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Ceramic vs Steel Kitchen Knives - Understanding the Differences

The Difference Between a Ceramic Knife and a Steel Blade Kitchen Knife


Ceramic vs Steel Kitchen Knives - Understanding the Differences

Ceramic and Steel Paring Knives

Photo © Mifflin

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There are basically two main types of kitchen knives, the traditional steel blade knife and the new kid on the block, the ceramic knife. If you're a little confused about the differences between these two knives, you're not alone.

Ceramic knives tend to live a mysterious life so to speak and are very particular in what they can do, how they should be handled and how they should be stored. And these two types of knives should never, ever nest together.

Note that these use and care tips are provided as a general guide only and you should always consult the product manual for brand-specific manufacturer's recommendations for any knife you buy.

A Look at Steel Knives:

Steel knives come in various sizes, styles and steel quality. You can find very cheap steel knives, some of which have better qualities than others, with various degrees of durability. The type of steel used in regular kitchen knives will influence how long the blades will hold their edge, as well as corrosion resistance and so on.

A high quality kitchen knife will be full tang, have a comfortable handle, be well-balanced and sport a forged high-carbon steel blade for better edge retention.

Good quality steel knives need proper handling and care in order to be free of rust, pitting and to maintain a sharp edge. That means using them for what they were intended for, washing by hand, drying and storing them safely to avoid injury and damage to the knives.

Over time, a steel knife will usually show its age from general use. Quality steel knives can be honed with a knife steel or sharpened to restore the fine edge. Note that some high-end knife manufacturers do recommend their knives be returned for professional sharpening.

Different styles of steel knives affect function when it comes to boning, slicing or dicing. For instance, you would use a more flexible boning knife to debone chicken or filet fish. And a Santoku knife is ideal for chopping, dicing and slicing onions, vegetables and numerous other cutting tasks. A chef's knife is best for carving, slicing and so on. There's quite an assortment of blade lengths, styles and knife features when it comes to steel knives. There's also a diversity of knife handles.

Why Ceramic Knives Are a Different Breed of Knife

Ceramic knives on the other hand, are not as diverse as sizes and styles go and are generally limited to a few practical lengths. Quality ceramic knives are made of strong materials, usually zirconium oxide.

Most ceramic blades are white, though there is a growing number of grey and black ceramic knives. The hardness of the ceramic gives these knives their long-lasting good looks, as well as a razor sharp edge that does not require sharpening for years. That is why many chefs love using ceramic knives. This sharpness makes slicing easier, allows precise cuts and extremely thin slices.

The ceramic blade is stronger than steel but unfortunately, is more fragile because it is more brittle. That means that if you drop a ceramic knife or attempt to cut bone or frozen foods with one, it can break or chip.

Unlike steel knives which can be used for various slicing/dicing/chopping tasks, ceramic knives are limited in use mainly to slicing fruits, vegetables and boneless meats. According to some manufactures, you can slice cheese with a ceramic knife, but not all agree.

And while some brands have limitations when it comes to certain hard vegetables and fruits, others do not list such notables. Manufacturers are looking for ways to make their ceramic knives more versatile and durable.

Other things that should be avoided is twisting, scraping or bending the ceramic blade and subjecting it to extreme temperatures. As for the knife handles, a well-designed ceramic knife will have a comfortable handle that completes the well-balanced feel, as well as provide a safe, sure grip.

When it comes to handling, ceramic knives are extremely lightweight and that may appeal to many because it reduces hand fatigue and requires less effort for certain slicing tasks. Don't let the lightweight nature fool you; you can get the same great control as you would with a more weighty steel knife. It all depends of course on the quality and design of the knife.

Unlike a steel knife, a ceramic blade will not rust, pit or leave a metallic taste on foods. Blades will retain their sharp edge for a long time and must be sharpened either by the manufacturer or with a brand-specific specially designed ceramic knife sharpener.

Because they are very sharp and brittle, ceramic knives must be stored in a custom sleeve or box. They should never be stored in a drawer with other (steel) knives. Though some manufacturers say their ceramic knives can be washed in a dishwasher, most recommend hand washing and I agree.

Will Ceramic Knives Replace Steel Knives?

No, ceramic knives will never fully replace your traditional steel kitchen knives. That's mainly because they are limited when it comes to use. There's also less variety of styles and lengths of ceramic knives, so you would still need steel knives for various cutting tasks.

They are meant to be used for slicing only, but this may change in the future with industry advancements. As such, ceramic knives would nicely expand your selection of knives. That said, a ceramic knife might become your go-to knife for slicing tomatoes or soft vegetables, simply because of handling and performance preferences.

Consumers should take care not to judge a ceramic by the same principles they do a steel knife. They are not cut from the same cloth and that would be like comparing apples to peaches. As for price, ceramic knives may seem more expensive, but a high quality steel knife can also set you back a few bucks.

And remember that ceramic knives require less sharpening. When it comes to storing, ceramic knives require a protective sheath or proper storage container, something that is also recommended for sharp quality steel knives.

The extra care needed for ceramic knives will probably deter some consumers, especially those who prefer carefree kitchen knives. The avid professional and home chef though, will find ceramic knives worth the care and they will probably have an assortment of ceramic to complement their cutlery essentials.

Read reviews of the paring knives shown in the illustration:
ZX Kitchen Black Ceramic Paring Knife Review
Saber High Quality Steel Kitchen Knife Review

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