How to Sharpen a Knife Like a Master

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There are few moments in the kitchen more frustrating than trying to slice a ripe tomato with a dull knife. Most home cooks know that a quality chef’s knife is a worthy addition to any kitchen arsenal. But we often overlook the importance of maintenance. Knife sharpening is intimidating, so we recruited Top Chef Masters finalist and James Beard–nominated Michael Cimarusti, owner of Michelin-starred Providence in Los Angeles, to share his tips. “A sharp blade is everything in the kitchen. It helps to preserve the integrity, texture, and flavor of meat, fish, fowl, and vegetables,” Cimarusti says. “It is safer to work with a sharp knife, and you can work longer with less effort.”

Water Stone

Cimarusti uses a water stone to sharpen his knives. Typically made with aluminum oxide, a synthetic water stone (also called a sharpening stone or a whetstone) has two sides: fine and coarse grits. The fine grit hones the blade, realigning the microscopic teeth. The coarse grit sharpens the knife by stripping off a small amount of the steel to reset the edge. “Sharpening creates a new edge on a knife by removing part of the steel to create a new edge,” Cimarusti says. “Honing improves an already existing edge.” Honing can be done daily or weekly, while sharpening is done once or twice a year. “When the blade starts to get dull is when you need to pull out your stones and get to work,” he says.

First, soak the water stone in water for at least 10 minutes. Place a wet towel on a flat surface and lay the stone — coarse side up — on top. With the knife edge pointed away from you, place your fingers of your dominant hand on the spine of the knife, and grip the handle with your other hand; keep your nondominant thumb on the spine. Keep the angle of the knife around 20 degrees (around 15 to 17 degrees for Asian knives) and move the blade back and forth, using the entire whetstone surface. Reverse the blade and repeat. Once the blade is sharpened, flip the stone to the fine grit and do the same steps. When you’re done, rinse the knife with hot water.

Steel

It’s slightly easier to hone your knife with steel, which “realigns the edge of the blade,” says Cimarusti. Place the tip of the steel on your cutting board. Hold the knife at a 15 to 20 degree angle on the top of the steel, near the grip, and pull the blade down and toward you — from heel to tip. Around 10 strokes on each side. Alternatives to steel are sturdy diamond steels, which are favored by butchers, and a more fragile ceramic rod, preferred for delicate Asian knives.

How to Do It

“Sharpening a knife is a tactile experience,” says Cimarusti. “To be good at sharpening knives, it takes years of practice and careful observation of the process.” For detailed lessons, check out stores like Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, and Surfas Culinary District, which offer knife-sharpening classes in a number of states. Local knife stores are good resources, too. In Oregon and Phoenix, Portland Knife House holds monthly lessons based on Japanese techniques.

It’s generally a good idea to purchase knife-sharpening tools from the same makers as your knife. Wüsthof, Shun, and Korin all have a great selection of whetstones and steels designed specifically for their blades. 

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Posted by Men's Journal on Tuesday, June 28, 2016