Knife Care Secrets from the Pros
Professionals know that there are four areas of knife care and maintenance to assess in order to keep your cutlery in top shape. We've put together a list of DOs and DON'Ts to help you cover every area.
1. Knife Usage
DO use the correct knife. Lacey Baier from asweetpeachef.com points out that using the right knife in the right context helps them last longer. Her example is to use the chef's knife for anything larger than a tomato while a paring knife should be used for anything smaller.
DON'T use your kitchen knife like a cleaver. "Never use your knives to hack at turkey joints or saw through frozen cookie dough... They're not chisels or cleavers, but highly-tuned instruments,” says the Kitchen Knife Guru.
DO clean your knife as you go. Cleaning knives while in use is also important according to CulinaryOne.com. Food particles that are stuck on the blade will keep it from cutting efficiently. Cleaning during use also avoids cross contamination of ingredients and flavors.
DON'T use your knife as a food scraper. If you do, maintain a sharp edge by using the back of the knife to transfer food. Even better, use a food scraper which is made just for that purpose!
DO use a "soft" cutting board. Nearly all of our sources are in agreement on the kind of cutting surface you should use for you knives. Plastic and wood cutting boards are much easier on knives. Glass, steel, ceramic and other hard, unyielding surfaces will dull your blade.
2. Cleaning Knives
Consider these tips before you toss your knife in the dishwasher or sink.
DON'T put knives in the dishwasher. High powered water with particles of food can work like sandpaper on your good knives.
DON'T toss knives in the sink. Not only does this open you up for potential injuries, your knives can bump against other knives, dishes, and even the sink itself, dulling the blade.
DO wash, dry, and put away your knives as soon as you're done with them. Julie R. Thompson, a food writer at the Huffington Post, really sums up the process well. "Basically, use it, wash it, dry it, store it. If you follow those steps, your knife will prove to be worth every penny."
3. Storage of Your Knives
There's not a clear consensus on the exact way to store your knives, although there is one very clear DON'T:
DON'T toss them in a drawer with other silverware. It can be dangerous as you reach in to grab a spoon if you have a paring knife uncovered in the drawer. It can also dull your blade.
Beyond that, there are a few options with pros and cons to consider.
Edge Protector: A specially-made cover for the knife can protect the blade from being dulled by other silverware. Having a cover or sleeve can allow you to store your knives in a drawer.
Knife Block: Keeping your knives in a knife block can cut down on dulling, but you're limited to the configuration of knives in the block.
Magnetic Strip: While the edge protector and knife block are both viable options in most people's opinions, Brad Leone, a BonAppetit.com test kitchen manager who forges his own knives, says don't bother with either. "Say no to the knife block. Store knives on a magnetic strip, laying them spine first to avoid dulling the blades."
4. Honing Your Blade
Many people know they should sharpen a blade, but few have heard of honing. Honing re-calibrates your blade, helping it remain sharp - but it does not actually sharpen the blade. It removes metal spurs and bits of food, leaving a nice sharp edge.
When should you hone your blade? According to asweetpeachef.com, it should be honed after each use; and if you're using it for a long period of time, i.e. Thanksgiving, then it should be honed part way through the day as well. Not sure how to hone your knife? The basic steps are:
- Hold the steel rod pointing away from you.
- Place the heel of the knife (the end closest to you) flush against the rod. The tip should be at a 20-degree angle.
- Glide the knife down from heel to tip, making sure you keep the angle consistent.
- Repeat 8-10 times for each side of the knife.
- Clean the blade on clean towel before storing.
5. Sharpening Your Blade
Sources disagree whether you should be sharpening your knives once or twice per year, but they all agree, over sharpening can be just as bad as under sharpening. A good test for whether your knife needs to be sharpened is the paper test. If your knife can cut a single piece of paper (like the picture above), you don't need to sharpen your knife. You have two options when it's time to sharpen your knives: send them for professional sharpening or DIY sharpening.
A professional will know the exact angle and how to sharpen the knife to make it like new. However, if you are a do-it-yourself kind of person, or you don't want to pay a professional, there are tools you can use. According to CulinaryOne.com, you can purchase a good whetstone for at least $40. Once you have a quality whetstone, you can move through the basics of knife sharpening. There are mixed views on the exact process but here are two great examples:
Culinary One has a slightly different take:
- Place the whetstone on the cutting board coarse side up.
- Hold the knife by the handle with the edge against the stone, point first. Keep as close to 22.5 degree angle as possible throughout the process.
- Hold the blade with your other hand with moderate pressure, sliding it forward while keeping it flush against the whetstone.
- Repeat 10 times on the same side and then do the other side.
- Repeat the process using the fine grit side of the whetstone.
- Finish the process by honing the blade, complete with cleaning the blade and storing safely away.
Keeping your blades sharp and useful may seem overwhelming at first, but if you keep an eye on these areas, you will be well on your way to a long lasting relationship with your knives.