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I am soon to be moving to a house with a very nice kitchen, and so the time has come for me to buy myself a proper set of knives. I have been looking around at the various types available. There seem to be cheaper steel knives with plastic or wooden handles (e.g. from normal homeware stores), pro-range solid steel knives (e.g. Global) and also ceramic knives. As much as I'd like to buy something like the Global knives, they are quite expensive and so I've been looking at what else is out there.

While I'm pretty sure the pro-range steel knives will outperform the cheap steel knives, I have no idea how good ceramic knives are.

  • Are there reasons why I might want to choose ceramic over steel or vice versa?

  • What are the things to look out for when buying knives?

  • 1
    How good are your honing and sharpening skills? If "not good yet", do you want to improve them? – rumtscho Jan 29 '12 at 21:23
  • Let's assume I'm not good at either :-) Always willing to learn new skills though. – Mark Hatton Jan 29 '12 at 21:25
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    Steel, because the Victorinox Forschner knives are steel, and are just plain awesome for the price. – DHayes Jan 31 '12 at 15:27
  • Why limit to cheap or expensive. Lots of nice knife sets in the middle. – paparazzo Nov 18 '16 at 21:36
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In general, ceramic knives are great for what they do, but too fragile to do everything. They can shatter if dropped on a hard surface, and can easily get get notched on bone. I use my ceramics exclusively for vegetables for that reason.

If you're strapped for funds, you really only need to by one expensive knife (a steel chef's knife or santoku), and one cheap one (a serrated knife for cutting bread). After that, picking up knife skills is more important and will make your cooking better than any investment in more knives.

  • 7
    +1 But I'd add a smallish paring knife, even a cheap one, to the starter set. It's not so easy to, say, hull strawberries or core a pepper with a 9" blade. And since the OP seems interested in ceramic knives, a cheap ceramic paring knife might be a good place to start. – Caleb Jan 30 '12 at 2:48
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    I actually disagree with Caleb. At first, using a 9" knife felt sloppy for me, and was hard to use for things like coring a pepper. But after a few days practice I can do anything with a chef's knife that I could with a paring knife, and now I feel weird picking up a paring knife. Just get yourself one good quality chef's knife, anything else is just for show. – dan Jan 30 '12 at 16:08
  • Yes, my recommendation would be for a high quality metal chef/santoku knife and a paring knife, which can be ceramic. – Manako Jan 31 '12 at 15:10
  • To expand on the chef's knife only vs. adding a paring knife issue, it's much, much easier to use a chef's knife for small work when you keep it properly sharpened. – Air Aug 25 '14 at 15:40
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    @dan: Do I core peppers with a long chef's knife? Sure, mostly because it's efficient since I'm probably next going to slice/chop/julienne that pepper with the same knife. Would I hull strawberries with such a knife? Only when necessary. The maneuvering you're doing at a distance to hull a strawberry is less precise than a small knife. If you actually have a really sharp chef's knife, I wouldn't want to be doing extended precision work with the tip like that. (That said, some people don't like paring knives, but some smaller knife is helpful.) – Athanasius Nov 18 '16 at 20:08
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Ceramic knives:

  • cut
  • get through metal detectors at night clubs

Steel knives:

  • cut
  • smash (garlic, ginger...)
  • pry (potato eyes)
  • look good
  • scare burglars
  • stick to metallic thingies on the wall
  • don't scratch glass cutting boards (anyone cringing?)
  • don't snap when thrown dropped.
  • have zen-like qualities, sharpening them is pure meditation.
  • have good mass, more control IMO.
  • have rivets as a handy measurement reference for consistent length cuts
  • have a spine you can hammer to get through that bone (now who's cringing?)
  • 9
    I don't know which cook buys glass cutting boards - they look chic, but dull knives. I've only seen them in kitchens meant to be ornamental, not in the kitchens of people who care about cooking. – rumtscho Jan 30 '12 at 11:33
  • 1
    Agreed, but you can bet Google will be sending ornamental cooks to this site, and they don't like scratches. – jontyc Jan 30 '12 at 12:09
  • Hmmm I wonder which you prefer... lol – Jay Jan 30 '12 at 17:30
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    @rumtscho: In my younger, stupider days, I once bought a glass cutting board. Never again. – BobMcGee Jul 7 '12 at 4:08
  • LOL. Made me laugh. Assumed ceramic stay sharp though. Personally I would happily not have to sharpen knifes. I use Damascus ones now, but they still have to be sharpened, just less often. – Paul Johnson Jun 15 at 7:48
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First, I'll reinforce what others have said above: the ceramic knives are excellently sharp, don't need sharpening, and are very easy to clean. However, they are also very easy to damage or even break. The only ceramic knives I find worthwhile are paring knives and vegetable peelers, partly because both are cheap to replace when I inevitably break them.

For your steel knives, keep in mind that price and quality do not have a 1:1 relationship. Particulary, there are a couple brands of stamped (rather than drop-forged) steel knives which are surprisingly good quality and very affordable (one is Victrinox, I don't remember the other brand). Also, Chinese carbon steel cleavers are sharp, extremely versatile, and available for as little as $14 in any Asian hardware store.

Alternately, the major brands (Henkels, Wustof, Sabatier, etc.) often have sales at various stored (especially Macy's), dropping prices on select models by as much as 60%. So if you're patient, you can pay a lot less. I don't recommend Global knives for a beginner; their one-piece steel construction and flexible blades require a lot of getting used to in order to not injure yourself.

I've also gotten some tremendous deals on dulled premium knives second-hand from someone who didn't know how to sharpen them properly.

Do make sure to pick up a steel as part of your set, and use it regularly to keep your knives sharp. You should be steeling your knives every 3 uses (or so), and only sharpening them once every couple years.

6

The main reason ceramic knives became popular is because they're nonreactive with certain foods, especially acidic ones, and sushi chefs (the first real adopters -- probably no coincidence that Kyocera was the first to manufacture the blades on a large scale) felt that carbon steel reacting with the vinegar in the sushi dressing changed the flavor enough for some of their customers to notice. Now, in my opinion, the only people likely to know the difference are supertasters, and they aren't that common, but if you're one of them, you may notice the difference. Or you may not.

Overall, barring the sushi-and-tomato-obsessed supertaster scenario, ceramic vs. steel is a matter of personal taste. Although the price difference has narrowed substantially, the lack of reactivity combined with the difficulty of maintenance seems hardly worth it unless you happen to like the aesthetics and ergonomics of ceramic blades. (A paring knife might not hurt, though, if you want to try it out.)

2

It really depends on both your budget and your personal taste. I personally use both.

I bought several ceramic knives in different sizes years ago. Due to the low price (5-10 bucks depending on knive size), I even bought spares, none of which I have yet to use. They're still very sharp and I use them most of the time for both meat, veggies and especially for anything with a lot of acid in it (steel hates acid, even stainless steel).

However, I do have an expensive japanese knife which I use if I want to cut really thin slices of meat, for instance. Honestly, that thing beats the ceramic knives I have easily in sharpness and ergonomics.

I do not own any expensive ceramic knives. They might be similarily great and there are ceramics that are pretty tough, too (as far as I know there are ceramic knives that can take 20+kg of weight applied to the side of the blade without damage).

In my honest opinion:

  • If you have the choice between a cheap ceramic knive and a cheap steel knive, get the ceramic one.
  • If you have a bit more money to spend: get a good steel knive. These are expensive, but well worth it if you take proper care of them. You can still get some cheap ceramic knives as an addition for food with a lot of acid in it.
  • Certain (not quite so cheap) ceramic knives may be superior to steel knives. Though I couldn't actually test this yet as I'm quite content with the cheap ones and my good steel knive.
2

Your very first set of knives should be steel knife. The reason is quite simple, whatever a ceramic knife can cut, a steel knife can cut. If I were you as you are moving for the first time, budget is probably your primary priority, I would buy a cheap set of knives with the promise of buying a real one when I have the budget for it later on in my life.

Now, you were wondering if there are reasons for you to buy a ceramic knife. I'd tell you that a ceramic knife is a great purchase. It is true, it is a bit more fragile than a steel knife, but if you are careful and use it wisely it will last long. What I personnaly do is I cut everything that I can cut with my ceramic knife, vegetables, fruits, boneless meat... All the rest I cut it with a steel knife, frozen meat, bones... The reason for this is that a ceramic knife remains sharp so much longer than a steel knife. I know that when I want to use my ceramic knife it will be sharp, it's never a problem. That way is use less my steel knife and it stays sharp longer as well. If you like your knives to be always extra sharp (why wouldn't you) a ceramic knife is a must!

If you need more information about ceramic vs steel you can read that post: http://bigbangretail.com/index.php/blog/ceramic-knives-vs-steel/

1

I agree with Dave Griffith. I have a set of ceramic knives. To me, ceramic knives have their pros and cons.

The pros are that I don't have to sharpen them often, they are sharp and light weight. The cons are that you can't cut hard things, it will chop the knife. So... I choose both of them...

BTW, the black blade ceramic knife looks very cool, HA? enter image description here

1

Disclaimer: I work for a company that sells steel knives, and am a little bit biased.

I agree with others, ceramic blades are stronger than usual steel but unfortunately they are also more fragile because of being 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 (generally - soft stuff).

According to some manufacturers, you can slice cheese with a ceramic knife, but I wouldn't believe them.

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 (Deba type). And a Santoku or Nakiri knife is ideal for chopping, dicing and slicing onions, vegetables and numerous other cutting tasks.

Gyuto - 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.

Almost none of our customers (professional chefs) own a ceramic knife, they find it a worse option. But of course, if you have the choice between a cheap ceramic knife and a cheap steel knife, get the ceramic one.

However, if budget is not an issue: get a good Japanese knife. These are expensive, but well worth it if you take proper care of them (never put them in the dishwasher, always dry them after wash).

Hope this helps!

  • While I too appreciate the usefulness and flexibility of Japanese knives, your self-promotion here is a little inappropriate: the question isn't asking about Japanese knives. And many of your supposed critiques of ceramic knives (fragility, chipping, etc.) can also apply to high-carbon Japanese steels if handled improperly or used on the wrong foods. Yes, obviously there are other steels and types of Japanese knives appropriate for handling bone or frozen foods, but your answer seems more geared to get people to buy your knives than to offer an unbiased answer to the question at hand. – Athanasius Nov 18 '16 at 20:16
  • @Athanasius OP identified his association with the company. I value input from a knife manufacturer. – paparazzo Nov 18 '16 at 21:23
  • @Paparazzi - My issue isn't that the author is affiliated with a manufacturer (or distributor or whatever), nor do I want to dissuade experts from offering input. However, the entire second paragraph (and part of the third) is basically an advertisement. The question had nothing to do with different styles of Japanese knives, nor does the author allow for the fact that there are all sorts of different types of ceramic blades that correspond to many of the styles of Japanese knives. And I identified other issues. I love Japanese knives; they make up most of my go-to knives now. This is an ad. – Athanasius Nov 20 '16 at 5:06
  • @Athanasius Feel free to flag things like this as spam. In this case rather than deleting the answer entirely, I decided to remove the self-promotion and make it clearer up front that the answer be biased, since there is also potentially useful information. But site policy completely agrees with you on this: self-promotion is only okay if it helps answer the question. – Cascabel Dec 1 '16 at 4:35
  • @Paparazzi While disclosing affiliation is always a prerequisite for self-promotion, it doesn't make all self-promotion okay. See cooking.stackexchange.com/help/promotion. – Cascabel Dec 1 '16 at 4:37
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This might be half-OT, but I think some advice on critically reading claims made by ceramic knife manufacturers might help everyone.

Claims of "stays sharp x times longer than a steel knife".

This says nothing unless three variables are well defined:

  • Which steel, temper, and edge geometry was used as a comparison- this can make a difference of at least an order of magnitude with a steel knife, probably even two if comparing extremes (say, a 420A steel with pessimal edge geometry against CPM 3V or blue paper steel with optimal edge geometry).
  • What is acceptable as sharp - some ceramic knives come out of the box at a low level of sharpness that would prompt some carbon steel users to hone or sharpen.
  • Which usage pattern is compared

Claims of "x times longer before you have to sharpen it"

  • This leaves ambiguity between fully sharpening (building a new edge) and maintenance measures (honing steel, stropping. NONE SUCH available for ceramics).
  • A knife that lasts "10 times or even 100 times longer" before reaching the point where a soft carbon steel knife - say, an old school french knife - would need a honing steel ... would be a very very NON durable implement, especially given that resharpening ceramics is not trivial, and maintenance measures are not possible.

Claims of "has been tested to last x times longer"

One of the widely used standard test procedures tests a completely different usage pattern, compared to how a cook uses a hand knife, by machine. The tested usage: cutting material that is very wearing on an edge repeatedly, but without hitting a hard surface at the end, and without jamming the knife or even intentionally cutting curves, so no torsional or lateral stress. Cook's usage: food is in most cases completely irrevelant for edge wear compared to the cutting board that is hit after cutting. Cuts are not always done perfectly straight. Neither is the cutting board always impacted straight.

Food doesnt't tend to ABRADE a blade much. The testing medium used in standard edge tests often is designed to abrade a steel blade horribly. Unless redesigned to do that to a ceramic blade, such a testing abrasive will be ineffective (unless it downright chips the blade).

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