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Knives: You’ve got to know when to hone ’em

Fine Cooking Issue 93
Photo: Scott Phillips
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I can always spot professional cooks, even without the checkered pants: They’re the ones who bring their own knives to cook at someone else’s house. Why? Most people have dull knives, which are frustrating to use if you’re accustomed to a sharp blade. Knife work is faster and easier with a sharp knife, and that means less strain on your wrist.

Try the tomato test. Even the best knives will dull eventually, some faster than others, depending on what they’re made of and how much you use them. To see if your knives need some attention, very gently draw a knife blade across a ripe tomato. Avoid exerting force—the weight of the knife itself should be the only pressure on the tomato. Try testing different points along the length of the blade, too. Depending on your cutting style, you may find that certain parts of the blade dull faster than others. If the knife doesn’t cut through the tomato skin, it needs to be honed on a steel.

Repeat the tomato test after honing the knife, and if it still fails, it likely needs to be sharpened. There are lots of tools available for home sharpening, or you can send your knives to a professional sharpening service. To learn more about all the sharpening options, check out our article “Knife Sharpeners: Find the One That’s Right for You.” If you need to brush up on your technique with a steel, you can watch our video demonstration: “How to Hone Your Knife.”

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