The Tomato Test

Why is it that there are things in this life that we KNOW are good for us and yet we don’t do them? Even if they’re easy? Even if the minimal amount of work that they require will yield enormous results, ones that’ll absolutely transform our day-to-day experiences for the better?

In case you couldn’t tell from the picture, or the title of this post, I’m talking about sharpening your knife. Raise your hand if you’ve had your knife sharpened lately. OK, very good, you can leave the classroom. Everyone else: listen up! Go to your kitchen right now and grab a tomato. Then get your main knife, your chef’s knife, the one that you use to chop everything. Drag it across the tomato without applying any pressure. Did it make a slice or did it barely make a dent? If it made a slice, very good, you too can leave the classroom. If not, it’s time we had a talk.

Look, I’m just like you, I don’t get my knives sharpened that often. But this past weekend I went to the Atwater Village Farmer’s Market, where there’s a knife sharpener, and I brought my two main knives with me.

I asked the knife sharpener there (the person, not the machine) how often I should get my knives sharpened? It was as if I’d asked someone at Marie’s Crisis to talk about their favorite musical. (Sorry, Marie’s Crisis is my favorite show tune bar in New York, in case you didn’t know that.)

Anyway, he launched into a rant that made a lot of sense to me. He used his ruler for reference and said, “Imagine that this ruler is measuring time.” OK, done. “This first inch is the amount of time that your knife will stay razor sharp after a sharpening.” This is the kind of sharp that slices a tomato without any pressure. “It’s about two weeks.”

“Then,” he indicated the next few inches, “you have very sharp, which’ll last a month or so.” Then he indicated the next few inches. “Then there’s just sharp.”

Basically, he said, if you cook a lot and use your knives a lot, you should ideally get your knives sharpened every two weeks. (NOTE: I realize that this is his business and it would make sense for him to lie to me to get me to pay for knife sharpening as often as possible, but he didn’t seem like the lying type.) (Oh, SECOND NOTE: I know some of you will chime in and say, “Getting your knife sharpened that often will ruin your knife!” But these aren’t precious knives to me, they’re just the knives I use right now.)

Anyway, this is all leads to me coming home and using the just-sharpened knife.

Man, what a dream! Not only did it slice through a tomato without any pressure, chopping an onion was an entirely different experience.

Whereas, just a few days earlier, chopping an onion was a chore that made my eyes water and involved flecks of onion strips flying all over the board, the just-sharpened knife made it so much easier. It just glided through that onion and, more importantly, it felt a million times safer. There wasn’t that chance that’s always present that the knife would slip and slice my finger off. It immediately went right through the onion.

Which brings us back to my first sentence: Why is it that there are things in this life that we KNOW are good for us and yet we don’t do them? Well this is me yelling at you to go take the tomato test and, if your knife doesn’t pass, to get thee to a knife sharpener to get your knives sharpened. I promise, you won’t believe the difference. Your fingers and tear ducts will write you “thank you” notes and your chopped onions will never look better.

OK, class dismissed.

4 comments

  1. If you invest in a whetstone (I use a 3000/8000), you can easily sharpen your own knives as needed with a little practice. Look for videos on YouTube and watch several of the videos, looking for posts by professionals who probably go beyond what you really need in the home kitchen. You can get a great edge with just 5 to 10 minutes of work. (Ignore videos promoting the steel, grinders, or other contraptions. Use a whetstone.)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jb15caDe1U
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQYsPZrbD3I

  2. You are so right Adam. It’s a problem for me. I hate taking the time to sharpen on those electric things so I have this little sharpener from Brod and Taylor that I run my main knife through at the beginning of each prep. It stays sharp for a couple of days. Sort of. That’s all I do and it’s not very satisfying.

  3. My other half has all the needed stones and tools to keep my knives sharp and touches them up when I need it. If you use your knives everyday, every 2 weeks is a good estimate. I think Alton Brown had a whole episode about knife sharpening on Good Eats.

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