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If you've ever seen professional chefs on TV quickly scraping a metal rod against their knives and thought, 'What the heck are they doing?,' no judgement. The good news is, this fancy-looking technique is actually fairly simple — and it's something every at-home cook should know how to do, too.
Honing vs Sharpening
The first thing to know is that the tool is called a steel, and it is used for honing knives — which is not the same thing as sharpening. Sharpening your knife requires a different tool, which uses friction to actually create a new, sharper edge. Honing your knife with a steel maintains its sharpness by essentially straightening the existing edge.
What Is Honing?
"It keeps an edge sharp. Again, this is not sharpening. It's honing," celebrity chef and restaurateur Jet Tila says. He explains the difference and demonstrates the correct way to hone your knives in the video above. Keep reading for his expert tips.
When To Hone Your Knives
"Every time you use a knife in the kitchen, pull the knife out, give it a nice wipe [on a clean towel] and then take it onto a steel," Jet says.
Knife Honing Tips
You don't want to rub the steel on the flat edge of the knife, Jet explains. You should angle the upper part of the knife slightly to catch the edge. "The actual edge is just this tiny, tiny little bit that is on the end," he says. Then, "you want to do about five to eight swipes on each side."
Pro Tip: "If you don't know exactly how to get that edge, take an iridescent marker — like a highlighter — and just rub that on the edge and give it a little color. Bring that to the steel and then kind of guess to where you think you're grabbing it. When you start rubbing the mark off, you've found the edge," Jet says.
If the traditional honing technique makes you nervous, or if you're trying this for the first time, Jet has an alternative way to hone. He suggests putting a towel on your cutting board or kitchen counter and placing the steel on top of the towel. Hold the steel steady with one hand by the handle. With the other hand, hone away from your body.
How To Hone a Chef's Knife
For a traditional six- to ten-inch chef's knife, you want to grab the base of the knife and swipe from the end all the way to the tip in a swift motion.
How To Hone a Paring Knife
"A paring knife is a lot shorter. Sometimes, these are three to five inches," Jet says. You hone these the same way.
How To Hone a Serrated Knife
"You can actually hone your serrated edge, which has these little scallops, good for cutting bread or cutting tomatoes," Jet says. Because of the scallops, the technique for honing a serrated knife is a little different. Holding the knife horizontally (but still at an angle), move the knife in an up-and-down motion against the round part of the steel. Get all of the scallops first, then turn your knife and swipe the flat side against the steel as well.