Stainless steel is, without a doubt, the industry standard material for modern cutlery. It surprises some people to learn that there are other options. One of those options is ceramics.
Ceramic blades offer their own set of unique benefits. Unsurprisingly, though, they also have their drawbacks. Today we’ll take a look at a comparison between ceramic vs stainless steel knives and see how the newcomers compare to more ordinary metal knives.
Ceramic Knives vs. Stainless Steel Knives
What Makes a Good Knife?
At its core, a knife is just a sharp thing used to cut food or other materials. Humans have traditionally used metal for this purpose for two reasons: (1) metal can be made very sharp using things like knife sharpening stones, and (2) metal does not shatter or break the way older sharp materials like stone or obsidian often would. Most top kitchen knives these days are still made of some kind of metal, say the experts at Healthy Kitchen 101.
A quality knife is expected to stay sharp, be easy to handle, and last a long time. Stainless steel is simple to use, and its resistance to rust helps extend its lifespan. Its main drawback is that it gets dull and needs sharpening.
So why would ceramics be an alternative? Ceramic materials are for bowls and flowerpots.
Ceramics are very resistant to heat and deformation. And though we often think of them as weak (remember the last time you dropped a plate on the floor?), ceramics are extremely hard. In engineering terms, hard materials do not bend; instead, they retain their shape until, under enough pressure, they crack or shatter.
On the other hand, metals and plastics are typically more ductile; they bend before they break.
The ductility of metal knives creates an eternal struggle: the blade’s edge is thin, so it bends easily. Regular honing is needed to keep it useful, and occasionally you have to break out the knife-sharpening stones to give it a new edge. Some metal alloys retain their edges longer than others, but none last forever.
The main idea behind ceramic knives was to create a super-sharp blade that would not dull the way steel knives do. Typically made of zirconium dioxide, the ceramic knife blade will come extremely sharp out of the package and will stay that way for a very long time.
The problem, as you may have guessed, is durability. Like your fine china, your ceramic knife is unlikely to survive a fall to the floor. A steel blade would flex to absorb the shock; the zirconium dioxide won’t. If you’re a clumsy chef, ceramic may not be for you.
You’ll also have to be cautious with the way you cut. You never want to use a ceramic knife in a long, chopping motion as you might a butcher’s knife. The impact may be enough to shatter it. Plus, any twisting motion embedded in tough material may snap the blade.
The upside is precision. Ceramic cutlery is designed to make effortless and accurate slices. The edge of a serrated steak knife can last ten years or more; you can leave those knife sharpening stones in the drawer.
However, all good things must come to an end. Even if you are an excellent steward of your blade, at some point, even a ceramic blade will become dull. Microscopic chips in the edge will cause it to lose that effortless glide through your meats and veggies. Unfortunately, your traditional knife sharpening stones will be of little use.
Most owners ultimately decide to toss a dull ceramic knife and find a new one. If you really want to hang on to yours, you’ll probably have to take it to a professional. It requires a diamond-dust-coated grinding wheel and must be done with extreme care.
Which Kind Is Right for You?
Everyone’s preferences are different when choosing ceramic vs. stainless steel knives. A ceramic blade is a great option if you’re a caring soul who does precision slicing and hates sharpening. If you’re not a specialist, want to keep the knife rack uncluttered, or don’t want the anxiety that comes with a brittle knife, stick with steel.
In either case, you’ll still need metal cutlery. Any job involving animal bones, thick squash rinds, or forceful chops must be done with steel, not ceramics. Don’t toss your stainless steel knives out!