March 5

Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel Knives: A Review for Chefs 


Steelport Knife Co.’s Bladesmith Breaks Down the Differences Between Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel in a Guide for Chefs.

Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a cook just starting in a culinary kitchen—one thing is the same: a quality knife that fits your work environment and style will make your life much easier. 

There’s a lot to think about as you start your quest to find the perfect tool for your trade: style, size, weight, comfort, balance, and personal goals. 

To keep it simple, we will focus this article on an essential knife characteristic you should consider: steel.

You’ve likely heard your colleagues and friends express a preference for carbon or stainless steel. With all the noise, narrowing down which would be best for you can be tricky. 

To give you one more point of view, we asked STEELPORT Knife Co.’s Bladesmith and Co-Founder, Eytan Zias, a former chef with 30 years of experience sharpening, selling, and making kitchen knives, to break down the differences between the two types of steel. 

What is the difference between Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel?

“All steel, by definition, contains carbon—so it’s important to note that we are not talking about the lack of carbon, but rather the addition of chromium,” explained Zias. “Stain-resistant steels will have at least 10% chromium.”  

Chromium is added to steel to protect against corrosion. It’s important to note that what we call “stainless steel” is really just stain-resistant. Zias shared that actual stainless steel is not used to forge knives because it’s not hardenable. 

When asked about the benefits and advantages of each type of steel knife, Zias said it comes down to your preference for performance versus convenience. 

“Carbon Steel knives will sharpen better and faster than their stainless steel counterparts but require more careful cleaning,” Zias explained. “Stainless Steel knives will require less cleaning and will hold up better to abuse, but will generally not get as sharp or stay sharp as well.” 

Carbon steel knives will hold their edge longer than stainless steel knives, making them a safer option. Once a knife becomes dull, it’s more likely to slip while slicing and chopping. Remember that all knives must be sharpened occasionally, regardless of their steel type or quality. 

Are Carbon Steel or Stainless Steel Knives Better?

Zias pointed out that knives are tools; there really is no wrong or right answer as to which type of knife is better for culinary professionals. When shopping for the best knife, you should consider your work environment and habits.

“I personally feel that if you’re the type of professional who owns and cares for your own tools, then you will appreciate what carbon steel can do for you,” Zias said. “If you work in a ‘turn and burn’ type of kitchen, one with shared knives, or you have no interest in sharpening, then stainless is a better choice.”

Other considerations worth investigating are your style preferences.

“The best knives are usually forged and hand-made, and therefore will usually be carbon steel since that is the traditional material that lends itself to this process,” Zias said. “Most ‘hand-made’ stainless steel knives are simply stamped out of a flat sheet of metal since the material cannot be forged in the same way as carbon steel.”

Depending on the style of knives you’re drawn to, carbon steel might be the only option. Zias shared that traditional Japanese single-bevel knives like Yanagiva and Deba only use carbon steel because of the type of edge and sharpening methods required.

How to Take Care of Carbon and Stainless Steel Knives

Of course, care is a significant factor in determining what type of steel you want to handle.

“All knives should be treated the same: wash and dry immediately after use. Absolutely no knife is dishwasher safe, and stainless means ‘stain-less,’ not ‘stain-proof,’” Zias said. “Carbon steel may rust if neglected, e.g., left dirty or put away wet. Carbon steel will also develop a patina discoloration over time, which is healthy for the steel and gives each knife a unique heirloom look.”

Keeping your knives from getting dull is essential for your safety and the lifeline of your tool.

According to an article posted by STEELPORT Knife Co., “The only thing which ages a knife is steel removal—meaning a 100 year old knife that has been sharpened 1 time is in better shape than a 1 year old knife that has been sharpened 100 times.”

The experts at STEELPORT Knife Co. suggest honing your edge while it’s still sharp to avoid sharpening for as long as possible. Aggressive sharpening methods like stones or draw-through sharpening gadgets can leave a poor edge.

They suggest using ceramic honing rods, leather benches, or paddle strops to maintain that sharpness.

A Little Bit About STEELPORT Knife Co.

STEELPORT Knife Co. is headquartered in Portland, Oregon, and was co-founded by Eytan Zias and Ron Khormaei to reintroduce the public to American-forged carbon steel knives.

“We chose carbon steel (specifically 52100 steel) since it has all the best attributes we are looking for in a blade: forgeability, hardness, toughness, and edge retention,” Zias shared. “Using carbon steel is the only way we can produce a blade this hard (an unmatched 65HRC, which is even harder than the vast majority of Japanese knives) and still have a tough blade which is easy to sharpen.”

They are also the only widely available company forging integral carbon steel chef knives in the U.S. using all American-sourced materials—from their steel to their local Oregon maple Burl contoured handles to their paper boxes.

Each STEELPORT knife is handcrafted by a small team in Portland, Oregon, with a lifetime warranty and free sharpening for life.

Their knives are genuinely heirloom pieces, and Zias, having worked in kitchens for years, makes each knife with Chefs in mind.

So, if you’re leaning toward the carbon steel variety and want to invest in a culinary tool that will last a lifetime (with proper care), check out STEELPORT Knife Co.


About the author

Ashley McNally likes to cook, loves to bake, and is always dreaming of her next meal. With over 13 years of experience working in various roles within a restaurant — McNally has made a home in hospitality.

About the author

Ashley McNally likes to cook, loves to bake, and is always dreaming of her next meal. With over 13 years of experience working in various roles within a restaurant — McNally has made a home in hospitality.