We’ve spent a lot of time at Serious Eats figuring out which knives are the most useful and necessary. We’ve tested countless knives of all shapes, sizes, and prices, and we’ve shown you have to use them properly in our knife skills videos. But it doesn’t matter how fancy or expensive or highly regarded by knife nerds your knives are if they aren’t sharp. Dull knives are worthless; even worse, they’re dangerous.
Below you’ll find all the equipment our culinary team relies on to keep their knives sharp. Some require more skill to use than others. All of them will help preserve your knives and keep your fingers safe as you work your way through our recipes.
One last thing: It would be a waste for you to sharpen your knives, then toss them into a drawer to rub up against other equipment and get all dull again. So store them correctly! You can find our preferred knife-storage recommendations here.
Generally speaking, we don’t recommend electric knife sharpeners because most of them tend to strip off too much metal from your blades. But there's one electric sharpener we can happily get behind: the Ken Onion Sharpener by Worksharp. This model offers a series of bands at different grit levels (from coarse to very fine) that allow you to do everything from major knife repair to small finishing work.
The Ken Onion also allows you to choose the type of blade geometry for whatever implement you're sharpening and has angle guides to ensure the edge is sharpened at the correct angle This way, you can go with whichever edge profile you prefer, whether it’s symmetrical or asymmetrical, and sharpen it consistently every time without having to rely on the muscle memory that you’d need for a whetstone (which can be a major barrier for entry for people new to knife-sharpening). Better yet: Because of the angle options, the sharpener can be used on all sorts of blades, including ax heads, mower blades, and pocket knives.
If you’re concerned about the price, think about it this way: After a couple of years, it will pay for itself in sharpening fees.
The best way to sharpen your knives is to use a whetstone. Using a whetstone is much more affordable than sending your knives out for professional sharpening, and unlike most electric sharpeners, using a whetstone will shave far less metal off your precious knives.
Whetstones (or waterstones) come in a variety of grit levels, but we recommend picking up a medium grit stone and a fine grit stone, which is more than sufficient for keeping your knives plenty sharp. Learning how to use them takes a little time and some practice. You can read all about the technique for using whetstones right here.
If you pick up a couple of whetstones, you'll want to also pick up a flattening stone (or a stone "fixer"), which you can run over your whetstones to get rid of any grooves or unevenness on the stones' surfaces.
The technique for using a whetstone can be complicated for beginners. It can also be pretty messy! That’s why our team recommends using a sink bridge: it anchors the whetstone securely, preventing it from moving around as you sharpen, and positions it over your sink so the mess can be easily contained.
Last year Daniel wrote about his favorite knife-sharpening accessory, the angle guide, a tiny (and very affordable) accessory that makes it much easier to maintain a consistent angle as you sharpen with a whetstone. Without one, you’re relying solely on muscle memory—and that can be tough, even for experienced chefs.
This little kit comes with a variety of angle options. Simply attach one or two (you can stack them!) to your whetstone with a rubber band. They’ll act as a guide as you sharpen, so you don’t need to discern what a 20-degree angle looks like for 10 minutes straight.
Once you’ve sharpened your blade, you’ll need to hone it. Not sure what the difference is? Sharpening will remove tiny fibers to create a brand new edge; honing ensures the edge is straight. You’ll need to do both if you want a sharp and safe knife. You can see Kenji’s technique for knife-honing right here. You can repeat this process any time you use your knives. Though once you notice that honing isn't helping, it's time to bring out your sharpener.
But which honing steel should you choose?
In his review of the best honing steels, Daniel outlines three different types: stainless steel, ceramic, and diamond steels. Whichever one you choose, consider the length. The longer the steel, the more space you have to pull your knife along without hitting your workstation. As long as your knives aren't longer than 10 inches, a 12-inch steel should serve you well.
Stainless steel steels are the most common. For its comfort and price, the 12-inch Winware is Daniel's favorite. An added bonus of metal honing steels is that they're magnetic, so they can hold on to those microscopic metal shards as you hone. That means less cleanup and far less chance of those shards getting into your food!
Then you have ceramic and diamond steels, which have potential benefits and drawbacks depending on how diligent you are about taking care of your knives. Since they're both more abrasive, they can actually remove more metal from your knife than steels made from stainless steel. That's great if you wait a long time between sharpening sessions, but it isn't so great if you plan on steeling your knife every day. If you find yourself reaching for your honing steel often, it's best if you stick to stainless steel.
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