You Should Be Sharpening Your Own Knives

There are few things more heartbreaking than watching your tomato collapse under the pressure of a dull knife. Thankfully, this fate is easily avoided by keeping your knives nice and sharp. In the face of electric sharpeners and knife-sharpening services, it’s easy to underestimate the value of sharpening by hand. As you learn cooking online, however, it’s important to familiarize yourself with steels and stones.

Sharp knives make better cooks

A dull knife can crush food as you use it. A sharp knife cuts clean, allowing you to maintain the food’s integrity. Sharp knives also cut faster and with less force, making your prep time shorter and easier.

Sharp knives put you in control. This means your knife skills will improve dramatically with a sharp knife and your skin will be protected, too. Don’t let the myth that dull knives are safer fool you. Sharp knives will keep your cuts and scars to a minimum. While it may seem counter-intuitive, it all comes down to predictability. A sharp knife is going to move into the food. A dull knife might move into the food, but it also might move across the food (and into, say, your fingers).

Finally, a sharp knife is a long-lived knife. A dull knife is useless for high-quality food prep, so keeping a knife sharp gives you more productive cooking time. Knowing how to sharpen your knives cuts down on your need to buy new knives as often: It’s an investment for your wallet as much as your culinary skills.

Sharpening 101

To start sharpening your knives by hand, invest in a sharpening steel and a three-way sharpening stone. Your sharpening steel will help you to maintain your edge, as it slightly bends with repeated use. To use your steel, place the blade at the top of the steel and pull it downward in an arching motion. You should do this on both sides, and repeat it between five and 10 times. No need to look fancy: Your speed when using a sharpening steel doesn’t matter. A sharpening steel is the only tool that will perform this bit of maintenance, so don’t expect your sharpening stone to get the job done on it’s own.

However, your sharpening stone is your best resource for getting the sharpest edge possible. Use your stone’s three edges, starting from the coarsest setting and moving to the finest, to grind the edge of your blade. According to KnifeCenter, you want to hold your knife at a 30-40 degree angle (where a smaller angle equals a sharper edge) and move it across the stone, holding that same angle.

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