You can think of it like cutting your fingernails, verses filing them. “Cutting (sharpening) reestablishes a new edge,” explains Hannah Cheng, one of the sisters behind Mimi Cheng’s in New York. “Whereas filing (honing) smooths out that edge.” In other words, if your knife edge is pretty sharp, honing can help keep it that way.
When should I hone my knives?
You’ll want to bust out the honing rod when you notice your knife isn’t slicing as smoothly, but you don’t have time to sharpen it. If you’re finding it hard to slice a soft-skinned piece of produce, like a tomato or plum, “then your knife will need honing,” says Joshua Lucio-Lasso, chef at Public Records and self-described “sharp freak” who hones his knives every day. If, after you’ve honed, it’s still tough to get through the tomato skin afterwards, it’s time to sharpen!
Because Cheng cooks a lot, her rule of thumb is simple: she sharpens her knives weekly, and then hones them before each use.
What kind of honing rod should I buy?
The wand chooses the wizard, Harry. While you can hone most chef’s knives, “not every rod works with every steel,” Morocco says, adding that your honing rod must be harder than the knife steel to have an effect. For example, German-style knives are softer and can work with any rod, but Japanese blades are super hard and need the big guns: ceramic.
Cupps and Morocco both recommend an all-rounder, like this MAC ceramic honing rod. It’s harder than steel and has a finer grit, which works faster and is less rough on your knife edge. (Remember the nail file analogy? Same idea.) Use it gently, especially on Japanese knives—remember: there’s no need to apply pressure. And whenever honing is ineffective, it’s time to break out the whetstone, okay?