What is the sharpest tool in your drawer? If your answer doesn’t include one of the few knives you rely on to make cutting, dicing, carving or other routine cooking tasks quick, it’s time for a honing or sharpening session (no, they’re not the same thing!) After all, a Dull knives can create holes in your cooking routine—and do more harm than good. Here’s what you need to know about sharpening and honing tools and how sharpening knives can sharpen your kitchen skills.
Why is it important to keep your knife sharp?
“With a sharp knife, you can work faster, more precisely and safely,” says Rona Welsh, chef and owner of Purple Cal Kitchenworks, an online cooking school, and author of The Nimble Cook. Sharp knives are significantly safer than dull knives, confirms Bobby Griggs, vice president of Hammer Stahl Cutlery. “Dull knives often lead to mistakes because they put more effort into the cutting process,” he says.
Besides being safe, sharp tools help you up your culinary game, whether you’re butterfliing a chicken breast or assembling a miripox for a stew. “Keeping the knife sharp will improve your accuracy when slicing and the food that’s being cut will cook even,” says Griggs. Sharper knives, in other words, yield better results.
When and how often to sharpen knives
How often you sharpen your knives may depend on the material they are made of. Welsh says a ceramic blade holds its edge longer than stainless steel, while carbon steel is easier to sharpen. “My general rule of thumb is to sharpen your knife a second time when it sounds like it’s crunching through the food. When it’s really sharp, the knife should go right through, no matter how thick or hard the material is,” he says.
Honing vs. Sharpening
Hear us out: the easiest way to sharpen your knives is to keep them sharp. Enter the maintenance method called honing (different from sharpening), which uses a honing steel, also known as a honing rod. Using one ensures that your knives are razor-sharp, every time you pick them up. “The point is to consistently forge your knife with a quality steel to keep the blade aligned,” explains Griggs.
Honing involves holding the honing steel and the knife at the angle recommended by the manufacturer and pulling the knife along the rod to the tip – then repeating and alternating the process on both sides of the knife blade. “After a few strokes, test the sharpness of the blade by gently cutting the piece of paper,” says Griggs. “If the knife cuts through the paper easily, it is sufficiently honed. If not, repeat the honing process until the desired sharpness is achieved.”
Welsh reinforces the importance of respect during her class. He recommends starting with a good baseline edge and maintaining it with a honing steel. “Once you’re comfortable sharpening with steel, you’ll be able to use a whetstone without any problems,” he says. Read more: How to cut green onions
How to use honing steel
Position the steel and blade: Hold the steel and knife with the sharp edge of the knife pointing away from you. Tilt the blade up 20 degrees, keeping the sharp edge in contact with the steel.
Work on one side: pull the blade from the steel handle to its tip. At the same time, slide the blade from the heel to the opposite point of the steel, so that the steel contacts the entire length of the blade when you reach the tip of the steel.
Work the other way: With the heel of the blade under the steel near its handle, tilt the blade 20 degrees and slide the sharp edge toward the tip. At the same time, pull the blade from the heel to the point. Repeat honing 10 times on each side.