I needed to sharpen our kitchen knives, so I found a book to help me along, specifically, An Edge in the Kitchen: The Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Knives by Chad Ward.
Overall, I liked the information I read. I got excited about my kitchen knives! But when I went to try and sharpen my own knives according to the instructions in the book, I was a bit lost. My husband, who has sharpened kitchen knives himself before, seems to think the problem was me, and not the book. Nonetheless, for a novice knife sharpener, I’d suggest that a book is probably not a great place to start your knife sharpening education.
I’m a relatively new cook, so I feel most of what I read about the technical aspects of cooking is new to me. This book was no different. I read An Edge in the Kitchen at a very slow rate, about 10-15 pages a day while I ate breakfast. This worked pretty well for me.
I learned about buying knives: there are more knives out there than I could ever want let alone use! There are knife collectors out there just like there are book collectors. (Why does that scare me?) I learned what is important and what is not important when buying a knife. For example, don’t waste your money buying a block of knives: buy the individual knife that you need and get a good one (and there are good ones for $40-$60).
I learned about cutting boards, knife storage, and general kitchen safety. Did you know lots of food poisoning can be avoided by washing the sink? Keeping separate cutting boards for meat versus vegetables helps too, of course.
An Edge in the Kitchen also reviewed some basic cuts. The middle of the book had color pages illustrating some of the basic ways to cut vegetables and meats for cooking. He also provided a few recipes that require lots of cutting so people can practice with their knives. I personally don’t mind the prep side of cooking a meal, but I admit I’m am incredibly slow with a knife. I have a hard time imagining that some people cook recipes with specially cut vegetables just so they can use their knives more often. Really?
The last section of An Edge in the Kitchen provided some facts about maintenance and sharpening. The maintenance and honing was clear to me. I felt like I was learning something. I liked the comparison of the various sharpening systems, and I accept fully the argument that electric sharpeners are very very bad for your knives.
As I read the instructions about sharpening with a stone, I started getting a bit confused. When I sat down one afternoon to try, I admit I was nearly in tears I was so frustrated and confused. I think the instructions may be good for someone like my husband who’s done it before, but I was completely lost. All the talk about angles and burrs was incredibly confusing. I tried to do what it said, and I don’t think it was good for the knife. My husband showed me what he’s always done and it seemed a lot less confusing that the book made it sound.
So the bottom line is, don’t read a book to try to sharpen a knife unless you’ve already done this before or at least seen it done. I look for a video of knife sharpening on YouTube, and my husband showed me what he does. Two hours later and the one knife I was working on doesn’t feel any sharper to me. And now I wonder if I’ve ruined it.
Chad Ward says in this book that anyone who can cook a complicated recipe can sharpen their own knives. I’m thinking that the two arts are rather different things. I’m not so happy at this point.
I’ll try sharpening my knives again in another day or two, when I’m not feeling frustrated at the thought. Maybe I just need practice.
Do you sharpen your own knives with a stone? How did you learn?