ceramic vs steel knives

Ceramic vs Steel Knives:  Pros and Cons of Each

By Bobby B.  |  August 29, 2020  | Blog

Unless you live under a rock somewhere, you’ve likely noticed some kitchen knives now have ceramic blades.  It’s still the exception rather than the norm, but for several years now, they’ve been readily available.  However, it’s the fact that they are still the exception that prompts consumers to often ask us to do a ceramic vs steel knives comparison.  They insist on us covering the differences, and even more so, an answer to which is better, ceramic knives or steel knives.

It probably comes as no surprise to you to hear that kitchen knives have been made from steel in one form or another for hundreds or thousands of years.  While individual elements used in them have changed slightly over the years, the core material in knives have stayed the same for quite some time.  It’s fair to ask why!  We’ve come up with new materials for so many other things over the past 50 – 100 years.  Just think of all the things we now make out of plastic that were once made from metal.  

The reality is simple actually, we just haven’t found a better material yet.  So is ceramic different?  is it that better material?  

Ceramic Knives

Ceramic knives became somewhat popular roughly 10 years ago, but they never really caught on as a favorite by the majority of households and certainly not by professional chefs.  Just like anything else out there, there are pros and cons to ceramic knives, and perhaps some of them will pertain to you.  You might even find they fit your needs well enough to try a set out. 

The majority of ceramic knives are less expensive than their steel counterparts, which I believe is a large part of their appeal.  The rest of it is probably just the coolness factor.  People think it’s cool to be different, and ceramic knives are different.  

Performance-wise, the best ceramic knives typically start out extremely sharp!  Unfortunately, this is not always the case with cheap ceramic knives.  Since it’s such a hard material, ceramic can hold a very sharp edge, but there are several down sides to this as well.  These hard, thin blades tend to be super brittle.  During use, micro-chipping will take place along the edge, making cuts with these knives noticeably less smooth over time.

Ceramic Knife cutting vegetables

Ceramic Knife Sharpening

Sharpening ceramic knives is another huge drawback.  They’re so hard that they can only be sharpened by diamond, and even then, it’s not an easy task like with steel blades.  Some manufacturers offer a service for returning them to the factory for sharpening.  We recommend this where available. 

Unfortunately, when this isn’t available, you’ll need a knife sharpener with diamond abrasive.  The good news is that they exist and they’re not that expensive.  The bad news is that they’re not that easy to use and it takes some time to both perfect the skill of sharpening ceramic knives, and then also to do the sharpening itself since the material is so hard.

Pros and Cons of Ceramic Knives

While we feel that ceramic knives will likely never take over steel knives completely, there may be a good fit for them in some kitchens.  They key is to know and understand their strengths and weaknesses so you can use them optimally and as a compliment to their steel-bladed counterparts.  

Benefits of Ceramic Knives

  • Thin & lightweight, making them convenient to pull out for a quick job
  • Ceramic knives are inexpensive when compared to steel knives
  • If used correctly, their edge will stay sharper longer than steel 
  • Believe it or not, their chemical make-up helps prevent browning of sliced fruits
  • Ceramic knives come in a different colors
  • No metal means no rust or corrosion

Drawbacks of Ceramic Knives

  • Ceramic is brittle and can chip during usage & may break if dropped
  • They are difficult to sharpen and require specialized tools to do so
  • You need to consider the job at hand before using ceramic knives – they are not an all-purpose knife
  • Cutting around bone or frozen foods will likely cause chipping of the blades

Our Favorite Ceramic Knife Set

There are surprisingly few name brands that made ceramic kitchen knives.  While there are several that are popular, one seemed to rise above the rest during our research for this article, and that was Kyocera.  More specifically, the Kyocera Advanced Ceramic Revolution Series knives get great reviews, are budget-friendly, and come in a variety of knife types and colors/finishes.  Here’s our favorite set…

Kyocera Ceramic Knife Set Review

Kyocera 5-pc Advanced Ceramic Knife Set w/ Bamboo Knife Block  (See Price & Reviews at Amazon)

Steel Knives

As mentioned at the outset of this page, steel has been the material of choice for kitchen knives for forever.  You know the old saying right… “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  What has changed though are the specific steels used, along with the different elements and amounts of each element added for differing reasons.  Kitchen knife steels have evolved over time to get better and better.  

Although it is true that perhaps consumers are just accustomed to using steel knives, we also find that the shear amount of options when it comes to steel blades allows all chefs to find one with the characteristics they need in their particular kitchen.  For example, if you just want something cheap, there are plenty of steel knives that fit that bill.  We’ve even written an entire post about the best kitchen knife set under $200 and also the best chef knife under $50.  There are plenty of budget-friendly knives on these pages.

Okay, so what if you’re not looking for cheap knives, but rather a high-end slicing knife.  Japanese-style knives are extremely sharp, thinner and harder blades and retain an edge similar to ceramic knives.  They get their extra hardness by adding a higher carbon content to the steel.  Similar to ceramic, there’s a trade-off.  The harder and sharper the blades are made, the more brittle the material.  However, unlike ceramic, steel can be hardened using different processes, and some of these can help optimize the sharpness & hardness while also increasing the ductility and reducing the brittleness.

And if those don’t fit your needs, there are dozens of great kitchen knife brands that all make steel-bladed knives.  Each is dedicated to making knives that meet the needs of their respective customers.

woman using steel knife to cut vegetables

Steel Knife Sharpening

Along with the increased availability and variety in steel performances, sharpening your standard kitchen knives is also much easier.  There are several good ways to get this accomplished.  There are local knife sharpening services, whetstones, manual sharpeners, and electric knife sharpeners.

Probably the best and easiest way to keep you steel blade maintained is by using a honing rod.  It’s a super simple process that takes just a minute, and something anyone can do.  While it doesn’t actually sharpen the blade and remove material, it does straighten out the edge and make it cut easier.  Most of the time, this is actually what’s needed, and not removing material will extend the life of your kitchen knives.  Here’s a quick, 2 minute video tutorial on how to hone your knives.

Pros and Cons of Steel Knives

Yes, steel knives are certainly more popular than ceramic knives, but they also have their drawbacks.  However, most of their drawbacks can be overcome by obtaining a different steel knife. 

Confusing right? 

What I mean by this is that if you want a less expensive knife, they make less expensive steel knives.  In fact, you can find super-cheap steel knives, even forged ones, right in line with the pricing of ceramic.

Ready for a couple more examples?

If you’re concerned about steel knives being too thin or brittle… focus on German, or Western-style, kitchen knives.  They’re thicker, bulkier, and more powerful when cutting.  Wusthof-brand knives are a great example of this.

Looking for the thinner, sharper blades like the benefits that ceramic gives you, but don’t want the cheap ceramic feel, look no further than Japanese-style knives.  They have all the benefits of a ceramic knife without the drawbacks.

The point of all this???  While there are trade-offs in steel knives, almost any rebuttal is negated when you look across their entire spectrum of knives.

Benefits of Steel Knives

  • There are many, many more options than ceramic knives
  • You can find thick blades, thin blades, strong blades, sharp blades, and everything in between
  • Much easier to sharpen than ceramic
  • Proven material for knives
  • Steel knives are magnetic and can be stored on magnetic knife holders

Drawbacks of Steel Knives

  • Steel knives typically weigh more than their ceramic counterparts
  • Corrosion:  steel knives, even some stainless steel knives, can corrode or rust over time if not properly maintained

A Comparable Steel Knife Set

There are tons and tons of great high-carbon stainless steel knife sets to choose from.  In fact, with so many options, we’re almost doing you a disservice by choosing one set here.  There are many different price ranges, styles of knives, knife brands, and other variables to consider (like how much you’ll be using them) when choosing steel knives.  

In order to appeal to the masses and to compare with something in a similar price range, we’ve selected a relatively inexpensive set of western-style kitchen knives.  Everything we always tout as important is covered in these knives.  They’re forged, full-tang, and made with high-quality German steel, yet they’re affordable.  

Cangshan V2 Series 6-piece German Steel Knife Set

Cangshan V2 Series 6-piece German Steel Knife Set  (See Price & Reviews at Amazon)

Ceramic Knives vs. Steel Knives:  Which Is Better?

You never want too many cooks in the kitchen, so don’t let me tell you what to do.  It’s your kitchen, you decide.  But, if you’re still unsure on the subject, let’s button-up a few loose ends.

Will both ceramic and steel knives cut food?  Yes, of course.

Are they both adequately sharp?  Yes.

Can you get chef’s knives, a paring knife, santoku knives, bread knives in both ceramic and steel?  Yes.

Both knives can do most jobs in your kitchen, and you can find knives in each material that are roughly the same price.  For us, that means we have to find the points of difference.  Where are they different?  There’s a steel knife out there for every job, and we can’t say the same thing about ceramic knives.  If you want to have a couple ceramic knives in your kitchen, along with a nice set of steel knives, we so go for it! 

But, if you have just a set of ceramic knives, you’ll run into a job from time to time that you shouldn’t be using those knives for, and you’ll be risking the knife chipping or breaking.