Got a mug? You can fix your Airbnb's bad knives

By Margaret Eby
Updated April 30, 2018
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During the summer, I often end up as the designated cook for a group of people I'm vacationing with. Maybe it's a beach house on the Jersey Shore we escaped to for the weekend, or a quick jaunt upstate to escape the relentless heat of the city. I love cooking, I love vacation, and it's usually no problem. Except that no matter what the situation, I can almost guarantee that the knives you encounter at a vacation home or condo are dull. That's annoying when you're in charge of turning lovely summer vegetables into a salad, or even just attempting to cut through a watermelon without hacking your thumb off.

I had started bringing a knife sharpener along with me on weekend trips, which is one way to do it. (Also a headlamp for grilling after sunset and a pinch tin of Maldon because, you know, I'm a caricature of myself.) But then I read this tip from the very creative and clever J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats that required exactly zero extra baggage and will make those vacation knives usable in no time. In a pinch, you can use the bottom of a ceramic mug.

"All you've got to do is flip the mug over and run the knife blade along it, holding it so that the edge maintains an angle of about 15 to 20 degrees," Lopez-Alt writes. "For the best edge, I like to start with 10 to 15 strokes on each side, then do five to 10 on each side, then four, then three, then two, ending with a series of single strokes on each side. This method creates a new edge that is relatively symmetrical, and it's remarkably effective."

No mug or other ceramic surface? You can even use a rolled down car window to sharpen a knife if you're really in a pinch. The only caveat here is that this sharpening process will take a fair bit of the material off your knife, so definitely don't use it on any treasured expensive knives unless you have no other options. But for the IKEA knives that are languising in the drawer of your cabin, it'll be just fine.