A Wüsthof knife set can be a significant investment for a commercial kitchen and especially for a home chef. So, once you’ve built your collection of can’t-live-without-it cutlery, the last thing you want to do is neglect or damage those pieces. From cleaning to sharpening, this guide will help you learn how to take care of your knives so they can last for generations.
Step 1: Use Your Knives Properly
The first step in properly caring for any knife is using it the right way. You will likely use your knives more often than you will clean or sharpen them, making this step the most critical to extending the life of your cutlery. Some practices common among both home and professional cooks are just downright bad for blades. Below are some ways you should and should not use Wüsthof knives.
- Do not: Cut on a hard surface. That means glass, hard plastic, and stone like marble and slate, and, yes, even the stainless steel work tables some commercial kitchen workers use as cutting surfaces. The issue here is that driving the blade repeatedly into a hard surface will bend and warp the edge at a microscopic level.
- Do: Use a cutting board or butcher's block made of a softer material like wood, bamboo, pressed fibers, or softer plastics like polyethylene. Keep in mind that the first two in that list should be washed by hand in water that isn’t too hot, as higher temps and dishwashers can cause them to dry out, crack, and split. Because they're softer and, thus, more prone to pitting, you'll also have to be careful to fully sanitize these boards after each use.
- Do not: Try to show off with fancy cuts that you're not familiar with. One of the most common reasons inexperienced chefs have trouble with their knives is using a bad motion, which quickly dulls their blades. Learn basic knife skills to ensure you don't overtax the knife's edge.
- Do: Use the right knife. Wüstof makes hundreds of knives, so there will always be a knife appropriate for the job you need to complete. Using a serrated knife to debone meat or a vegetable knife to slice bread will not only result in a lower-quality cut, but can also damage the blade and cause it to dull faster.
Step 2: Clean Knives with Care
The folks at Wüsthof have done everything they can to ensure their knives are corrosion-resistant and can stand up to years of use. Still, there’s only so far high-quality stainless and high-carbon steel can take their cutlery; the rest is up to you. Here are the major things you should know.
- Soak your knives. Even stainless steel can corrode over time if it is wet too frequently.
- Put knives in the dishwasher. Neither the heat or the chemicals are good for the blades or, in many cases, the handles.
- Allow blades to air dry. Dry knives with a soft cloth and store them properly.
- Store your blades in a jumbled drawer. The sharp edges can dull each other, and retrieving knives from the resulting mess can be dangerous.
- Wipe knives off if you won’t be washing them immediately after use, especially after cutting acidic ingredients.
- Wash knives by hand in warm water with a mild detergent.
- Use cut-resistant gloves when washing to prevent injuries.
- Dry knives completely immediately after washing and rinsing.
- Once they’re clean, store your knives on a magnetic strip or in a wood block.
Step 3: Honing and Sharpening Your Knives
We put these two together not because they’re both done as frequently, but because they’re constantly confused as being the same thing. In actuality, you should hone your knives after every use, while you’ll only rarely need to sharpen. Doing each at the proper times should keep your Wüsthof knife set slicing easily long into the future. So, what’s the difference?
Honing a knife is typically done with the help of a honing steel, a rough metal rod that is often mistakenly referred to as a sharpening steel. In actuality, it’s not meant to sharpen at all, though it seems like that’s what it’s doing because it will make the knife cut more easily, particularly if you’ve neglected this important maintenance task for a while.
A honing rod is used to realign the blade so that it’s working in the same direction along its entire length. Though it seems to our unaided eyes the edge is just one smooth piece of metal, it’s actually composed of millions of jagged bits of metal that look sort of like a feather under magnification. When in good condition, those all align and work together. However, during use, they get all bent and end up going in different directions. The honing steel fixes that by pushing all the little edges back into one single blade.
While most German-style knives typically have about a 20-degree edge angle, Wüstof's blade angles are a little more shallow at 14 degrees. To hone them to that mark, put the point of your steel into a non-slip item like a folded kitchen towel on a hard countertop, then put the edge of the blade against the rod at a right angle, which is 90 degrees. Bring the knife closer to the rod by half of that angle, which should give you about 45 degrees, and finally, cut that by two-thirds. That should give it a roughly 14-degree angle.
Now that you’ve established the angle, pull the knife from handle to point against the rod, moving it toward yourself and down the rod simultaneously. Do this about 10 times per side (these knives typically have a V-edge, also because they’re German). Though that may sound like a tricky process, it’s not too hard to master. Of course, that’s assuming you’re not sharpening a serrated knife, which can make this task more complicated.
When you’ve used your blade so much that honing no longer gets it back into prime cutting condition, you’ll need to perform a full resharpening. This can be accomplished with a whetstone or a handheld or countertop sharpener that uses ceramic discs set at pre-determined angles. See our Knife Sharpening Guide for more information on this process.
Wüsthof also offers combination units that will automatically hone and sharpen your knives at the right angles. Some professionals are wary of items like this because they don’t always stand up to the demands or provide the precision edge required in commercial applications. While that may be true of similar products, we talked to a factory rep who assured us that’s not the case with these. Certainly, if you’re a home chef, you should have no qualms about getting one of these and making your life a little easier.