Weekend Projects

Improve Your Kitchen This Weekend With One Simple Step (That You Can Outsource, If You Want)

updated Jul 8, 2019
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Credit: Emma Fiala

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My friend who lives across the country once told me that she never helps with chopping in someone else’s kitchen unless they have a sharp knife. So when she was visiting me and I asked her to chop some celery for chicken salad, I held my breath to see if she’d keep going. I guess my knife was sharp enough for her, because she did.

But it was not, apparently, sharp enough for my sister, who berated me about my dull knives every time she was in my kitchen. She’d go on about how dangerous it was and I how I just didn’t know how dull they were because I got used to them dulling over time. And it’s true, when it comes to noticing our knives dulling, we’re kind of like the frog in the proverbial pot of water coming to a boil.

Finally, I put a knife sharpener on my list, researched the best ones, and decided on the Chef’s Choice ProntoPro Diamond Hone Manual Knife Sharpener. And, yeah, it changed my cooking life.

This Weekend: Sharpen your knives.

It’s a simple task that’s oh-so easy to put off, basically forever.

How to Tell If Your Knife is Dull

A dull knife slips on food and is far more likely to cut you than a sharp knife is. If your knife slips when you’re trying to cut, it’s time to sharpen it ASAP. If you want to test whether your knife is slipping, try cutting a tomato or an onion with the skin on. A knife that’s sharp enough should catch the surface of these easily and slice right through instead of sliding off.

The paper test is another popular method of testing whether your knife is sharp enough. A sharp knife will easily slice through a sheet of paper that’s held in the air, whereas a dull knife may not even catch the edge.

How to Sharpen Your Knives

The honing steel that may have come with your knife set is not a knife sharpener. (You use it once your knives are sharp to realign the blade and the tiny metal teeth of your blade.) To actually sharpen your knives, here are a few good choices for a home cook who isn’t trained to use a whetstone:

1. Send them off to be sharpened. There’s no shame and definitely no harm in just letting the pros take care of your knives. Professional knife sharpening is a skill that takes many years of apprenticeship to acquire.

2. Ask your local butcher. I had heard that you could just ask the butcher at your grocery store if he’d mind sharpening your knives and I dared to try it once. He did it for me! I didn’t feel comfortable making this my regular solution for sharpening my knives, but it’s an option.

3. Buy a home sharpener. You can choose from either a manual sharpener or an electric one. A manual one offers more control, but you may find an electric one more comfortable. To read more about which might be the best fit for you, check out this article from On the Sharp Side. Though it seems straightforward, in order to take the best care of your knives, read the instructions that come with your sharpener carefully and closely follow the directions.

What to Do After They’re Sharp

Once you’ve sharpened your knives, you’ll want to maintain them. Store them so they aren’t knocking into other things, don’t put them in the dishwasher, and use your honing stick to realign the blade every two or three uses.

A super sharp knife, especially if this is in stark contrast to what you have been using, is a joy to use and will make this next week’s dinner prep hour that much more exciting.

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You can catch up with weekend projects right here. Share your progress with us and others by posting updates and photos on Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #atweekendproject.

Remember: This is about improvement, not perfection. Each week you can either choose to work on the assignment we’ve sent you, or tackle another project you’ve been meaning to get to. It’s also completely okay to skip a weekend if you’re busy or not feeling the assignment.