Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >
Feb 28, 2010 07:40 PM

So where does one buy (non stainless) steel knives?

This is so dorky, but:

I saw Julie and Julia a few weeks ago, and something was mentioned about regular steel knives being far superior to stainless, and then I just read the little last page interview in Bon Appetit with Stanley Tucci where he mentioned the same thing. He said using regular steel vs. stainless was one of the big things he took away from being in the movie, and that he bought his knives in France.

This makes sense - my dad's carbide steel Case pocket knife is much better than my stainless one. Sure, it has to be looked after a little more, but it gets MUCH sharper.

I want one of these knives to check out, probably a 8" to 10" chef's knife. If anybody can point me in the right direction, it'd be much appreciated.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. There are many outlets to buy knives. Some of the best deals are online, but I would recommend handling one before you purchase. That requires you find a retail outlet. Vendors such as Sur Le Table, Williams Sonoma, etc. should carry an adequate supply for you to try out. You want a knife that fits your hand, that's comfortable and the correct weight for you. Don't discount certain alloys that contain a combination of stainless, chrome and carbon steel. Many will argue that the best knives are Japanese. Manufacturers such as MAC, Global, Shun, Tojiro, etc. use alloys that hold an excellent edge. These will typically be lighter than a traditional German or French style knife. A properly sharpened knife can hold its edge for quite a long time and only need periodic realigning with a steel. Messermeister is an excellent manufacturer IMO. I own an 8" chefs knife that I love. It's an alloy, but doesn't contain any stainless steel. I also own Forschner knives that I find to be an excellent value; most do not contain stainless. Shop around at the locations I mentioned above or at some of the high end department stores locally. I can't stress how important it is for you to 'try out' a knife before buying.

    1. Most quality knives are made of high carbon steel instead of SS.
      You can find them at any of the higher end kitchen stores like SurLaTable, or William Sonoma. The sales people in these stores can tell you the differances between the knives, and on occasion, they will have something you can cut with them, You can find a few quality knives @ bed bath and beyond so you can use there 20% off coupons.

      One of the most important things is how a particular knife feels in your hand, so I would recomend trying several before you buy. A nice knife will be around $100, or you can save a little if you buy a set.

      5 Replies
      1. re: High_Boost

        Thanks to both of y'all for chiming in. This made me realize that the knives I already have (a set of Wusthof Classic) are actually carbon steel, so problem solved :)

        I guess when I read the article I immediately thought of my dad's Case knife (as mentioned before), which could tarnish and/or rust as opposed to typical stainless. It took a little bit more maintenance (oiling, etc), but the edge was really capable of getting razor sharp.

        1. re: popvulture

          Wusthof Classic knives are sold as "high carbon steel" or "high carbon stainless steel." While the high carbon content is an important factor in knife steel, the knife is still considered stainless (having chromium content above 13%). The terms "high carbon steel" and are common marketing tools as companies assume most customers don't know one steel from another. Almost all knives nowadays are made with high-carbon steel (except the cheapest of the cheap, many serrated knives, and various old junk from the 80s and back).

          When a knife nut talks about carbon steel, he/she means steel with a lower chromium content. It will typically stain easily - not like your Wusthof. And yes, they tend to take a finer edge (or at least having an easier time sharpening to that fine edge than a comparably hard stainless knife). In knife nut terms, these knives are carbon steel. All others, including "high-carbon" whatever, are stainless.

          I should note though that there are various stainless steel knives that will take a very sharp edge as well. TaseT mentioned some good ones to look at.

          If you're still interested though, some knives made of actual carbon steel include
          Fujiwara - fairly affordable, fairly nice

          Hiromoto - great steel, cladded in stainless to make for less maintenance.

          Old (or even new) carbon Sabatiers - softer, easily take a great edge but don't hold it as long.

          CCK chinese cleavers - fun, affordable, some people try them and then never go back to the chefs knife shape

          There are many, many others, at various prices and qualities. If you're still interested I can keep rattling them off. But there's nothing wrong with a good stainless steel knife so you might decide you're happy with what you have.

          1. re: cowboyardee


            Stop saying knife nut. It is knife enthusiast :)

            I think the rule is that 0.5% carbon or above is considered high carbon. As you nicely pointed out that almost all stainless steel knives today are made with "high carbon" -- according to this definition. However, I personally go by a different definition. Afterall, if >90% of the knives are "high carbon", the term does not really mean anything anymore. It is almost like saying "this knife has a handle" Really? What knife does not come with a handle?

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              I agree. But I didn't make up or popularize the term. It comes from knife manufacturers who slap the term on knives with no more carbon content than >90% of knives (I guess in order to show they're not made of recycled muffler steel or something) because it helps them sell. My poorly articulated point was that the term is misleading as it is currently used.

              Also, how about "knife nerd?'

              1. re: cowboyardee


                I know you didn't make up that term: "high carbon knife" and I certainly were not blaming you. It is not inaccurate as long as everyone know the definition. Still, it is just a bit out-of-date.

                No, not knife nerd :P

      2. Popvulture,

        There are arguments to be made for both camps. Some believe carbon steel knives are better because carbon steel knives can be hardened to a higher level, which is true in general cases. However, the counter-argument is that carbon steel knives will under micro-corrosion, which will weaken the knife edge. These days with powder steel, stainless steel can be made nearly as hard as any carbon steel. Take Shun powder steel SG-2. It is hardened to 62-64 HRC..

        On the other hand, if you are willing to sharpen, polish and take good care of your knives, then a carbon steel knife is a good choice for a low price.

        If you awant a carbon steel Che'f knife and have the skill to take care of one, then let us know and we will point you to a good source.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Chem - you're right about hardness, and carbon's traditional advantage over stainless, now fading.

          But... the other big factor in favor of carbon that most people leave out is grain structure. Carbon tends to have finer grains and fewer large carbides formed than stainless steels, even at the same hardness, just from the lack of chromium (of course, this still varies by steel and by heat treatment). What this means is mainly that carbon steels will make it easier for you as a sharpener to form a very sharp edge. Take a carbon and a stainless steel at the same rockwell hardness, and most people will have better results sharpening the carbon steel. There are exceptions.

          Powdered (stainless) steels seem to me to perform like carbon in this respect, although the few powdered steel knives I've sharpened have struck me as perhaps more abrasion-resistant than comparably hard hitachi blue or white carbon steel. In my mind, powdered steels seem sort of like a different beast altogether.

          1. re: cowboyardee


            Thanks. I read carbon steel is easier to sharpen to a good edge. I think it is true for many cases. As you accurately pointed out, some stainless steel knives are easier to sharpen than others. I read 420 stainless steel is very easy to sharpen and indeed that was my experience too. It was pretty easy to sharpen my Dexter-Russell knives (420HC), but relatively tougher to sharpen my Wusthof X50CrMoV15 knife. VG-10 also seems easy to sharpen. I have not sharpened powder steel, so I really have no experience on that. Maybe I will get a powder steel knife one day :)

            I read something strange and maybe deeznuts, scubadoo97, you and others can jump in. I read that there is not much of a point to sharpen stainles steel knife above 1000 grits, as oppose to carbon steel, because the stainless steel knife will start to "skate" on the food. By stainless, I am excluding powder steel. It is from "Japanese Kitchen Knives: Essential Techniques and Recipes " 1000 grist seems like a low cutoff. Maybe 2000-3000 grits?

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              This is at least misleading, perhaps plain not true. Easy test - take a fresh razor blade and see if it skates over food.

              More polished edges last longer, are more effortless for most tasks, and leave cleaner cuts. And while it is true that a rough edge will cut tomatos, bread, and the like well with a slicing motion, a highly polished edge will have no problem with these items either. I take my edges up to 10000 grit or 6000 grit, depending on how thorough I'm feeling - in either case a chefs knife will halve a soft tomato in a single stroke under its own weight alone.

              On the other hand, I've heard enough people repeat this claim that I suspect one, several, or all of the following things may be happening.
              1) People aren't very good at sharpening
              2) There may be a "no man's land" from something like 2000-6000 grits (depending on the stone and knife in question) where the edge is polished enough to slide but not yet sharp enough to compensate.
              3) People are trying to polish knives with fairly obtuse edges and then reporting back. These edge are more likely to skate even with good sharpening technique and high polish.
              4) It depends on the cutting technique of the person using a knife. Is there some kind of way to make it skate that I just don't do?
              5) It depends on the knife. There are some knives I've sharpened that just refuse to take a very sharp edge. I'd rather have these knives nice and coarse at the edge because a micro serrated edge certainly cuts better than a crappy polished edge.

              I don't know the exact truth of the matter, but the above statements seem the most likely explanations. I can personally verify that a highly polished edge can have no problem at all with the foods on which skating can be a problem.

        2. and if you want the ones Julia used on her show (at least to the best of my dim recollection) and showed in Mastering the Art...

          I am a fan (of the knives as well as the show and, of course, Julia). and if you enjoyed that movie, check out The Big Night.

          1. The original comment has been removed