly, the relationship between you and your knife should be a good one.  One built on trust and history and, well, some love too.  Yes, this may sound a bit weird, but it’s true.  A good chef’s knife is really your best friend in the kitchen.  So take care of it!

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Comments

  1. Allizon says

    Great post! Could you share your favorite knives? I have a decent “set” of knives but looking to upgrade a few. Which sizes to recommend having a quality version of? Thanks!

  2. says

    You are so right Lacey about the part of accidents happening when knives are left in the kitchen sink without prior notice. I just cut myself – luckily not too bad – yesterday because i forgot that i left a very sharp knife at the bottom of the sink.

  3. says

    Hi Lacey – Great post. I know a few of my friends have ruined their knives by putting them in the dishwasher. So tragic!

    I have created a guide to knife sharpeners at my website, http://thebestknifesharpenerguide.com/ where I dive into the nuances of keeping knives sharp by sharpening knives at home. I have one of the manual knife sharpening systems from Gatco that allows me to add a back (or compound) bevel to the knives for added durability. In the knife sharpener guide, we cover many of the electric knife sharpeners which are great for kitchen applications. Thanks, Billy

  4. says

    Hi George! Yes, I am definitely a Wusthof fan, though it is the only nice knife brand I’ve ever used on any regular basis. I love my chef’s knife and paring knife. Knives really are a case-by-case basis, as it’s so important for the user to feel comfortable.

  5. says

    I echo everyone’s thoughts here, great advice on how to keep your knives sharp and efficient! I like to tell people that a dull knife means that you’re using more pressure to get through whatever your cutting, so you have more of a chance of cutting yourself. It also cuts “jaggedly”, where-as a sharp knife doesn’t. Great great post and great great advice!!

  6. Ellie says

    Hi Lacey,

    Thank you for the advice. I just ordered the paring knife,serrated utility knife and kitchen shears from Williams Sonoma and I see that they are offering a kitchen knife class at our local mall and it happens to be on my birthday. A present to myself!

    Ellie

    • says

      Yay! I wasn’t aware Williams Sonoma had cooking classes — that’s great! Now you’re set with your chef’s knife, paring knife, bread/serrated knife and shears ~ all you’ll ever need! I’d love to know how your class goes. I really hope it helps you feel more comfortable with your chef knife :) Have a blast!

  7. Ellie says

    Hi Lacey,

    Very helpful info on knives. My husband just bought me the same chef knife you have and I am glad to read your advice. I am finding it awkward to use for chopping carrots, celery and onions and think I might need the paring knife also. What size is the one that you use? My birthday is coming up and I am going to put it on my list!!

    Thanks,
    Ellie

    • says

      Hi Ellie! To be honest, I think you might just want to keep working with the chef knife for the carrots, celery and onions, as the pairing knife is a bit small for those jobs. It was a bit awkward for me too when I first got my knife. Make sure you have your cutting hand all the way down at the butt of the blade to get the best grip and leverage, as that may help you out. If you’re anything like me, it will start to feel like second nature pretty quickly. However, I also love my pairing knife, which is a 3.5″ by the way. I would feel uncomfortable chopping those veggies with it though. Might I suggest asking for a knife skills class at your local Sur La Table or similar-type store for your b-day? That’s what I did and I learned tons of great info. Hope you have a great birthday! Good luck!

  8. says

    thanks for all of this great information Lacey. I’m always honing my knife but it never wants to cut through a sheet of paper. guess I’m not doing something correctly. I’ve been wanting a sharpener for awhile and this is just the incentive to finally make the purchase. have a beautiful weekend!

  9. Vanessa says

    Thank you! When I cook for family and friends, I end up kicking everyone out of the kitchen for no other reason than that they insist on a) touching my knives, and b) misusing them.

    My knives are like… well… not exactly children… okay. I’m lying. I LOVE my knives, and they mean a lot to me. And there are far too many people who don’t know how to treat them properly. My own father almost ruined my beautiful 10″ Wusthof Chef’s knife by trying to hone it at an absurd angle. I have an electric sharpener that I use about twice per year- it’s the best I’ve found. I’ll have to look at what it is.

    Anyway- great post!

  10. says

    Very good suggestions. I posted on your facebook page, I just can’t get over how many chefs I see send their knifes to the dishwasher. I almost fell over seeing a professional chef do it. I have no formal schooling but I know enough that the dishwasher weather industrial or home grade they are horrible for your knifes.

    Thanks for sharing this. I need to invest in a new sharpening kit and a few GOOD knifes .. I have had an old set gifted to me by my dad one of those “RONCO specials” Good knifes but still- I need something hearty

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