How to Sharpen a Knife Like a Professional Chef
Here's how to sharpen a knife at home like a pro.
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You don’t want to dispose of kitchen knives regularly or risk a dangerously dull blade. This easy-to-follow guide will help you keep your best gear and treasured favorites from (like those in your Misen knife collection) in sharp shape for years to come.
What’s the Best Way to Sharpen Knives?
“Dull knives are dangerous,” explains Brian Theis, a cookbook author and recipe developer. “They can slip or slide off what you’re trying to cut and cut your hand or fingers instead! Dull knives also impair productivity,” he says.
During his time at the International Culinary Center in New York, “They routinely emphasized that the best way to properly sharpen knives was by hand with a high-quality whetstone.”
Average home chefs don’t need to be intimidated by whetstones, though. The best knife sharpener for your home is the one you’ll actually use, and this knife sharpener buying guide may help you sort through picking the best one.
How to Sharpen a Knife
“If you are a home cook looking for how to keep kitchen knives sharp, I’d recommend sharpening your most frequently-used knives a couple of times each month,” Brian says. “If you don’t cook that often, you might be able to go a couple of months between sharpening, whereas a professional chef sharpens almost every day.”
While there are plenty of excellent-quality knife sharpening tools available, he suggests opting for the tried and true whetstone method if possible. If not, you can try your hand at a top-rated electric model.
“A sharpening stone or whetstone is used primarily by professional chefs to sharpen knives, razors, scrapers and more. They can be designed to require either water or oil for lubrication, which also helps to clear or wash away the metal that comes off the edge of the implements during sharpening,” he explains.
Tools You’ll Need
- Whetstone: It’s important to choose the right knife sharpening device for your lifestyle and kitchen. If you have a little extra kitchen counter space or a workshop that can accommodate a proper whetstone, you may want to make the investment. It’s important to note that the whetstone method requires a bit more dexterity.
- Electric knife sharpener: If you have less space and are worried about using the more professional method for safety reasons, choosing a top-rated electric knife sharpener could be best for you.
- Knife-sharpening gloves: No matter how you cut it, sharpening knives comes with the risk of cutting yourself. That’s why it’s important to wear knife-sharpening gloves to protect your hands—especially your fingers. They should be made of a cut-resistant fiber that is even stronger than leather.
Sort your knives by type
The first step is identifying the knife type you’ll be sharpening. For chef’s knives, opt for a whetstone or electric knife sharpening tool.
To sharpen smaller kitchen knives or steak knives, Brian suggests sticking solely to electric models.
How to use a whetstone
This method, a favorite of professional chefs, takes a little more finesse but pays off in spades over time. Using a whetstone also removes the least amount of knife material, which means your favorite knives will last longer when compared to using electric knife sharpening options. Here’s how to master the whetstone method:
- First, soak your stone for at least an hour. It should be fully submerged in water.
- Meanwhile, set up your workstation. Some whetstones come with bamboo or wood bases. You can also arrange towels on your countertop. This is a good time to put your protective gloves on.
- With a firm grip and even pressure, slowly drag the knife along the stone toward you at a roughly 20-degree angle.
- Maintain gentle pressure as you pull your knife across the stone. Your blade should glide smoothly as you pull.
- Look for silty or murky water. As you continue running your blade along the stone, a small amount of water will collect along the blade and whetstone. You’ll want to clear this after every couple of passes.
How to use an electric sharpener
Using an electric knife sharpener removes a more significant portion of your knife’s metallic edge. After several dozen sharpening sessions with an electric knife sharpener, you may need to invest in new knives. This technique is ideal for novices because it’s safer, but certainly comes with a cost.
Using a knife sharpener is simple, though. With most models, you plug it in and insert your knife for a matter of seconds, angling it gently from side to side to create a balanced and sharper-than-before blade.
Clean your blades and then test them
Whether you use an electric sharpening device or a whetstone, you’ll want to clean your knife in water when you think you’re done. Then, test how easily it glides through items like tomatoes, apples and meat. It’s difficult to know how well you’ve done until after you’ve tested the knives, so make sure the task is complete before putting your gear away.
The Bottom Line
Both methods are effective ways of prolonging the lifespan of your favorite knives and kitchen tools, including kitchen shears. No matter which route you choose, it’s important to sharpen safely. A good sharpening device should last you several years, making this DIY task an extremely worthwhile addition to your list of kitchen skills.
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