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Carbon Versus Stainless

Mac Knives

Carbon Steel versus Stainless Steel

The great debate rages on. Carbon steel advocates claim that their knives take a keener edge, hold it longer and are easier to resharpen than stainless steel knives. Stainless steel users claim that carbon steel knives are unsanitary, leave an off taste in foods and that stainless knives hold an edge longer than their carbon counterparts.

Who’s right? Depends on your definitions and your environment. It’s not as simple as carbon versus stainless.

Carbon steels range from simple iron/carbon combinations to high-alloy tool steels that will cut through concrete without losing their edge. Stainless steels vary from very soft, extremely stain resistant dive knives to super stainless alloys, like Crucible Particle Metals’ S30V, a steel purpose-designed for the custom cutlery industry.

In the far less demanding realm of the kitchen, however, the carbon steel devotees are right. At least until they actually have to use their knives. Then it’s a different story.

Carbon steel kitchen knives generally are a little harder and stronger than stainless steel kitchen knives. They are easy to sharpen and take a screaming edge. And while the patina that develops on a carbon knife can be unsightly (unless you like that sort of thing), it isn’t unsanitary.

But in the wet, acidic environment of the kitchen, stainless rules. For all their faults, compromises and shortcomings, stainless steel kitchen knives work better and will hold their edges longer than carbon steel knives.

Doesn’t make sense, does it?

The culprit is corrosion – the effect of acid and micro-rusting. Even on what appears to be a mirror-bright, razor sharp edge, microscopic particles of rust and corrosion will form, attacking the edge and reducing its performance. Unless carbon steel knives are rinsed and dried frequently, their edges will degrade rapidly in kitchen use. The stainless edge will easily outlast them.

According to chef and knife maker Thomas Haslinger, “Acids of fruit and vegetables are fairly aggressive and will dull a carbon blade more quickly than stainless. The acid actually eats the edge.” 

Source: Mac Knives

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