Best Steel For Kitchen Knives (Review of Top 5 Types)

With the many types of knives on the market today its okay to feel a little unsure about what knife to buy. Which type of knife is right for you? Read on for information about what the best steel is for your kitchen needs.

Choosing the best steel for your chef knife

Chef cutting Broccoli in the kitchen

The best knife has a lot of factors that go into it. In order to choose the best one for your culinary needs you need to understand how each factor plays in, and then you can choose a good knife.

Forged v.s Stamped

Knives are made in two ways: forged or stamped.

While “forged knives” used to mean there was a blacksmith heating, cooling, and beating knives out one by one, in today’s modern society “forged knives” is a bit more commercialized. (While there are still some companies or people who hand-forge their knives it is typically not the case anymore. The custom-made blade of a hand forged knife is high quality, but also expensive.)

“Forged knives,” in today’s world usually refer to “commercialized forged knives,”  which combine both machinery and human skill to make. A mold for the knife is made, and steel bars are heated to the forging temperature and pressed into the mold. It’s then tempered and heat treated. Then, the final grinding, cleaning, sharpening, and inspecting is done by hand, as well as attaching a handle.

A “stamped knife,” is more mass production based. Stamped knives are made with a steel sheet instead of bars and a die of the blade shape that comes down with force on the sheet, cutting out many knives, similar to a cookie cutter. Stamped knives cut the production cost of knives and help reduce waste and are great production wise if large quantities of the knives are to be made.

Forged knives are typically more expensive, have a better durability and will last longer than stamped knives. Stamped knives are thinner, less expensive, and usually have a sharper edge than forged knives. Both stamped and forged knives have their place in the kitchen, and many chefs have a mix of both.

HRC

HRC is a metric used to measure how hard a knife blade is, and its ability to withstand heat, stress, and pressure that is often applied to them. A usable knife needs at least a 52 on the HRC scale, but 52-54 is still considered a soft knife. The best knives are typically within the 58-62 range on the scale, but keep in mind that the higher the HRC, the harder it is to sharpen the blade.

Edge Retention

A knife’s “edge retention” refers to how long the knife will stay sharp. This is an important factor especially if you are going to use it for a long time.

Corrosion Resistance

“Corrosion resistance” refers to a blade’s ability to withstand rust, or harm from materials like salt or moisture, etc.

Understanding the factors that play into knives are important to choosing the right one. Unfortunately there isn’t a knife that is hits the best in ever factor. Knife factors are give and take. You might get a knife that has great corrosion resistance, but doesn’t have good edge retention, for example.

Knife Types

Different types of knives

Another factor that plays into choosing the best knife is what steel the knife is made of. (And, just like many chefs choose to use stamped and forged knives, you may choose to get some of multiple types of steel, because they all do different things.)

Also, knives may be made with other material added in which can change the pros and cons of each knife. The following five are a general umbrella that covers the material most knives will be made out of, but some blades may have more than one metal and that can be a winning factor as well.

Here are five types of steel to choose from:

Carbon Steel

Knives with a carbon steel blade are placed on a cutting board.

Carbon steel is a high quality steel that many chefs swear by. It has a razor sharp edge, have a nice score on the HRC scale, and can keep for a long time if properly cared for. Carbon steel is a high quality excellent knife that can help with many of your kitchen needs. However, the downside is that carbon steel blades are very sensitive to acidity and moisture, and if not properly washed and maintained could easily rust, and discolor. The high maintenance required is sometimes a turn off for people, so before purchasing realize what you are getting into.

Stainless Steel

Knives with a stainless steel black blade are placed on a cutting board.

Stainless steel knives are one of the most common knifes people buy- for affordability and the wide availability of them. Contrary to their name, stainless steel blades aren’t completely unable to get stained, but they are pretty stain resistant. They aren’t as long lasting as high carbon steels, but they do last for a while and are very versatile in the kitchen. If you are looking for something affordable, durable, and easy to use and maintain stainless steel is a pretty good bet.

High Carbon Stainless Steel

A man is sharpening a high-carbon stainless steel blade knife.

High carbon Stainless steel is a pretty good mix of carbon and stainless steel types and has been claimed to be the best knife type. Not only are they beautiful knives, but they also score well on hardness, sharpness, corrosion resistance, and ease of use. They are fairly durable as well, and won’t discolor or rust as easily as carbon steel, though they do still require some maintenance and are typically more expensive.

Ceramic

Placed on the table beside the cutting board are white knives with a ceramic steel blade.

Ceramic knives are very sharp, lightweight and keep their edge for probably the longest out of any knife type. They also won’t discolor or change the taste of food. They are great for dicing fruit or vegetables, as they are very sharp and the acidity won’t affect them. The downsides to ceramic knives are one, they can shatter or chip pretty easily since they are ceramic, and two, they are really hard (which can be nice,) but typically they can’t be sharpened at home and may need to be sent to a specialist or the manufacturer to sharpen, and three, they are typically on the more expensive side.

Tool Steel

A knife with a tool steel blade

Tool steel is one of the least expensive materials to make knives out of. They are widely available, cheap, and typically score decently on the HRC scale. They also are very tough knives and have a hold their edge. Tool steel however, is not the highest quality, and doesn’t have great corrosion resistance. Tool Steel is great for more of a short term knife or a knife for someone on a smaller budget.

Knife Maintenance

Every knife is different, and every knife has pros and cons.  You may want different types of blades for different types of cutting, it comes down to how you cook and what you think will best work in your kitchen.

To keep your knife safe and last longer it’s important to properly clean and maintain it, and get it sharpened when needed.

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