The Best Kitchen Knife Steel – What To Look For?
Are you looking for information on the best kitchen knife steel? Well you’ve come to the right place.
Unlike most products, a sharpening/honing steel is difficult to assess objectively.
Because the blade of a knife changes every time it’s used and because the process of honing also changes the blade, it can be hard to compare one steel against another and come away with a clear understanding of the best kitchen knife steel.
Kitchen knife steel – Busting a myth!
To understand how a steel hones a blade you need to understand the workings of your typical knife blade. In essence it consists of bevelled edge which converges to meet at a very fine point. This ultra-fine point is what creates the knife’s sharpness – it’s ability to slice and dice through food with absolute ease. However, during the act of slicing, dicing and chopping, the metal strands that create the fine point will start to fold over onto each other.
Unfortunately this is not something you can see with the naked eye but you will notice the knife start to catch on the foods that you are preparing or cutting. In other words, you’ll sense some sort of resistance that wasn’t there before.
So when you run the blade of a knife over a honing steel, it’s possible to realign all the metal strands back into position, thus temporarily recreating that sharp edge.
Over time however, that super fine edge will eventually wear away – a bit like a pencil point – and when this happens, a knife steel will become far less useful. Instead, the best option is to resharpen a knife using a sharpening stone (whetstone) or electric knife sharpener.
As a result and contrary to popular belief…
A sharpening steel doesn’t actually sharpen a knife. Instead it simply hones the existing blade.
Now we’ve cleared up we can talk about…
How often you should use a knife steel and how often should you sharpen!
It won’t do a knife any harm to hone it as often as you want. Some people give the knife a couple of strokes over a honing steel before beginning food preparation, while others like me will do so when the cutting ability of the knife begins to fade.
Once you realise that the honing steel isn’t creating much effect, then it’s time to reach for your knife sharpener of choice. This may be a sharpening stone (much preferred for Asian-style knives) or an electric knife sharpener.
The frequency of sharpening really depends upon knife use. If you are a professional chef and you use your knives all day every day then your sharpening ritual could become a weekly or even a daily occurrence.
Alternatively, if you are a home cook once every 3-4 months could well be all that’s needed top keep your chef’s knife in tip top condition. The main point to remember is that no matter what type of knife steel you use, it needs to be kept dry and free from metal residue, so don’t forget to wipe it down with a damp cloth from time to time and thoroughly dry afterwards.
Talking of kitchen knife steel types…
the three main types of kitchen steel are:
This is arguably the most common rod type and comes in standard grit, fine grit and ultra fine grit formats, depending upon the type of knife you have. As a general rule of thumb – the softer the knife blade the finer the grit format needed.
These type of rods are usually made from something called alumina ceramic and can be rounded, square or triangular in shape. They are ideal for honing knives with common angles (typically those with a bevel of around 20 degrees) and because of their ability to remove tiny bits of metal from the knife, they actually have a small sharpening effect . On the downside, being ceramic, they will break when dropped so caution is necessary.
This is he hardest and most abrasive type of honing rod and is considerably more durable than steel or ceramic. However it also means that they can remove substantial amounts of metal from the blade. Therefore diamond steels can make a poor choice when honing daily. However, if you use a diamond steel sparingly, it can be enough to buy you sufficient time between sharpening.
The best kitchen knife steel – What to look for
Understanding blade hardness
One of the most important concepts in choosing the best kitchen knife steel for you is that you need a good understanding of blade hardness. Each knife blade is different so for example, a quality German kitchen knife is likely to have a different blade hardness to that of a Japanese carbon steel knife.
So how does this affect buying the right honing steel?
Quite simply, the harder the blade of your knife, the more abrasive your honing steel should be. Let me explain…
Each blade is tested using the Rockwell Scale – This is a hardness test for metal measured in degrees. Japanese kitchen knives for example typically have a Rockwell scale rating of 60 and above. While German kitchen knives manufactured by Wüsthoff and Zwilling, utilise stainless steel with a rating of around 55. The higher the rating, the harder the blade.
Okay so far? Good!
So, finding the right honing steel should reflect in part, the Rockwell Scale of Hardness ( the HRC) of your knife. As an example, knives with ultra-hard blades may be better-matched with diamond of ceramic honing steels.
Honing steel length
Another important factor in seeking out the best kitchen knife steel is length. Juts like kitchen knives, steels too come in various lengths. while size isn’t the ‘be all and end all‘ it’s important to note that..
the longer your steel, the bigger the area you have to pull (or push) the knife along.
While this isn’t a big deal for smaller knives like paring knives or vegetable knives, it matters a great deal if you are looking to sharpen carving knives, butchers knives and/or slicers.
As a general rule of thumb an ideal size rod for knives is 30 cms (12 inches) in length. This should be measured from the bottom tip of the rod to the guard and shouldn’t include the handle.
The handle and protective guard
Just like a quality chef’s knife the handle is equally important. It needs to feel comfortable in the hand when you grip it. Honing steel handles can be made from wood, plastic or even metal and choice is often more preferential than for a specific reason. But what is important is the grip. You don’t want it slipping out of your hand when you have a 10 inch blade coming towards you. So get hands on and try before you buy.
Talking of safety, another feature is the honing steel guard. Sometimes they are formed as part of the handle and sometimes they remain a separate feature. Either way the guard should be sufficient in comparison to the size of the rod and handle. When we say sufficient, we really mean that it should at least be the width of the handle This should be enough to provide adequate protection.
So there you have it, all the information you need to go out and find the best kitchen knife steel for you. All that’s left to do now is to recommend a couple of good options. So here goes…
The Utopia 12 inch kitchen steel is a carbon steel rod with nickel plating. In addition of offering great value for money. it has a nice ergonomically designed handle which can be used in the left or right hand.
It’s well balanced yet solid enough and comes with an attachment ring so it can be hung up out of the way if necessary.
This 12 inch ceramic kitchen steel comes from renowned German blade maker Messermeister. Ideal for sharpening many European (German) style knives
This 1200 grit ceramic rod has a hard abrasive characteristic allowing you to sharpen and realign the blade edge. It has a soft-grip ergonomic handle and attachment ring for ease of storage.
At a little under $40, it represents a quality product from a well known name, at a good price.
It has a distinctive oval shape allowing more contact surface than your typical round variety and offers up 1000 grit. So 3-4 strokes on each side of a blade will typically bring up the sharpness of most knives. It has an ergonomic handle with built in guard and is well-balanced with good weight.
If you would like to find out more about the best kitchen knife steel for your needs or if you have any questions, you can always give us a call or drop us a line by commenting below. In the meantime don’t forget to stay ‘Blade Sharp!