How to Sharpen a Serrated Knife
Serrated edges are more difficult to sharpen – but is there an easier way?
Properly sharpening a knife can be more difficult than most people realize. Kitchen knives are delicate tools, despite being made of hard steel. The fragile blade edge dulls with each use, and improper use and abuse can dull that blade even quicker.
Whetstone sharpening is the best way to sharpen knives with straight edges, but this method won’t work for serrated edges. Using a whetstone on a serrated knife will only grind down its serrations, making it more like a regular chef’s knife – obviously defeating the purpose.
Serrated knives require special sharpening tools and methods, which is why maintaining the sharpness of a full set of kitchen knives can be an especially demanding task for the home chef. But if you follow these tips – and practice, practice, practice – you’ll be sharpening your kitchen knives like a pro in no time.
What is a Serrated Knife, Exactly?
Any knife with chainsaw-like “teeth” along the cutting edge of the blade is a considered a serrated knife. The cutting action of a serrated blade is different than that of a straight-edged knife, as it’s designed to “saw” through tough foods without crushing delicate interiors, like crusty loaves of bread.
When it comes to the serrated edge, there are a few different types:
- Classic Serrated: The classic serrated blade has a large number of small, teeth-like points. This blade style is supposed to dull more slowly than other types, but it does so at the expense of cutting power.
- Scalloped. Scalloped blades feature a smaller number of larger, rounded serrations along the cutting edge of the blade, along with rounded indentations that push towards the sharp edge from the blade’s vertical axis. These knives enjoy more “bite”, making them easier to use on a wide variety of foods.
- Double-Serrated. Some knives layer a set of serrations inside the blade’s existing serration pattern. This fractal-like double-serration is supposed to offer the best of both worlds between classic, rounded tips and sharper, scalloped tips, but few professional chefs actually opt for these kinds of knives over the simpler options.
- Wavy Serrated. Wavy blade tips are not pointed at all but resemble the medieval flamberge wielded by Mel Gibson in the 1995 film Braveheart. These knives can outperform classic serrated knives for some purposes, but often fail to deliver versatile performance.
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Why Use a Serrated Knife at All?
Most chefs use serrated knives for cutting bread, tomatoes and cooked steak, but the utility of a serrated edge goes beyond just those three options. Each serrated knife type has a wide variety of uses that it handles uniquely well.
Despite its name, the bread knife is actually one of the most versatile knives in a chef’s cutlery set. The curvy, serrated edge is ideal for slicing through cakes and fluffy bread without making a mess of them like a dull, straight-edged knife might. But the bread knife isn’t just for bread – it actually has many other uses, like cutting through soft citrus fruits and thick-skinned melons and pineapples.
Most people tend to distinguish steak knives by looking for serrations on the cutting edge of the blade – but should steak knives really be serrated? At F.N. Sharp, we believe the best steak knives come with a straight edge vs. the common serrated edge. Unlike serrated blades, a razor-sharp straight edge slices right through meats without tearing the fibers, resulting in a much smoother, cleaner cut – and more juices in your meat than on your plate. If you need proof, then grab a set of F.N. Sharp Steak Knives and try experimenting with this recipe for T-Bone Steak and Potatoes with Espagnole Sauce. If you’re not impressed, you can return them for a full refund with our 100-day money-back guarantee.
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Utility knives also put a premium on versatility. Like a chef’s knife, the utility knife is a multipurpose tool with many uses. Any food that doesn’t have a dedicated knife of its own will probably see the utility knife before any other. Its small size also makes it ideal for quick presentation jobs, like cutting sandwiches before placing them on a platter, or slicing Italian cured meats for a charcuterie board or this antipasto crostini recipe. Just like steak knives, utility knives can be serrated or non-serrated, but here at F.N. Sharp, we like our utility knife (pictured above) to be just like our steak knives – straight-edged and ready for business.
How to Sharpen a Serrated Knife
As we already mentioned, since serrated knives don’t have a straight edge, they cannot be sharpened with a regular whetstone. Instead, specialized tools exist for each type of serrated knife.
Bread knives can be sharpened with a sharpening rod specially designed for the knife blade – though this process doesn’t really “sharpen” your knife but rather “hones” the cutting edge of the blade to appear sharp. The diameter of the rod needs to fit perfectly inside the blade’s serrated tips. Otherwise, the sharpening process simply won’t work – and you may just destroy your knife.
Scalloped-edge bread knives only need to be sharpened on one side. The angle of the sharpening action must to be just right, and it must be repeated for every single serration along the cutting edge, which can be a time-consuming task.
For utility and steak knives that often have straight-edged portions, this process is only half the battle. The serrated sharpening process only applies to the serrated portion of the blade, while the rest must be sharpened using a whetstone.
There are also specialized sharpening tools that use a series of triangular whetstones for sharpening serrated blades. Devices like these eliminate the need to look for specific diameter sharpening rods but tend to produce results much slower than sharpening straight-edged blades.
Are Serrated Knives Better?
Serrated knives do offer superior performance for specific cutting tasks. It’s impossible to say that serrated or non-serrated knives are “better”, except with regard to the task at hand.
When it comes to cutting bread, a well-designed serrated knife with a scalloped edge will outperform almost any straight-edged blade on the market. The fluffier the bread is, the better the serrated knife’s performance will be.
When it comes to soft fruits, serrated knives can also outperform straight-edged knives, but this also depends on cutting technique. A non-serrated utility knife can deliver excellent tomato-cutting performance when the tip of the blade is pushed in first. The same goes for steak knives, where a well-designed straight-edged knife can easily outperform a lower-quality serrated knife.
Sharpening remains the main area where non-serrated knives are clearly superior to serrated knives. While sharpening a straight-edged knife is not an easy task, it is much simpler than sharpening serrated knives due to the need for additional tools and the expense of the additional time needed to separately sharpen every single serrated tip along the blade.
Save yourself the time (and frustration) of learning how to sharpen your own kitchen knives and invest in a set of exceptionally sharp knives with long-lasting edges, like what you’ll find right here at F.N. Sharp.
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