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- Put down the knife, and don't pick it up again until you've read this twice.
Stop Ruining Your Knives: 6 Easy Tips for a Sharper BladeSpring Cleaning
Put down the knife, and don't pick it up again until you've read this twice.
Ok, so you ignored our sage advice and bought a "105-piece aircraft carrier knife block" to outfit your shiny new kitchen. But if you want to keep all that steel functional, you're going to need to learn how to take care of your newfound arsenal. Knife care is incredibly simple and intuitive, yet nobody seems to follow the rules of the blade.
No matter how much you spent on your knives, you'll need to do your due diligence to keep them sharp. Remember: A sharp blade not only cuts better, but it's actually safer. Dull knives take more pressure to use, and applying pressure to tough foods can lead your knife to slip out of your hand and potentially remove a finger in the process.
But before we even get into proper sharpening technique, you have to know how to care for your knives. That means following a few incredibly obvious steps.
Keep It Dry
A dry knife has a much better chance of keeping its edge. These things are made out of steel, and steel rusts quickly with exposure to water and air. Think you're off the hook because you bought "stainless" steel knives? Sadly, it doesn't work that way. Even true stainless-steel knives aren't really stainless; their chromium coating only slows down the advance of rust and corrosion. So don't leave your steel in the sink—a good knife should never need to soak.
Wash By Hand, Dry By Hand
You wouldn't put your delicate stemware in the dishwasher, would you? Well, you shouldn't put knives in there, either.
Two hours of hot water and detergent isn't great for maintaining a knife's sharpness, and the blade edge might rub up against other utensils while it's rattling around. Really, the only things that should be touching your knife is food and a sponge. Wipe it down, rinse it off, and you're done.
(And seriously: No matter what you do, don't put your knife in fire. You're not a blacksmith. Doing so might sterilize the blade, but it will also cause it to lose its temper and dull it.)
While plenty of people know not to put their knives in the dishwasher, we're shocked at how many will still blithely leave them in the drying rack. Leaving water to evaporate off your blade is just an open invitation for rust to form. So once you're done cleaning, be sure to towel the knife off by hand. That's the best way to keep rust at bay and keep your cutting edge sharp.
Store With Care
Knives belong in one of two places: a knife block or a magnetic knife strip. Both of these methods keep knives sharp by preventing them from bumping into things. You might think throwing your knife in a drawer is good enough, but it's probably not the only thing in there. Letting it rub up against ladles, spatulas, whisks, and other blades is a bad, bad idea.
That's not the only reason it's smart to keep your knife out of a drawer, either. Having knives in their proper place also ensures that you know where these preposterously sharp objects are at all times. Blindly reaching into a drawer could get you a serious cut or two.
There's lots of debate over whether a knife block or a magnetic knife strip is a better choice. A knife block definitely keeps your blades away from vulnerable flesh, but it also puts the blade in direct contact with wood. If you're careful while putting your knives away, that's probably not a big deal. But we're still firmly in Team Magnetic Knife Bar. Just remember to mount it somewhere out of reach of small children and educate older kids on knife safety.
Use a Wooden Cutting Board
According to the experts at the Strop Shop, wooden cutting boards don't dull blades as much as plastic, glass, or ceramic options. Though you can't put them in the dishwasher, cleaning them really isn't that much of a hassle, either. If you need to sanitize them after cutting meat and soap isn't enough, simply mist your boards with hydrogen peroxide and vinegar, in that order, then scrub and rinse.
The ever-reliable food scientists over at America's Test Kitchen make the same recommendation. They tested a huge variety of cutting boards over several months of continuous use to arrive at their one best suggestion. Why did they pick an edge-grain teak cutting board? It's easy on your blades, but also stands up well to sharp knives. Best of all, teak's natural oils keep it hydrated, preventing it from drying out and cracking.
Only Use Your Knives for Cutting
This seems like a no-brainer, but a good knife should be used for cutting, slicing, chopping, and nothing else—especially not pushing or scraping food around. This is "the fastest way to dull or even damage the delicate cutting edge," according to the Strop Shop. Chefs do this on the Food Network all the time, but it's almost as bad as improperly sharpening your knives with a stone.
And while we're at it, only use your knives to cut food. Don't use them to open packages. Don't chop through plastic. Don't use them to do your gardening. Just don't. Keep your kitchen blades in the kitchen, and use them for cooking purposes only.
Sharpen With Skill
Okay, so you've done a good job of not ruining your knives so far. But, as we've learned from pretty much every heist movie in the history of film, even the sharpest operators lose their edge eventually.
Your knives should be sharpened at least twice a year, though obviously your own frequency will depend on how much you use them. There are a couple ways to get this done, but we agree with Serious Eats on this one: You should either take your knives out to a local sharpening service or use a sharpening stone.
Home knife-sharpening machines sound tempting—after all, everyone loves buying more single-use tools that take up cabinet space. But the truth is, they're not a good idea. While these machines do sharpen knives effectively, they also take off way too much metal and can adversely affect the balance of your blades, shortening their lifespan.
Professional sharpening services are a great alternative, but if you're willing to learn a fun new skill, you can buy yourself a whetstone and learn how to properly use it. It's crucial to remember, however, that a whetstone and a honing steel are not interchangeable. A honing steel should be used frequently to straighten the blade's cutting edge and repair daily wear and tear. The whetstone, on the other hand, should be employed only to do the actual sharpening.
Whichever route you decide to take, stay sharp and stay safe. Knives are no joke.
Contributing: Chris Snow
Hero image: Flickr user "pfly"