Ask a Chef: Norman Weinstein

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You’ll want to be wielding a well-honed knife to enjoy all those juicy melons now in season. Norman Weinstein, author of Mastering Knife Skills and an instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, has been teaching knife know-how for almost 30 years. We gave him this FAQ:

How do I keep my knives sharp?

Keeping your knife’s edge sharp requires honing, or truing, done with a quality steel, and sharpening. The steel straightens the microscopic teeth formed by sharpening, a job best left to a professional. Honing should be done practically every time you use a straight-edged knife. Failure to hone regularly results in a rounded, blunt knife edge, forcing you to work harder. Also, if you hone regularly, you’ll postpone having to take your knives to a professional for sharpening; for most home cooks, sharpening once a year usually suffices.

You’ll want to purchase a steel from a reliable dealer. It should be 2 inches longer than your longest knife. Do not let the dealer talk you into buying a diamond-coated steel, which is a sharpening, not a honing, device. And do not use the steel on serrated knives. After honing, wipe the steel with a soft towel to remove any metal shavings.

To hone your knife:

1. Place a towel on a flat, nonskid surface such as your kitchen counter or a cutting board. Stand the steel firmly on the towel, perpendicular to the work surface.

2. Hold the knife toward the top of the steel, the tip pointing upward at a 45-degree angle. Twist your wrist to position the flat side of the blade at a 20-degree angle from the steel.

3. Applying moderate pressure, draw the knife back and downward. Avoid turning your wrist; you want to keep the blade at a 20-degree angle to the steel. About an inch or so from the bottom of the steel, using a follow-through motion, draw the knife tip off the steel. Repeat on the opposite side.

4. Repeat the entire process four or five times.