Good cooking begins with the tools you use; no tool is used more than your kitchen knife. From preparing your meats, chopping veggies, carefully slicing delicate fruits, dicing food into bite-sized pieces, and more, your knives are the centerpiece of your kitchen tools. If you notice that your food is tearing rather than neatly slicing, it is past time to sharpen your knives. Over time and with use, every knife will need to be re-sharpened. It is recommended that you sharpen your knife before and after each and every use.
If you have never sharpened a knife before, we suggest practicing on old or junk knives that you will not care if they become damaged. Never learn on your best kitchen knives. Learning to sharpen a knife properly takes time, patience, and practice. The more you practice, the better you will get!
So what tools can you use to sharpen your knives?
There are a variety of ways you can get your knife’s edge back, including (but not limited to):
- Honing Rod or Sharpening Steel
- A Ceramic Mug
- Hire a Professional
- And more
Keep in mind that you should sharpen your knives according to how they were originally constructed. Most kitchen knives have a conventional edge that requires sharpening on both sides of the blade. Some will have a single edge, such as a sushi knife, that would only require sharpening on one side.
Below we detail the most common methods with a honing rod and whetstone, plus a method you could use if you desperately need a quick sharpening.
Honing Rod or Sharpening Steel
A honing rod, also called a sharpening steel, is a long metal stick that looks a bit like a short sword. These help realign the metal of your knife edge without removing much metal from the blade. These tools are designed to keep a sharp knife sharp, not for sharpening a dull blade.
How do you use a honing rod?
To use a honing rod you simply hold your knife in your dominant hand while holding the honing rod in your other hand. Then slowly move your knife across the top of the rod from the knife heel to tip. Repeat across the bottom with the other side of the blade. A pass across the top and bottom is called a revolution. You should do at least seven revolutions before using your knife. It is recommended to use your honing rod before each use of your knife, or periodically during use if you are cutting a lot at once.
A whetstone, also called a diamond or sharpening stone, is a double-sided stone with a rough side and a finer side. You can sharpen one side of the blade for a single edge or both sides to keep your blade symmetrical. Be sure to sharpen at a 20-degree angle.
How do you use a whetstone?
To use a whetstone, start on the rough side and create a small burr by slicing it in the opposite direction that you would go to take a chunk out of the stone. Grind the knife blade edge across the burr you just made about halfway through the blade. Once you are happy with the edge, turn the stone over to the finer side and smooth out the edge by alternating the sides of the knife with every stroke. Once finished, your knife is ready for use again.
What can you do if you don’t have these sharpening tools?
Well, if you do not have either a honing rod or whetstone you can use an everyday item that should be lying around your home. What item? A simple ceramic mug. The bottom of the mug should have a ring that is not covered in glaze where the ceramic is exposed. Gently slide your blade at a 20-degree angle across the exposed ceramic.
How do you know if you got the sharpening right?
It is imperative to maintain the same angle on your blade for an accurate tip. You will know that you are sharpening your knife correctly by keeping an eye on how straight the line of your blade is once you have finished sharpening. If you see marks on the air side of the blade, you are sharpening at too shallow of an angle; marks on the blade side mean you are sharpening at too steep of an angle.
How do you keep the blade sharper longer?
One of the best ways to help keep your blade sharper longer is to make sure that you use your honing steel every single time you use your knife. Use it before each use of your knife as well as periodically during use if you are cutting a lot at once.
Also be sure that you are cutting on the correct surfaces. Avoid cutting on hard surfaces (such as granite, glass, or marble) or those made from metal (such as stainless steel or aluminum). Stick with wood, plastic, or polyethylene cutting boards.
If you are scraping your cut items off of your cutting boards with your knife, never use the blade! Use the back edge of your knife instead.
Another thing you should do is wash your kitchen knives by hand. Never toss them into the dishwasher, no matter how tempting that sounds. Why? The barrage of soap, heat, and water hitting the blade during the cleaning cycle actually dulls your blade very quickly.
Proper storage is also essential. Never keep your kitchen knives in a pile or drawer with the rest of your utensils. Your knives are the star of your cooking and they need a dedicated spot all to themselves. This can be a drawer dedicated to them where they do not touch one another, a box for each, a knife block, magnetic board, and more. If it isn’t possible to give them their own space, make sure that you have a blade cover on each knife before placing it into a drawer.
Like any tool in your home, proper care and storage are essential to keep the tool working as intended. Kitchen knives that are kept sharp and stored properly also last a lot longer.
Do you sharpen your own knives? Have any advice or tips to share? Let us know in the comments!