Your knives will be one of the most important sets of tools in your kit, and you’ve probably made a big investment in purchasing them; proper care is essential. Sharp knives are not only faster to work with but also safer – a cut from a blunt knife is more painful and dangerous in some cases.
So, here are the top tips you need to know when it comes to ensuring that your knives remain sharp and last as long as possible.
Hone and sharpen them
There is a difference between honing and sharpening. Honing is performed using a steel rod that recalibrates your knife’s blade. The knife’s edge is incredibly thin and will naturally fold after usage, it’s therefore necessary to uncurl it by gliding the blade along the rod on each side. This should be done carefully and slowly with the blade maintaining a 20-degree angle as it passes over the rod. Once finished, wipe each side of the blade and enjoy your freshly realigned knife.
Honing regularly increases the longevity of your blade and should be done as often as possible – professionals will find it useful to hone their knives after each use.
Sharpening, on the other hand, does not need to be done as often. To test whether your knife needs sharpening, check if it can slice through a single sheet of paper. If it is able to do this successfully, then it’s not yet time to sharpen your knife.
The sharpening process actually removes metal from the knife to reshape the edge, that’s why a fair amount of skill is required to ensure that you don’t damage the blade in the process. You may choose to send your knives away for professional sharpening, but with practice and careful attention, you may able to save yourself a lot of money by learning how to do it yourself.
There are manual and electric sharpeners which require you to pull the blade through a slot where an abrasive material within the chamber sharpens the blade. These are relatively straightforward to use and can be done successfully when following the manufacturer's instructions.
Whetstones are also another very effective way to sharpen an assortment of knives. With the whetstone securely placed on a solid surface, you will glide the knife over the stone at 15-20 degree angle (depending on the knife).
A sharp knife enables you to cut ingredients precisely, ensuring for even cooking and better-tasting food.
Using the right cutting board
The surface upon which you do your chopping will directly affect your knife. Hard surfaces like glass and ceramics will wear your blade down, and you may find yourself having to sharpen your tools more regularly than is necessary.
Bamboo cutting boards are a great alternative and easy to keep clean. However, plastic and wooden boards are also a safe bet, you will just have to work a little bit harder to keep them bacteria free.
Using the wrong knife for the wrong task
Chefs use a wide range of knives in a variety of sizes and blade types. It’s essential to pick the right one for the job at hand, or you will risk damaging the blade and wasting time in preparation.
The knives you are most likely to use are:
Chef’s knife - Typically used for slicing cuts of beef but lends itself to a host of other tasks. The blade is between 6 - 14 inches long and 1.5 inches wide.
Paring knife - This knife is used for peeling fruit and vegetables and other more detailed work. It’s a short blade, usually about 2.5 - 4 inches long.
Serrated utility knife - The blade on this knife is between 4-7 inches, and it looks a little bit like a bread knife; however, it’s shorter and sharper. This knife is handy for cutting fruit and vegetables as well as neatly slicing through sandwiches.
Boning knife - The curved blade of a boning knife measures between 5-7 inches. You would primarily use this knife to cut meat off of the bone.
There are, of course, many other knives such as the bread knife, carving knife and cleaver.
You are likely to have worked with all of these knives during your training; however, it’s always good to brush up on your knowledge and make sure that you are using the correct knives.
After a hard day’s work, the last place your knife should end up in is a cluttered drawer with loads of other utensils. The exposed blade could hit up against the rest of the contents in the drawer and become blunt.
From a health and safety perspective, you may end up hurting yourself when reaching inside the drawer to pull the knife out. If however, your knives have no other place to live, it’s advised that you put a plastic knife guard over the blade.
Some chefs prefer to attach their knives to a magnetic strip on the wall. This adds a certain aesthetic element to your kitchen, but it may not be to your taste. Alternatively, you could use a wooden knife block, but make sure that the weight of the knife is not resting on the blade by sliding it into the block upside down.
When it comes to cleaning your knives, it is best practice to wash, dry and put them away directly after every use.
Soaking only increases the risk of knives knocking or scratching up against other items in the sink or washing up bowl. Prolonged soaking also corrodes the chromium coating on the blade and can cause rust.
The heat and humidity in dishwashers could damage the handles of your chef’s knives, so it’s best just to use your warm water and soap to thoroughly clean your blades and place them in their designated storage place.
Your food preparation and presentation relies on the use of good quality knives. By following the tips in this post and carefully looking after your knives, you can enjoy long and happy hours in the kitchen. Make sure that you calibrate the edge often, wash and store them sensibly and give them a good sharpening when necessary.