Everything You Need to Know About Knife Sharpening
Whether you’re a budding chef or just starting out, it’s important to have the right tools for the job in the kitchen. It can make everyday tasks that little bit easier, giving you better prepared food – and perhaps a tastier dish.
One of the most important pieces of equipment any cook should have in their kitchen is a strong set of knives. These should be high quality and stored in their own stand or block, so they’re easily accessible and can’t be dulled on other cutlery or utensils. If you choose to invest in a good set of knives, it can be frustrating when they suddenly stop working as well as they used to – you might even start doubting your skills as a chef!
However, it simply means they need sharpening. If you haven’t ever sharpened your knives before, you might wonder how to go about this. Below, we’ve outlined everything you need to know about knife sharpening and provided you with some options on how to get your tools back up to scratch.
Why Is Sharpening Your Knives Important?
From a safety perspective, it’s essential that your knives are sharp. This might sound like an oxymoron, but the sharper the knife, the easier it is to cut through something, meaning you’re not forcing the knife down. This can cause you to slip and accidentally cut something you’re not supposed to i.e. a finger!
Having to saw through an item of food means you need to grip it more forcibly and your fingers will almost certainly get in the way.
A sharp knife also allows you to be more precise in your cutting method. This means food can cook through more evenly, as everything will be the same size. You’ll also find that you’ll be able to slice through food much quicker than if your knife became dull; this means food on the table and in your stomach in less time.
How Can I Tell If My Knife Is Sharp or Dull?
You can safely test whether your knives are sharp or dull by testing on a ripe tomato or a piece of paper. If you can easily slice the top of a tomato with your knife, this indicates a decent level of sharpness and it’s probably unlikely it will need sharpening for a while. However, if the knife doesn’t slice through with ease, and you’re forced to hold the tomato in order to get the blade in, it’s time to start thinking about sharpening up.
Similarly, if you don’t have any tomatoes to hand, a piece of paper is another good way to test. Simply hold the paper up and pull the knife down the sheet. If it’s a breeze to cut through, your knife is sharp enough; if you’re struggling to even make a paper cut (pardon the pun), then it’s back to the sharpening board.
How Do I Keep My Knives Sharp?
Good knife maintenance is important to ensure that your knives stay sharper for longer. If you follow the below advice, this can prolong sharpness, as well as keep your knives safely stored away.
- Handwash Them – Using a dishwasher on your knives can dull their sharpness dramatically over time, especially as this is a tool that you’re more than likely to use on a regular, daily basis. We recommend hand-washing your knives, separately to everything else. This is much gentler on the blade. Make sure you dry them thoroughly before putting them away as well. Mould and mildew can build up in a storage block, which can cause unpleasant smells.
- Store Them Separately – You may have bought a set of knives which came in a plastic or wooden block. This is because your knives should be stored separately to all other utensils and cutlery, as the blade can be dulled by rubbing against other items – and even damage them or the drawer they’re in.
- Use a Cutting Board – Simply cutting on a worksurface or plate can dramatically dull a knife. A specialist cutting board is much softer than a marble or granite worktop and won’t dull your knives as easily. Although doing this once or twice probably won’t do too much damage, you also don’t want to run the risk of marking your expensive worksurfaces as well.
Types of Knife Sharpeners
So what type of knife sharpener should you be using? There are a few options below, dependent on your preference and skill level.
- Sharpening Steel – This is ideal if you like to regularly maintain your knives and they aren’t dull already. This means you keep on top of sharpening them with the sharpening steel, which is a long metal rod. You’ve probably seen them being used in the movies, just before someone is about to carve a large piece of meat. They’re very useful if you plan on keeping your knives sharp, but not helpful if you already have extremely dull knives.
- Sharpening Stone – This is where you need to start if your knives are dull and lacklustre. Although quite a slow technique, the sharpening stone provides excellent results and will get your knives back to their best. A whetstone is probably our preferred choice, as they’re relatively inexpensive and provide a flawless result.
- Ceramic Plate – If you’re not looking to splash the cash on a knife sharpening tool, then you can use something that’s probably at your disposal; a ceramic plate. We suggest using an old plate for the first few tries, just in case you accidentally smash it. Turn the plate over and use the rough circle that the plate sits on. It’s a quick and easy way to sharpen your knives.
- Electric Sharpeners – Electric sharpeners tend to have a motor and can sharpen your knife extremely quickly; however, experts do not recommend an electric sharpener for long-term use, as this can damage the knife quickly.
- Chefs! – If all else fails and you’re struggling to sharpen your own knives, there’s nothing wrong with asking for some help. Pop into your local restaurant and see if they’ll be able to sort them out for you. They might as for a fee if you drop by every week, but it’s worth a shot.
- How to Sharpen Your Knife – Escoffier