Today I hope to dispel a common kitchen myth, a culinary urban legend that misinformed cooks everywhere have taken to heart. Countless times I’ve witnessed cooks – beginners and experts alike – run their knives back and forth over a steel, a long, thin, metal rod usually with a plastic or rubber handle, thinking that they are in fact sharpening their blade, and I can’t take it any longer. So, here goes. (Clearing throat).
Running your knife over a honing steel does NOT sharpen your knife. There, I said it.
Sharpening a knife can only be accomplished by actually grinding or shaving off tiny bits of the blade’s metal, giving the blade a completely new edge. You need professional sharpening equipment or a whetstone, literally a piece of stone with a grainy surface that you wet before running the blade across it at a 20° angle, to sharpen a knife’s blade.
What your honing steel does is help keep the blade straight. Every time you cut, chop or slice, the blade of your knife is bent ever so slightly as a result of coming into contact with the food and your cutting board. The more you use your knife, the more tiny twists and turns for your blade. A honing steel literally moves your blade back into place. It straightens the blade, but doesn’t sharpen it.
Cooks are not totally to blame for buying into the confusion. I’ve seen many steels actually marketed as or called ‘sharpening steels.’ And according to logic and reason, what else would a sharpening steel do, but sharpen?
So remember, a steel by any name (sharpening, honing, etc.) will help maintain your blade’s straight edge, but it won’t sharpen it.