The textured steel rod that comes in most knife blocks will maintain your blades’ sharp edges. So whenever you’re about to use a knife, give it a quick honing first. The technique is easy once you get the hang of it: With your non-dominant hand, hold the steel vertically, with the tip secure on a stable surface. With your dominant hand, hold the knife horizontally at a 20-degree angle and draw the blade down and toward you, across the steel, from the heel to the tip. Do this about four times per side. For more tips, watch this video on how to hone a knife.
To repair nicks and other mars on a blade’s edge, you need to sharpen it. How to tell if a knife needs sharpening? It will slide right off the skin of an onion. Skip electric sharpeners, which strip away too much metal. Most chefs prefer pumice-like water stones, but they can be tricky to master. A handheld tool, such as Accusharp ($14, amazon.com), is easier.
“The up-and-down motion of chopping dulls the edge,” says Michael Psilakis, the executive chef and owner of several restaurants, including Kefi and Fishtag, in New York City. Better, he says, is “rocking” or “sliding,” making sure the knife stays in contact with the cutting board. That said, “whenever a knife hits the surface of any board, microscopic burrs form on the metal, causing the edge to become dull,” says Norman Kornbleuth, the owner of Broadway Panhandler, in New York City. To minimize damage, avoid acrylic, glass, or stone boards; stick with wood or plastic. And when scraping food off a board, flip the knife and use the spine, not the blade.
Wash by Hand
Both blade and handle can get banged up and warped in the dishwasher, says Brendan McDermott, a knife-skills instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, in New York City. Hand wash in warm, soapy water, with the blade away from you. If knives are made of carbon steel, wipe them dry instead of letting them air-dry, as rust and blotches can form.
“Other utensils can nick and ruin knives if you throw them in with silverware,” says McDermott. Sheathing blades in inexpensive plastic guards ($3 to $8 each, messermeister.com) and laying them flat side-by-side in a drawer is ideal. Can’t give up that precious real estate? Hang them on a magnetic board. Knife blocks are also fine, as long as the slots are horizontal, not vertical, so the blades rest on their sides, not the cutting edges. Find one more unexpected way to keep your knives sharp.
Special thanks to Jeffrey S. Elliot, President at Culinary Relations