Carbon vs Stainless steel knife: Which is right for the kitchen?

(Fact Checked By Luna L. Rusk | Last Updated on July 30, 2021 | As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Can you differentiate between carbon and stainless-steel knives? If it is not the case, then this article is just for you.

When I started my cooking journey at home, I would pick up just any knife, having zero ideas about which one does what, why there is so variation in the material. My only thought was, a knife is there to cut stuff, so why this much fuss? 

Over time, as my hands matured, I started seeing tremendous differences in the food slices and maintenance according to various knives. That is also when I realized professional or home cooks need to be able to distinguish as well.

Carbon vs Stainless steel knife
Carbon vs Stainless steel knife

Here goes the long-anticipated debate between Carbon vs. Stainless steel knives that may give you a peek at choosing the best one:

Comparison Table For Carbon vs Stainless steel knife


Understanding knife structure can be tricky. It becomes a lot effortless if it was concise in a table. Here is a table to support all the similarities and dissimilarities between Carbon vs. Stainless steel knives:

ParticularCarbon steel knifeStainless steel knife
Typical useCombat and high-end cuttingPrecise and fine cutting, chopping and slicing
DesignHard and heavyThin and lightweight
MaintenanceHigh maintenanceLow maintenance
Common blade lengthVaries according to purposeVaries according to purpose
ManeuverabilityLess maneuverableMore maneuverable
Force toleranceIt is brittleIntact under pressure
PricesBudget-friendlyHighly-priced but affordable ones are available too

Carbon steel knife


To understand anything about carbon or stainless steel, one first needs to have a clear idea about what steel is. Steel is a much-reformed version of iron. You may not be able to use iron single-handedly but steel replaces that need. Another important point is, no matter what type of steel it is, it will always contain a small or big portion of carbon.

That hits with another big question- why are we calling it carbon steel knife if it is already a common component? It is because of the amount of carbon content steel has. It can have lower carbon content or the opposite. 

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When a knife has a carbon content of as much as 2.5%, it is called a carbon steel knife. The highest carbon content a still can have is 10.25%. 

The rest of the portion is iron. This entire process is called an alloy. An alloy is an amalgamation between a pure metal with another material in small content. In this knife, iron is the main particle whereas, carbon is the mixture.

Carbon steel knives are heavier than others due to their high carbon composition. Steel is much stronger when it is heavy. So, the strength of carbon steel is unthinkable. That explains its massive use in combat knives and professional kitchens. 

Pros

  • Carbon steel knives can be sharpened easily
  • These are ten times stronger than other knives
  • The sharpness is to die for
  • It can tolerate soaring force

Cons

  • The maintenance process needs attention

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Stainless Steel knife


The first thought that crosses one’s brain is why stainless? What is in there to make it stainless? Well, the answer is as simple as ocean water. A stainless-steel knife is made in a way that prevents it from getting stained by almost anything.

It is a carbon alloy that contains chromium to make it stainless. Although it does have iron content much to give it some strength, that is not as high as a carbon steel knife. Chromium is the material of the hour here to build up all the characteristic traits a stainless-steel knife has. The carbon-chromium duo is what makes up 99% of this type of knife.

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These knives are way lighter than carbon steel knives. The thin blades support home cooking at their best. You can swing or swirl it however you want; they are that feathery and hassle-free to use. The stainless-steel knives will contain their edge for as much time as possible.

But once it loses the edge, it is harder to sharpen than carbon steel knives. These do not break down easily due to the chromium content that adds some extra shine. The biggest difference a stainless knife creates with a carbon steel one, including all this, is the emergence of corrosion. It goes rust-free for a longer period with high durability.

Pros

  • Easy to maintain
  • It has thin, lightweight blades
  • Both home cooks and professional chefs can use it
  • It is corrosion-free

Cons

  • It is harder to sharpen the edge

Top 3 Best Seller Stainless Steel knife


Carbon steel knife vs Stainless steel knife


If the points mentioned above are harder to understand, here are some broad-spectrum explanations for each point:

Typical use:

Carbon steel knives and stainless-steel knives both can be used in the kitchen. They have different traits to make their way into both home and restaurant kitchens. Carbon steel knife is mainly used in high-end cutting and combat due to its strength.

These knives are preferred mostly by professional chefs than home cooks. Carbon steel pocket knife is also popular on the go.

For more precise work, a stainless-steel knife is the best. They may not be as strong as carbon ones, which explains the devoid of combat knives in stainless steel, but they bring out the finest cuts when necessary.

Do you want a smooth sushi slice or a faster rock chopping? Stainless steel knives are the answer. From boning knife to steak knife, all of these have stainless-steel in content. On the contrary, high-density food materials are discouraged to be cut by carbon knives due to their brittleness.

Design:

Carbon steel knife differentiates from stainless-steel knife in many ways, including the design. Stainless steel knives have a distinguishing pattern of shine on its surface due to the presence of chromium that carbon steel knife lacks. It is lightweight, feathery. The rigidity tends to zero which adds more to the usage process.

The carbon steel knife is more on the sturdier side. The high carbon content makes it almost invincible. The blade is stiffer and more rigid which acts against any bends. Since it has a debatable amount of carbon in it, the knife is very heavy to hold

Both of the knives are sharp in their way, yet the usage of the sharpness is different. Both of them come with handles that incorporate either half tang or full tang blades. The blades may or may not have Damascus. 

The stainless steel prevents any sort of dent or stain on its surface but the carbon steel knife is more susceptible to it. A carbon steel knife has a thicker blade compared to a stainless-steel knife. That stands for why a professional chef knife set mainly consists of both.

Maintenance:

Carbon steel knives need high maintenance than stainless steel due to many factors. It is more brittle and gets broken than bent. Although these are sturdy and goes a long way, once it gets broken there is little chance to reverse the changes. Carbon steel knives also lose their sharp edge in a short time than stainless steel knives.

Another reason is, it does not have chromium in its manufacturing particle. So, carbon steel knives attract rust very easily than stainless steel ones.

Here are some of the maintenance tips with caution for carbon steel knives:

  • These are suggested to use on high-density food material such as coconut shell or dense meats. It is also the reason why deboning knives are not made of carbon steel.
  • Canola oil or olive oil is great for an oil treatment on the blade edge. It keeps the knife protected from rust.
  • These are not recommended to be used on moist food or washed in a dishwasher for a long time. The process may attract corrosion.
  • If carbon steel knives are used on a wet surface, they are advised to be cleaned with a dry cotton cloth afterward, immediately.
  • It is better to hone the carbon knife now and then since it has a less sharp edge than stainless steel knives.

Although stainless steel knives may seem like a piece of cake in front of them, it has its drawbacks when it comes to maintenance. It may not need a high-class maintenance procedure that may seem time-consuming bit stainless steel knives are harder to sharpen once the edges get blunt.

Here are some of the tricks to sharpen the stainless-steel edges:

  • There are two ways when your much-cherished stainless-steel knife has lost its edge. If it is not much dull then you can go with the easy way, which is either using a block of ice or sandpaper on the blade for 200-300 strokes.
  • When they are much dull and almost out of use, use either diamond stone or Japanese stone. The first one is more expensive but with a longer lifetime promise. The last one is budget-friendly with a bit less durability. You can always use a knife sharpener for better results.

Common blade length:

Both carbon steel and stainless-steel knives can have a variety of lengths depending on the purpose it is used for. From pairing, boning, steak to a butter knife, anything can be made with these materials. Considering what job it is engineered for, cutting, slicing, or chopping, the length may vary from 5-12-inches.

Maneuverability:

Stainless steel knives have to be the winner of this particular section of the carbon steel vs stainless steel knife argument. As mentioned earlier many times, these knives are thin and light-weighted. When you are using a stainless-steel knife, you may not feel much heaviness around the wrist. That gives off leverage on the chef’s side for more maneuverability.

Carbon steel knives, on the contrary, comes with underlying heaviness in the mask of strength. The heaviness adds to the rigidity that makes it harder to move along the surface, however you want to. As a result, it makes the work a bit slower which needs much patience to finish.

To wrap it up with a single statement, stainless-steel knives are more maneuverable than carbon steel knives.

Force tolerance:

Many people have the misunderstanding of thinking that since carbon steel knives are stronger and heavier, they may have more tolerance towards force. It is an absolute lie, whatsoever. Enduring force does not have anything to do with how thick a blade is.

As a result, these knives are more brittle than stainless steel. One of the good points of a stainless-steel knife is that it can be used against the hardest surface without any breakage. It may bend or get dull but these are reversible.

On the other hand, put a little more pressure on a carbon knife, you may watch it break into pieces, even without warning.

Prices:

Stainless steel knives are pricier than carbon steel ones. Even after being stronger and less time-consuming in honing, stainless steel has surpassed the market price with its shiny and soft texture. These are best for chef knife sets.

The rust-free material has taken all the action. Stainless steels are not only more expensive but also takes more from the purse once they have hit the bottom by becoming dull. Although it does not get dull very easily, the carbon steel knives are easier and more cost-effective to sharpen.

However, stainless steel knives make up for that extra money with their low maintenance capability.

Final Verdict

Knives may seem essential for making food but what is even more essential is knowing about them to expect a good purchase. Currently, globalization is letting all types of business flourish and knife business is at its peak. The horrifying part is, some companies are selling cheap plastics in the name of high-class knives.

But fear them not since there are plenty of resources to look out for learning beforehand. This article can be an example of that. Accumulating knowledge about your personal need before buying anything is very much important. A kitchen knife is not an exception in this regard.

The motto of this article is to provide you with a good choice between Carbon vs. Stainless steel knives so that you can have a one-on-one debate with yourself. Hopefully, getting the best knife becomes easier afterward.

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