Knives are the backbone of any chef’s tool kit, and even if you use relatively cheap ones, you should still take good care of them. Clean and sharp knives are easier and safer than dull ones, and they make better long-term investments. Luckily, it’s not that difficult to keep blades in peak condition, with enough attention to detail.
No matter whether you paid $20 or $200 for a quality chef’s knife, do not put it in the dishwasher. If a manufacturer claims their knife is dishwasher safe, ignore it and wash the knife by hand.
First of all, it’s easy to stab or slice yourself when unloading a sharp knife from the dishwasher. It’s also easy for a blade to get jostled around and damaged by other cutlery during the washing process. Finally, even stainless-steel knives can stain, corrode and rust when not cared for properly.
Instead of the dishwasher, clean knives by hand with dish soap. Scrub away all food particles and dry the knife thoroughly before putting it away. Don’t leave sharp knives loose in drawers, as they can get chipped, or cut you when you try to retrieve tools from the drawer.
The best way to store knives is in a dedicated knife block, but make sure to get one that offers enough ventilation. Stuffing your knives into a huge block of solid wood encourages mold and corrosion.
Carbon steel knives (such as the premium Misono Gyuto) are particularly susceptible to corrosion. For best results, coat carbon steel knives in a thin layer of processed oil before storing them.
There’s a common adage that “a sharp knife is safer than a dull one.” This is true to some extent. Dull knives require significantly more force to get through food. That added force can result in slips and other accidents that can easily slice your hands open.
However, that doesn’t mean that sharp knives are inherently safe. A sufficiently sharp knife can cause massive muscle and ligament damage, whereas a dull one would cause a simple cut. Always treat knives with respect, no matter how sharp they are.
During everyday use, most Western-style knives (which are made from a softer alloy than Japanese-style blades) continuously go out of true with each cut. When a knife goes out of true, the metal at the very edge curls up on a microscopic level, diminishing the knife’s cutting ability. To counteract this, get a smooth steel honing rod such as this one from UltraSource. Hold the knife at a 15-degree angle at the base of the rod and draw it slowly up the rod, spine-first (not edge-first). When done regularly, this keeps the knife in true.
Over time, a knife’s edge will lose a tiny bit of metal. If you don’t use a honing rod, this will happen more quickly. When it does happen, you’ll need to sharpen the blade.
A whetstone or water stone is the best way to sharpen a blade, whether it’s a Japanese or Western-style knife. This combination stone from renowned supplier King is the go-to for many chefs. Make sure to soak it for 2 or 3 hours before using it.
Place the stone in the base and push the knife along it carefully at a 15-degree angle. As you sharpen, the stone grinds away slightly and the particles mix with the water to form a slurry. It’s that stone and water slurry that sharpens the blade, so don’t rinse the stone off during use.
During sharpening, periodically use your smooth honing rod, then return to the stone for a few strokes. Continue this process, and when it’s sharp enough for you, give it one last hone, and you’re ready to cut.
If you own a quality serrated bread knife, it won’t require frequent sharpening (due to the serrations). When it does consider taking it to a professional sharpener because sharpening that type of blade by hand is tedious and time-consuming.
If there’s a noticeable chip (or significant corrosion damage) on a knife’s edge, you’ll need a coarse whetstone. Get something in the neighborhood of 240-400 grit — this one from Kitory is a good option. Be very careful while using coarse stones, as they remove a lot of metal, and you can’t undo that. Once you’ve removed enough metal to eliminate the chip, move up to a higher grit until you end up on the #1000 stone to get the edge truly sharp.
If it’s just surface rust, you can remove it with just a slice of lemon. If a lemon doesn’t quite cut it or if the entire blade is covered in corrosion, you can briefly soak it in vinegar. Always wash a knife thoroughly after it comes into contact with any acids.
Knives with pitted, corroded spots are a little harder to deal with. You might need steel wool to get rid of the most stubborn corrosion, but be careful. Don’t scrub down an entire blade with steel wool indiscriminately, as that scratches the knife, harming its ability to take an edge and encouraging future corrosion. Instead, spot clean heavy rust carefully, using just a finger and a small amount of steel wool.
This 11-inch ceramic rod is essentially a combination of a honing rod and 1,000-grit whetstone. It can take the place of both tools, but only if used sparingly and with little pressure because overuse removes too much metal.
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This stone is actually purpose-built to return your normal whetstone to a flat condition, as water stones tend to form grooves and dips over time.
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If you’re restoring a blade that’s heavily rusted and that vinegar and steel wool can’t fix, this stuff will save the day. Wear nitrile gloves, though, because it stinks and isn’t good for your skin.
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These 12-inch terry cloth towels are similar to what pro kitchens use, and they’re ideal for drying cutlery, handling hot dishes and cleaning up messes.
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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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