Kitchen knives significantly vary in price, appearance, performance and durability. You can buy them for a dollar at a deep discount store or spend up to $1,000 for one knife made by a top cutlery designer and manufacturer. High carbon stainless steel is among the top material choices for kitchen knives and, like its competitors, has pros and cons.
Without question, high carbon steel is the best knife blade material. It is nearly indestructible, even when used to cut and chop food on metal or natural stone surfaces. It is easy to sharpen to a supreme cutting edge with a sharpening steel or other honing tools. Once sharpened, high carbon steel holds its edge well, even with repeated use.
Aesthetically speaking, carbon steel gets the lowest marks. It has no stain resistance and discolors immediately upon contact with acidic foods such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, wine or vinegar. Over time, the blade will turn totally black, although the discoloration does not adversely affect the knife's cutting ability or impart foods with odd tastes or colors. High carbon steel is also susceptible to rust and requires regular scouring with stainless steel pads to keep it clean and shiny.
High Carbon Stainless Steel
High carbon stainless steel is a good alternative to high carbon steel as it is highly durable, and knives made with this material take and maintain a razor-sharp edge. The advantage it has over carbon steel is its resistance to stain imparted by the chromium in the steel. Many high-end knives are made from high carbon stainless steel. Those made in Japan typically have thinner and harder blades than knives made in America or Europe and require more maintenance.
Stainless and Surgical Stainless Steel
Stainless or surgical steel knives are low cost and their high chromium content makes them impervious to rust and stains. However, their flimsiness makes them hard to sharpen, and they do not maintain their edge because sharpening destroys the soft steel instead of creating a fine cutting edge. Professional cooks and chefs generally shun stainless steel cutlery.
Other Knife Materials
Titanium knife blades are a mixture of carbides and titanium. They have less weight than steel knives and hold an edge longer, but their flexibility makes them impractical for heavy-duty cutting and chopping. Knives with ceramic blades hold their sharp edges for months or years without sharpening, which requires diamond sharpening tools. Despite their toughness, ceramic knife blades are brittle and disposed to chipping.
Cassie Damewood has been a writer and editor since 1985. She writes about food and cooking for various websites, including My Great Recipes, and serves as the copy editor for "Food Loves Beer" magazine. Damewood completed a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in creative writing at Miami University.