Whether you are a novice cook or a professional cook you need sharp knives in the kitchen. There’s just no getting around this. Sure I could go into the quality of knives but that can be a later posting. For now I want to concentrate on the tricks of how to keep your knives sharp. A sharp knife not only makes your cutting easier and faster but it’s also safer. Tell me, have you ever tried to cut a thick New York Steak with a butter knife? Yeah it’ll work…eventually. However it’ll take forever and the pieces you do manage to cut will be all mangled looking like someone chewed them for you! First let’s test the knives in your kitchen and see how sharp they truly are.
Can you take a paper towel or single piece of paper, hold it in one hand and in a single motion (you don’t have to go quick) slice the paper with your knife? If your knife is truly sharp, you should be able to literally slice the paper straight across. If you can’t do this, it’s time to hone (sharpen) those knives. But I’ll get into that in a later post Today we want to discuss tips and tricks on how to keep them sharp!
Tips on how to keep your knives sharp:
♦ Use a cutting board. Never cut anything on your counter tops or on any surface other than a cutting board designed specifically for cutting food. If at all possible, use wooden cutting boards as they are gentler on the blade than plastic ones, and never use glass cutting boards. The choice of cutting boards can dramatically improve your knife’s ability to hold an edge. The best choice for keeping your knives sharp is a wooden cutting board. The wood is soft enough that it does less damage to your cutting edge. The best cutting boards have the end grain facing up in a butcher block style. This style is durable but allows the knife to slide between the vertical wood fibers.
The next best cutting board surface is the plastic cutting boards. These cutting boards are relatively easy on knife edges and are practical to use. Unlike a wooden cutting board, the plastic boards can be tossed into a dishwasher to sanitize it. These cutting boards are also available in many sizes and are priced economically.
The last resort (though I do not recommend using it EVER) in cutting boards would be the glass or marble cutting boards or cutting directly on ceramic plates. These cutting surfaces are just too hard for knives. Constant chopping and slicing on these boards will dull even the highest quality kitchen knives.
♦ Put your knives carefully onto a magnetic strip. If you store your knives on a magnetic strip, put the knife on the strip spine first, not blade first. This prevents the force of the magnet from slamming against the knife’s sharp edge.
♦ Store your knives correctly. Storage is another unnecessary culprit in dulling knives. A knife block or other knife holders are a last, but important step in maintaining sharp knives. Without proper storage, your knives can end up in a drawer where they can get banged around and dulled. Sharp knives can also expose you to unnecessary risk of cutting yourself while rummaging through your drawers.
♦ Clean your knives properly. The process of cleaning your kitchen knives often results in unnecessary dulling. The biggest culprit is the dishwasher. In a dishwasher, the knife edges are much more likely to come in contact with other silverware or ceramic dishes. This banging around will cause small imperfections in your knife-edge and dull it over time. The solution is to wash your knives by hand. Washing knives by hand also saves the handle material from the soaking and the high heat of a dishwasher. When washing knives by hand, avoid the temptation of soaking your knives in your cleaning water, in addition to possibly damaging the wooden handles, sharp knives are not something you want lurking in your cloudy dishwater. In addition, after your knife is properly washed, it’s important to dry your knife thoroughly before putting it away.
♦ Don’t use the blade to scoop up food. Scraping the knife along the cutting board to scoop up food to add to the pot looks cool and is often done on cooking shows, but it’s bad for the blade. Opt to use a food scraper instead or use the spine of the knife.
♦ Proper usage. In order to keep your knife sharp, it is also important to avoid using it as a pry bar, hammer, screwdriver or any other tool. Knives should only be used for their intended purpose… cutting!
♦ Sharpening. Sharpen your knives at least once a year if you hardly use them. If you use them more often or they start to feel dull when you cut, sharpen them. Either do it yourself with a honing rod or a different sharpener. Honing a knife is a skill and if you’re not comfortable on how to do it, take it to a professional.
Even a good knife will lose some of its sharpness with time. However, sharpening a knife is easy if you have the right tool and know how to use it. Stay tuned for the next Tuesday’s Tip with The Kitchen Whisperer on how to sharpen your knife!