Sunday, April 11, 2010

How and Why to Use a Knife Steel – Our Most Cutting-Edge Video Ever

I don't think there have been any official government studies regarding the use of knife steels, which is a good thing since that would have been a really silly use of taxpayer money (unlike investigating the sexual arousal in anesthetized female rats…true story).

However, if such a study was done, I believe we'd learn that most home cooks have no real idea what this very important tool is for. Many think it's a knife sharpener, and when their knives get dull, they pull it out, only to be sorely disappointed that "it doesn't work."

A knife steel is made to keep a sharp knife, sharp, and will do so for quite a while if used properly. By the way, most cuts in a kitchen are due to dull knives, so this video may save you a visit to the ER. If you don’t have a steel, go buy one, they're only about $20, and worth every penny!

If your knives are dull, please take them to professional knife sharpener (every city has one), and for a few dollars per knife you can have the edge put back on them. Then, using the simple technique you'll see in this video, you'll keep that sharp edge for a very long time. One thing I failed to mention in the clip, wipe the knife after using the steel – there will be a small amount of superfine metal dust produced. Enjoy!

Déjà vu

No, you’re no going crazy, I have done this lesson before, but it was for About.com, and I've wanted to do a Food Wishes version for a long time. I'm glad we straightened that out [rim shot].


34 comments:

Fran said...

Great video. I think a lot of people will be surprised to learn that a honing steel does not sharpen. This will be a very useful video to many.

One thing I'd like to note is that Western knives -- those made in Germany or the US or any other Western country (such as the Wusthof or Henckels brands)are different than Asian knives (such as Shun or Henckels) in that they are sharpened to much different angles.

A Western knife is sharpened to a 22º - 24º angle, while an Asian blade is sharpened to a 10º - 16º angle so it's necessary to hold the knife at the proper angle when honing, and more importantly when people tackle actual sharpening.

The handle on the steel has a

Anyway, didn't mean to hijack your post, but thought I'd throw the info out there.

Chef John said...

Thanks! I was hoping someone would mention that.

Balu said...

I don't know how to describe the following correctly. I hopy you understand what I mean.

I always wondered. Some people like you "push" the blade down the steel - e.g. in the direction the blade shows.

It somehow feels more logical to pull the knife though., since I want to straighten it.

Is their a "correct" way?

Chef John said...

ive never noticed any difference at all either way.

Robert Lewis said...

What is the "shop" called that sharpens knives? I've looked all over for "knife sharpening" places in Houston, TX, but I can't find any shops. Thanks for your help!

Chef John said...

try this for HOU http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/92510

Rachel said...

Is there any way of sharpening knives properly at home? My father-in-law used to sharpen the family knives on a small whetstone, and they seemed to have a good edge. What about those 'pull-through' sharpeners in cook shops?

Chef John said...

a whetstone works great if you know how to use it. Not crazy about the other types, but haven't tried one in 20 years, so I can't say for sure.

Chef John said...

a whetstone works great if you know how to use it. Not crazy about the other types, but haven't tried one in 20 years, so I can't say for sure.

fluffy said...

For sharpening, Cook's Illustrated really loves the AccuSharp Knife Sharpener. After seeing their recommendation I bought one, and it seems to do a really good job on my knives. I probably use it way more often than I should though.

adri_anah said...

enjoy...your sharp knives! haha
ill try this tomorrow, we have a couple of dull knives in the kitchen, maybe they just need a little knife steel love

rosemary said...

So glad I found this site! Its sooo good to be associated with someone like you. Thank you soooo much!!

Rachel B. said...

Wow, I think I have one of those laying around. I'll have to try this when I get my chef knife back from being sharpened.
P.S. I got mine sharpened at the hardware store I work at. The knife that I'm getting sharpened is a good German knife and well worth the $2 to get it sharpened.

Pyrofish said...

An Arkansas stone does a great job, if you can train your hand to hold the proper angle during each stroke. That's the problem most people have. For that reason, I like the Spyderco Sharpmaker. I learned about it from eGullet. This is the link to probably the best info on sharpening knives I've ever read. http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/topic/26036-knife-maintenance-and-sharpening/

I tried finding a sharpening service here, but even the restaurants in the area can't tell me anyone local. So I learned to do it on the Spyderco.

Stay away from the electric sharpeners if you have good knives. They work great, but they remove so much steel to get that edge, your knife won't last long using it.

Great job on the steel video BTW, as always.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

One of the things I miss about Manhattan was the guy who came around the neighborhood with a knife-sharpening truck. It was like the ice-cream truck -- you'd hear the bell and everyone would run out of the building with all their knives. A few dark clouds, a little sinister music, and you've got yourself a horror movie.

Chef John said...

I'm just thinking of all those disillusioned kids who just got yelled at by their moms for running with scissors, only to see them sprinting after the truck carrying a 12-inch chef's knife!

Matt S. said...

Hi Chef John,

Huge fan of the site, you've really inspired me to become a better cook over the last few months since I discovered your site. I spend hours just watching your recipes!

Anywho, I'm wondering what to do with serrated knives. Both finely serrated and wide serrated (like a bread knife). Can a knife steel be used?

I'm sure google could provide the answer, but I thought getting an answer here can help others reading this post.

Anonymous said...

I get my knives sharpened at The Epicurean Edge. I live just far enough away that I usually send them in rather than drop off and pick up.

They do a GREAT job. Using a steel regularly keeps them sharp for quite some time so I don't have to spend money on sharpening too often.

I have no financial interest in the store...I'm just a satisfied customer.

http://www.epicureanedge.com/shopcontent.asp?type=sharpening

Chef John said...

no, steel's for straight blades only. ive always had serrated sent out, so not sure what they use.

Anonymous said...

So how much pressure to apply? I use a steel regularly on our knives and the results are generally good - our knives can cut a tomato easily after honing - but judging by what I've seen chefs do on TV not super sharp. I'm wondering if I'm not pressing hard enough. I apply some pressure, but not very much.

BTW, we've got a great local knife sharpener in town. He'll use a round file to sharpen the individual serrations in a serrated knife. Some pro sharpeners will just use a stone or mechanical sharpener that will grind away the serrations in the process. Always ask how the serrated knife will be sharpened before having it done professionally. And never, ever cut on a hard surface that will dull the edge, like a ceramic meat platter. Carve on a board, serve on a platter. My guy charges by the serration for sharpening serrated knives; kind of expensive so we take extra special care of our bread/ carving knife.

Steve said...

Hi Chef:

On a related topic, I was wondering if you had any preferences for knives themselves? I know that to a great extent, it's a personal thing -- depending upon how the knife fits in your hand, balance, etc., but I'm curious what manufacturer or manufacturers the pros tend to favor.

My personal set includes mostly the higher end "department store" brands as well as a couple Messermeister San Moritz Elite knives I picked up a shop in Carmel, California (the 10 inch is perfectly balanced in my rather large hand).

Oh, and what do you think of the latest trend to the Granton scalloping? Alton Brown ("Good Eats") derided it on most knives but likes it on the long "slicer".

Opinions?

Chef John said...

here are some i like http://astore.amazon.com/lrn2cook-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=1

also, to whoever asked about pressure... just a little firm pressure is fine

Basia said...

A quick tip from the wife of a knife-maker: to see if it's time to straighten your edge, run a finger from the spine to the edge http://is.gd/bqlBc If, at the edge, you can feel a slight turn, as though there were a "wire" running along the edge, it's time to hone. The entire blade should feel smooth to the touch, from spine to edge, with no interruption. Your finger should feel like Thelma or Louise: nothing to stop you from going off that edge!

Rita said...

i remember watching this video, about a year ago or so. this is the site how i found your interesting recipes - and the rest of the food.about.com videos.

Pyrofish said...

Read that page I linked to in my post above if you're really interested in learning about sharpening. It's long, but it's in depth. It goes into angles, blade shape (there's more than one), which angles for which tasks.

The sharpening device I bought came with a video to explain much of that as well. You can even add a double bevel to a single bevel blade to make it extra sturdy.

Anonymous said...

Knife sharpened to 45º (22º - 24º each side) stay sharp longer, 10º - 16º angle makes the knife very sharp but it needed to be sharpen more often.

The angle they choose to sharpen the knife depends on the use of it.

http://i2.dpfile.com/groups/grouppic/2009-07-16/sznj_1813517_1550583_m.jpg


Chefs "pull the knife" is kitchen manner thing, you just don't wave your knife around like you don't care in a kitchen packed with other chefs.

Ryan said...

The steels that come with most knife blocks seem to actually remove metal, which may be why many folks refer to them as sharpeners. I believe that this is largely an issue of the quality and carbon content of the knives and steels generally found in these blocks. I only use a smooth steel that my father gave me from his days working at a beef packing plant. Do you have any insight or preference between the smooth, ridged steels, or ceramic 'steels'?

Chef John said...

sorry, never seen or used a smooth steel, only rigged.

Ryan said...

I really like it, it seems to be gentler on the blade. You do show steeling with a gentle touch, but when people are in the mindset of it being a sharpener, they have at it like a file and end up screwing up their edge. 'An Edge in the Kitchen' is a good read for anyone interested in more stuff on knives...

http://www.chadwrites.com/steeling-your-knife-2/

Ryan said...

I believe the smooth steel is usually referred to as a butcher's steel.

Kalena Michele said...

Chef John, I've been following your blog and I subscribed to your YT channel about a month ago. I absolutely love your blog, videos and recipes. This particular post came just when I was feeling well enough to get back into the kitchen and realized that my very very expensive chef's knife was too dull to cut into a navel orange. A NAVEL ORANCE! For shame....anyway, I'm going to get it sharpened and then invest in a steel. Thank you!!!

rosemary said...

I watched the video on how to hold a knife and when I was shredding cabbages last night and feeling some pain in my palm, I started to think about whether I was using the right knife. This got me thinking that maybe you can do another demo where you show us the proper use of different knives for the right job?

Chef John said...

maybe i will, but knife choice would have no connection to pain in the palm. Not sure what's up with that.

Gary Rowan said...

A steel is manufactured with a magnetic tip to draw the fine edge against the steel. This is why butchers steel from tip to handle.