CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — You can find a gazillion articles on how to carve your Thanksgiving turkey online, but how many of those articles address the most important tool needed to perform such precision butchery? The knife you use to prepare and serve your main holiday entrée will largely determine your success.
At Mr. KnifeGuy, we know there are many schools of thought regarding what type of knife should be used to carve a turkey, but one thing is true regardless of which cutting tool you use: It must be sharp. Whether you use a carving knife – with or without serrations – a slicer, a chef’s knife, Santoku, Kiritsuke, Honesuki or fillet knife, you want it to slice through your bird with ease.
Most of us conjure up images of Dad wearing an apron with a butcher knife in one hand and a honing steel in the other, sliding the knife blade up and down both sides of the steel in quick succession to ensure the blade will be able to split a hair. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand that this is actually not an effective method of knife sharpening.
You may be thinking, “What?! My uncle swears that he can get a keen edge on any kitchen knife with his steel!” Well, I’m sure your uncle is very talented; however, a steel is only used to “de-burr” or straighten the edge of a knife after it has rolled. Putting a new edge on a knife requires removing micro layers of metal from the blade, and this is where it starts to get complicated.
Most commonly used knives have blades made of some type of steel (ceramic knives are a whole other story). There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different steels used to make knife blades. Each one has a different chemical composition, including a varying percentage of carbon. The four characteristics you want to look for in a knife blade are:
- Edge retention.
- Corrosion resistance.
Each periodic element in a steel composition adds to or subtracts from each of those four characteristics. For example, we constantly hear or read that a particular knife has a ‘high carbon’ blade. This is usually not true, but the reason the maker wants you to think so is because the carbon percentage in a steel directly affects its hardness.
Hardness is good for edge retention but also makes the steel brittle. You don’t want your knife to chip or break in half when you hit a turkey bone.
On the other hand, chromium is added to steel to provide corrosion resistance and some toughness. You might think that hardness and toughness are the same thing, but they’re actually somewhat diametrically opposed. Think about putting the tip of a knife in a vise and applying sideways pressure to the handle. If a knife blade is very hard, it will hold an edge well while cutting but snap in half under too much pressure.
If the same knife has a high degree of toughness, it will bend in the vise without breaking but won’t hold a cutting edge nearly as long. Steel makers have been playing with steel compositions for centuries, attempting to get the right combination of elements along with heat treat – yet another topic – to achieve the desired characteristics.
The hardness of a blade steel is usually measured on the Rockwell C scale. Anything over RC-58 is considered desirably hard.
Now that you better understand blade steel, let’s talk about getting it sharp enough to carve Tom Turkey. There are several ways to get a cutting edge on a piece of steel, but to be effective, it’s important to have an understanding of several metallurgic properties, such as the following:
- The type of steel that the knife blade is made of and the Rockwell scale hardness of that steel.
- The geometry of the bevel or what type of grind created the edge (“V”, Scandi, chisel, hollow or convex).
- The angle of the cutting bevel.
You can achieve a convex edge with a slack belt system, but you need specialized equipment for a hollow grind. For a flat, “V” or Scandi grind, you can use a stone to put an edge on your cutlery. This sounds easy, but there are many types of stones and methods here as well.
You can choose natural Arkansas stones, synthetic – silicon carbide or aluminum oxide – diamond stones or Japanese water stones (not to be confused with whetstones). Most stones can be used dry, wet or with oil. Some stones are soaked in water, but that’s also a whole other topic.
It’s getting complicated, isn’t it? And you just want to eat!
According to Alton Brown, an acclaimed food scientist on the Food Network, the easiest way to sharpen your knives is to have them professionally sharpened. A good sharpener will know the proper angles and grinds for each type of knife and cutting tool and will be familiar with the characteristics of the most commonly used steels. There are several mail-in sharpening services throughout the country, but it’s a hassle to package up your knives and ship them off. Plus, you’ll be without your knives until they’re returned, and then what if you’re not satisfied?
Fortunately, there is a knife expert and professional sharpener in Southern Utah with 20 years of experience. Mr. KnifeGuy in St. George will make sure that all of your knives, kitchen and otherwise, are at least as sharp as when you bought them – and in most cases, sharper.
Even better, Mr. KnifeGuy is a full-service dedicated knife store where you can learn about everything mentioned in this article – and more – regarding every type of knife. Mr. KnifeGuy can repair chipped edges and broken tips as well as upgrade your worn-out knives with cutlery that will last you the rest of your life and can be passed on to your children.
Mr. KnifeGuy can also make recommendations on cutting boards, edge guards, blocks and magnet bars for knife storage. Mr. KnifeGuy is an authorized dealer for many well-respected top brands such as Shun and Victorinox and can make gift-giving a breeze by recommending the perfect knife or set that fits within your budget.
Feel free to stop by or call Mr. KnifeGuy anytime with questions. The phone number is super easy to remember – just dial “HELLO-KNIFE” or 435-565-6433. Come by soon to make sure your Thanksgiving and holiday dinners are a success.
Written by BRENT AVERETT, Mr. KnifeGuy.
- Mr. KnifeGuy | Address: 1127 W. Sunset Blvd., Suite A, St. George | Telephone: 435-565-6433 | Email: [email protected] | Website.
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