Food

The secret to turning a $1 knife into an amazing tool, revealed

A quality kitchen knife is a no-brainer gift for the holidays, but before you plunk down a pile of cash, you need to see a mesmerizing new video that shows how you can turn a $1 knife into one that would pass muster behind a fine-sushi counter. Seriously, this thing has the ability to slice through tomatoes, water bottles, Tupperware and more!

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In the video for his YouTube cooking channel, JunsKitchen, we see Jun Yoshizuki, 27, go into a dollar store near his home in Nagoya, Japan, and purchase a basic $1 chef’s knife that’s called a santoku-style knife in Japan.

He brings it home, and through the wonders of a whetstone sharpening kit, makes the blade so sharp, that it slices through a sheet of paper with a single stroke and shaves slices of tomato so thin, they’re practically transparent. For the grand finale, he slashes through three plastic water bottles, full of water, with a single stroke of his newly sharpened $1 knife — show off.

So how’d he do it? His point is, in large part, that a knife is a knife — it’s a piece of steel — and maintaining it may be as much or even more important than how much you spend on it.

"I'm not sure exactly how they manufacture a $1 knife, but I assume they are all made by machine with cheap steel," Yoshizuki told TODAY Food. "As for tips on what qualities to look for in a $1 knife, I'm afraid I don't have any. They’re all pretty much the same."

If you want to try this out for yourself, look for a stainless steel knife, not a ceramic knife, as you can’t sharpen ceramic knives on a normal whetstone. As long as it’s stainless steel, either a santoku or paring knife will do, he says.

But before you go out and buy any new knives, try sharpening the ones you already have.

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You can find a knife sharpener stone for under $25

The biggest investment will be in a whetstone knife sharpening kit — Yoshizuki swears by master bladesmith Bob Kramer’s, which runs a cool $299, but more basic versions can also be had for less than $50. Instead of purchasing a knife as a gift, you may want to consider splurging for someone on a knife-sharpening kit instead.

Watching Kramer’s video is like going to the grad school of knife sharpening, but the technique basically boils down to these steps:

1. First, start with the coarsest-grit (400) stone. Wet the stone with water. Hold the knife handle in the dominant hand with medium-light pressure, and place the fingers of the other hand carefully along the top of the blade to help guide the knife. Holding the knife at about a 12˚ to 15˚ angle on the stone (think of the thickness of a matchbook), make up to a dozen or so strokes, either back and forth, sweeping or backwards, then turn the knife over and repeat. Do this until you feel a "burr" on one side of the blade.

2. Then, move to the next, finer stone (1,000-grit), and repeat the process. (While many only have two stones, Kramer’s kit also includes a 5,000-grit stone and a cleaning stone for extra polish.)

3. Carefully rinse and clean the knives and stones to remove all metal particles.

Jun Yoshizuki
Jun Yoshizuki sharpens a $1 knife on a whetstone

So is this for real, or too good to be true? “Smaller paring knives can be super inexpensive and fantastic—my mother and I both swear by our $3 finds from over 15 years ago from a dollar store in New York,” says TODAY Food editor Alessandra Bulow.

But, she cautions, more expensive, quality large knifes are still worth the money, as the steel blades tend to be secured more safely, and the weight is heavier, so you need less force to chop; and the balance is better, making chopping easier and less of a strain on the hand, she says.

Yoshizuki agrees that there’s value in a well-made knife: "I made a $1 knife very sharp in my video but it will not stay sharp for long. Generally, more expensive ones stay sharp longer period of time."

Another commenter, he adds, made the point that the quality of the steel affects edge retention (how long the knife will stay sharp), the difficulty of sharpening it, and how rust- and chip-resistant the blade will be.

Bottom line: “No matter how much you’re going to spend on your knives,” Yoshizuki says, “they’re eventually going to get dull and you need to sharpen them.”

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