How to Care for Your Knives

Sharp knives are pretty critical in the kitchen. They actually prevent injuries in the kitchen because you need less force to cut through an object. Keeping your knives sharp is relatively easy:

Buy a good set of knives. In order to sharpen knives at home, they have to have a smooth blade. You cannot sharpen serrated knives. Leave that nonsense to the professionals. (Also, the instructions below are for metal knives… not the cool ceramic ones.)

Each time you use the knife, run it along the sharpening steel that came with your knife block. (If you don’t have one, go out and buy one. They cost about $20.) Note: The steel is really not sharpening your knife. It is merely honing the blade. In other words, running it along the steel is preserving the edge, but not making it any sharper.

  • Hold the steel in one hand (your non-writing hand) and your knife in the other.
  • Put your knife blade against the steel at about a 20° angle.
  • Run the knife down the steel from the top toward the handle.
  • Then, flip and do the other side.
  • Repeat five to 10 times.

When your knives start to get dull (not when they are absolutely worthless), you should sharpen them. There are a number of knife sharpening implements out there. You can buy an electric, diamond knife sharpener; a ceramic one; or a whetstone. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use on any of these gadgets. I have a whetstone, so that’s what I’ll share.

  • There are two sides to a whetstone. One is obviously coarser than the other. Start with course side and then move over to the finer side. Some stones require that you add mineral oil to them before use. (Just read the instructions for your particular brand.)
  • Again, hold your knife at a 20° angle to the stone.
  • Draw the knife across the stone making sure to keep the angle constant and the motion fluid. Repeat five to 10 times.
  • Then, flip the knife over and do the same thing on the other side of the blade. Repeat five to 10 times.

Once a year, have your knives professional sharpened. I typically do this the weekend before Thanksgiving because carving a turkey with a dull blade sucks. If you live in Chicago, Northwestern Cutlery does a pretty good job and they are relatively inexpensive. Drop off in the morning, and pick-up a few hours later. (Or you could spend those few hours browsing their shop. But, that’s how they get you! Don’t be sucked in to the cookery goodness.)

So, now you have sharp knives, keep them sharp. Don’t let them play in the dishwasher. All those nasty utensils will just bump and grind your knives in the hot, foamy water. Dirty knives need to be cleaned separately, like the pure-hearted beings that they are–not in the trashy night club that is your dishwasher.

Once you’ve washed your knives, again, don’t let them hang out in the drying rack with your other crazy kitchen gear. They’re a bad influence on your knives. Put them back in their knife block—or better yet, on their magnetic wall strip. This way, they don’t get injured by the ruffians hanging out in drawers or on kitchen counters.

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