Knife Story: What Would MacGyver Do At Easter Dinner?

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK Have you ever had grilled prime rib? Neither had I, until my family and I were invited over for Easter dinner with friends last weekend. I’ll spare you the cooking details and try to save you from drooling down your shirts, but suffice to say that that rib was absolutely prime. And it very nearly got mangled by the unbelievably dull chef’s knife that my buddy tried to carve it with. Luckily your former editor was on hand, and although I don’t carry a pocket sharpening stone (I’m not that much of a knife guy) but I do know how to improvise. My friend’s knife (not shown above) was a Cutco chef’s knife. I know Cutcos have their fans and detractors, so I’ll just say that they ain’t my faves and leave it at that.

After the prime rib cooled on the cutting board for about 20 minutes, my host reached over to the oversized Cutco knife block and pulled out the piece de resistance, a large chef’s knife with the thickest blade I’ve ever seen this side of a camp hatchet. The ultra-thick blade had a deep hollow grind, which increases blade friction and is definitely not preferred for kitchen knives.

My buddy doesn’t know a hollow grind from ground beef, but he knew something was wrong when the knife simply would not cut through the crust of rock salt, charbroil and Old Bay spice. “Hmm…” he said. “This thing used to be really sharp…”

He knows I’m a knife guy, so he handed over the hardware for my perusal. I can’t say how sharp it ‘used to’ be, but this knife was duller than a well-used machete. It could possibly split a potato with a good enough chop, but it couldn’t cleanly slice a watermelon.

“I’ll fix this,” I said. “Where’s your sharpening stone?” Didn’t have one. “Where’s your sharpening steel?” Didn’t have one. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Should we have those?” Well, yes. But Easter dinner at a friend’s house isn’t the time to lecture somebody on how to maintain their tools. Instead of reaching into the Know-It-All Guest’s Bag Of Douchey Lectures, I reached into their cupboard and pulled out a glazed ceramic coffee mug.

My friends’ Winco-pattern coffee mugs have a pretty aggressive unglazed ceramic bottom, which I’d guess is a little rougher than the medium sticks on my Sharpmaker. Even so, it took several minutes to put a passable edge back on the Cutco Chef’s Spatula.

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK After I’d put a wire edge on each side, I pulled out my field strop (yes, I usually wear one and it’s called a belt) and deburred the Cutco to a hair-shaving edge. Our friends and the other guests had apparently never seen someone sharpen a knife without tools before, and they stood around and watched me as though I were juggling burning chainsaws.

While my host carved the roast, I sharpened the rest of the (few) non-serrated Cutcos in the knife block. Cutcos tend to lose their fine edges fairly quickly, but my friend’s knives will at least cut like the devil until they do.

The grilled prime rib was efficiently processed into perfectly neat slices, and I’m happy to say I ate like a starving man. Our friends are good cooks and wonderful hosts, and I’d like to think I actually earned my supper this time.


  1. Sam L. says:

    I always carry a DMT folder. This tended to be a problem for me when I was single, as parties gravitated to the kitchen, and I noticed the knives being dull, and then sharpening them. That wasn’t the problem; conversations would get to favorite movies, and when I said Psycho was my favorite, the women I was talking with would run out of the house…

    I did learn to give a different favorite movie. (Not “M”.)

  2. SigGuy says:

    You know its a dull party when someone starts sharpening knives. (Pun intended)

  3. Sam L. says:

    Something to be useful, and keep my hands busy and away from the snacks and drinks.

  4. savaze says:

    I like the whole sharpening on the unglazed part of a mug idea! Maybe I learned it very differently, but if you’re deburring with a strop then you’re ruining the edge in the process. The whole idea is to use the strop to straighten the bur and use it as part of the cutting surface.

  5. okto says:

    People look at me like I’m a Goddamn wizard when they see me sharpen a knife on the bottom of a coffee mug.

  6. Notary Sojak says:

    I carry a Leatherman Wave unless I’m either nude or wearing semi-formal or better attire. It has a “diamond” file of about 600 grit. It’s too small to be an ideal sharpening tool for large kitchen knives, but handy enough for emergencies. It’s always good to know what you can use as a field expedient.

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Knife Story: What Would MacGyver Do At Easter Dinner?

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