As I have eluded to in previous posts, keeping your knives sharp and well maintained is crucial. Today I want to explore the best ways to maintain your cutlery. For the person who cooks one time a day and uses a knife that often or less per week, the emphasis should be on proper storage. A good knife block or sleeve and cutting on a firm but soft board (wood or neoprene) will protect the edges and require sharpening once in a while. Maybe twice a year or so would be plenty. By sharpening I mean using a two sided stone and grinding the edge at a 15 degree angle to put a new sharper edge on the blade. For the average homemaker this is a daunting task. I have had several people ask me to put an edge on their knives, and if you don’t know someone who can sharpen your knife what are your options?
Personally I rarely use a stone. I do however, use a steel on a daily basis. I recommend that every kitchen have a good steel to re-align the electrons on the knife edge and keep it sharp. Using a steel is fairly easy, hold it upside down by the handle in your left hand and slide the blade of your knife alternately at a steep angle down the steel. 10 strokes on each side is enough to get the job done. The normal steel is magnetic and you are simply lining up the electrons on the edge of the knife. There are some dry diamond steels out there that actually cut into the knife blade and put a new edge on the blade. If you own one of these be careful to keep the angle of attack steep (15 degrees) or you may wind up making the knife more dull than when you started. Also with the diamond style you need fewer strokes.
When it comes to actually sharpening the knives there are several alternatives available. You could buy a nice electric knife sharpener. The Chefs Choice knife sharpener pictured below is an example of a high end kitchen gadget with the capability of putting a fine edge on your blades. Once again a caution is important, don’t slow down as you draw the blade through the sharpener or you will grind too much off in one spot of the blade. Several light pressured strokes to take a tiny bit each time evenly through the length of the blade is the best approach. On a french style or santuko style knife remember the curvature is important for the cutting motion (rocking up and down), so be careful to keep from getting a straight blade the whole length of the blade.
The third type of sharpener is of course the trusty stone type. There are several opinions about this that need to be taken in to account. The stone itself, American made, pressed together or Japanese made fine grade whetstone. Depends on what you are grinding. High rockwell number hard steel knives should probably use the Japanese type stone whereas softer steels will sharpen fine with the standard American made or natural hones. Should you oil the stone? The evidence on this says no! The edge will be finer if you do not oil the stone and clutter up the pores of the stone itself with fine metal particles which interfere with the sharpening process. Several others say yes and sell the oil. I trust the dry method myself; why make an oily mud on your stone?
For stone sharpening you need to secure the stone to the counter or bench surface, a wet towel will work just fine. Lay the knife on the stone at the heel end of the blade, take a wooden pencil and put it between the top of the blade and the stone. This is about 15 degrees and gives you an idea of the proper angle to hold the blade during the sharpening process. Now in a sideways cutting motion push the blade from heel to tip away from you, do this three or four time on a side until you see a burr begin to form and then turn the blade over and do the opposite side. Now turn the stone over and perform the same movements this time changing sides with every stroke. Some say you should be able to run the blade up your forarm and shave the hair off as you go, I have never been that brave, I just slice a piece of paper from the top down.
The finishing process for all of the above is always the steel to knock off any remaining burr and line up those trusty electrons. A super sharp knife will always cut the way it is supposed to and reduce the chances of cutting your self. You may view some of the options I spoke about on this page Sur La Table .
Kitchen Knife Maintenance
Proper care of your fine stainless steel and forged kitchen cutlery is easy if you follow a few simple steps. This article outlines some basic techniques for ensuring a long life for your kitchen knives.
Owning a set of kitchen knives, regardless of their type, requires certain use and maintenance in order to keep them sharp and working correctly. Whether you invested in quality kitchen knives or own a set of discount knives, you will want to keep them sharp and handling well.
The first rule of use for your kitchen knife is to be sure that your blade lands on a soft surface, such as wood or plastic, instead of a hard surface like ceramic or metal. Striking your kitchen cutlery against hard surfaces will rapidly dull the blade and hinder the performance of your kitchen knife, even if you are using high quality ceramic or stainless steel cutlery.
It’s sometimes tempting to use the kitchen knife to pry something, use it as a screwdriver or chisel and many other actions for which the kitchen cutlery is not intended. Even using the handle of your knife as a hammer is not recommended, unless it is specifically built for that task. The pins, springs and handle can loosen or break, rendering your kitchen knife useless.
You should keep your kitchen cutlery away from sand and gritty materials. Be especially aware when you are using your knives outside, for instance if you are camping, fishing or just barbecuing outdoors. Be aware of your kitchen knife and if it gets wet, you should immediately dry it. When you are washing your kitchen cutlery, do so in mild, soapy water and then dry it completely with a towel, instead of allowing it to drip dry. You should always wash your kitchen cutlery by hand and dry it immediately after.
Wood tends to swell, so it you have wooden handled knives, it is best not to immerse them in water for any period of time. You can rub mineral oil on wooden knife handles to help them keep their luster. You can also increase the lifetime of your wooden handled kitchen knives by rubbing lemon oil or furniture polish into the wood handle occasionally.
Stainless steel cutlery should not rust in the humidity and it can withstand acids that it is exposed to in daily use. However, stainless steel does not mean 100 percent rust proof. The coarser the stainless steel surface is, the more likely it is to corrode. To ensure your stainless steel cutlery is corrosion resistant, you want to purchase knives with finely ground or polished surfaces.
Another option for kitchen cutlery is ceramic knives which are durable and long lasting. However, ceramic knives should also not be put in the dishwasher. They are very easy to clean; a wipe and a rinse is all that is needed to keep them in great condition for years to come.
When storing your knives, it is best to choose a knife block to protect the blades. Never put your knife into the wooden knife block wet – wood absorbs water and you could introduce mold and mildew into your knife block which could effectually ruin your kitchen knives. If you are going to keep them in a drawer, be sure that they are not tossed around too much. Jostling against other knives or instruments could cause your knife blades to chip or dull unnecessarily. It is fine to keep them in a drawer, but they should be sleeved or in compartments to avoid colliding with other utensils or inadvertently cutting you as you search in the drawer for the knife you need. Forged cutlery or stainless steel cutlery should be properly stored to ensure it lasts a long time.
Taking care of your kitchen knives is quite easy if you follow the steps outlined above:
– Keep knives out of the dishwasher
– Wash kitchen knives right after use and dry them immediately after washing
– Store them in a wooden knife block, in sleeves or in a compartmentalized drawer
Taking good care of your knives and using them properly will ensure that you will have great kitchen knives for years to come.
Ben Anton lives in Portland, OR and writes for DLK.
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