The Care and Cleaning of Kitchen Knives

Mary Kenkel asked:

The best thing you can do to keep your knives sharp and to avoid wear and tear on the blade’s edge is to make sure to use it on the proper cutting surface. Using a cutting board made of glass, stone, stainless steel or ceramic will quickly dull your knife. For this reason, it’s advisable to avoid using your good kitchen knives to cut food directly on ceramic or porcelain dinnerware or on granite or marble countertops. The better option is using cutting boards made of wood, bamboo, plastic or synthetic because they won’t dull your blades.

It’s also important to keep your knives clean. Ask any professional chef how to wash a good knife and I would wager that 99 times out of 100 you will get the same answer and a stern one at that: A kitchen knife should always be washed by hand after each use using a mild liquid detergent and then dried thoroughly with a towel. And, then that same chef will tell you, and with great emphasis, that a good knife should NEVER be washed in a dishwasher because the heat and steam will ruin wood handles and the knife can be easily nicked by being tossed around in the dishwasher.

All this being said, I have to admit (and I realize that I may be about to incur the disdain of many amazing chefs by doing so), that I sometimes wash my knives in the dishwasher, because, due to safety reasons, I don’t like handling a sharp blade with wet hands. For this reason, I only buy plastic-or composite-handled knives because wooden handled knives really shouldn’t go into the dishwasher. And I’ve never had a problem with my knives getting nicked in there, although I’m very careful about how I load them.

If you choose to wash your knives in the dishwasher, make sure to place them securely in the top shelf of your dishwasher so that they won’t move around during the washing cycle and don’t use the heated dry cycle. For safety sake, be careful unloading the dishwasher. And, remove the knives from the dishwasher immediately after the washing cycle is complete.

In addition to keeping your knives clean, it’s a good idea to keep them sharpened and in alignment. A honing steel is an essential piece of equipment if you want to keep your knives in tip-top shape. The honing steel is not a sharpener, but is used to re-align and straighten the blade’s edge. By pulling the knife’s edge along the length of the honing steel, the blade can be brought back to the correct angle. Manufacturers recommend using a honing steel every time you work with your knives.

As far as sharpening your knives, there are a number of home knife sharpeners on the market today and many of them do a good job at returning a reasonably sharp edge to your blades. The manual sharpeners are significantly less expensive than their electric counterparts, but just don’t seem to be able to manage a blade that is pretty dull. If you keep up with your knives and the blades are only modestly dull, the manual knife sharpener is probably fine for you. Otherwise, you’ll probably want to invest in an electric sharpener. When shopping for an electric knife sharpener, you may want to consider getting one that includes a non-motorized slot that can be used like a honing steel. This will save you having to buy the steel in addition to the sharpener. In addition, the honing mechanism on the electric sharpeners is much easier to use than the traditional honing steel.

The other option for sharpening your knives is to take them to a professional knife sharpener. This choice is certainly less convenient than running the blade through a sharpener at home, but nothing can give your blades a sharper edge than an experienced professional can. In fact, many professional chefs say that having your knives sharpened by a professional knife sharpener is the only way to go.

If you’re interested, most good kitchenware shops can direct you to a qualified person. Or, you can also look under ‘Sharpening Services’ in your local Yellow Pages.

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Keeping Kitchen Knives Sharp

Tony Grimes asked:

USING A SHARPENING STEEL

With a little practice, anyone can master the art of using the steel to keep your knives sharp.
The sharpening steel is a metal rod that consists of a slightly softer hardness factor than the knife blade. Sharpness is maintained by stroking the blade, at a 10 degree angle, over the rod on a regular basis. It is best to use the same brand of steel as your knives to avoid using the wrong steel.

When a knife is looked at under a microscope, the edge, even the edge of a fine edged knife, is made up of thousands of small teeth. After constant use, these are bent out of line and the blades become less effective for cutting properly. Stroking the knife on a sharpening steel does not put a new edge on a knife; it simply realigns the existing edge, increasing sharpness.
After a lot of use the steel becomes ineffective and some type of hone, or stone, is needed to put a new edge on a knife. After this is done the steel fine tunes the blade.

Easiest Method of Steeling for home using “Cutting Motion” and followed by “Reverse Cutting Motion”

Sharpening with “Cutting Motion”

Hold the sharpening steel in your left hand with the point of the steel firmly placed on a cutting board or table, the steel should now be vertical to the surface.

Hold the knife in your right hand , as if you were going to cut

Place the section of the blade closest to the knife handle against the sharpening steel just under the steel handle.

Angle the knife about 10 degrees from the sharpening rod.

With even pressure pull the knife handle toward you as you travel DOWN the steel, stroke the entire blade edge ending at the tip as you near the bottom of the steel.

Alternate from left to right sides of the steel rod about six times.

Sharpening with “Reverse Cutting Motion”

Put the point of the sharpening steel on a cutting board, or table, surface at a 90-degree angle.

Push the blade flat across the sharpening steel, moving in the opposite direction of normal cutting.

Place tip of knife on steel close to table, with even pressure push blade of knife as you move UP the steel.

Stroke the whole blade to the blade handle, you should end up near handle of steel.

Repeat the process on the other side of the knife-edge.

The sharpening steel should be used every time a knife is used. A professional meat cutter carries a steel at his side and uses it every few minutes to keep his knives sharp.

Use a scouring powder pad to clean and remove metal particles from the steel, do not use steel wool. Use even pressure with the scouring pad fro handle to tip. Rinse with clear water, dry the steel well and store in a dry place.

THE HONE

I recommend using a ceramic hone for home use, electric sharpeners and stones are a little more tricky to use.

Handle the hone with care, unlike a steel, it can break if dropped, or banged against a hard surface.

Any method for creating a new edge also increases wear on a knife,

A ceramic hone creates a new edge on a knife by removing metal from the knife blade.

After honing the knife, use a steel in order to realign the cutting teeth and provide a razor sharp edge.

If a knife is steeled regularly it should not need to be honed too often.

Clean your hone after each use with scouring cleanser and a sponge or cloth….No Soap of any kind!

Rinse with clear water and a wipe dry.

Caring for you knives, steels and hones pays dividends, dull knives cause accidents

Knives should be used only for cutting boneless meat, it should not be used as a chopper, this plays havoc with the edge, requiring frequent honing which reduces the life of the blade.

If you do a lot of chopping, buy a small cleaver.

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