The single biggest problem in home kitchens. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Dull knives. It’s the single biggest problem in home kitchens. The. Single. Biggest. Problem. It’s the main reason cooking seems more difficult than it should be. And I’ll say this again, too. Guys and girls, the best Valentine’s Day gift you can give your lover/cook, get his/her knives professionally sharpened or buy a good sharpener. Again: Nothing says “I love you” like a really sharp knife.

I get mine—I use Wusthof, btw—professionally sharpened at a wet-grind sharpening place, and OpenSky found this astonishingly effective and easy-to-use sharpening “stone,” called the DMT Sharpening Stone. (It’s not really a stone, but rather a patented diamond-dust coated perforated steel sheet on rubber; see video below.)

If you have to saw on a lemon rind to get the cut started, your knife is dull. Dull knives force you to press harder, and tend to slide off food and cut you. Dull knives leave ragged cuts that take longer to heal. It’s a kitchen adage, “A sharp knife is a safe knife.”

But mainly dull knives make cooking harder. No one needs cooking to be harder. I don’t think I’ve ever walked into a friend’s kitchen who had sharp knives. Ever. A friend recently used my knife and said, “Wow, this is a really sharp knife.” Well, yes. My friend Mac took his knives to my place and was spluttering with wonder—he had no idea what using a sharp knife felt like. If you want to be a better cook, start with really sharp knives. On a big heavy cutting board—give yourself plenty of room to work.

And use your common sense. Don’t cut yourself. You don’t have time. And for godsake, don’t fuss with the blade of your immersion blender while it’s still plugged in. This is news? Jesus.

What American kitchens need more of: sharp knives, big cutting boards, common sense.

Other links you may like:

© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.




49 Wonderful responses to “Home Cooks’ Biggest Disadvantage”

  • Dave

    check ‘graph 4 “But mainly sharp knives make cooking harder” I think the point of the article says differently.

    Great thoughts, though. I love a freshly sharpened knife.

  • Victoria

    Glad you saw that article on immersion blenders in the NYTimes. Yikes. It’s also important not to put a food processor blade in a sink of soapy water and then stick you hand in to wash. I guess some people haven’t read the THINK chapter in Twenty!!!!

    I just got Modernist Cuisine at Home (after having a chance to peruse a copy at J.B. Prince) and have a question for you. What is your opinion of pressure cookers, and if it’s a positive opinion, what size would you recommend? You didn’t have one listed in your suggestions for Christmas gifts nor can I recollect your every mentioning using one, so I’m imagining you don’t. I am intrigued by the recipe for chicken stock in MC@tH, but as I do use your recipe for slow cooking in the oven, I don’t know if it’s necessary for me. Any thoughts on the subject?

  • Gayle

    I actually made a 2013 resolution to learn how to properly sharpen my knives at home but have thus far not found a class in the DC area. Do you have any tips on DIY knife sharpening (I’m guessing your tip might be “find a pro” since you don’t do it yourself, either…)?

  • Ryan

    THIS!! None of my friends and family keep their knives sharp and it drives me nuts. I’ve bought them new sharp knives, taken their knives to get sharpened, and they just let them get dull. Now I bring my chef’s knife with me when I know we’ll be cooking at their houses.

  • Bill Seeholzer

    Michael, I see you mentioned that you get your knives sharpened professionally sharpened at a wet-grind sharpening place, assuming it’s in NE OH, care to share? Thanks!

  • Peter - The Roaming GastroGnome

    On my first visit to my wife’s parents house (pre-wedding) I noticed their knives were so dull you couldn’t cut anything with them. My wife said she never recalled them ever sharpening knives, they’d just get a new knife. After I picked my jaw up off of the floor I promised her there’d never be a dull knife in our house. Kept my promise so far!

  • Mike

    I’m a carpenter/woodworker, and have used the DMT stones for years, to sharpen plane blades and chisels. It seemed only natural to use them on my knives as well. And they do, in fact, work great!

  • Maureen Sanchez

    amen brother — amen. dull knives are so much more dangerous – never mind knife skills – most stuff you cut isn’t squared off until you make it so. We once brought our henckels to a knife sharpener in NC who killed the round part of the blade, though. Is there a way to know a good knife sharpener? (call a local restaurant and ask them what service they use ? Do you think this would irritate the staff ?)

  • Karen

    One of the things I can’t stand is when “celebrity” chefs show off how fast they can sharpen a knife. I can play Beethoven fast, but it doesn’t make it better.
    Although I’m totally guilty of using too-small cutting boards.

  • Mark Tigges

    Have you used EdgePro?

    I’m in no affiliated, just a happy customer. I believe that it’s definitely a superior solution to a simple stone. Though, for sure, much clunkier to store.

  • Anne

    This summer my in-laws came to visit, and my FIL offered to cook lunch for us. About 20 minutes later, my MIL came to me asking where the bandages were because my FIL had cut himself. In this case, the problem was not being accustomed to sharp knives. He was used to applying much more force with his (dull) knives at home, and the same amount of force sent my (sharp) knife sailing through whatever he was cutting and into his finger!

  • Attrill

    I completely agree! I developed an obsession with sharpening knives when I was 12 years old (thanks to Boy Scouts). When I cook in relatives’ kitchens for holidays I am always amazed at how dull their knives are. It’s so bad that I usually just bring my own knives to anyplace I’ll be cooking.

    I should add that any decent knife should be able to take and keep an edge – it doesn’t need to an expensive knife. Some of my $20 Forschners take and keep an edge as well as some of my $150 knives.

  • Carolyn

    Last year I invested in 3 high quality (Wustoff and Shun) knives. They make cooking a joy! With $600 invested in those knives, I hide them from my family so they don’t take abuse. The problem with that is that if I’m in a hurry I tend to still reach for the lesser quality, duller knives that are accessible for them to use. When I bought my Shun knife, I was told that if I hone the knife before I use it, and take care of it, I shouldn’t need to sharpen it for a couple of years. I also took a knife skills class – I didn’t learn to cut like wiz, but I learned proper technique for holding and cutting… and that makes a huge difference, too.

  • A.S.

    It’s difficult to do properly, the equipment to do it yourself is expensive ($70 ain’t the cheapest thing), and it is time consuming to do it yourself. Similarly, it is not easy to find a place to get knives sharpened professionally, it isn’t that cheap, and it is also time consuming. We try to do it, but it’s hard.

    (As an aside – just once on a cooking show or video, I’d like to see a cook try to cook with toddlers running all over the place, a countertop full of legos and other dodads, in a kitchen that doesn’t have room for a big cutting board. I mean, sure, it would be great to have a big wide open place to put ahuge cutting board, but where am I going to put all of the things that are currently on my counter? /end rant)

  • Patrick

    I’m a Wusthof user too. Love them. Have had them for 4 years and they are still sharp. Just run them accross the honing steel every few weeks to keep them burr-free.

  • scott

    So true! Got my folks the Wusthof starter set for Christmas, because they’d had the same crappy Cutco knives for 20 years (unsharpened). I think they were skeptical at first but the first time my dad used them his eyes lit up like a he’d seen the Polar Express.

  • ruhlman

    Gad zooks! I was wrong! This holiday season, I was helping my friend lee jacobs cook goose and I called her to ask if her knives were sharp and she said, you betcha. I was planning to bring my own but didn’t. sure enough her knives were sharp as lightening. thanks Lee!

  • Adam M

    Great post, and I agree. But thank you for also mentioning that ridiculous article about the immersion blenders being dangerous to clean when they’re still plugged in. (I almost tweeted that to you.) The immersion blender might not be a necessity, but it is such a useful tool for soups and sauces. I’m glad I have one now before they’re either taken off the market or include some weird safety mechanism that makes them more difficult to use. Just be careful out there, people! Think!

  • Dorothy

    Hilarious comment about the immersion blender! Did I see that woman was trying to make chocolate-chip cookies with hers?!

  • Walt Smith


    I have two japanese knives. The place that sold them to me has discontinued shapening. Would this work for me if I know the angles or would you have another recommendation?

  • Jared

    I really enjoy free hand sharpening and Japanese knives. I noticed a big improvement in my prep and finished foods when my knife was nice a sharp. I just use the DMT to flatten stones and for repairs, a good combo stone is all you really need, but I have lots of others.

  • Allen

    I have one well used, very sharp, JA Henckels chef knife that I bought in 1990 in Germany. I keep it as sharp as I can, and find it to be my favorite all purpose knife that I always grab first. Heavy and sharp, I use it for nearly everything.
    I even peel apples after seeing chef Symon do it while making an apple pie. It seemed awkward at first, but you get better and faster the more times you do it. I now find it faster and easier than grabbing the peeler.

    My question is:
    is it possible to over hone the blade? I see butchers do it after every few slices, I try to do it before and after each use and keep it on a wall magnet so it does not get dinged in a drawer. Am I over honing the blade? Or is more honing better, if your careful on keeping a good 22.5 angle?

  • Ryan

    One problem for people who don’t know how to use knives is that they’ve been trained to cut a certain way with improper equipment. My mom often uses a dull serrated steak knife to do her cutting, so it’s been difficult to try to teach her the different grip and motion required by a sharp chef’s knife. Old habits die hard, and a sharp chef’s knife, improperly used, can do a lot more damage than a very dull steak knife.

  • E. Nassar

    I love my DMT diamond “stone” as well. It’s good to see you recommend it! Also, pressure cooked stocks: There is no better or more efficient way to make a full flavored amazing stock (unless it is fish or vegetable stock, then sous vide is the way to go)

  • Susan

    My dear late mother in law had the ugliest but sharpest, knife I’d ever used. The blade had oxidized to a mottled gray/brown and had been sharpened to a misshapened curve by years of running the edge along the base of her old crockery mixing bowl. On cleaning out her home upon her death, my husband and his brother competed for the knife with several rounds of rock-sissor-paper for the inheritence. Husband lost. Dang! Regarding professional knife sharpening…the butchers at one of our local grocery stores in San Jose, CA, advertise that they will sharpen customer knifes by appointment. It’s a nice service to offer! They do a good job, too.

  • Bill R.

    The biggest problem in my kitchen is not my knives; I could shave with those. The biggest problem is the damn electric cooktop. No gas in my area, so no gas stove! It makes me hate cooking. And it sucks having to do stuff like put up with a portable butane burner or stir fry on the porch over a turkey fryer.

  • Mike

    A girlfriend bought me a set of Henckel knives many years ago. Best kitchen gift ever! But, I admit they need to be sharpened and thanks for the reminder to get that taken care of! 🙂

  • TJ

    Let’s turn this discussion around…
    What is the home cook’s biggest advantage?
    I always like to find that stuff in life.

    I think, for the home cook, it may be scale?
    For example, I love making no-knead bread. I have heard/read bakers say that they wish they could do it, as there is no comparison on a quality/effort basis, but they can’t achieve the scale they need for commercial enterprise.

    I’d be curious if others had different ideas though!

    (as penance for turning the discussion off course, I will go sharpen my knives after work)

  • Nancy

    A related, but equally important point: my husband, a retired skilled tradesman, is most adept at keeping our knives honed, and when needed, sharpened (he’s still teaching me honing – practice makes perfect). But the best sharpening will not help a poor quality knife.

    Our chef’s knife for the last 10 years or so was a decent brand available at local kitchen supply retailers (Chicago Cutlery), but just not a great knife. No matter how well Bob honed or sharpened it, it just didn’t slide through food as it should; our two small Shun knives were telling us what to do, but we didn’t realize it, because, well, it *was* a decent knife, right?

    He got me a Wustoff Icon for my birthday, and what a difference a better quality knife makes! So keep them sharp, but don’t skimp on them too much either; you really do get what you pay for with knives.

  • Witloof

    I have Wusthof knives, and steel and sharpen them regularly. I live in Manhattan, and the place to go ’round these parts is Samurai Sharpening Service at the Chelsea Market. She is there every Saturday and Wednesday, and does a tremendous job.

  • MP Wall

    If you look in restaurant supply you will often find commercial knife supply and sharpening. These places often have pretty good prices on knives as well. I used to use Northwestern Cutlery in Chicago near the meat market area, they had 4 wet stones turning all the time. MPW

  • goober

    Accusharp costs about $10, fits in drawer, and can be used by a smart chimp or any human. That plus a few licks on the steel get my knives sharp every time. Simple, cheap, and quick.

  • Bobbi Sundman

    We have a nice sharp wusthof knife (love it) and while preparing a tasty bolognaise sauce on Sunday, I sliced my thumb along the side and right through the nail! Now I need to either learn some better chopping skills, or remember that there’s a mandolin in one of the kitchen drawers!

  • Emilia

    I used to use the DMT guided stone sharpener (similar idea to the Edgepro posted before), but have since gone to the Chef’s Choice sharpener. The model I’ve got has angles for Amer/Euro knives and a separate one for Japanese knives. It handles single bevel Japanese knives by using one side of the stone. A stropping disk finishes the citting edge, but leaves the actual ground portion as is. Works well, but you don’t get the polished cutting edge that hand honing gives. You also don’t get a multi-bevel edge, which some people like. I’m pretty pleased with it.

    From our friend John Y.


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