Once you've made the investment in good quality knives, you'll want to make sure they keep performing at their optimal level. To do this, the blades must be kept sharp.
There are 3 primary tools that can be used to sharpen a kitchen knife:
- Diamond stone or whetstone
- Swipe-through sharpener (either electric or manual)
- Grinding wheel
You can use tools 1 and 2 at home, but typically a grinding wheel is only used by people who are professional sharpeners. Let's have a look at the stone and the swipe-through sharpeners.
Most professional chefs use either a diamond stone or whetstone to sharpen their knives on a regular basis. The best stones have 100% diamond crystals and make quick work of sharpening blades. Whetstones, or water stones, typically have a coarse texture on one side and a fine texture for honing on the other side. They must be soaked in water prior to use. To use a stone, you begin by pulling your blade across the coarse surface, keeping the blade at a 20 degree angle to the stone. For an even and sharp edge, it is important that you maintain this 20 degree angle with each stroke. This is easier seen than explained; click here to watch a short video on how to sharpen a knife using a stone.
Using a stone takes patience and most home cooks are not inclined to take the time to either learn how to use it properly or to use it on a regular basis. To keep your knives sharp at home, I recommend a swipe-through sharpener. There are electric models that are very efficient. Some models have slots for both European knives and Japanese knives, as well as serrated knives. They also have a honing slot for removing the burrs that are created on the knife blade after sharpening. Handheld or manual models are effective also; they just require a little more energy. Chef's Choice makes quality electric and handheld knife sharpeners. Just follow the manufacturer's directions for whichever sharpener you choose.
As mentioned above, a grinding wheel is often used by professional knife sharpeners. This is a great way to sharpen all kinds of tools, from kitchen shears to chef's knives to woodworking implements. To find a professional sharpener in your area, ask at hardware stores, cutlery stores and gourmet kitchen stores. Often you can just drop off your knives and return in a day or two to find beautifully sharp, expertly honed knives. Then all you have to do is keep them sharp by using a honing steel.
A steel is a long thin metal rod with a sturdy handle. It is used to hone the knife, which means it keeps a sharp knife sharp by removing burrs that are created when the knife is used. Ideally, your knife should be honed before each use. To do so, hold the handle of the steel firmly. Keeping your knife at a 20 degree angle to the steel, start with the heel of your knife at the tip of the steel and pull your knife along the steel in a sweeping motion all the way to the tip. Watch this video for a quick demonstration of how to hone a knife.
By honing your sharp knives on a regular basis, you won't need to sharpen them as often. This is important as sharpening does eventually grind away the blade. However, don't let that stop you. A good knife will last for years even with regular sharpening, and you'll get the most enjoyment from it if the blade is sharp.
Whichever method you choose for keeping your knives sharp, plan on doing it at least once a year. The more you cook the more often they will need sharpening, especially those knives that you reach for every day. Keep them sharp and you'll be more efficient and expend less effort in the kitchen.