The butcher knife is an important part of a chef’s most valuable tools, a good set of knives. Its strong spine, beveled edge and curved blade make it a versatile choice to use on all meats. It is designed to finely slice a London broil, or break through a tough joint.
A set of fine knives is an investment in good cooking whether you are a world class chef de cuisine or a home cook. Properly caring for your butcher knife extends its life and keeps it performing like new. Care of a good knife is not difficult, but diligence is key to good maintenance. Protect them in the following ways.
Care and Storage
Avoid washing your butcher knife in the dishwasher. Even if the manufacturer’s directions indicate it is safe for the knife, it can rub against other items in the tub and damage them or lose its edge. The best recommendation is to wash your butcher knife by hand. Fill a sink with warm, soapy water. Hot water causes expansion and can loosen the rivets, effectively ruining the knife. For safety, hold the knife by the handle with one side flat against the side of the sink. Use a handled scrub brush to remove grease and food particles. Flip it over and scrub the other side. Rinse carefully under running water. Lay flat in a drainer to dry or wipe with a clean towel. Clean immediately after each use. Don’t toss your knives into a drawer for storage. Not only is it dangerous to reach in, but they can become dull knocking against other utensils. If they must be stored in a drawer, invest in blade guards or sheaths that will protect the edges of your knives.
Julia Child once stated, “A sharp knife is safer than a dull one.” Inevitably, all knives need sharpening. While sharpening services abound, sharpening a butcher knife yourself is not a difficult task. A sharpening steel is a long rod usually made of high carbon steel, that straightens the fine edge of a knife. Ceramic and diamond coated rods are capable of actually sharpening the blade. They are available online and most department or restaurant supply stores.
Holding the sharpening steel in one hand, position the edge of the knife near the top and drag it down the rod from handle to tip at about a 45* angle. Regular use helps keep your butcher knife sharp for quite a while depending on use.
Whet stones are another option for sharpening your butcher knife. There are two kinds of stones a “wet” stone which requires oil or water and a “dry” one which uses no lubricant. Sharpeners in which you pull the knife through a rotating wheel or stones are also available, but tend not to produce quite as keen an edge as a stone. YouTube videos are available to demonstrate proper use of a whet stone.
To use either type of stone, hold the blade with the spine towards your palm and your fingers spread across the flat of the knife in order to keep an even pressure along the edge. Keeping the blade at about a 10 to 20 degree angle, stroke it slowly along the stone from tip to heel. After 3 – 4 repetitions, turn the blade and do the same number of strokes on the other side. Continue until the desired sharpness is achieved.
Cooking is a creative, dynamic and nurturing art form. It can be an expression of love. Maintaining your set of quality knives is fundamental to good cooking skills. Make caring for your utensils a part of your culinary expertise. We gain confidence with success and efficiency with practice.
More information on proper care of knives is available from these sites: