So you have a dull knife. What next? This is one of the most common questions I get from food enthusiasts and industry beginners. It is a seemingly straight forward question. How do you sharpen a knife? A honing steel DOES NOT sharpen a knife. Its sole purpose is to realign the edge of a blade that can curve over and cause your knife to seem dull from repeated use. The hardness of the knife blade determines how often you will need to “hone” or realign your knife. To be on the safe side, when you pick up a knife, always run it over a steel a few times before using.
To hone or steel, place the knife in your dominant hand and the steel in the other. The general idea is to keep the honing steel stable as you draw the knife blade down the steel at a 15 to 20 degree angle, five or six times per side. For students and beginners, place the point of the steel on a surface, drawing the knife away from the handle (option 1). This option will allow you to focus on the angle. Do not draw the knife towards the hand holding the honing steel unless you are an experienced chef or meat cutter (option 2).
Steels come in a few different shapes and sizes, and can be coated in diamond dust, or made of ceramic. Ceramic is harder than steel, and diamonds give a bite to your edge. I recommend using two types of steels, a coarse one and a fine one. A coarse steel is used to remove minor defects (visible dents) along the edge of a blade. A medium steel is used to grind the edge of your knife. A fine steel is used to finish the edge of your knife with a fine edge. Be sure to wipe your knife clean after steeling. Remember, the goal of honing your knife is to keep the edge of the blade straight. Sometimes you may need to create a new edge because the repeated use of steeling can leave behind micro abrasions. If you find yourself pushing your knife through the meat, it is time to use an oil stone, wet stone, or a commercial grinder like a Chef Choice. After you have tried all these techniques and you have not achieved the desired result, don’t worry, you can always fix your knives by taking them to a professional and have them sharpened using a belt grinder.
Cutting with a dull knife inevitably causes you to push harder through the meat, which can lead to mistakes and injuries. I know extremely sharp knives can be intimidating, but if you do have an accident, it is always better to cut yourself with a sharp knife than a dull knife. A cut from a sharp knife will heal much faster.
Keep it sharp, and keep cutting!