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Water Cooler: Knife care basics

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 20, 2021

One of the ways cooks should maintain kitchen knives is by honing with a knife steel or rod. Often people refer to these as knife sharpeners, but that is incorrect. Honing the knife recalibrates and restores the angle of the blade’s edge to its original form.  (Pixabay)
One of the ways cooks should maintain kitchen knives is by honing with a knife steel or rod. Often people refer to these as knife sharpeners, but that is incorrect. Honing the knife recalibrates and restores the angle of the blade’s edge to its original form. (Pixabay)

Purchasing a quality chef knife is a great first step for a beginner home cook, but the quality of the knife soon won’t matter if it isn’t cared for. Luckily it only requires a few habits and precautions to ensure the knife lasts for many years to come.

When it comes to storage, the last place you want to store a knife is loose in a drawer with other equipment. Not only is this a bit dangerous, but it means your knives will be shifting around against other hard materials which could dull and potentially scratch or chip the blade. Knife blocks are a step up but not always the best option. Not only do you not really need a whole block of different knives, but they can also make unintended contact with the cutting edge as the knives are slid into the slots and can dull the edge over time. The slots can also collect dust and debris. That said, if you prefer to use a block, it will do the job just fine.

The safest way to store a knife is in a roll or wrap. This ensures the knife won’t ever scratch against other surfaces and get damaged. However, this may be a bit of overkill for the home cook. A wall magnet is a great way to store knives for easy access. They can also be useful for keeping knives out of reach of children who are tall enough to get into drawers. Exposed magnet strips can have the potential to scratch a knife blade, but many models now come with the magnet strips embedded in a piece of wood which is not only gentler on the knives but also makes for an attractive display. There are also magnet wood boards or easels available as a magnetic countertop option.

Speaking of wood surfaces being kind to knives, a wood cutting board is your best option for maintaining a sharp blade during use. End-grain cutting boards will be the gentlest, but any wood board is typically better than using plastic boards. There are high-quality plastic boards available that are designed with knife blades in mind, but wood is typically the best option for the price. If anything, just make sure to never cut on glass boards, countertops (unless they are made of butcher block) or on metal surfaces.

Try to only wash knives by hand and avoid letting them sit in water or with debris on the blade. Clean immediately with nonabrasive materials and gentle soaps. Dry right after washing with a cloth or paper towel.

If your knife blade is very sharp and thin like those used in Japanese cutlery, avoid cutting through bones, thick rinds or frozen foods. Instead opt for a thicker blade like ones found on German cutlery or use a cleaver that is specifically made for such tasks.

Learn the difference between honing and sharpening. To hone a knife, you will need a knife steel or rod. Often people refer to these as knife sharpeners, but that is incorrect. Honing the knife is to recalibrate and restore the angle of the blade’s edge back to its original form. The edge can bend after repeated use and a honing steel can be used daily to shape it up.

Sharpening actually removes metal from the blade to create a new edge. A general rule of thumb for knowing when a knife needs to be sharpened is to try to slice a single sheet of paper. If it slices cleanly, the knife doesn’t need to be sharpened. If it needs to be sharpened, you can have it done professionally or at home with a whetstone or handheld, pull-through or electric sharpener. Most recommend this be done once a year, but that can depend on your knife usage.

Rachel Baker can be reached at (509) 459-5583 or rachelb@spokesman.com

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