To a chef, your kitchen knife is like your sword. Every chef has his or her own opinion about what makes a good kitchen knife. Typically, most chefs want a knife that is lightweight, easy to control, and stays sharp. All of these properties can be found in a very special kind of kitchen knife know as a carbon steel knife.
Many professional chefs will swear by carbon steel knives, saying it is the only kind of knife they will use in the kitchen. While it may seem like carbon steel is just a marketing ploy to bump up the price of a simple kitchen knife, there are actually many benefits in using a carbon steel knife.
In this article we will go over what makes carbon steel knives unique, followed by our personal recommendations for the best carbon steel knives currently on the market.
The Carbon Steel Difference
Let’s start by breaking down exactly what makes steel classified as ‘high-carbon.’ Steel is a product that is manmade using iron ore and coal to produce carbon. The difference between carbon steel and stainless steel lies in the chromium that is added into stainless steel. Chromium is what gives the stainless steel its resistance to rust and corrosion. However, it tends to be softer than carbon steel.
To be defined as a high-carbon steel, the steel must have anywhere between 0.05% to 2.1% carbon in its makeup. High-carbon steel typically also has small amounts of manganese, silicon, and copper. Unlike stainless steel, high-carbon contains no other metals that can help with corrosion or rust. This means that it can discolor or rust much faster than a stainless steel if not properly maintained.
Besides kitchen knives, high-carbon steel is valued in products that require a harder metal than the more brittle stainless steel alternative. High-carbon steel is also great for other heavy-duty products such as scissors, masonry nails, drill bits, saws, wire rope, tire reinforcement, and more.
Carbon Steel Knife FAQ
There are many steps required in maintaining a carbon steel knife to ensure your blade stays as sharp as possible before and after every use.
- Knife Honing. Using a standard honing steel rod, gently glide the knife back and fourth along the raised ridge. This helps mold the knife back into alignment and creates a straight, uniform edge that will help deliver the perfect cut. A chef’s knife should be honed every time it is used to keep it centered.
- Wipe Between Cuts. When using a carbon steel knife, it’s best to keep a clean dishcloth on hand to wipe the blade down between cuts. This is especially important if you are cutting into products like citrus fruits, as the acids can cause discoloration if left on the knife.
- Hand Wash. Use a clean, soft cloth to wash your carbon steel knife with warm water and a minimal amount of soap. Never leave the knife in a sink full of dishes, or run it through the dishwasher. Even the smallest amount of water left on the blade can cause discoloration.
- Gently Dry. Using another clean dishtowel, gently pat the blade dry. Make sure you get all of the water off from the blade. Don’t forget to dry the knife handle as well.
- Coat with Oil. Once you’ve made sure that the knife has been dried completely, lightly coat the blade with a layer of mineral oil. This will help protect the blade while eliminating any rust spots that might appear.
- Store Properly. You don’t want to leave your carbon knife exposed to the elements of your kitchen. Place the knife into a knife sheath or your favorite wooden or magnetic knife block to keep it safe from corrosion.
- Keep it Sharp. While many may think that honing is akin to sharpening, there’s actually a huge difference. The process of honing re-centers the knife by forcing the metal to become malleable. Sharpening a knife involves shaving off parts of the blade to create a brand new edge. While honing should be done each time a knife is used, sharpening should be done once every 6 months.
By following these seven maintenance steps, you can be sure that your carbon knife will continue to perform at its peak capacity.
Carbon Steel Knife Price Range
Carbon steel knives vary in price based on the brand, size, and function of the knife. Smaller carbon knives can start as low as $10, and run as high as $200. Larger knives used for more specific purposes, such as carving or boning, can run well over $300 per knife.
Top 8 Best Carbon Steel Knives
This German knife is formed as one piece, and is hammer-forged using a hot-drop method. With hot-drop forging, the metal is placed in extreme heat until it is malleable. It is then placed into a die and hammered into the desired blade shape. This method creates the toughest blade possible, and the San Moritz is strong enough to achieve a 57-58 on the Rockwell hardness scale. It also comes with a Knife for Life lifetime guarantee that protects against material and manufacturing defects.
The Wusthof Classic Chef’s Knife has seven different sizes to choose from, including 4.5 inches, 6 inches, 7 inches, 8 inches, 9 inches, 10 inches, and 12 inches. Its large variety of knives makes it extremely versatile, as there is a knife size that can be comfortable for every chef. It cuts through heavy meats and vegetables with ease, and can finely mince or slice spices. This is a great carbon knife for any chef, beginner or professional.
Another German knife, the Mercer Culinary Genesis is a strong blade with a comfortable, Ergonomic Santoprene handle. This specially designed handle makes the Mercer Culinary Genesis carbon knife comfortable to hold, even with wet hands. The taper-ground edge of the Mercer Culinary Genesis provides extra blade stability and reduces the need for sharpening.
The Victorinox Fibrox Straight Edge knife is manufactured in Switzerland, and come from the original inventors of the Swiss Army Knife. This is a perfect entry-level carbon knife that can be used for a variety of jobs around the kitchen. The Victorinox Fibrox Straight Edge can handle jobs that require slicing, mincing, or dicing with ease, without losing its edge.
The J.A Henckels International Classic Chef’s Knife has been made the using the same design for the last 40 years, playing true to the saying, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” This lightweight German steel knife has great balance, making it ideal for just about any situation. It is also dishwasher-safe, though experts recommend avoiding the dishwasher to prevent discoloration.
Shun knives are well known for their extremely sharp blades with high-precision cuts. The Shun Classic Western Chef’s Knife is made with a Super Steel core, which is topped with 32 layers of high-carbon steel. Its ergonomically designed handle is made of ebony-black pakkawood, which is very strong and resistant to sweat and water. It features a smooth 22-degree cutting angle, which is often preferred by Western chefs.
The Equinox Professional Chef’s Knife is a perfectly balanced blade that effortlessly cuts through even the toughest of foods. You can use it just about anywhere in the kitchen, and can easily serve as the only knife you’ll need to create a full meal. The handle is made of ABS, a plastic material that imitates abalone. ABS plastic is durable, comfortable to hold, and resistant to water and sweat. This makes it easy to control the Equinox Professional Chef’s Knife without feeling like it will slip from your grip.
The Gladiator series is one of the strongest sets that Dalstrong has to offer, making it a great option for professional chefs who need a powerhouse knife. The Dalstrong Gladiator is made with high-quality elements, including a German carbon steel blade wrapped in a black pakkawood handle. The blade is deeper than an average kitchen knife, which gives you better control and helps keep your fingers away from the sharp edge.
Our Final Thoughts on Carbon Knives in the Kitchen
When it comes to sharp edges and precision cuts, the carbon kitchen knife is a chef’s best friend. The strength of the carbon and iron alloy keeps the blade strong, and makes it easier to hone and sharpen. Carbon steel knives hold their edges far longer than stainless steel knives, which tend to dull or chip after some use. While they require more maintenance to protect from rust and corrosion, the carbon knife more than makes up for it with high quality cuts.