Stay Sharp: How to Be a Knife Master

November 21, 2018Kitchen Tips

You’ll be chopping, slicing and dicing up a storm between now and the new year. A sharp knife will make the job so. much. easier. And safer.

[UPDATED 10/28/23]

Dull knives are a real safety risk, and you don’t want to spend the holiday in the emergency room. Some tips:

  • Don’t try to use the honing steel lurking in your drawer for this job. That’s fine to keep sharp blades keen, but it can’t revive truly dull knife.
  • You can sharpen knives yourself with a wet stone or an electric knife sharpener like Chef’s Choice (Ina Garten uses that, so you’d be in good company). I’m also a fan of the compact Work Sharp E2 Kitchen Knife Sharpener.
  • Many kitchenware and restaurant-supply stores sharpen knives for a small fee (sometimes with the first one free). Call ahead to see if/when their knife guru is available. There’s also the new Resharp service, which sharpens standard blades (from paring knives to cleavers, but not serrated blades) in 90 seconds on demand at Ace Hardware locations. 
  • Heading to the farmers’ market? Knife masters often set up shop at local markets so you can drop your blades off to be sharpened while you shop.
  • Call a mobile sharpening service to your home or office. You can arrange a time and outdoor space for them to set up, and invite friends and neighbors or coworkers to partake.
  • Since folks may be helping you in the kitchen this time of year, get ALL your blades sharpened, not just your personal faves.

Practice your knife skills by making this fall salad>>

BONUS tips to keep those blades sharp:

  • Always wash kitchen knives by hand. Putting them in the dishwasher will warp handles and dull blades in a hurry. I know, I know, Ina Garten recently shared an Instagram post in which she noted that she always puts her knives in the dishwasher. But, as I noted above, she’s also sharpening them regularly — likely much more regularly than most home cooks. And she’s probably careful that knives in the dishwasher aren’t rubbing against other items.
  • Use your honing steel to keep blades sharp. Here’s how>> 
  • Store knives properly — in a block (either freestanding or one that fits in a drawer) or on a magnetic strip affixed to the wall. Storing them loose in a drawer dulls them quickly as they rub up against each other, plus it’s easy to get cut as you root around for tools.


  • Check out your cutting board(s), too. When I’m cooking in someone else’s kitchen I almost always find a collection of too-small, warped cutting boards. That’s another hazard as they slip around when you’re trying to cut. Replace tired old cutting boards (they’re cheap and so important!).
  • Bigger is better so you have ample room to maneuver. I like the 17’x13″ Epicurean cutting board (you can find it at just about any kitchenware store or online).
  • Wash cutting boards by hand. Sure, it’s OK to throw them in the dishwasher occasionally, but doing that all the time makes them warp.
  • Slip a damp towel under your cutting board to keep it from sliding on the counter.
  • If you’re picking up a new cutting board, get yourself a bowl scraper or two. This plastic tool has a curved edge intended to scrap contents out of bowl (typically dough for baking). The straight edge is ideal to scoop up and transfer chopped ingredients from the cutting board to a bowl or pan.

Is vintage cookware right for you?


If having your knives professionally sharpened doesn’t make you fall back in love with them, it may be time to replace them.

  • You’ll get lots of recommendations for the “best” kitchen knives. But the “best” knife is the one that’s most comfortable for you to use. If you can, visit a kitchenware, restaurant supply or knife store where you can try out different makes and models. Lately, I’ve been using Hedley & Bennett’s Chef’s Knife and Utility Knife. These are made with Japanese steel so they hold their edge really well. They’re also incredibly well balanced, lightweight and comfortable to use. The only reason I haven’t popped for their bread knife is because the one I have is pretty new.
  • IMHO, knife sets often are a waste of money, not to mention a space hog. Unless you know you’ll use all those different types, you’re probably better off spending a bit more on a good-quality chef’s, paring and serrated/bread knife. A good quality pair of kitchen shears also are handy to have on hand. I like my Messermeister kitchen scissors, which come apart for thorough cleaning.

Want to take a deep dive into all things sharp? Check out My Kitchen Culture’s Complete Guide to Kitchen Knives>>

Happy (and safe!) chopping!


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