January 09, 2009

If you’re like me, you cooked nonstop over the holidays. And while I’m none the worse for wear and tear, my knives sure are, making now a great time to sharpen them.

Keep in mind that running your dull post-holiday blades along a honing steel might not do the trick at this point. (Also remember that some honing steels may permanently damage single-bevel Japanese-made knifes—read the manufacturer’s care instructions carefully.) To test sharpness, hold a piece of paper in one hand and draw the blade down through the top edge of the sheet. If the knife won’t slice the paper or tears it raggedly, run it along a honing steel a few times and try again. If it still won’t slice the paper cleanly and effortlessly, it requires sharpening.

At the edge of a knife blade are microscopic teeth. Over time, the teeth bend back, rendering the knife less effective. The honing steel straightens the teeth, which is fine for tune-ups, but what you need is to reform these fine teeth and renew the cutting edge with a full sharpening. If you don’t have a whetstone, look for a knife sharpening service in your area; sometimes butchers, fabric stores, and local markets may sharpen them as well for a few dollars per inch of blade.

Whether you do it yourself or have it done professionally, sharpening your knives after extensive—or intensive—use is critical maintenance that will save you headaches and possibly even a finger or two; knives too blunt to slice through butter always somehow manage to penetrate skin.

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