How To Sharpen a Knife…Creatively (and Cheaply)
“Do you sharpen your own knives?” people often ask.
Of course! Most chefs do. Knives are sort of a chefly pride. The contents of a chef’s knife case is one of the mechanisms we use to size each other up. A cool knife collection earns base points, knowing how to use them properly adds more, and having the sharpest ones in the kitchen definitely gives you the edge. We love our knives and we love flaunting our ability to sharpen them. Ever seen a chef whip out a big scary knife and run the blade briskly across a metal steel?
But did you know that using a honing steel doesn’t actually sharpen the knife? Instead it conditions the metal blade, giving the appearance of sharpness. This is a great way to keep knives going in between sharpening. To truly sharpen a knife, some of the knife’s metal must actually be removed. This can be achieved with a ceramic whetstone or an oil stone. If you own carbon steel knives, a ceramic whetstone must be used. Never use an oil stone to sharpen carbon steel knives.
For the home cook, investing in sharpening stones may be too costly as quality stones can run upwards of $50 each. If you don’t want to invest in a stone for your stainless steel knife, try one of these creative sharpening methods that I picked up from Chef Ben Smith of Tsunami restaurant in Memphis, TN. These methods should only be used on stainless steel knives and are not appropriate for carbon steel.
The Coffee Mug Method (Stainless Steel only!)
Grab coffee mug and flip it over. If it has a rough circle (often white) that feels like unfinished ceramic, then you can use it for sharpening. To sharpen, place the blade of the knife flat against the mug (the unfinished circle) as close to the base of the knife as possible. Glide full extent of the blade across mug then flip the knife over and repeat on the other side. Do this a few times making sure that both sides were stroked the same number of times. Run knife under water and wipe clean to remove debris before use.
The Unfinished Ceramic Method (Stainless Steel only!)
Have a piece of pottery with a flat, unfinished bottom? It can also be used to sharpen a knife. Turn pottery piece over to the unfinished side. Place blade of knife flat against piece of pottery as close to base of knife as possible. Glide the full extent of knife blade across the unfinished ceramic. Flip knife over and repeat on the other side. Do this a few times making sure that both sides were stroked the same number of times. Run knife under water and wipe clean to remove debris before use.
This polishing method, from Harris Salat of The Japanese Food report, works wonders on any sort of knife, including carbon steel sushi knives. Use this for fine-tuning for an already sharp knife. (Thanks so much, Harris for this tip!)
The Newspaper Method (All knife types)
Make sure you knife is dry. Place a sheet of dry newspaper (all black and white ink) flat. Lay the blade of your knife flat on the newsprint and gently glide the blade across the paper, keeping blade flat the entire time. Do this a few times and repeat the same number of times on the other side of the knife. If knife is one sided carbon steel, it is not necessary to repeat on both sides evenly. Run knife under water and wipe clean to remove debris before use.
The Golden Knife Rule : NEVER pick up a chef’s knife without permission!