Making the comparison carbon vs stainless steel knife is going to be quite interesting.
Still, I will tell you right from the start that famous brands like Wusthof, Zwilling J.A. Henckels, Mercer and Victorinox make their brilliant blades from carbon steel.
Even lesser known manufacturers that sell their knives for cheaper prices are pretty much going to use carbon steel for their blades.
It seems that it didn’t take us long to figure out the winner in this carbon steel vs stainless steel knives battle.
However, there are certain situations where people might prefer to use a stainless steel knife. We’ll see when you might prefer a stainless steel knife in a moment.
Stainless steel knives are just as amazing as carbon steel knives and there aren’t that many differences between the two.
Let’s see what else we should know about the two materials.
Also, check out my article on how to choose the right chef’s knife size for you.
Carbon vs Stainless Steel Knife: Why Carbon Steel Wins Most of the Time
The only reason I gave you for declaring carbon steel the winner as the best material for knives is that most brands and manufacturers use it.
That’s not a good enough reason. Let’s see what else we should know and appreciate about them.
Carbon steel is unbeatable because it has the razor-shape edge that any professional and amateur chef is looking for.
When you use an amazing carbon steel knife for the first time, it almost feels like a religious experience.
I love all knives, tiny knives, filet knives, bread knives, boning knives, salmon knives, etc. but I have a true love for chef’s knives.
It’s the blade we use daily and most frequently. If you can, get a carbon steel chef’s knife because you’re going to be using it for years if it doesn’t rust.
Sharpness lasts longer
Besides the sharp edge that makes you want to cook in a frenzy just so that you can feel how perfectly marvelous the blade is, carbon steel knives have another reason for being superior to all other blades, whether they’re made from stainless steel or ceramic.
Carbon steel knives maintain their sharpness for longer.
Ideally, we should sharpen our knives quite frequently. How often we should sharpen our knives is a debate with no concrete answer.
Some people will say once every 3-4 uses. Sharpening the blades we use daily every 3 to 4 uses or once every 2 weeks is a very good idea.
On the other hand, there will be people who mention sharpening their knives 2-3 times a year.
If you don’t want to stress about it, I recommend sharpening your blades when you feel that they’re not as sharp as they were during previous uses.
Why should we complicate ourselves with others’ advice when we can actually feel when we need to sharpen our knives by how they cut through all types of ingredients.
Out of the package, a very good carbon steel knife is incredibly sharp. You might feel that you’ve never handled anything as sharp before.
That razor-sharp edge will feel like that for a few more weeks. We’ll notice a tiny slight decrease in sharpness in about a month if you use the knife daily for more than a couple of minutes.
If you use a knife less often, then you might indeed need to sharpen it just 1-2 times per year.
Easier to sharpen by hand
Carbon steel knives are easier to sharpen by hand.
This hard steel rubs off more cleanly and doesn’t chip as easily.
Carbon steel knives are safer and easier to use
This is another advantage that stems from the sharpness of the blade.
The truth is that a dull blade is a lot more dangerous than a razor-sharp blade. If I use a sharp knife, I don’t cut myself, unless I’m paying attention to something else.
And that’s why maintaining a sharp blade is so important. Not only because we can do our work quickly and perfectly and get the thin slices that we want but because it’s safer for our fingers.
When should you choose a stainless steel knife?
Even though in the introduction of this article on carbon vs stainless steel knife I said that carbon steel is the overall winner, I want to reinforce that stainless steel knives are also amazing.
It’s just that they’re not all that popular because major manufacturers prefer carbon steel for their razor-sharp blades.
According to this article, home chefs often choose stainless steel knives, while professionals choose high-carbon steel.
I don’t necessarily agree because, nowadays, most knives I come across are made from carbon steel.
Wusthof, Zwilling J.A. Henckels, Mercer all sell carbon knives. Their prices vary, Wusthof being among the most expensive but all these brands offer top high quality for different budgets. It’s hard to choose a favorite.
Stainless knives might be harder to find nowadays, which makes the ones made from carbon automatically more popular.
Moreover, don’t assume that stainless steel knives are going to be cheaper. We can pay more on a stainless steel blade than we would pay on a carbon knife and vice versa.
I recommend stainless steel for those who don’t like complicated tools.
Stainless steel knives can be just as sharp and durable as carbon steel knives so you won’t lose anything in making that choice. You’ll be able to cut everything you want as thinly as you want.
Where you will majorly win is in the fact that you don’t need to do anything to your stainless knives, besides washing them by hand with warm water and soap and then drying them and storing them however you want.
Victorinox is actually a brand that makes awesome stainless steel knives. I also recommended one as my favorite for the best chef’s knife under $50.
Carbon vs Stainless Steel Knife: Maintenance
Stainless knives are regarded as requiring less maintenance.
Washing by hand is still recommended and drying it with a towel is needed but, other than that, not much maintenance is required for stainless blades.
It is considered that carbon steel knives are high maintenance. That’s why some people might be reluctant to choose carbon over stainless steel.
What can we get from a carbon steel knife that we won’t get from a stainless steel blade? The answer is simple but it might surprise some: rust.
Thus, taking care of carbon blades is essential if we want to keep them functional for years to come.
According to this informative article, high carbon-steel knives, .8% carbon and up get really reactive to rust.
Those with a content between .3 and .8% rust less and are easier to take care of.
How to maintain carbon steel knives
Stain and rust are inevitable when using carbon steel knives.
We need to build a patina onto the blade to protect it from rust. We can do it with products like instant coffee, vinegar, potatoes, etc. Rub any of these acidic products on the blade and polish them in.
Wash the blade immediately after using it, dry it completely, and then oil it with mineral oil. Food grade mineral oil is the best for maintaining a good shine and for preventing rust.
Always store your carbon steel knives in a place where splashes of water won’t reach the blade.
Don’t use knife blocks.
Store them in a drawer wrapped in cloth or paper.
Or, even better, use a magnetic strip on the wall for your knives.
What are carbon steel knives?
Unlike stainless steel knives, carbon knives have a higher carbon content. Thus, the name.
An alloy of carbon, iron and other elements such as chromium and manganese is used to make the blades.
High carbon steel knives have a carbon content of over 2% to make them strong and wear-resistant. But they can also be brittle and less resistant to corrosion.
What are stainless steel knives?
Stainless steel knives are made of iron, carbon, and at least 10.5% chromium content.
The chromium content is very important because if less than 10% chromium is used, the resulting steel is subject to rust.
The carbon content is not as high as in carbon steel knives and that’s why they get the name stainless steel.
They’re also resistant to corrosion and that’s why some might prefer them.
The third option: Ceramic knives
I know that this is an article about carbon vs stainless steel knives but I also wanted to remind you that there’s a third possibility: ceramic knives.
These are perfect if we’re looking for sharp knives on a budget. If you don’t care for the prices of carbon and stainless knives, ceramic knives are a perfect third option.
They’re very sharp and work very well. They’re also light and easy to use. However, they’re prone to chipping and scratching.
If you want a good, easy-to-use sharp blade under $20, ceramic is the winner in this carbon vs stainless steel knife debate.