People ask me all the time: “What kind of knives should I get for home cooking?” When we’re just getting started in the kitchen, we tend to simply use what we have around, or what someone else gives us. This could be a halfway decent set of knives, or it could be a second-hand, flimsy knife set with cheap plastic handles.
Ceramic Vs Steel Knives
But as we get a bit wiser and develop some real home cooking chops, the first (and I mean the first) piece of kitchen equipment you should spend some real money on is a good knife. There are three knives I recommend every home cook should own: 1) A high-quality chef’s knife, 2) A high-quality paring knife, and 3) A high-quality serrated or bread knife. Skip the pricey knife sets and go with a few top-notch knives. You’ll be investing in your home cooking, and you’ll get some great knives to boot.
But with so many knives on the market (German! Japanese! Ceramic!) where should one begin? To sort this out, let’s look at two popular knives right now, and compare them, to see which is best for the discerning home cook.
Ceramic knives have grown in popularity in recent years, due to their super-sharp blade, ease of use, and affordability. Ceramic knives really are made from ceramic, just not the kind you’d find in a coffee mug. The most common type of ceramic for knives is zirconium oxide, which is also known as zirconia. It’s very hard — significantly harder than stainless steel or carbon steel. It won’t rust, and it doesn’t absorb smells. All these reasons make it a popular choice for the discerning home cook looking to purchase a new knife.
Whether stainless steel or carbon steel, these knives are the traditional and undisputed workhorse of the kitchen. They are relatively easy to use, with a nice balance and even weight. With the right design and comfortable handle, steel knives will keep you happy in the kitchen. They are also easy to clean, and easy to keep sharp if you know how to handle them. Steel knives – particularly stainless steel – is our top recommendation for your very first Chef’s knife.
Ceramic Vs Steel Knives: Head To Head
We wanted to test these knives on some of the most common aspects of what a home cook would want or need from a knife and see how they compared to each other. So how do these knives stack up against each other? Let’s find out.
Ceramic (mostly Zirconium Oxide)
Steel (mostly Stainless Steel)
Very sharp and never dulls
needs to be sharpened regularly
More brittle and has better chance of chipping
Won't easily chip or break
Category 1: Sharpness
The beauty of ceramic knives is that they are very sharp, AND they really don’t ever need to be sharpened. You can use this knife over and over again, and because of the strength of the ceramic blade, it will never dull. Steel knives, on the other hand, do dull over time and need to be sharpened regularly to keep an edge that is worth using. The more you use your knife, the more you will need to sharpen it.
Category 2: Blade Strength
While ceramic knives hold an edge better than steel knives due to their hardness, that same feature actually makes the blade more brittle. What this means is you have a better chance of chipping or breaking a ceramic blade if you, say, try to cut through some chicken bones, or on the off chance you accidentally drop your knife, it could break. This is where steel knives really excel. They are by no means soft, but unlike ceramic, they won’t easily chip or break.
Category 3: Weight
Many people who swear by ceramic knives love to talk up how feather-light they are, which is true. Ceramic knives are some of the lightest knives you’ll ever find. If you’re one who chops lots of fruit or soft vegetables (say, lettuces for salads) they a ceramic knife will really save your arm and wrist some real wear and tear. On the other hand, due to the lightness of ceramic knives, if you’re needing to chop heartier things, such as root vegetables, nuts & seeds, or meats, a steel knife is the way to go.
Even though steel knives are noticeably heavier than ceramic, the added weight gives you some leverage when chopping all those potatoes for your nest roast. That leverage means the knife itself is doing more work, which will lessen the load that your arm must bear.
Category 4: Price
When you begin to shop around for knives, you’ll quickly notice the wildly different price points. Just keep in mind that normally, you get what you pay for. You really don’t have to break the bank to purchase some high-quality knives to get you started. Ceramic knives are reasonably priced, which makes them popular among home cooks. But high-quality steel knives don’t have to break the bank either. Expect to pay around £30-£50 for a decent ceramic or steel knife.
Much more than that, and you’re really getting into name-brands or limited runs from specific knife makers. Is that Wusthof knife worth it? Maybe? It depends on what you want to cook at home, and how often you want to cook. My favourite chef’s knife for the home cook who wants to get more into cooking costs a lot less than £50. My favourite ceramic knife is about the same price or about double that for a 2-piece set. You don’t really need to pay more than that to find a high-quality knife. You can, but you don’t need to.
Ceramic vs Steel Knives? Stick With The Steel
Let’s face it, stainless steel knives are the winners on any given day! Ceramic knives are cool, they’re kinda trendy right now, and they make for a fun addition to the home cooking knife set. They’re great for folks who want a very light and super sharp knife, especially if you’re into chopping soft fruits or tender vegetables every day. But they aren’t a replacement for the steel chef’s knife, the undisputed workhorse of the home kitchen. So, if you’re in the market for a new knife, stick with the stainless steel. Just remember to have fun in the kitchen, and you’ll be laughing all the way to dinner. Cheers!