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Knives have been around almost as long as we’ve had tools. And while not a lot has changed over time, there have been a few advancements. The latest comes in the form of a new material: ceramic blades. Unlike your ceramic flowerpots, the ceramic used for knives is super-hard and can be honed to a smooth, sharp edge. That’s not to say that ceramic knives are better than metal knives, but there are pros and cons to both materials.
Ceramic knives are harder than steel knives, rating close to diamonds on the hardness scale. Because of that, they hold an edge longer so they don’t need to be sharpened as often, and they don’t need to be honed to straighten their edge. However, that hardness also means that ceramic can’t be sharpened with most of the traditional knife-sharpening materials that were designed for steel knives. The oilstones that have been in the family for years aren’t hard enough to cope with ceramic knives, and electric sharpeners can chip or break ceramic blades. Some ceramic knives can be returned to the manufacturer for professional sharpening, but that’s inconvenient.
Ceramic knives are also stain-resistant and rust-proof. They aren’t affected by acids in foods and won’t cause browning. They’re easy to clean, they don’t absorb odors, and they're lightweight. The biggest downside to ceramic knives is that along with the super-hardness comes brittleness. They can’t be used for boning, prying, or cutting frozen foods or for any tasks where the knife is likely to bend. They shouldn’t be used for chopping if the blade will hit the cutting board sharply. And they shouldn’t be dropped.
If a steel knife hits the floor you might bend the tip or embed it in the floor, but if you drop a ceramic knife, it’s likely to break or shatter. Steel blades have their downsides, too. Depending on the type of steel used, they can be prone to staining or even rusting. They need to be sharpened more often than ceramic blades, and they are heavier than ceramic knives. Just like any other knife choice, the final decision between ceramic or steel comes down to personal preference. A person who often drops their knives won’t have a good relationship with a ceramic knife, while someone who hates having to sharpen knives will appreciate how long the edge lasts on a ceramic knife.
This all-black santoku knife has the classic santoku shape, but it doesn’t have the granton edge that is common (but not required) on this type of knife. The blade is made from a proprietary zirconia ceramic that is made only in Japan and is slightly shorter, at 5 1/2 inches, than average santoku knives. Some cooks might prefer the slightly shorter blade, while it’s not so much shorter than the typical 6- to 7-inch blades that it would hinder cooks who have used longer blades.
This knife should be hand-washed. When the blade gets dull, the knife can be returned to the manufacturer’s facility in California for sharpening. There is no fee for the sharpening service, but the customer must pay for shipping and handling. The company also recommends its own electric sharpener which is designed for ceramic blades.
Ceramic paring knives are great for delicate tasks, like peeling tomatoes or making super-thin slices of vegetables for garnishes, along with all of the typical paring tasks. This piece is a bargain and comes with a handy sheath making it a good cooking knife for traveling.
The high carbon stainless steel stays sharp over time and though it is dishwasher safe, hand washing is recommended to keep the knife performing well for many years.
If you prefer a slightly longer chef’s knife, you’ll love this 8-inch knife and its cheerful green handle and razor sharp edge. The grip is designed to be comfortable in your hand, making slicing and dicing effortless.
For storage, the knife comes with a sheath to keep it safe.
A utility knife is the one you’ll reach for most often since it’s the medium-sized knife in the block. Micro-serrations make this the perfect knife for cutting difficult produce with tough skins and soft interiors, like tomatoes, while it’s also great for cutting any other fruits, vegetables, and meats with ease. It’s also great for slicing your sandwich into wedges.
This is a well-balanced knife with an ergonomic handle that will reduce hand fatigue during repetitive knife work. When it needs to be resharpened, you can send it back to Kyocera and the manufacturer's facility will sharpen your blade for a small fee. Note that you will have to pay for shipping and handling charges as well.
A slicing knife is designed for, well, slicing. This is the knife you’ll turn to when you need to carve a roast. The long, thin blade slices easily through large boneless meats, whether you have a turkey breast or a beef roast, and whether you want thick or paper-thin slices.
This blade is break-resistant during normal use but can break or chip if dropped on a hard surface, and the handle is designed to be ergonomic and easy to use.
If you want to have only one large knife in your kitchen, this multipurpose knife is the one you’re looking for. It has an 8-inch blade and can slice, dice, mince, and chop. The sharp edge is laser tested and ground to a precise angle for the best performance. The handle is made from a proprietary material that is slip-resistant and comfortable to hold.
This knife is made in Switzerland by the same folks who make Swiss Army Knives. It isn’t the prettiest knife you’ll ever see, but it’s sturdy and well made, and the price is very reasonable, so it’s great for someone setting up a new kitchen when the budget is tight.
Trying to slice a loaf of freshly baked bread with a standard knife can result in a squished and mangled loaf, a torn crust, and uneven slices. A bread knife, like this one from Wüsthof, is designed to bite into the tough crust, saw through it, and then continue cutting the soft interior without ripping it. Even if home-baked bread isn’t often on the menu, this knife is great for store-bought French bread, for evening out cake layers, and for slicing bagels.
While it’s built for bread, the serrations also make it useful for slicing ham and other roasts. This has an 8-inch blade, a comfortable handle, and an affordable price.
A paring knife is ideal for peeling, paring, and other small tasks. This knife has a soft-grip handle that’s easy to hold onto, and it’s comfortable enough to use for long periods of time.
While this is an inexpensive knife, it has a full tang and a large bolster for a safe, sturdy grip. If there’s any knife that makes sense to have more than one in the kitchen, this is it. It’s nice to have a spare for those times when you’re switching tasks or when you have helpers in the kitchen.
A santoku knife can perform the same tasks as a chef’s knife, but because of the flat cutting edge, the movement used when cutting is different that when handling a typical chef’s knife with a more curved blade edge.
This knife has a Granton edge, which means it has shallow divots just above the cutting edge. These divots reduce friction when cutting and help keep food from sticking to the knife blade. Since a santoku performs many of the same tasks as a chef’s knife, you might prefer one over the other—or you might decide that you like one knife style for some tasks, and a different style for other tasks.