Chop chop and listen up!

Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Advertisement
knife sharpening
Credit: Getty Images

A knife has the power make or break our cooking experience. A good one will make us feel proud for julienning a carrot with ease. A bad one will have us bemoaning our now extremely squished, deformed tomato that spilled out of its skin.

So, how often should you be sharpening your knife, and how do you know if it's sharp at all? If that mutilated tomato isn't giving you a big enough hint, here's exactly what you need to know about knife sharpening, according to an expert.

How Often Should You Sharpen Your Knife?

You should generally sharpen your knives at least every two weeks, though it depends on how often you use them. Your daily, go-to knives should definitely get a sharpening, but for those that you only use once in a while, that's up to you.

How Do You Know When a Knife is Sharp (and When it's Not)?

If you're not sure if your knife needs sharpening, try the paper test. All you need are the knives in question and a sheet or two of printer paper.

"I use a single sheet of paper and cut downward away from myself, and if the knife does not glide through the paper, it's a good indicator that it's dull," says Tisha Cherry, Ninja partner and Foodi enthusiast. "You can also test sharpness with softer fruits, like tomatoes. Sharp blades will slice through tomatoes without much force and will not squish or tear."

Why is a Sharp Knife Important?

It all comes down to safety. A dull knife can make way for accidents as you wrestle with food on a blunt blade.

"A sharp knife easily glides through ingredients, which makes food prep faster, safer, and makes for better pictures," Cherry shares. "Sharp knives also yield more precise and uniform cuts, even cooking, and preserve the texture of food to get the most out of ingredients."

Avoid These Common Knife Technique Mistakes

The most common error, according to Cherry, is using a dull knife. If the thought of hand-sharpening your knives intimidates you, rest assured that the process is easy. However, there are motorized sharpeners, as well as tools like the Ninja Foodi NeverDull Knife Block, which has a built-in sharpener that takes the guesswork out.

"People also tend to cut corners when it comes to proper care," Cherry continues. "For instance, using the wrong surface for cutting (polyethylene cutting boards, marble, glass, ceramic, china, tile, granite, stainless steel or other metal, porcelain, laminate) can damage blades. Additionally, failing to dry your knives after washing or leaving acidic foods such as tomatoes, lemons, and mustard on the knife blade can tarnish it."

Top Tips for Knife Safety

When using a kitchen knife, follow these three tips for knife safety:

  • Avoid touching a knife's sharp blade edge
  • Carry knives with the blade edge pointing down
  • Wash with the blade facing away from you

Knife Size and Type Matters

No, you really shouldn't make your chef's knife the ultimate jack of all trades. Different knives are made to handle specific types of food and textures, and making sure you're using the right one means better results and experience—plus, it keeps you safe. Cherry breaks down some of the types of knives and what they're best used for.

Chef Knife

  • Multi-faceted knife for all types of food preparation
  • Chop an assortment of vegetables, fruit, meat, nuts etc.  

Bread Knife

  • Serrated knife designed to cut through items with a hard exterior and soft interior
  • Slice breads, pastries, bakes, melons, tomatoes, etc.  

Santoku Knife 

  • Straight blade with dimples on the side to prevent items from sticking
  • Dice or mince starchy or moist produce like potatoes, garlic, fruits, etc.  

Boning Knife 

  • Long and thin blade that provides flexibility while working in the kitchen
  • Filet, skinning fish, poultry, etc.  

Utility Knife 

  • Versatile blade that is an all-around agile knife, made for petite foods  
  • Prep citrus, chop vegetables, cut sandwiches, etc.  

Paring Knife 

  • Short-bladed knife used for intricate cutting, peeling, dicing, and mincing  
  • Peel fruits, vegetables, strawberries, and chop smaller produce  

Steak Knife

  • These knives cut effortlessly through meats without tearing
  • Slice through cooked proteins and denser produce

Shears

  • Sharp scissors used for miscellaneous kitchen tasks
  • Snip herbs and chives, break down poultry, prep ingredients, etc.  

How to Use a Honing Steel

Many knife block sets will come with a honing steel, and contrary to a popular belief, the honing steel is not a knife sharpener. Rather, its purpose is to re-align the knife blade.

"With natural use over time, the edge of a knife can become dull, roll over to one side, become indented and/or get microscopic, jagged edges," Cherry says. "The honing steel realigns the metal instead of removing metal and creating a new edge like a true sharpener. While the honing steel realigns those jagged edges, the results may not last very long."

You might be wondering if can you sharpen a serrated knife—Cherry asserts that the best way to care for them is to actually avoid sharpening them completely. As long as you maintain them well, a honing steel is useful in caring for their teeth.

"A honing steel can be used to restore the teeth of the serrated knife by moving the knife up and down the rod in between each of the serrations," she says. "It is a tedious process, hence maintenance is key!"

As for how often you should hone your knife, that depends on use. A home cook should hone theirs approximately every three to four uses, if they're using their knives regularly.

Good Honing Technique

Honing your knives is simple. Cherry advises following these steps.

  • Set the honing rod onto a stable countertop with a towel placed at the tip for stability
  • The honing rod should be 90° to the countertop and should not move when in use
  • The knife's edge should be shallow at first, around a 20 to 30 degree angle to the rod; start at a smaller angle first, then widen out if unsure
  • Slow, gentle pressure against the rod is needed to see the best results