Ceramic vs. Stainless Steel Kitchen Knives
Should you buy Ceramic or Steel Kitchen knives and are ceramic knives a cut above the conventional steel knives? There are basically two main types of kitchen knives, the traditional steel blade knife and the newer ceramic knife, but which are the best kitchen knives you can buy? It can be very confusing as to the differences between these two knives and which knife to buy and use.
The knife is a very important part of the kitchen and most people tend to keep to the trusty old steel knives they have always used, rather than venture out into the new world of ceramic knives, mainly because these new ‘toys’ look exactly like ‘toys’ and so couldn’t possibly do the jobs their old steel knives can.
When we think of ceramic we think of pretty china tea sets, vases or ornaments, so to team ceramic with a sharp cutting implement such as a knife seems a contradiction in terms. It’s an extremely ’inert’ hard wearing resistant chemical, much harder than carbon steel, titanium and carbide, only diamonds are harder.
How are Ceramic Knives Made?
Ceramic knives were first made in 1985. The ceramic used in these knives is not the same ceramic used in the typical china tea service or everyday coffee mug. The key ingredient is a rare mineral called zircon mined in Australia, which is then turned into ‘advanced ceramic‘. This is made by dry pressing the zircon (zirconium oxide), then firing it at high temperatures which makes it 50% harder than steel. The blade is then sharpened by grinding it on a diamond wheel which results in the hard edge holding its sharpness 10 times longer than a conventional steel blade.
Ceramic material is not very porous so the blades on the best ceramic knives are dense with very few pores, rather like human skin. Less dirt and grime can get in so this keeps the blade clean and stops it from transferring odors from one food item to another. They are almost impossible to stain and there is no metal in them so there is no rust. Ceramic knives don’t do well in a dishwasher though as some detergents can strip the colored coating from the blades or chip the blades if the motion of the washer knocks them against other objects. A quick wash in warm soapy water or a wipe with a wet cloth is all that is required to get them clean.
… Do Ceramic Knives cut it?
Actually yes they do and they cut better than steel knives in some cases. The blade can be ferocious and you only have to look on the chopping board to see the results.
They cut fruit, vegetables and boneless meats with ease and hardly ever need sharpening like a conventional steel knife but because of the brittleness of the ceramic blade, it’s better to stick to the steel knife when using on such foods as boned meat, frozen produce or for prying apart food.
Why buy a Ceramic Knife?
It’s difficult to choose which ceramic knives to buy as most people have no idea where to start with this new technology. Knowing what to buy and what does the best job can be a bit of a minefield, especially now there is a new type of ceramic blade on the market called a black HIP blade. This type of blade goes through an extra firing process called a ‘Hot Isostatic press’ which creates a tougher blade than the white or colored blades. This therefore, can add to the confusion of whether to buy ceramic or steel but it’s really a matter of choice which one you choose and which knife you feel is right for you.
Ceramic knives are ergonomically designed to suit the job and come in a variety of colored blades as well as the white and newer black blades some have fancy designs such as different sized serrated edges for bread knives, cut out patterns for cheese knives and some salad knives have curved blades. Paring knives come in all shapes and sizes and manufacturers even stamp the use on the blade such as ‘pizza’ or ‘cheese’, making them more desirable to the kitchen gadget cook.
The ceramic knife ideally requires a sheath or a suitable storage container to protect the blade, this could put some consumers off buying them but they are far superior to steel knives so are well worth the extra care. However, they do have their limitations so they should be seen as a supplement to steel knives rather than a replacement for them but once tried, they will be a permanent kitchen favorite.
Carbon steel and Stainless steel have until recently been the mainstay of kitchen knives the steel used for this type of knife will determine its sharpness and quality. They are very versatile, will maintain a sharp edge, stay rust free and with less corrosion if handled and used with proper care.
The steel knife is made up of a metal blade with either a wood, plastic or metal handle. These knives are capable of doing more jobs around the kitchen than their ceramic counterparts but they don’t have the same attraction as the multi colored ceramic knife with its different patterns and shapes.
How Steel Knives are Made?
It’s not a case of which steel knives to choose but rather how the metal has been manufactured that is important to their strength and durability. Necessary chemical elements are added, in addition to the main compositions of Chromium and Carbon, to the steel to increase strength, hardness, resistance, edge retention and corrosion etc, rather like adding various seasonings for a better taste when cooking.
A good steel knife should be manufactured properly to extract the most out of each element. Any improper processes in grinding, sharpening or heat treatment, could possibly ruin the intended characteristics of their performance and ability.
✓ Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is the most popular material for the kitchen knife, the proportion of nickel and chrome in stainless steel will define the quality. The nickel will add the toughness and the chromium will add shine and rust resistance. They are easy to maintain, resist corrosion and have less pitting but because they are more porous than the ceramic knife they can harbor bacteria and hold onto odors. Unlike the ceramic knife, these knives can be washed in the dishwasher.
Stainless steel materials have improved significantly over the years and there are many attractive and fine Stainless Steel knives available now with longer edge retention, good sharpness and ease of re-sharpening.
✓ Carbon Steel
Carbon steel is tougher than stainless steel making it much more durable; it’s easier to sharpen and holds an edge longer. It is a high-maintenance metal though and will rust quicker than Stainless steel. Acidic foods such as lemons will stain the blade so these knives need extra care and attention when washing and drying and should ideally be wiped after and even during use to prevent corrosion and discoloration.
These knives can also be washed in a dishwasher but care is needed with knives that have wooden or plastic handles. Oiling the blade before use will help to keep it at its optimum performance. However, because of the high maintenance of Carbon steel these knives have fallen in popularity both in professional and domestic use.
✓ High Carbon Steel
High carbon and stainless steel creates the best of both worlds. The blade is resistant to staining or rusting and extremely hard. This type of blade will hold a sharper edge with regular maintenance, making it the popular choice of steel knife.
When it comes to ceramic vs stainless steel knives, the use of Ceramic knives is rising in popularity but due to their limitations, they cannot replace the steel knife completely. The Ceramic Knife is the glamorous and adventurous ’New kid on the block’, whereas the Steel knife has always been the trusty versatile necessity for any kitchen and will be around for a long time to come.
That doesn’t mean they can’t share the same workspace. Both types of knife will work well together in any kitchen so rather than choose between the two, why not choose a selection of each type to compliment not only you but each other.