Cooking With Ceramic

By Matthew Yglesias

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On the subject of knives, not long ago I got my hands on a Kyocera chef’s knife made not of flimsy steel but of super-hard ceramic. Ceramic is what the stuff they sharpen steel knives is made of. Ceramic is so hard, that to sharpen a ceramic knife you need to send it to Japan where they have a special machine that sharpens it with diamonds. But of course it’s so hard and so sharp that you rarely ever need to sharpen it.

Now, for the cons. The leading experts say you can get by with only three kitchen knives. You need an all-purpose chef’s knife. You need an itty-bitty paring knife for delicate work. And you need a big ol’ serrated knife for bread and such.

If you want to try to live that kind of monastic existence, you can’t go ceramic for your chef’s knife. Ceramic is prone to shattering if, for example, dropped or some such. Consequently, you’re not supposed to use it to smash cloves of garlic. And you’re not supposed to use it for boning or other procedures that involve twisting the knife or prying anything. And that’s stuff you need to do! So you need a steel chef’s knife.

But if you’re going above three, you should really consider ceramic as an option. For slicing vegetables and meat, it just can’t be beat. The issue isn’t so much that your ceramic knife is sharper than the sharpest steel knife—the sharpest steel knife is plenty sharp. The issue is that your ceramic knife is a lot sharper than the steel knife you actually have. Real professionals, I’m sure, stick with more ambidextrous steel and just make sure to keep it at tip-top sharpness. But if you’re honest with yourself, you know that you’re probably not doing this. Those machines you can buy don’t work all that well, you’re probably not so skilled with the sharpening rod, and you’re not getting it sharpened by a professional on a regular basis. Under the circumstances, adding a little ceramic to your arsenal is a very practical move.

But caveat slicer! A ceramic knife is a good deal sharper and lighter than the knife you’re using now. It moves a bit differently. Make sure not to cut yourself.

7 responses to “Cooking With Ceramic

  1. You’ve overlooked one of the other advantages of the ceramic blade: it doesn’t leave a slightly metallic aftertaste on vegetables. I had never noticed it before, but after trying the ceramic knife, there was definitely a difference.

    Also, a ceramic peeler is a great investment, and not an expensive one.

  2. Just a minor quibble: the “sharpening rod”, aka, a steel, isn’t for sharpening at all, but for honing. Someone once explained the difference between sharpening and honing to me this way; if you picture the microscopic surface of a knife blade a row of very sharp teeth, then when you sharpen your blade (with a stone) you are actually sharpening the teeth (making them pointier). When you use the steel, you are not changing the sharpness of the teeth. What you’re doing is making sure they are standing up as straight as possible.

    So, you can steel a dull knife all you want–that won’t make it sharper.

    Hope this helps. On the whole, a nice piece. Oh, and fwiw, I’m a professional chef and I have my knives professionally sharpened only once every 6-8 months. I use carbon steel knives which hold an edge longer than the more popular alloys.

  3. the sharpest and most magnificent knives are hand~flaked out of obsidian.
    obsidian is beautiful volcanic glass that can be found in a myriad of colors, even with iridesence…and when carved into knives,they are translucent and as sharp as shards.
    they can shear through most anything and last forever.

  4. It isn’t all that much trouble to hand sharpen a steel knife. I go after ours perhaps twice a year… it’s cheap steel, so it doesn’t hold up as nicely as a good carbon steel blade. We’re a little household of 2, so it doesn’t see anywhere near the use a restaurant blade does.

    I hone it rather more often. It pays off, since 30s of honing means a cutting job is quick rather than fussy. And a fussy cutting job on potatoes is real likely to end in the ER…

    (and we get by with a the ritual 3… really 2.5 since our bread knife is long overdue for a replacement)

  5. Pingback: Ceramic Knives « All Good Naysayers, Speak Up!

  6. I spent an hour an a half over the weekend sharpening all the knives in my block using my trusty GATCO knife sharpening system. I’ve got the diamond honing one and it sharpens just about everything (knives, scissors, etc.) and even does a manageable job on serrated knives. For about $70, you will have the ability to insure that you will always have sharp knives in your kitchen.

  7. i’ve always wanted to give ceramic a shot, but now that i’ve read your post, i will prob only buy a parer and stick to my well-loved globals… i know my ass would forget not to smash garlic, etc if it was my everyday knife, and i would end up w/ ceramic in my hand. not good. =)

    oh, and i never use my bread knife. i literally forgot i had it ~ it was in a box w/ all my baking goods, LOL.

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