a chef's hands use a knife to cut cilantro on a wooden cutting board

How to Properly Sharpen Your Knife: Tips From a Professional Chef

ICE’s Director of Culinary Affairs Hervé Malivert gives tips on keeping your knife sharp, and shares the unexpected importance of a tomato

Whether you’re just getting into cooking, or have spent years dicing away in the kitchen, the importance of having a sharp knife is regularly heralded as the best way to get clean cuts — and to keep your fingers safe.

We sat down with ICE’s Director of Culinary Affairs, Chef Hervé Malivert, to get some insight from a pro on how to sharpen your knife, how to know if it’s sharp enough and what that honing steel is really for.

My knife set came with a sharpening steel, how do I use that?

A common misconception among amateur cooks is that a honing steel, which you see chefs quickly stroking their knife against before they get to work at a cutting board, actually sharpens your knife.

According to Chef Hervé, there's a difference.

“The honing steel is meant to bring back the edge and realign the blade," he says. "You should use this every time you pick up your knife to ‘wake up the blade’ [and for a professional chef, about once per hour when doing a lot of cutting]. Sharpening your knife with a whetstone actually grinds off a little of the metal, which sharpens the blade.”

What is a whetstone and how do I use it?

For the average home cook, sending your knife out to a professional a few times per year is the safest bet to ensure you don’t ruin your knife. If you’re in training to be a professional cook, or if you want to learn to do it yourself, the key is researching what tools you need and making sure to use them properly.

Whetstones vary in grain size as well as in material. Chef Hervé suggests using one that is 1000 grit on one side for general sharpening, and 6000 grit on the other for that ‘razor sharp’ edge. A stone like that should only cost about $40. 

When getting set up to start sharpening, he emphasized the importance of making sure your stone is fully saturated in water.

“Soak it for about a minute or two before you get started," Chef Hervé says. "If it dries quickly when you remove it from the water, let it soak longer. If it’s too dry you could grind too much metal off your knife.”

He also shared, from personal experience, that wrapping your stone in a dry towel is the proper way to store it to prevent it from molding.

Read More: Sharpen Your Basic Knife Skills

How often should I be sharpening my knife?

The question "how often should you sharpen your knife" is very common in a culinary school.

“You know, I hear that question all the time, and I always say ‘if your knife is sharp, you’re good — it truly depends on how you’re using it, and how often,” Chef Hervé says.

For a home cook, Chef Hervé suggests giving it a refresh about once or twice a month, while professional chefs generally take out their whetstone about once every ten days, though they are often rotating through several different knives day by day or task by task.

“A Japanese blade tends to be more delicate so it sharpens faster, but a US or German knife that you would use to cut through bone or something is going to take a little more time to get a super sharp edge,” he says. 

How do I know if my knife is sharp?

Chef Hervé's telltale sign of when it’s time to re-sharpen?

“If you can cut through a tomato without having to apply pressure, your knife is extremely sharp,” he says.

Heard, Chef.

Read MoreHow to Choose The Right Kitchen Knife

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