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Old 05-19-2008, 07:33 PM   #1
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What's the Deal With Carbon Steel?

Hello-- fellow chefs, cooks, and culinary aficionados. I am interested in the hardness and edge retention of carbon steel knives as compared to stainless steel and/or the new powdered alloys available. I'm looking for a chef knife that may not necessarily look as pretty as stainless, but will hold an edge longer, --if that is indeed a quality of carbon steel.

While recently visiting the Northwestern Cutlery here in Chicago, I asked a salesperson about the hardness issue, and didn't really understand the answer; "it starts out harder than stainless steel, but eventually becomes softer." (what?!)

What are your opinions on the matter? Thanks!

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Old 05-19-2008, 08:28 PM   #2
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I prefer carbon steel knives because I can get a better and sharper edge on them.
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Old 05-19-2008, 09:20 PM   #3
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stainless steel is a carbon steel with chrome and nickel added. It is easier to put an edge on carbon steel. Good knife quality stainless is very sharpenable with the right tools. Get a diamond hone for one, and either take your knives for professional sharpening or learn to do it yourself.

A carbon blade will rust if not cleaned and oiled after each use. It can leave a taste behind on some raw vegetables.

I grew up on carbon steel and never had a problem. Have several pans of the same material and nothing sears and browns like it!
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Old 05-19-2008, 09:42 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CookNow View Post
While recently visiting the Northwestern Cutlery here in Chicago, I asked a salesperson about the hardness issue, and didn't really understand the answer; "it starts out harder than stainless steel, but eventually becomes softer." (what?!)

What are your opinions on the matter? Thanks!
What a joke. There is nothing "softer" than the brain of that salesperson.

First read a couple things:
This, and this. These will give you a very good background on steels and their uses.

Carbon steel, basically the best. It sharpens easily and properly tempered retains the edge for a long time.

Stainless steel; There are some that are excellent for knives. Caveat - most consumer SS kitchen cutlery is made of inferior steel. These are the ones you probably use in your kitchen.

You mentioned powdered steels. These include SG-2, Cowry-X, and ZDP-189. They make for absolutely terrific blades but are very difficult to sharpen. I consider them out of bounds unless you're a knife (and high performance sharpening) addict like myself.

Read the two reference FAQs above and start asking questions. I can provide numerous references and recommendations for both carbon and "the good" stainless steel knives.

Buzz
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Old 05-20-2008, 11:02 AM   #5
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Hehe, steel softening. Because, as we all know, steel rots.

Buzz is right. Don't take that salesperson's info seriously.

It's also worth noting, it seems like there are few carbon steel knives out there anymore. Old Hickory is the only brand that jumps to mind as a mass-producer of the type. Short of custom made and traditional knives, stainless appears to rule the roost of knife blade metals.
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Old 05-20-2008, 11:15 AM   #6
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Sabatier makes knives now out of recycled carbon steel.

Dexter Russell still makes carbon steel knives right here in the USA and they sell for reasonable prices. They are more difficult to find, but a diligent search of restaurant supply stores will lead you to the right place.
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Old 05-21-2008, 02:54 PM   #7
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Buzz, thanks for the links to all the great information! I should let you know that I recently purchased an 8" chef knife from Friederich Dick; the 1905 design. As a stainless steel knife it is working much better than the Calphalon blade I was using, but after having done all the research on carbon steel knives, I'm still curious to try out a Sabatier or similar as well.

Years before I got married, I had (what I NOW realize) was a carbon steel "slicer" in my drawer of banged-up kitchen knives. That blade was always eerily sharper (used a Lansky sharpening system on it) than every other blade in my limited arsenal at the time. Even though it was knicked up and darkened by staining, it just "felt" better to carve with, and stayed sharper longer than every other knife I owned at the time.

Which Sabatier brand knives do you recommend? There are about 4 different companies claiming that name and/or original heritage; it seems like most folks tend to favor the "elephant logo" version from what I've read.
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Old 05-21-2008, 04:17 PM   #8
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Which Sabatier brand knives do you recommend? There are about 4 different companies claiming that name and/or original heritage; it seems like most folks tend to favor the "elephant logo" version from what I've read.
Sabatier, hmmmmmm... ya mean like this? That bad boy on the bottom left and top right is eleven inches.

Caveat: I am prejudiced where Sabatiers are concerned. The only ones I buy and sell are Thiers-Issard Four Star Elephant carbons. Why T-I? Here's a blurb I posted to add a little hype to some of my ebay listings. There's a lot more to it but I didn't want to overload the bidders. Here's the deal, I purchased a large quantity of Nogent handled Sabs from this guy, the sole importer. The reference does not take you to the nogent page, rather the knives I would buy for myself if I were in the market for a NEW one. Personally, I like the old ones, WWII era stuff.

That might be enough to produce a couple of questions so fire away.
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Old 05-21-2008, 05:23 PM   #9
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I have many WWII to 1970s era Sabatier carbon steel knives.

And you know how much I love mine!
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Old 05-21-2008, 09:22 PM   #10
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I only have a few standards for the steel I use in the kitchen.

That the iron be mined from an untouched vein of ore under the precise point of earth's magnetic north. Forged in the heat of flowing magma from the earth's core by the hand of Hatori Hanzo himself.... folded and beaten into 33,000 layers, one layer for each prayer said over the blade. Quenched in the sub-freezing run off of a virgin iceburg, frozen in antiquity under conditions of absolute geologic integrity.
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