The best knife sharpeners will keep your collection of culinary blades in good shape. Well-maintained knives offer the best results and performance.
Read on to learn about all kinds of knife sharpening systems, such as honing steels, stones, electric and manual system. By becoming cognizant of their relative merits and demerits, you can choose the equipment that best suits your requirements.
Do You Really Need Sharp Knives at All Times?
The short answer is: yes. You need a sharp knife to expedite food prep and make the process enjoyable. Imagine how frustrating is would be to watch your hard work going to waste because of a dull knife. What is the point of cook great tasting food only to have it ruined with a blunt blade? You can avoid all these frustrations by using a sharp knife.
If you have prepared a delicious roast for your family, you can simply slice off just the right portions of that roast using a well-maintained, sharp knife. You will end up with food that not only looks good but is also highly presentable and visually appealing. This is all the more important when you have guests over at your barbecue dinner or party.
You can also use the knife to cut off clean sections of meat and dress it as you like. With a high-quality sharp knife, you can also alleviate the burden of chopping, slicing and dicing your way through heaps of vegetables. On the flipside, a blunt knife will only increase your stress, fatigue and frustration.
In short, sharp knives are an indispensable tool for a smooth and stress-free pellet grill cooking experience. The level of the knife sharpness, however, is a question of your own personal preferences. Certain chefs like to grind a knife till it has a mirror-like finish with an edge that is as sharp as a razor. Others prefer sharpness that is good enough for cutting meat like a hot knife slicing through butter.
The type of knives that you use will also determine their sharpness levels. If you have high-quality Japanese knives, then you probably have a penchant for razor-sharp knives. This is what Japanese knives are designed for. Some equipment types are better for certain kinds of knives as you will soon discover in this article.
There are five basic categories of knife sharpeners: steels, stones, sharpening systems, manual and electric.
Electric Knife Sharpeners
Electric knife sharpeners are one of the most user-friendly systems as they are easy to use. You need minimal effort to sharpen your knives when you have an electrical sharpener. You can start using them right away since you do not need any special skills to operate these contraptions.
Electric knife sharpeners look fairly nondescript. Two or more slots are available on these machines for you to pass the knife blade. The sides of these slots have sharpening stones that spin at high speed to grind your knife to perfection automatically.
You can fine-tune the knife-edge using different grit sizes. With multi-stage grinding, you can bring back the fierce cutting edge even in a dull old knife.
Read the instruction manual to understand the angle at which you must insert the blade for best results. The angle at which your knife is machined is critical.
Different kinds of knives have their own range of angles at which you can grind them to obtain a sharp edge. In comparison to Western knives, Japanese knives are machined at different angles. The good news is that when you have the right electrical sharpening machine, there is no guesswork involved.
The key disadvantage of these systems probably stems from their incredible ease of use. You cannot understand the angle at which you must grind your knives since this is done for you automatically. Also, you cannot tell just by looking at the process. Your knife sharpening aptitude will remain where it is with these tools.
Another key disadvantage is that if you are unskilled, you could inadvertently shorten the lifespan of your knife. Since you have limited control over the grinding process, it is difficult for novices to determine if they are machining more than necessary. Too much grinding means that you may machine off excessive material from the knife and reduce its service life.
The problem with electrical knife sharpening machines is that they usually grind off more material from the knife as compared to other sharpening processes.
From the aforementioned facts, it is obvious that you will need an electrical knife sharpener if you are using cheap knives and want a sharp edge on demand. Buy one only if you are not using premium quality knives.
Pull Through/ Hand Held Sharpeners
Much like electrical sharpeners, handheld sharpeners too have slots through which you must pull the knife blade to give it the desired cutting edge. This process, however, is more labour-intensive as there are no spinning grinding stones powered by electrical motors.
There are alternative handheld sharpeners where instead of pulling the knife through the sharpener, you need to pull the sharpener over the knife. This is a kind of an inverse configuration. The working principle, however, is the same and quite simple.
Although you need more effort, you have greater control using the handheld knife as compared to electrical sharpeners. Since you can work with predetermined angles, you do not have to set up the handheld machine at the right angle for efficient grinding.
These tools are also more compact as compared to electric sharpeners. You can easily stow them in the kitchen drawer when they are not in use. In fact, one of the reasons to purchase a handheld sharpener is to occupy some of the limited kitchen counter space.
You will get a sharp edge with a handheld sharpener; albeit, you will have to exert much greater effort as compared to electric sharpeners. You should buy one if you do not mind putting in some work and if you want a process that can prolong the service life of your premium knives.
Guided Systems/Knife Sharpening Systems
Guided systems of knife sharpening systems follow the middle ground with respect to control and precision.
When using such a tool, you do not have to pass the knife over the grinding stones. Instead, the knife remains in a fixed position while passing the stone over the stationary blade.
Different systems have some variations in their mechanism. However, their fundamental principle is very similar. You have to clamp the knife tightly in place over the unit. You must sharpen the blade edge using the stone placed on an arm kept at a particular angle.
You can adjust the direction of the arm according to the recommendation for your blade type. The only challenge is to set up the angle correctly. Once that is done, the rest of the process is simple and repetitive. You just need to pass the whetstone several times over the blade when the angle is correct.
With certain units, you can grind only one side of the blade at a time. But there are also units available where you can grind both sides without the need to reposition the arm. You can utilise different grit sizes to carry out all kinds of knife sharpening tasks. You may hone a knife to perfection and you can even bring a blunt knife back into shape.
It will take you some time to learn how to use this system correctly. Guided systems take a longer time to perfect than manual systems. These systems are also highly labour-intensive. But if you practice, then you can become quicker and more efficient with these sharpening systems.
There are two primary advantages of sharpening systems. The first is that you have greater control over the sharpening element. The second is that you can sharpen your knives at just about any angle.
If you want a high level of precision over knife sharpening but want something more sophisticated than using whetstone directly, then you can try out the guided system.
The Work Sharp Guided System does its job very well, as evidenced by the enthusiastic customer response.
You can gain maximum control over the knife sharpening process by using whetstones or sharpening stones.
Before you go any further, you must understand some terminology. All sharpening stones can be classified as whetstones. However, not all whetstones are used as wet stones. If you are confused, then don’t worry. The explanation is simple.
The confusion arises due to the lack of distinction when ‘whet’ and ‘wet’ are enunciated. As a knife enthusiast, you probably know by now that ‘whet’ means to sharpen something.
The thing is that certain whetstones are used in wet conditions. Other whetstones work in dry conditions. There are others that need oil for proper grinding. No matter what their operating conditions, they still work in the same manner.
You have to first press down the stone onto a surface so that it remains firmly fixed. Many whetstones have holders and stands for this purpose. You will then slide the knife in question back and forth across the whetstone surface till it is honed to a sharp blade.
The more simple varieties have two grit sizes on their opposite sides. The coarse grit size is useful for very blunt knives. Once you have whetted the knife, you can make it even sharper by rubbing it against the fine grit side. More refined types have stones of different grit sizes for a thorough sharpening process.
Unsurprisingly, it is the oldest and most primitive sharpening method. Purists argue that it is also the best procedure. They seem to have a point.
Since it involves more learning than other methods, it can take you some while before you become proficient at it. In particular, you should know how to hold the knife blade at the correct angle and how much pressure to apply. But once you get the hang of it, you can hone any blade to an amazing degree of accuracy.
However, you should practice on expendable knives before sharpening your premium knives on a whetstone.
The Sharp Pebble Whetstone has plenty of glowing reviews.
Sharpening Steel/ Knife Hone
This tool has several names, including honer, knife hone, honing steel, sharpening steel. It is most commonly known as sharpening steel. However, this is an inaccurate description because the knife hone does not sharpen a knife’s edge. You should not expect the knife hone to restore a very blunt or damaged knife with a couple of strokes.
When you are honing the knife, you are actually straightening it. This process is necessary as the alignment of the knife’s spine can go bad after heavy use. The knife may get bent to one side. As a result of this, it will not cut efficiently. But once the realignment is complete, the knife will start cutting as though it is as good as new. This is what happens when you utilize the knife hone. Rather than sharpening the edge, it is the corrected alignment that reverts the knife to its original efficacy.
Most people are aware of what a knife hone looks like. This tool is a long cylindrical steel rod with a handle at one end. Most knife sets have a steel hone included.
If you run the blade along the length of the hone properly, you can then correct the knife alignment. For this, you will have to run the knife at a proper angle. Using a hone, you can maintain your knife in pretty decent shapes in between the sharpening processes. You can also extend the life of the knife with a hone as you do not need to sharpen the knife too frequently for effective cutting. By reducing the frequency of sharpening, you can extend the knife lifespan since sharpening involves material removal from the knife.
Honing should be an essential part of maintaining your knives as you won’t make the mistake of thinking that the knife is blunt when, in fact, it needs alignment.
Just like a whetstone, you will need to practice using the hone to get the right results. The key points to understand here are the angle at which you should hold your knife and pressure that you should apply while sliding it along the hone.
The Utopia Sharpening Rod is the best steel hone by far.
The Best Knife Sharpener
Every knife sharpening mechanism has its own set of supporters and detractors. For each mechanism, there are good products and average products too. This is what you should keep in mind while selecting the best knife sharpener for yourself. So if you believe that whetstones are much better than electrical sharpeners, you should be aware that a great electrical sharpener model may be a better choice than a substandard whetstone.
If you were to take the advice of knife sharpening artisans, then the whetstone will come out as the best knife sharpener. However, this is not enough. You also need to have the requisite skills to use a whetstone effectively. If you are unable to build upon your dexterity, then a whetstone will do you no good.
Also, you should consider your requirements. If you are short on time, then you may be better off with an electrical sharpener. It is better to purchase a cheap expendable so that you can sharpen them as quickly as possible with minimum input of time and effort. Obviously, the knives’ lifespan will shorten, but that should not be too much of a concern since you can repurchase cheap knives quickly without spending too much cash.
Here is a summary of different knife sharpening systems.
Electrical Knife Sharpeners
- Very easy to learn
- Extremely quick process with minimal effort
- Shortens the lifespan of knives
Best for: People who are short on time and who do not mind repurchasing cheap knives to replace expendable knives that wear out quickly from electrical sharpener use.
Pull Through/ Hand Held Sharpeners
- Easy to learn
- Requires effort
Best for: Chefs who want more control even at the expense of hard work. These chefs desire a longer lifespan for their premium knives.
Guided Systems/ Knife Sharpening Systems
- Requires a fair level of skill to perfect
- Set up requires expertise
- Much effort involved in this sharpening process
Best for: Chefs who want greater control than what handheld sharpeners provide. They do not mind the learning curve, the installation time and the exertion. Such chefs seek a long lifespan for their knives as well.
- Requires lots of skill
- Difficult to master
- Much exertion involved in this sharpening technique
Best for: Knife enthusiasts who want full control over the sharpening process. They are willing to learn the process, acquire high level of skill and expend their time and energy on sharpening their artisan knives. Only suitable for those with an expensive knife collection.
With this knowledge, you can select the best knife sharpener depending on your situation and add it to your pellet grill accessories.