Knives are one of the most important tools in your kitchen,
so it goes without saying that it’s very important to keep them clean and sharp at all times.
In the worst case scenario of cutting yourself on a knife, it’s also much better to be cut with a sharp one instead of a dull, dirty one; your cut will clean faster and be less to infection. Knives are something that requires constant upkeep – if you let it become dull, it’s exponentially harder to whittle back into Grade A sharpness. So you can see this how-to as a “how to keep your knives continually sharp”.
How does one sharpen a knife?
First, it depends on the knife. While most online tutorials will talk about a whetstone (we’ll get into that in a second), this can be time-consuming and somewhat of a chore if you have an average knife. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sticking that IKEA or Target Chef’s Knife through an electric knife sharpener. I can hear my fellow chefs screaming at me, but truthfully the technology behind these machines have increased significantly since they first came to market and they work quite well, especially given the amount of time saved. For an average knife user with no specialty knives, this is fine. Even if you have a brand-name knife and you bring it back to a store such as Sur La Table for sharpening, they’re sticking it through an electric sharpener.
Now, for serious knife owners, please consider other alternatives before sticking your knife through an electric sharpener (and never put it in the dishwasher). Well-made knives are very delicate and should be handled properly. First, you need to make sure to routinely steel your knife before and after any use. Steeling your knife is not the same as sharpening your knife, but it’s an important step to preface the sharpening. In short, steeling a knife realigns small “burnishes” (i.e. miniscule kinks and nicks) along the knife’s edge that occur during regular use. By keeping your knife’s central blade in one orderly line, your knife will cut more smoothly. It will still dull over time, but that’s where sharpening comes in.
Sharpening a knife essentially refines the angle of your blade so it’s…well…nice and sharp. The best way to do this is through a whetstone, a finely grained stone used specifically for knife sharpening. Generally these stones come with 2 sides – a slightly rougher side for starting the sharpening and a slightly finer side for finishing your knife. You should sharpen your knife as follows:
- Soak whetstone in cool, clean water for 5-10 minutes until no more air bubbles rise to the top of the submersion container.
- Place whetstone in a slip-resistant base (you can use a silicone mat if you don’t have the whetstone collect pan) with its rougher side facing up.
- To get your knife in the correct angle for sharpening, hold your knife and place the blade on the whetstone at a 90 degree angle (so the blade is directly on top of the whetstone). Then turn the knife so it’s at a 45 degree angle to the whetstone. Now turn it ½ of 45 degrees so it’s at approximately 22 degrees. Now turn a tiiiiny bit more so you’re at roughly 22 degrees to the whetstone. That’s the ticket for the best angle for sharpening!
- Starting at the tip of the blade, move your knife up and down the whetstone (from tip to base of knife) while keeping the angle intact. It’s important that only you sharpen your knife as you apply a specific amount of pressure and use a specific angle every time.
- Keep moving the knife up and down the whetstone with the same pressure and angle until one side of your knife is sharp (you can test by carefully feeling the blade). You can rinse the whetstone with some cool water as you’re doing this to remove particle buildup.
- Repeat on the other side of the knife.
- Now repeat steps 4-6 with the smoother grind on the other side of the whetstone.
- Rinse off your whetstone completely and let dry.
- Wash and sanitize your knives.
- Voila! You have sharp knives. Make sure to repeat this process about every month or so.
My pro tip here is that to lengthen the time of sharpenings on a whetstone, I use a diamond steel that does a little bit of sharpening while steeling 😉
Safe cooking everyone!