The Use and Care of your Steak Knife
This article is designed to give you a better idea of how to use your new steak knives and how to properly care for them. I have carefully arranged it with clear headings so that you may skip ahead of things you already know to quickly get to the information which will benefit you most.
Top Tips for Proper Etiquette
Of course, proper etiquette is defined differently in different places. What is considered right and proper in one country may be considered rude and distasteful in another. Similarly, what is considered perfectly acceptable in one type of social situation may be considered improper and disrespectful in another. For example, you probably use a different set of manners when eating with friends than you would when eating with your boss.
This quick list of tips is not designed to cover all of the possible dining situations you may encounter over time. It is simply meant to give you a basic overview of what is often considered good etiquette, with an emphasis on the use of steak knives.
How to Cut Your Steak
When cutting steak, it is suggested that you use the dull side of the blade to offer support and strength to your cutting hand. Grasp the knife’s handle with your dominant hand. Place the index finger of your dominant hand atop the back ridge of the knife’s blade (its dull side). Hold your fork with your non-dominant hand and use it to hold your food steady. You may even use the prongs of the fork to help guide your cut into a smooth, straight line. Depending on how sharp your knife is and how tough your meat is, you may find that you can cut through it with one pass or that you may need to saw back and forth a little bit.
Once you have removed your piece of meat from the larger cut of meat, place your knife so that its tip leans against your plate and its handle touches the tabletop (this avoids making a mess on the tablecloth). Switch your fork to your dominant hand. Proceed to eat that slice of meat. Switch hands again, bringing your fork back to your non-dominant hand. Grasp your knife with your dominant hand and repeat the process.
Signaling Your Waitstaff
In many settings, you will be able to silently signal waitstaff (waiters and waitresses) that you have or have not finished eating. This is often necessary at dinner parties where people may make speeches. It is usually considered quite rude to interrupt a speech to speak with waitstaff. In fact, in many of these settings, waitstaff will not come to your table unless silently signaled so as not to accidentally interrupt the speech.
These silent signals can also be helpful in showing your intentions to a waiter or waitress who is not within earshot. You may notice that waitstaff often scan the room with their eyes, checking how full people’s drinks are and the status of their meals. If waitstaff is educated in these signals, they will also know if you have finished your meal and would like to have your plate removed.
If you are not finished eating but would like to place your knife and fork down to take a break in your meal, place your knife and fork in an ‘x’ shape on your plate, with one laying overtop of the other. In many settings this signals that you are taking a break. If you have finished your meal, usual etiquette suggests that you place your knife and fork together, pointing toward the five o’clock position on your plate.
In less-formal settings, it is often acceptable to move your plate toward the edge of the table or throw a napkin on top of it to indicate that you have finished eating and would like the plate to be removed. This is not, however, considered appropriate in most formal situations.
Caring for Steak Knives
Since they are both tableware and knives, steak knives require a very specific type of care. As knives, they must be cared for in a particular way to ensure that they stay sharp. They will require considerably more care than a fork or a spoon. As tableware, however, they are likely to receive more wear and tear than other types of kitchen knives and may even be constructed of more interesting materials, since they are often designed to match décor.
To ensure that your knives stay sharp for as long as possible, you will want to be sure that they do not rub against each other. Rubbing against hard materials, especially other knives or pieces of cutlery, will cause them to grow dull rather quickly. Do not place your steak knives loosely in a drawer or cutlery tray as you may do with your forks, spoons, and dull butter knives. Instead, use a knife block, box, or special fabric case to keep them individually protected.
Hand Wash and Dry
As a general rule, it is always preferable to hand wash your steak knives. In fact, it is preferable to wash all knives by hand. It is especially important if your knives are made from high-carbon steel as opposed to stainless steel. Since it stays sharper longer and is easier to sharpen, many companies use high-carbon steel to create knives. Unfortunately, this type of steel easily stains and rusts. You will not want to allow it to sit in a wet environment for very long.
Even stainless steel can rust. It is not rust-proof; it is rust-resistant. For this reason, I suggest hand washing and drying stainless steel knives as well, especially if they have been constructed with more than one material. If water sits in the groove between the blade and handle of a stainless steel knife for long enough (as it likely will in a dishwasher) it can begin to rust and create a weak point in the metal.
Special Consideration for Wooden Handles
I am going to get straight to the point for this discussion: do not soak wooden handles. Wooden handles, though sometimes coated in certain water-resistant films and stains, can soak the water into themselves. The water can then do two things. First, it can create bacteria. I am sure that I do not need to go into much detail to explain to you why bacteria is not desirable, especially if it is on something with which you will eat.
The second problem with soaking wooden handles is that the wood can begin to rot from the inside out. It doesn’t matter how well you try to dry them with a towel, you will not be able to get the handles to dry all the way through quickly enough to prevent rot. Of course, this rot will occur slowly over time. It can create weak handles and can actually cause them to permeate a terrible stench which is likely to put your guests off from eating.
Therefore, I do not suggest placing steak knives in the dishwasher if they have wooden handles. In all honesty, I am really not a fan of wooden handles, anyway. However, if they are something you feel you need to match the rest of your tableware I suggest hand washing and drying this type of steak knife. In fact, I don’t even suggest thoroughly wetting the wooden handles; instead, wipe them clean with a damp cloth.