Knives are such an important and often used part of kitchen equipment! Many times when you’re cooking for only one or two it’s much faster and easier to chop thing with a knife rather than use a food processor. At least that’s true if your knives are in good condition–that is sharp–and sharp knives are much safer, and easier to use than dull ones.
Most knife sets come with a steel–but the purpose of a steel is NOT sharpening truly dull knives. The steel is intended to even and straighten an edge–in other words, to keep a knife sharp.
Even knives that have been well cared for eventually need sharpening. It’s possible to sharpen with a stone–but most of us don’t truly have the necessary skill to do this–it’s time-consuming, tedious, and we likely won’t get the best results. So, you might want to have your knives professionally sharpened.
However, there are some alternatives to professional sharpening or using a stone; there are now very good manual and electric sharpeners that can be used successfully by anyone. That’s one possibility for a gift for the cook in your life, or for yourself. Cook’s Illustrated has tested both manual and electric sharpeners.
For manual sharpeners, the AccuSharp knife and tool sharpener (model AccuSharp 001) is an inexpensive, easy to use possibility. The Anolon Universal Knife Sharpener 3-Stage Whetstone (model number 52255) are possible options. I prefer the three-stage style. Chef’s Choice also has manual knife sharpeners which have had generally good reviews as well, and are reasonably priced.
Electric sharpeners are predictably more expensive, but somewhat easier to use. It’s a good investment for keeping knives in good repair, and it’s something that might not buy for herself, and that makes it an especially appreciated gift. The Chef’s Choice electric sharpening products seem to generally have good reviews.
A steel would also make a great gift for the cook–used every time you pick up a knife to cut, it evens and aligns the cutting edge. It won’t replace a sharpener, but will help keep knives in good condition at each use between sharpening.
To help those knives keep that sharp edge, some other kitchen accessories that your cook might welcome might be a knife block or perhaps a magnetic strip which affixes to the wall. If knives are kept in a drawer, knife protectors might be welcome, or in-the-drawer
Another important way of keeping your knives in good condition is to use an appropriate cutting board–one that is “soft”. Glass or ceramic boards will dull the knife edge so get plastic or wood/bamboo. This need not be expensive–The OXO Good Grips cutting and carving board is an excellent choice. The no-slip strips are great. If the cutting board does not have these, you can always put a damp kitchen towel under it to keep it from sliding.
For safe food preparation, flexible plastic cutting mats or chopping mats are also great to have in the kitchen (and they are inexpensive, too). Some come in different colors to make it easy to keep those used for meats, poultry, seafood/fish, and veggies to avoid bacterial cross-contamination. Another nice thing about these is that they can be easily used to transfer chopped ingredients to pan or bowl. Recommended by Cook’s Country is the set of four chopping mats by Progressive International Food Safety Chopping Mat set of four for around $10, but you don’t need to find that specific brand.
Both the cutting board and the chopping mats will eventually show wear and tear and will need to be replaced, but it’s a small investment to keep your costly knives sharp so that cooking is easier and more enjoyable.