Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Monday Mission: Sharpen Your Knives

December 5th, 2011 · 28 Comments · Monday Missions

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to sharpen or steel your knives.

Impact Ratings: positive

Level of Commitment: Baby Steps

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I have a recent renewed appreciation for sharp knives. If you’ve been following along, you know that for the past five months, I’ve been living with my in-laws while waiting for The House to come along (and we’ve just moved in, hooray!). There were many, many items that I had to cut out from my kitchen and place in storage during that time. I tried to only bring the things I’d really, really need (like this). photo source

Of course I brought a few of my favorite knives, but I let the knife sharpener go. I figured that either my mother-in-law would have one or I could survive with less-than-perfect knives. Of all the sacrifices we made, that seemed minor.

But I’m telling you, I opened the box with my recipe cards and knives in it, and I gazed in and said, “It’s so good to see you!” (Out loud.) And, according to my mother who walked in, proceeded to do a little happy dance. I don’t remember that part; I was pretty giddy!

I had been saying for about a month as my knives got noticeably duller and duller, “I can’t wait to get my knife sharpener back.”

I sliced an apple for Leah’s snack, and oh! What a joy! My little paring knife – how I missed her so! – slid right through the apple with no effort whatsoever.

Who knew it would be such a lovely experience to chop onions for soup later that day? I used the same old knife I took to the in-laws’, but I had unpacked and gleefully used my sharpener on it.

What a difference.

I’m telling you, if you’re not in the habit of sharpening your knives regularly, and you do cook  a lot from scratch, you will save time with this simple, simple step. It’s the perfect Monday Mission for December when we’re all really too busy to do anything major.

Sharp Knives Won’t Make you Cry

For two reasons, your sharp knives will reduce your tears.

First, using properly sharpened knives is actually safer. You will get fewer accidental cuts using good knives, because you don’t have to push and wiggle and force the knife through your food. The knife slides right through, so as long as you keep your fingers out of the way, they’ll be safe.

Sharp knives also reduce the tearing up effect from onions, so you won’t be crying so much then. I was practically dying near the end of our time at the in-laws’ because dull knives mush the onions, releasing juices that equal tears, rather than effectively slicing through them.

I thought I had purchased a particularly potent bag of onions, but not so. Jodi Michelle told me on Twitter that dull knives can be the culprit (and Donielle shared an important tip: put onions in the fridge for 5 minutes before cutting to reduce tears, too. But sharpen your knives first!).

Sharpening vs. Steeling

I thought this post would be about finished by now, but I happened to mention on Facebook about knives and this mission, and I learned something new: apparently a step before sharpening (which might not even be technically what I do with my knife sharpener) is called steeling. That process, also called honing, entails using a rod on a handle and brandishing it on your knife back and forth a few times. It’s a more appropriate maintenance step than actual “sharpening.”

Most people steel their knives daily or every time they use the knife. The purpose, according to Dyno-mom Melissa Nasko, is to align the edge after it flattens and bends a bit during use. Another reader, Tonya, describes it as taking “any small burrs off your blade’s edge & keep[ing] it straight & narrow, thereby maintaining the edge (sharpness).” She recommends a Wusthof knife, which is what I asked for at Christmastime last year and truly enjoy.

Heather Kofke-Egger describes sharpening: it “is apparently more involved [than steeling] and uses a tool such as a whetstone to actually remove some steel from the knife’s edge and put a new edge on it.” She also shared helpful links on honing and sharpening knives.

Special Equipment?

Do you need expensive knives to get them nice and sharp? Not necessarily (but it helps).

As long as your knife is enough quality, meaning forged steel and the kind that goes down inside the handle (what is that called? I’m losing the word right now…), you should be good. If the handle is completely separate from the knife, it’s just not going to last very long. Tonya also recommends looking for “restaurant knives” like the Montana brand at Cosco, very affordable.

You do NOT need a fancy knife sharpener to make a difference. Mine is shown right here and sells for under $10 at Amazon. Simple, but effective. Put one on your Christmas stocking stuffer list if you don’t own a knife sharpener of any kind. You’ll thank me in January!

UPDATE: The amazing Melissa at Dyno-Mom shares this tip from Cook’s Illustrated: “Use the unglazed bottom of a mug to hone a knife. Hold knife at a 45 degree angle and drag across.” How cool! Free knife honing!

So good Kitchen Stewards: take a simple baby step today. Sharpen your knives and try to get in the habit of doing it every few times you use them. You will notice a difference!

But first, you might want to make…

St. Nick Cookies

Time got away from me this December and I almost forgot to share this recipe from last year with you: St. Nicholas German Spice Cookies. It’s kind of a traditional recipe that I adapted for whole grains and real fats (and even sprouted flour).

Also, a Winner:

The Lullaby Organics Winner of some awesome organic pajamas, out of 445 total entries, is Jennae Petersen. Congrats! Don’t forget about Lullaby Organics’ 12 days of Holi-Daily Deals:

  • Each day for 12 days, starting Friday, 11/25, and running thru Tuesday, 12/6, a different eco-fabulous blogger (or sometimes two or three!) will post a review and giveaway from Lullaby Organics.
  • In each day’s post, the blogger of the day will “REVEAL THE DEAL” for that day.
  • Each deal might be on a single item or a collection of items, but when the deal of the day is sold out, that daily deal is over and there will be a different deal the next day!

Today’s deal and giveaway is at Groovy Green Livin, and tomorrow boasts two for the final day, at Some Call it Natural and Green Gifts Guide.

Happy Advent!

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Kitchen Stewardship is dedicated to balancing God’s gifts of time, health, earth and money.  If you feel called to such a mission, read more at Mission, Method, and Mary and Martha Moments.

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28 Comments so far ↓

  • Deb

    Thanks for the link to that sharpener, I REALLY need to get it and use it on my knives, cause they are getting so dull…and I suck at using a wetstone. :)

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  • Emily

    Aargh. I am SO bad at sharpening my knife with any kind of regularity. Thanks for the reminder…will put it on my to-do list right now. ;)

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  • Rebekah

    I have the same sharpener! It’s worked just fine for me so far. Yes, I agree– sharp knives rule.

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  • jennifer

    What about serrated knives?

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    Katie Reply:

    Jennifer,
    That’s a tough one – Cutco is one brand of serrated, and they say they never need sharpening (not true) but that they can sharpen them for you. Seems like a hassle to me, which is one reason I don’t own them. I think serrated is only necessary for bread and very few other uses, so switch to straight knives if all yours are serrated, IMO. Sorry I don’t have better news! :) Katie

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    Heather Reply:

    I have Cutco knives. Every few years, I bundle them up & send them in. I don’t find it to be a big hassle, & they have even replaced a few of my pieces over the years–no charge. Even if it’s a knife I picked up at the flea market or on ebay, the factory takes care of it, no questions asked. I got my first Cutco knives 20 years ago (I was selling them), and I don’t see me ever owning anything else. I was a from-scratch cook even 20 years ago as a poor college kid, so my knives have gotten a workout!

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    Heather Reply:

    I have Cutco knives. Every few years, I bundle them up & send them in. I don’t find it to be a big hassle, & they have even replaced a few of my pieces over the years–no charge. Even if it’s a knife I picked up at the flea market or on ebay, the factory takes care of it, no questions asked. I got my first Cutco knives 20 years ago (I was selling them), and I don’t see me ever owning anything else. I was a from-scratch cook even 20 years ago as a poor college kid, so my knives have gotten a workout, & I still use them daily.
    A serrated knife is much better for meat, too. Straight-edged knives are for everything else.

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  • Laura

    I have a hand held sharpener that also has a scissor sharpener in the middle! It’s great!

    This post reminded me of something. It has become such a custom (even though I haven’t lived at home in 12+ years) to see my dad get out the brandishing rod and whetrock every time he gets his knives out to clean and filet fresh fish that we’ve just caught. It’s such a commonplace sight that it’s hard for me to imagine others not knowing what those tools are. It’s a good reminder that culture and lifestyles vary so much that *I* need to be more mindful of that when teaching/helping others.

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  • Cheryl

    I use a rod regularly on my knives; couldn’t prep food without it. I laughed over your enjoyment in cutting your onions for soup — reminded me of when I purchased a new vacuum cleaner, I think I vacuumed several times a day for the first week as it was so fun! It truly is the small things that bring about joy in our lives: working knives, vacuums, washing machines, dishwashers, good books, quiet, laughing spouses and children. All simple. :)

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  • Stacy Makes Cents

    See, my problem is that I cut myself whether or not I sharpen my knives. Ha! :-) I know if I get my husband to sharpen them that I might as well go and get a box of band-aids. ;-)

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    Abbey Reply:

    LOL- that was my concern but my husband who introduced me to good knives said at least the cut will be clean and straight which makes reattachments of digits easier in the emergency room.

    I’ve had the same set of Chicago Cutlery for about 20 years, steel them regularly, sharpen them every so often, never, ever wash with soap (just wipe with hot water, maybe scrub the handle a little) and I just don’t cut myself as often. Maybe it’s years of experience, a little respect for the tool, ease of use when using the right tool, who knows? But, there has been way less blood in the kitchen since switching to them.

    Now, the mandoline is another story….

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    Stacy Makes Cents Reply:

    I am quite sure that my problem is just that I am accident prone. ;-)

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    Heather Reply:

    Use the hat-looking thing! Hubs & I have matching scars on our thumbs from a mandoline. I told him to use the “hat” & finish slicing sweet potatoes while I bandaged up the consequences of skipping the “hat”. Not 5 minutes later, the mandoline tried to eat his thumb, too!

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  • willowsprite

    I have never actually sharpened my knives, only steeled them. You can actually use them a long time if you regularly steel them. I’ve had mine for seven years, they’re Victorinox, love them!

    That word you were thinking of is “tang.” ;)

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    Kendra Reply:

    I have both Wusthof and Victorinox chef’s knives, and will usually reach for the Victorinox. I love the handle that feels very secure in my hand. I don’t want my knife to slip if I’ve got slippery chicken hands. :-P I have one knife sharpened this weekend, and will sharpen the rest tonight! Thanks.

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  • Johanna

    Yes! Full tang! Ours feel so much nicer, balanced and safer in the hand! Chicago Cutlery has come nice affordable sets and open stock knives. I have a basic set, plus a few Specialty Henkels and some more Chicago accessories in my knife block. They are all similar in quality as long as you maintain them properly!

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  • kitblu

    I use a a steel on my knives after I wash them (I might use them a few times before they get a bath). Last year about this time a local kitchen store offered free knife sharpening – one nonperishable food item per knife. I brought in 3 knives and at least 6 items .
    I didn’t realize that they do this every year. I had already packed more than a dozen items and invited a friend to go with me and bring some knives.
    I wish I could convince my mother how beneficial it is to sharpen knives. I hate using hers because they are so dull.

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  • Amanda Eberly

    Thank you so much! I was looking for an under $10 item to go with my sister’s Christmas gift and this knife sharpener is perfect. I used your link so hopefully you will get credit for my whole Amazon purchase. I really enjoy your blog, thanks so much for the great recipes! :)

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  • Erin via Facebook

    This is so crazy! I was just trying to figure out what knives to get and how to sharpen the ones that I have. What are ur go to knives (types not brand)? Chef, paring, santuko? Thanks for the article.

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  • Niki

    The details in this knife article are a *little* sketchy, but it is a good point. If you want really sharp knives consider a Lansky sharpener, and this tutorial
    http://www.bladeforums.com/forums/showthread.php/430124-A-Lansky-tutorial

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    Niki Reply:

    And for more information on burrs and steeling, what a blade should look like check here
    http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles2/cantrell105.html

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  • via Facebook

    Erin Bick Koirtyohann – It all depends on what I need to do – paring for cutting apples and such, but I use my chef’s knife pretty much every day for all vegetables. I have a santoku, but that I didn’t choose to bring it w/me to the in-laws’ must say something about how it floats my boat. ;)

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  • karla

    i have been reading your blog for a while and find it quite interesting. if you really want to learn about sharpening and honing knives (and even how to use your knives correctly) alton brown did a couple of episodes of good eats i highly recommend i’m sure you could find them on youtube -

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  • Candice

    So funny! I just found a sharpener I didn’t know I had in my utensil drawer 2 days ago and sharpened my knives the best I could with it. It’s a small round stone with places to hold in on the side. I don’t really like it but I used it afterward and wondered why I had been so stubborn not to try it before! lol If only I had found it before I cut up the $0.79lb chickens I bought!

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  • Amanda

    Thank you for the reminder! My knives have been driving me batty lately and it totally slipped my mind that I could actually DO something about them LOL. I ran over and honed and sharpened all my knives before typing this!

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  • Melissa via Facebook

    I am *amazing*? Gee, if only the kids knew that! But thanks, Katie!

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  • Nava Jojo via Facebook

    Kitchen Stewardship- ‘..meaning forged steel and the kind that goes down inside the handle (what is that called? I’m losing the word right now…)’ tang?

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  • Wendi

    Thank you for this challenge! I sharpened my knife tonight before I cut the onions for our burritos… no tears!!! The last few times I cut onions my kids wanted to know what was wrong.

    [Reply to this comment]

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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