Which Should You Buy: Ceramic or Steel Knives?

Use this guide to help you decide between ceramic or steel knives

Knives have been around almost as long as we’ve had tools. And while not a lot has changed over time, there have been a few advancements. The latest comes in the form of a new material—ceramic blades. Unlike your ceramic flowerpots, the ceramic used for knives is super-hard and can be honed to a smooth, sharp edge. That’s not to say that ceramic knives are better than metal knives, but there are pros and cons to both materials

Ceramic knives are harder than steel knives, rating close to diamonds...MORE on the hardness scale. Because of that harness, they hold an edge longer so they don’t need to be sharpened as often, and they don’t need to be honed to straighten their edge. However, that hardness also means that ceramic can’t be sharpened with most of the traditional knife-sharpening materials that were designed for steel knives. The oilstones that have been in the family for years aren’t hard enough to cope with ceramic knives, and electric sharpeners can chip or break ceramic blades.

Some ceramic knives can be returned to the manufacturer for professional sharpening, but that’s inconvenient. Fortunately, as ceramic knives become more popular, there are new sharpening stones being made that have embedded diamond dust. There are also some electric sharpeners that can now handle sharpening ceramic knives.

Ceramic knives are also stain-resistant and rust-proof. They aren’t affected by acids in foods and won’t cause browning. They’re easy to clean, they don’t absorb odors, and they're lightweight.

While any sharp knife is good for slicing foods thinly, ceramic knives are particularly well suited for that task, whether you’re slicing paper-thin radishes or peeling a tomato. They’re also good for slashing bread dough before baking.

Just like steel knives, where the precise type of metal can vary, there are different types of ceramic materials being used for ceramic knives today, with many manufacturers using proprietary materials. Many ceramic knives have a bright white blade, but some are being made with black blades, as well.

The biggest downside to ceramic knives is that along with the super-hardness comes brittleness. They can’t be used for boning, prying, or cutting frozen foods or for any tasks where the knife is likely to bend. They shouldn’t be used for chopping if the blade will hit the cutting board sharply. And they shouldn’t be dropped. If a steel knife hits the floor you might bend the tip or embed it in the floor, but if you drop a ceramic knife, it’s likely to break or shatter.

Steel blades have their downsides, too. Depending on the type of steel used, they can be prone to staining or even rusting. They need to be sharpened more often than ceramic blades. And they are heavier than ceramic knives.

Just like any other knife choice, the final decision between ceramic or steel comes down to personal preference. A person who often drops their knives won’t have a good relationship with a ceramic knife, while someone who hates having to sharpen knives will appreciate how long the edge lasts on a ceramic knife.

  • 01 of 06
    Victorinox Fibrox Straight Edge Chef's Knife
    Courtesy of Amazon.com.

    If you want to have only one large knife in your kitchen, this multipurpose knife is the one you’re looking for. It has an 8-inch blade, and can slice, dice, mince, and chop. The sharp edge is laser tested and ground to a precise angle for the best performance. The handle is made from a proprietary material that is slip-resistant and comfortable to hold.

    This knife is made in Switzerland by the same folks who make Swiss Army Knives. It isn’t the prettiest knife you’ll ever see, but it’s sturdy...MORE and well made, and the price is very reasonable, so it’s great for someone setting up a new kitchen when the budget is tight.

  • 02 of 06
    OXO Good Grips Professional 3 1/2-Inch Paring Knife
    Courtesy of Amazon.com.

    A paring knife is ideal for peeling, paring, and other small tasks. This knife has a soft-grip handle that’s easy to hold onto, and it’s comfortable enough to use for long periods of time.

    While this is an inexpensive knife, it has a full tang and a large bolster for a safe, sturdy grip. If there’s any knife that makes sense to have more than one in the kitchen, this is it. It’s nice to have a spare for those times when you’re switching tasks or when you have helpers in the kitchen.

  • 03 of 06
    Wusthof Classic 7-Inch Santoku Knife
    Courtesy of Amazon.com.

    A santoku knife can perform the same tasks as a chef’s knife, but because of the flat cutting edge, the movement used when cutting is different that when handling a typical chef’s knife with a more curved blade edge.

    This knife has a granton edge, which means it has shallow divots just above the cutting edge. These divots reduce friction when cutting and help keep food from sticking to the knife blade. Since a santoku performs many of the same tasks as a chef’s knife, you might prefer one over...MORE the other—or you might decide that you like one knife style for some tasks, and a different style for other tasks. 

  • 04 of 06
    Kyocera Advanced Ceramic Revolution Series 7-inch Professional Chef's Knife
    Courtesy of Amazon.com.

    This 7-inch ceramic knife has a black blade that just looks serious. Like other ceramic blades, it is less likely to cause browning when cutting foods like lettuce, and the blade won’t rust, stain, or absorb flavors or odors.

    Kyocera has been making ceramic knives for a long time, and the company has perfected making a sharp blade that can be used for slicing, dicing, and chopping. However, ceramic blades can be brittle if dropped.

    Kyocera recommends sharpening this with their electric knife...MORE sharpener that was designed specifically for ceramic knives, or it can be sent to the company for professional sharpening.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06
    Zyliss 2-Piece Paring Knife Set
    Courtesy of Amazon.com.

    Ceramic paring knives are great for delicate tasks, like peeling tomatoes or making super-thin slices of vegetables for garnishes, along with all of the typical paring tasks. This set is a bargain, with both a 2 1/4 inch knife and a 3 1/4 inch knife at a low price.

    The knives have soft rubber handles and hardened ceramic blades. These are technically dishwasher safe, but hand-washing is recommended.

  • 06 of 06
    Kyocera Advanced Ceramic Revolution Santoku Knife
    Courtesy of Amazon.com.

    This all-black santoku knife has the classic santoku shape, but it doesn’t have the granton edge that is common (but not required) on this type of knife. The blade is made from a proprietary zirconia ceramic that is made only in Japan and is slightly shorter, at 5 1/2 inches, than average santoku knives. Some cooks might prefer the slightly shorter blade, while it’s not so much shorter than the typical 6- to 7-inch blades that it would hinder cooks who have used longer blades.

    This knife should...MORE be hand-washed. When the blade gets dull, the knife can be returned to the manufacturer’s facility in California for sharpening. There is no fee for the sharpening service, but the customer must pay for shipping and handling. The company also recommends its own electric sharpener which is designed for ceramic blades.

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