A good set of kitchen knives is one of the most important tools for any chef or home cook. A poorly maintained knife, however, can be difficult to use or even dangerous!
It is important for anyone who uses knives to learn proper care and maintenance for ease and safety of use. In this article, I have discussed step by step how you can clean, care and maintain your kitchen knives.
Why Does Knife Care Matter?
Sharp, clean knives make cooking easier. Also, it is very essential for your own and your food safety.
Due to regular use, all the knives become dull and need to be re-sharpened. It is quicker to break down large cuts of meat, chop vegetables, or even mince garlic if your knife is sharp enough to slice rather than crush and tear the food.
If you do not maintain your kitchen knives regularly then they will not last long. Even after taking regular care, they are more likely to be damaged if you do not follow the proper rules of maintenance.
Overview of Best Way to Maintain Kitchen Knife
- Use the Right Kitchen Knife for Your Work
- Never Use a Kitchen Knife Without an Appropriate Cutting Board
- Clean and Wash Your Kitchen Knife Wisely
- Store the Kitchen Knife Properly
- Hone the Kitchen Knife Regularly
- Sharpen Your Kitchen Knife Only When It Necessary
Rule-1: Use the Right Kitchen Knife for Your Work
Know your knives and their purposes. Using the right knife for a task protects them from damage and makes the job much easier.
As a general rule, a chef’s knife can handle most items larger than a tomato, and a paring knife can handle most items that are smaller.
Speaking of tomatoes, a serrated knife can usually slice tomatoes more smoothly than a non-serrated knife.
For meats, a cleaver should be used to break down large cuts and cut through joints, while a boning knife can be used around bones with a lower risk of damage and chipping.
You should never use your chef’s knife or serrated utility knife for cutting bread. Otherwise, it will immediately reduce the sharpness of your knife.
For slicing large size ribs, steak, ham, brisket or turkey use a large size slicer or ribs cutting knife rather than a chef’s knife or bread knife.
It is wise to use ceramic knives to cut fruits or acidic ingredients as they don’t absorb odors and keep the taste of the food intact as well as there is no possibility of oxidation.
Also, steak knives should only be used for cutting boneless soft meat. Many people use them to cut vegetables, which is not a good job at all.
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Rule-2: Never Use a Kitchen Knife Without an Appropriate Cutting Board
As much as the material of your knife matters, the material of your cutting board matters. Wood, bamboo, and plastic cutting boards are best to protect the knife blade from damage.
Glass, granite, and porcelain can cause the edge to chip or become dull. These means don’t cut food on a plate or countertop with kitchen knives, as it may cause damage!
After cutting food, do not use the blade of the knife to scrape it into a pot or bowl. This can dull the edge or cause nicks. Use the back of the knife or another tool to scrape it.
Rule-3: Clean and Wash Your Kitchen Knife Wisely
Though it can be tempting to put knives in the dishwasher for easy cleaning, this is not the best way to clean them. It can cause the blade to rust faster, the handle to warp if it is wooden, nicks to the edge, or even damage to the dishwasher rack!
Knives should be cleaned by hand with water or lukewarm water and use mild soap and a soft sponge, not an aggressive scrubber. Ideally, they should be cleaned immediately after each use.
This is important for a few reasons: in a dry sink, food will dry onto the blade, making it much harder to clean.
In a wet sink, the blade may begin to rust, depending on the composition of the steel, or, even worse, an unsuspecting person trying to help with dishes could reach into the sink and accidentally be cut by a blade hidden under soapy water.
To wash the knife, point the blade away from you and wipe both sides with soap and water, using a sponge or dishcloth.
If there is dried-on food, soak the knife before scrubbing so you avoid accidental cuts from vigorous scrubbing.
Soak it in shallow water so you can see it, and only soak a minute or two to avoid rust or damage to wooden handles.
Dry the full tang knife carefully with a clean dish towel or paper towel to avoid rust or other damage, and put it away immediately to avoid accidents.
Rule-4: Store the Kitchen Knife Properly
There are many ways to store knives, but some are safer than others, both for people in the kitchen and the knife blade.
(I) Magnetic Strips
Magnetic strips are a popular solution for small kitchens to free up counter and drawer space. This will not damage the blade, but be sure that the magnet is strong enough that even the largest knives on the strip will not fall and injure anyone in the kitchen.
(II) Wood Block
For those with a bit more counter space, a knife block is a popular solution. This is an especially good option if you have a kitchen knife set and their handles are nice-looking and you want them on display.
(III) Self-sharpening Block
When storing knives in a self-sharpening knife block, be sure to put the blades facing the built-in sharpener. Also, you need to be careful that each knife is placed in its specific slot. This helps avoid damage to the edge of the blade.
(IV) Kitchen Knife Drawer
The best option to store knives safely is in a drawer, covered by a knife guard and separated from each other. Knife guards are an inexpensive way to protect the knife blade from damage and rummaging hands from injury.
Rule-5: Hone the Kitchen Knife Regularly
Honing is essentially realigning and recalibrating the blade to the way it was originally formed. It helps keep the edge clean and smooth between sharpening. Knives should be honed after each use to retain a good edge for as long as possible.
Honing Steel or Sharpening Rod
A honing steel is a textured metal rod with a handle, usually about 12 to 18 inches long. Sharpening rod or honing steel is very common in butcher and restaurant chefs because it is very easy to use and takes a couple of seconds to hone the blade.
Many people operate under the misconception that sharpening rod will sharpen their knives. Contrary to popular belief, a sharpening rod does not sharpen the knife but actually hones it.
Now let me show you the simple steps of honing.
Step-1: To hone a knife, hold the knife steel pointing downwards and away from you, and place the heel of the blade (the part nearest to the handle) against the knife steel near the top of the knife steel’s rod.
Step-2: The knife blade should be facing downward and at a slight angle, forming about a 20-degree angle between the blade and the steel.
Step-3: Then glide the knife across the steel in a smooth motion. It will move downwards as you pull, and the full length of the blade will have touched the honing steel.
Step-4: Repeat this motion about 8-10 times on each side of the knife’s edge.
Step-5: Wipe both sides of the knife with a clean towel to remove any leftover microscopic remnants, and you’re done!
Rule-6: Sharpen Your Kitchen Knife Only When It Necessary
As mentioned before, honing does not actually sharpen the blade. Sharpening the blade is a much less frequent occurrence than honing, only required once or twice a year for most home cooks.
(I) Sharpness Testing
An easy test to determine whether a knife needs sharpening is to use it to slice through a single sheet of paper. If it slices through smoothly, it does not need to be sharpened. If it catches and tears or folds, it is time to sharpen your knife.
(II) Sharpening Options
There are two options for sharpening knives – professionally, or at home. The choice depends on whether you want to spend more time, by doing it yourself, or more money, by having it done professionally.
A professional sharpening costs between ten and twenty dollars per knife. Doing it at home has an initial investment of twenty to a hundred dollars for a whetstone or electric sharpener or sharpening system, but after that purchase, it only costs a bit of your time.
(III) Sharp with Electric Sharpener
An electric sharpener is not an ideal solution for expensive, high-quality knives. It grinds away more of the steel than a whetstone, and it is not very good for the knife.
If, however, a very cheap knife needs sharpening in a pinch and an electric sharpener is the only option, it will do the job well enough.
An electric knife sharpener also requires minimal training and practice to use, making it an easy option for anyone who is not concerned with a bit of damage to the knife.
If you choose this option, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to inflict as little damage as possible to the knife.
(IV) Sharp with Whetstone
A whetstone, on the other hand, requires a bit of practice to get right but shaves away less steel. A whetstone is a flat piece of stone, usually with a coarse texture on one side and a finer texture on the other.
Starting with the coarse-grit side of the stone, hold the blade at a slight angle, about twenty degrees, and glide it along the full length of the blade.
Repeat this ten times on each side of the edge, then flip the stone to the finer side and give the knife another ten strokes on each side of the edge.
Do not use oil or water on the whetstone before use, as this can make tiny particles of steel stick to the stone and damage the blade.
(V) Sharp with Sharpening System
The knife sharpening system allows for much more customizability in the sharpening process. Many allow for changes in angle, grit, and even types of whetstones.
For these, make sure that the system supports precise angle measurements, a tool that uses a laser to measure the angle would definitely be the most precise.
Next, a good sharpening system provides a wide range of motion in order to accommodate large, maybe even curvy knives. Large kitchen knives could reach up to a foot long, and small outdoor knives reach only a few inches.
Knife care is important, especially if you’ve invested in good knives or high-end kitchen knife sets, to keep them in working condition.
If you care for your knives carefully, a good set can last a lifetime, so it is worth a little extra work to keep them in top shape.
When in doubt, do your research to prevent accidental damage to your knives, and always make sure to be safe!