How to Sharpen and Care for the Best Kitchen Knives

Last Update: September 27, 2022

Few tools are as important in the kitchen as a good knife. Without one, chopping, slicing, and julienning ingredients would be virtually impossible. Equally important is keeping your knife sharp—use a dull blade and you’ll end up with nothing but bruised herbs and mangled meat on your cutting board. Read on to find out how to keep this indispensable workhorse in tip-top shape.

The 4 Essential Kitchen Knives

Kitchen Knives

When you set up your first apartment or put together a wedding registry, conventional wisdom would have you include a heavy butcher block filled with myriad knives, which you’d keep out on the counter. But most people end up using only a few of those knives on a regular basis. Turns out, you don’t need twelve knives where four will do. So we suggest skipping the oversize set in favor of a few quality blades (and leaving more counter space open for utensils that actually pull their weight). As long as you pick the most versatile knives, you’ll never be missing out.

Chef’s Knife

The blade of a chef’s knife can range between 6 and 14 inches long, with a slight curve near the tip. The original use of this knife was for slicing large cuts of beef, but it’s a versatile must-have nowadays. The chef’s knife is sometimes confused with the Japanese Santoku knife, which is similar but lighter in weight, and with slight variances in the thinner blade shape. A Santoku is just as useful as a chef’s knife—especially if you’re opting for a more minimalist knife collection.

What to use it for:

  • Cutting meat
  • Chopping vegetables
  • Dicing fruit
  • Slicing fish
  • Crushing garlic (with the blade on its side)

Paring Knife

With a short blade (between 2 ½ and 4 inches), a paring knife looks like a miniature chef’s knife. It’s perfect for more intricate tasks like mincing or peeling, but isn’t strong enough to easily slice through most foods. A good rule of thumb is, if you find yourself tightening your grip or applying pressure at any point, you need a different knife.

What to use it for:

  • Deveining shrimp
  • Peeling fruit or vegetables
  • Hulling strawberries
  • Mincing garlic

Serrated Knife

Sometimes called a tomato knife, a serrated knife blade will run between 4 and 7 inches in length. This type is shorter than a bread knife and is a bit sharper, too. It does its best work when you use a sawing motion, which allows the blade’s teeth to easily slice through foods and ingredients.

What to use it for:

  • Slicing bread
  • Slicing tomatoes
  • Halving bagels
  • Chopping a block of chocolate
  • Shaving outer rinds of melons
  • Cutting cake

Boning Knife

Flexible and thin with a delicate, curved blade, a boning knife measures between 5 and 7 inches long. Its main purpose is nestling into small spaces to help detach meat from the bone, but a really flexible version can be used for fish, too. Note: Vegans and vegetarians probably don’t need a boning knife in their arsenal.

What to use it for:

  • Removing bones from beef, chicken, and lamb
  • Removing skin from meat or fish

Tips for Taking Care of Kitchen Knives

Now that you know your knife types, let’s get down to the tips you need to keep them sharp and working properly.

Easy Ways to Sharpen Kitchen Knives

Once a year, you’ll want to have your knives properly sharpened by an expert. Professional sharpening actually removes material from the blade, creating a new, razor-sharp beveled edge. (Watch those fingers!) Many farmers markets have a stall with the resident “knife guy” who can take care of this while you shop. At home, the responsibility falls on you to keep the newly sharpened blade honed. For best results, you’ll want to hone your knife every time you use it.

Here are the steps to hone a knife:

  1. Position a honing steel vertically, placing the tip on a kitchen towel to keep it from moving around.
  2. Hold the handle of the steel with one hand and place the heel of the knife (closest to the handle) against the top of the steel at approximately a 15° to 20° angle.
  3. Apply light pressure and draw the knife down the steel, pulling across the full length of the knife. Keep the angle consistent while you do it!
  4. Repeat with the knife’s second side, then go back and forth approximately eight times per side.
  5. When finished, wipe down the blade with your towel and get chopping.

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Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.

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