Ceramic Vs. Steel Knives: Is There Any Difference?

In simpler times, we had one knife for all tasks – from cutting bread to removing the bones from poultry. Although the times were simpler, nothing about performing these tasks with the same tool was anywhere near easy.

With the evolution of all kitchen utensils, came the evolution of knives too, and we got a special knife for everything ranging from carving meat to prying open oyster shells.

I remember when I was trying to teach my boys to love vegetables and fruits. My greatest ally in this mission was a decorating knife with a zigzag blade, which allowed me to cut the food in extraordinary and fun shapes.

Guess what? Mission accomplished! That couldn’t be done as easily had I had only one knife in the kitchen. But not only had their functionality become more refined, the blade materials also became more diversified.

In general, blade materials can be separated into two groups with their subgroups: steel, which includes chrome steel, alloy steel, stainless steel, etc. and ceramic, that is aluminum oxide ceramic and zirconium oxide. Although today almost every kitchen has at least one of each kind, we are still baffled about what variations are between the two of them.

The debate ceramic vs steel knives is something we usually start when we want to buy a new set, so if you want to equip your kitchen with some new sharp cutters, I’ll help you to judge a knife by its blade.

The Composition

The Composition Of Ceramic Knife

  • Ceramic kitchen knives are most commonly made out of hard and tough ceramic, usually zirconium oxide. Ceramic blades are produced by dry-pressing zirconium powder and firing them through solid-state sintering (compacting and forming a solid mass of material by heat).
  • The blades are then sharpened by grinding their edges with a diamond-dust-coated grinding wheel – sounds fancy right? Since zirconium is eight on Mohs scale of mineral hardness, compared to 4.5 for standard steel and 7.5 for hardened steel, the edge of a ceramic knife is very hard, and the need for sharpening is reduced.

The Composition of Steel Knife

  • Depending on the manufacturer and the class of the kitchen knife, steel knives can be composed of two or more metals. The best metals that can compose a steel blade are iron, carbon, and titanium, and trust me on this – they can last for eons.
  • I have one stainless steel knife set, from my wedding day, and boy, that was a long time ago. However, some more wide-available and affordable knives made out of carbon, cobalt, vanadium and/or manganese can’t show the same durability.

Sharpness And Sharpening

Sharpness And Sharpening Of Ceramic Knives

  • I've already mentioned that due to the hardness of the materials used in building the ceramic blades and the process of sharpening with a diamond-dust-coated wheel, they rarely need sharpening. However, their performance will, over time, weaken, and you will have to grind the edge again.
  • Most people are not really sure how to sharpen ceramic knives and can that be done at home. The answer would be to avoid DIY here and enlist the help of a pro or ask for the manufacturer a free sharpening.

Sharpness and Sharpening of Steel Knives

  • When I first bought my stainless steel knives, they were sharp as the devil himself. After a couple of months of frequent usage, the blade became relatively dull. What I didn’t know then is that it is important to use honing rod/steel every day or so and that after a while the edge needs to be revived with a whetstone.
  • The honing tools are usually very effective for at least a year before there is even a need for a whetstone. However, sharpening them too frequently can damage the edge.

Durability

Durability Of Ceramic Knives

  • There is no doubt that ceramic knives have a long life expectancy. Many years can pass without even needing to sharpen a ceramic knife. Also, unlike metals, they're not prone to rust.
  • Nevertheless, there have been some complaints about the blade being broken after a fall or cutting through harder materials. That, however, could depend on the very manufacturer and quality of the particular product.

Durability of Steel Knives

  • I’ve already mentioned that I still have my Walmart knife set that I got for my wedding day, and yes, I still use it. Of course, I’ve have sharpened the knives thousands of times and used a whetstone each year, but they hold up really well.
  • In fact, my favorite stainless steel knife goes even further in my cooking history. Also, you can throw the steel knife from a building – there’s no way it will ever break.

Types and Price

Types And Price Of Ceramic Knives

  • Ceramic knives don’t come in much different sizes and shapes. Sure you can get them in all sorts of colors, but when it comes to functional variations, they don’t have much of those.
  • Also, there are not many differences in materials and manufacturers that could produce different prices. Ceramic knives are almost always costly, due to the complicated crafting process and imported materials.

Types and Price of Steel Knives

  • Steel knives come in different quality, size, composition, and styling. One set can contain everything ranging from a utility knife to a santoku knife. These differences also impact the price, so it is possible to find something that suits both your needs and budget.
  • Also, there are more sharpening tools for steel kitchen knives, from a regular Walmart sharpening stone and handy Cutco knife sharpener to various electric sharpeners.

Maintenance

Maintenance Of Ceramic Knives

  • These knives, especially if you are buying an entire ceramic knife set are quite an investment. If you want them to last as long as they can and should, you should maintain them properly.
  • This means avoiding cutting through too hard items (e.g. frozen food), be careful not to drop them, and washing them by hand. Yes, the inability to wash them in a dishwashing machine is a very unlikeable factor.
  • Additionally, placing ceramic knives into direct contact with steel plates could damage the chip. Still, since they don’t absorb any food element, they’re very simple to clean – it takes only a quick rinse and wiping with a kitchen towel to get them into shape.

Maintenance of Steel Knives

  • Unlike ceramic knives, steel ones can be washed in a dishwashing machine, and they can also cut through ultra-hard food.
  • However, an obvious downside of steel knife is that, in time, they become prone to rust. That can happen due to contact with hot surfaces and water in a short timeframe.
  • Otherwise, steel knives are quite resistant to any kind of harsh chemicals found in dishwashing solutions. The frequent need for sharpening can be quite a nuisance, though.

Further Reading: Most Recommended Knife Blocks

How to Choose the Right One?

As in life, finding Mr. (Right) Knife will depend on your personal preference.

  • If you would rather handle a lighter knife that is very sharp and rarely needs to be grinded, you should stick to a ceramic knife. Keep in mind, though, that along with its hardness comes brittleness, so it can’t be used for prying, boning or cutting frozen food. Also, if you are known to drop knives often, it is not the best choice for you.
  • Steel knives, on the other hand, are heavier than ceramic ones, but also much more efficient in performing the tasks mentioned above. However, they do require to be sharpened much more often than ceramic knives and are prone to rusting and staining. Ironically, despite that, they don't need additional extra care. If the price is an important factor to you, know steel knives can save you more money, when looking at it short-term.

It is always a good idea to read both steel and ceramic knives review to get a clearer picture of what they have to offer.

Conclusion

In the end, I’d say that this clash of ceramic vs steel knives is quite pointless when you think about it for a second.

It is my humble opinion that it is useful to have both of these knife sets in your kitchen.

You never know when you are going to need a delicate and precise touch of ceramic knife for repetitive slicing of fruits, vegetables, and boneless meats, or when you'll benefit from the endurance and heaviness of a steel knife to cut frozen food or bone poultry. 🙂

Barbara Whitney
 

For the last 20 years, I’ve been cooking, preparing, researching, and gathering recipes, tools, and knowledge about food and the way we prepare it. Raising two lively boys and spoiling one great husband later, it’s safe to say that I’ve optimized my kitchen to deliver the best possible meal, no matter the occasion.

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