Ceramic knives are all the rage these days, and for good reason. They are light, they stay sharp quite literally forever, and they’re relatively inexpensive. For years, Kyocera was pretty much the only game in town when it came to selling ceramic knives, but no longer – now, ceramic knives are absolutely everywhere.
In the first half of this article I answer some of the most commonly asked questions about ceramic knives, like how to care for them, if they can be sharpened (spoiler, yes, they can), potential downsides and how ceramic knives compare to traditional steel blades. Then, after listing the absolute best ceramic knife sets on the market, I go into more detail on how to care for those knives, and even how to sharpen them.
What’s so great about ceramic knives?
Ceramic knives stay sharp much longer than traditional knives, owing to their hardness. Ceramic is also far more resistant to contamination, and virtually immune to rust.
Sharpness and immunity to rust are without a doubt the key advantages to ceramic knives, and the two biggest reasons why most people invest in them. Ceramics can be up to 50% harder than even the toughest steels, and this hardness (what we would typically measure using the Rockwell Hardness Scale for steel) helps these knives retain an edge for up to 10x longer than traditional knives.
Ceramic is also chemically inert – meaning no harmful additives ever come into contact with your food. Ceramic surfaces are also highly resistant to bacteria, and are impervious to acids, oils and salts, which makes cleaning up a breeze.
And of course, ceramic doesn’t rust. I am always incredibly vigilant about immediately drying my steel knives after washing in order to prevent rust and/or discoloration, and that’s just unnecessary when it comes to ceramic knives. Most of these knives are even dishwasher safe!
There is one last advantage to ceramic knives that often draws people in, and that’s their weight. Ceramic knives are far lighter than most traditional, steel knives, and that makes big jobs and prep work a lot easier, especially if you envision yourself chopping for a long time.
While lightweight knives are not for everyone – or even all jobs – they definitely have their place in the kitchen, and ceramic knives offer a weightless quality without being overly flimsy or fragile. The lightweight feel does take some getting used to, especially if you’re used to wielding heavy German knives, but once you get comfortable with the feel, ceramic knives are absolute game changers.
Can you sharpen a ceramic knife?
Ceramic knives can be sharpened, but they require greater precision and patience as compared to traditional steel knives in order to achieve a razor sharp edge. Ceramic knives are extremely hard, and prone to what could be called “microchipping” if not sharpened properly. In fact, improper sharpening technique will actually dull, rather than sharpen a ceramic knife.
Most traditional whetstones and diamond stones can be used to bring the ceramic edge to a very fine apex, but that apex will be riddled with microscopic chips. If you attempt to sharpen a ceramic knife as you would a normal knife, you may find that your knife seems to be getting duller.
The problem is the whetstone, and the fact that it was designed for steel. After using ceramic on a normal whetstone, you could actually run your finger along the edge (carefully!) and feel those microchips. This is because unless you use an extremely fine diamond stone, whetstones will simply remove ceramic material in small chunks, rather than uniformly.
It is possible to get a razor sharp edge on your ceramic knife with diamond stones – either by using a sharpening jig and diamond films of 80 to 0.5 microns or using a belt sharpener with a fine (three to one micron) diamond paste – but so few of us have this kind of equipment, not to mention the experience and skill.
Thankfully, Kyocera (the maker of the finest ceramic knives around, and at the top of this list of best ceramic knife sets) makes their own electric ceramic knife sharpener that takes all the required skill and guesswork out of the sharpening process. And while this method works, it will take slightly longer than you might think, so have patience!
The good news? Because ceramic knives are so hard and take so long to dull, you won’t have to worry about sharpening them that often.
Ceramic versus steel knives – which is better?
The critical factors to consider when comparing ceramic and steel knives are sharpness, ability to retain an edge, difficulty to sharpen and an ability to withstand stress, or brittleness. While ceramic knives may land ahead in some of these categories, they unequivocally fall behind in others.
Let’s start with sharpness and ability to retain an edge. When we talk about sharpness, we’re really talking about sharpness right out of the box and sharpness after a few weeks of use. This latter measure is actually far more important, because it’s easy to get any old knife super sharp, put it in a box and sell it, but maintaining that sharp edge is a whole different beast.
Ceramic is exceptionally hard. Kyocera, for example, markets their ceramic knives as up to 50% harder than even the hardest steels. And while ceramic doesn’t get a rating on the Rockwell Hardness Scale (the hardest mainstream steel knives are usually around 60 – 62), you can imagine that equating to approximately 90+/- HRC.
This degree of hardness allows for exceptional edge retention. Ceramic knives will stay sharp for a very long time. That said, material of this hardness is also exceptionally brittle, which makes ceramic prone to chipping. This is one of those trade offs, similar to one you might find when comparing super hard Japanese steel blades.
Unfortunately, ceramic is a tad bit harder to sharpen than even the hardest steel knife, and that’s simply because ceramic does not wear down in the same way that steel does. When you use a steel knife, the edge will slowly blunt and fold with use, and that microscopic V at the knife’s edge starts to look more like a U.
With ceramic though, as it wears down it doesn’t blunt or fold, but rather accumulates a series of microchips along the blade edge as small pieces begin to flake off.
The way a blade wears down will actually tell you a lot about how easy or hard it is to sharpen. For example, the material in steel blades that slowly blunts still holds its overall integrity – the molecules that compose the steel want to stick together – and that makes it easier to sharpen.
Remember, when you sharpen a blade, you’re scraping away material at the knife edge to reveal new material and create a new apex. If you can remove that material uniformly, producing a sharp edge is no problem. But as I’ve said, ceramic doesn’t wear uniformly – rather, it flakes. And this is what makes ceramic so difficult to sharpen, but more on this below.
Finally – and as you might have surmised by now, all of these categories are related – we want to consider a knife’s brittleness and ability to withstand stress. Ceramic knives are, simply put, more brittle than most steel knives. That said, I don’t see this as a huge downside.
I own some Japanese knives – a Shun 8” Chef’s Knife for example – that are incredibly hard and quite brittle. But I know to take care of these blades by keeping them in a knife block or sheathed when not in use. I also know to never use these blades on frozen foods or bones.
The truth is, no blade can do everything, and knowing what you can do and what you can’t do with a knife is the best way to ensure it has a long, happy life. So ceramic knives are brittle, yes. All that means is that you should treat them more like those fancy Japanese knives, and save the frozen foods for something else.
What are the downsides to ceramic knives?
Of course, no kitchen tool is perfect across the board, and ceramic knives do have a few downsides. To be clear, I want to cover these limitations not to dissuade you from ceramic knives, but rather, to better illustrate their proper use and place in the kitchen.
As I’ve already mentioned, ceramic knives are super hard, and it’s that extreme hardness that helps it keep an edge for so long. While hardness is great for maintaining an edge, it can also make knives stiff and brittle.
This is actually a similar limitation that you start to see in Japanese knives with extremely high Rockwell Hardness ratings. The knives can be sharpened to an absurdly acute edge, and retain that edge, but they are brittle and prone to chipping.
This is also the case with ceramic, and for that reason, I highly advise against using ceramic on frozen foods or anything with bone. The ceramic blade will glide through meat, but as soon as you get to that bone you risk damaging your knife.
Ceramic blades are also quite stiff, which may affect cutting style. These knives are fantastic for slicing vegetables – there is a reason why ceramic is a favorite among vegetarians – and should really be used the same way you might use a slicing or santoku blade.
The other downside to ceramic is the weight issue. Of course, this is more of a subjective issue, since a lightweight blade is perfectly fine and even desirable in certain circumstances. But for those of us who prefer a little heft when handling a blade, ceramic may leave you feeling slightly unsatisfied.
Here are the 5 best ceramic knife sets on the market:
Kyocera leads the industry and is an obvious choice if you want to get serious about ceramic – they make the absolute best ceramic knives on the market.
Kyocera is basically the brand when it comes to ceramic knives, and obviously at the top of our list for best ceramic knife sets on the market. Developed and manufactured in Japan, Kyocera is really the industry standard and benchmark for high quality ceramic knives – they’ve been doing it since 1984.
There are a number of factors that make these knives great, but before getting to those, let’s first get a sense of what comes in this set. So, what’s included? With the Kyocera Advanced Ceramics Revolution Series 3-PIece set, you’ll get:
- An all-purpose 6 inch chef’s knife.
- A serrated 5 inch tomato knife.
- A compact, 3 inch paring knife.
These three knives basically have you covered for all of your slicing and vegetable prep needs. As I’ve mentioned before, you can’t really use ceramics for hard materials like frozen foods or bone, which is why you won’t see a butcher knife in any of the sets on this list.
And in fact, it’s telling that the chef’s knife is more of a santoku shape, rather than having a western-style curve. This is because ceramics are really designed to slice, rather than chop. These blades should be pulled or pushed across food items, rather than chomp down directly on them.
These blades are incredibly sharp, and that’s thanks to their unprecedented hardness. Kyocera claims that their ceramic knives are up to 50% harder than the hardest steels on the market, and given the fact that the hardest steels come in at around 60 – 62 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale, that means that these ceramic knives would be the equivalent of about 90 HRC.
I wish this set came with knife sheaths though, because the extreme hardness also makes these knives relatively brittle. You’ll want to either buy sheaths separately, or keep these knives in a block. I would also advise against using ceramic knives on a ceramic and/or glass cutting board, as this will probably lead to chipping.
Given their hardness and superior manufacturing process, Kyocera knives hold an edge forever – they really will stay sharp for a really long time, so long as they are utilized properly. And that’s good, because ceramic knives are notoriously difficult to sharpen (see above).
When your knife does dull however, my strong recommendation is to use the Kyocera electric sharpener for returning that out of the box edge, rather than trying to go it alone. You’ll be happy you did!
Vos is another great company making high quality ceramic knives. They’ve gotten quite a bit of press lately as well – appearing on primetime television and in places like USA Today – so you might already be familiar with the Vos name.
How about a quick overview of what comes in this set before diving into specifics. With the Vos 4 Piece Ceramic Knife set you get:
- An all-purpose 6 inch chef’s knife.
- A 5 inch utility knife.
- A 4 inch paring knife.
- A 3 inch multi-purpose knife.
- A protective, vertical knife block.
I like this set quite a bit as a value option. You’re basically getting each knife at about $10 each, and actually less than that when you consider they throw in a knife block. That’s a fantastic price for ceramic of this quality – it is, by the way, zirconia, just like Kyocera. And like Kyocera, these knives are super hard and ultra-sharp.
I’ve covered the basics of ceramic knives above, and for that reason won’t get into the nitty gritty of pros and cons with respect to a super hard ceramic blade. All I’ll say here is that I’m really appreciative of the knife holder, since it keeps these blades well protected while on display. All ceramic knives should be protected with a sheath at the very least, so this block is perfect.
This set also comes in a pretty decent looking gift box, which makes it a pretty good gift option for a friend, coworker or someone in the family. These are small but important details, and worth knowing about.
On the downside, I don’t love that the handles are made from some sort of plastic polymer, and am even less thrilled with the fact that the blade tang does not extend through the full length of the handle. I’ve always found handles like this difficult to get clean, though according to Vos, these are perfectly safe in the dishwasher.
At the end of the day though, four quality, zirconia knives and a knife block for under $40 is a great deal, which is why this set wins on best value for your money.
These Takiup knives are of a surprisingly high caliber relative to the price tag – which is kind of a steal – and customers love them. Like other ceramic knives on this list, the blades are made from zirconium oxide, which carries a number of advantages like extreme hardness and resistance to rust and food contaminants.
But again, before going into detail on this item, let’s start with an overview of what comes in the set. With the Takiup 6 Piece Ceramic Knife set you get:
- A 6 inch chef’s knife.
- A 6 inch serrated bread knife.
- A 5 inch slicing knife.
- A 4 inch utility knife.
- A 3 inch paring knife.
- A peeler
That’s quite the set, and let’s not forget that all of these knives come with their own color coded protective sheaths. In the absence of a knife block, sheaths are the way to go when it comes to maintaining delicate ceramic edges.
And while the bright colors are definitely not for everyone, they do serve a purpose. According to Takium “color coding reduces the risk of cross-use during food preparation.”
But what really excites me about this set is the fact that it comes with both a serrated bread knife and a peeler. When I think about stocking a kitchen with knives, I always include a chef’s knife and a small paring and/or utility knife, but having a serrated edge knife is just as important.
The 6” serrated blade that comes in this set is great not only for bread, but for softer, delicate foods like tomatoes, kiwis and persimmons. And regular steel peelers typically dull very quickly, so the prospect of using a ceramic peeler that will stay sharp for longer is very appealing.
Finally, these knives come with a 100% satisfaction or your money back guarantee. Offering this kind of customer reassurance is so smart, especially on a product like ceramic that will be new to so many. With the money back guarantee, high ratings and low price, this set is a no brainer.
This three piece ceramic knife set by Wacool is another great option that sells at a reasonable price. Plus, when you go this route, you’ve got options. Let me explain.
Basically, depending on whether you select the black knife set, the colorful knife set or the set with a bread knife, you get:
- 6 inch chef’s knife.
- 5 inch utility knife -OR- 6 inch bread knife.
- 4 inch paring knife.
So while the black and colorful sets come with a 6” chef’s knife, a 5” utility knife and a 4” paring knife, the third option substitutes out the 5” utility knife in favor of a 6” bread knife. The decision is yours, but I actually like this option quite a bit.
The 5” and 4” paring/utility knives are pretty comparable, and in my opinion there is no reason to have both. That’s why if it were me, I would definitely go for the bread knife, given the option. It seems like a no brainer to let one of those redundant utility knives go in favor of a serrated blade.
Wacool uses a forging process called “Cold Isostatic Pressing” (CIP) to create these blades, which are made from the highest quality zirconia. The process results in an ultra hard knife that can retain an edge for up to 15x longer than normal steel knives.
That hard material makes these knives brittle – just like most ceramic blades – which is why it’s nice that the set comes with three matching sheaths to protect those edges while not in use.
As long as you store these knives safely, use them on soft foods only and on a wooden cutting board, they should stay sharp forever.
I have been a big fan of Farberware for a very long time. In fact, I have some vintage Farberware saucepans that you’ll have to pry from my cold dead fingers. They are a fantastic company, and known to make exceptionally high quality, yet affordable kitchen products.
Farberware has been in the knife game for some time, and seem to be dipping their toes into ceramics with this simple, two piece set. By the way, I know that it’s advertised as a four piece set, but that’s because they’re counting sheaths…a little tricky, right?
So let’s clear things up and list exactly what you get when you buy this ceramic knife set from Farberware. Inside, you’ll find:
- 5 inch santoku knife (with matching sheath)
- 3 inch paring knife (with matching sheath)
Like other sets on this list, Farberware is offering a santoku-style all purpose knife, rather than a standard, western-style chef’s knife. And this makes so much sense, because santokus are really meant for slicing, rather than chopping, and that’s certainly the forte of most ceramic knives.
I also like the simplicity of this set. While I wish the santoku knife was slightly larger (maybe six or even seven inches), it’s definitely more than sufficient for most vegetable preparation. The paring knife is also the perfect size for getting in there on more delicate, precision-focused jobs.
The set is dishwasher safe (top rack only) and will last a long time as long as it’s stored properly. The handles are ergonomic and non-slip, though seem to be made from some sort of polymer, which I don’t particularly care for. But really, that’s the case with almost all ceramic knives, so there is no reason to ding Farberware in particular for that alone.
Farberware quality, with sheaths, for under $20 bucks – what’s not to love?
How to care for ceramic knives
Ceramic knives should be treated with care, as their super hard composition makes them prone to chipping. Most ceramic knives come with a plastic sheath, and if they don’t I would definitely consider investing in one, or using a knife block.
In order to avoid chips and cracks, avoid the following:
- DO NOT use a ceramic knife on frozen foods or food with bones.
- DO NOT use a ceramic knife on a glass or ceramic cutting board.
- DO NOT drop your knife on the floor (duh).
- DO NOT store your ceramic knife, unprotected, in a drawer with other knives.
You’ll notice that I didn’t mention dishwashers here, and that was deliberate. Now, I generally recommend not dishwashing knives, and that’s because dishwashers tend to dull a knife blade faster than it normally would.
But given the hardness of ceramic, that’s simply not the case with dishwashers. The risk of chipping in the dishwasher is extremely low, unless of course the knife is shoved in with a bunch of other knives, and obviously, there is no danger of rust.
So in my opinion, dishwashers are completely fine for ceramic knives. That said, if you choose not to, feel free to handwash your ceramic knives. But again, don’t even worry about drying them as you would a steel blade, it won’t make a lick of difference.
How to sharpen a ceramic knife
Unless you’ve got professional knife sharpening experience, the best way to sharpen a ceramic knife is with an electric sharpener made specifically for ceramics. Kyocera has a great model, and one that I would strongly urge you to consider if you’re thinking of purchasing ceramic knives.
This Kyocera Advanced Ceramic Electric Diamond knife sharpener is extremely easy to use, and features a #600 grade diamond grinding stone, capable of taking up to .5mm of material off your blade. Very little skill is required to operate, as the knife guide slots keep the blade at a fixed angle.
The electric sharpener is battery powered (it takes four AA batteries), and has a safety cover and assist roller (to prevent oversharpening) that makes sharpening a ceramic blade basically foolproof. Operating the sharpener is simple:
- STEP ONE – With the Kyocera sharpener sitting squarely on the counter, grip the machine with your left hand, such that the on/off button is on the left and the sharpening grooves are on the right. Using your thumb to depress the button, turn the sharpener on. With this particular sharpener, you’ll need to keep the button pressed when in use. When you release your thumb, the sharpener will turn off. This seems to be a safety feature, but since you’ll want to secure the sharpener with your left hand anyway, it isn’t a big deal.
- STEP TWO – With your ceramic knife in your right hand, gently place the blade in the left groove (there are two, and you will use both) and beginning with the heel of the knife, gently pull the blade forward, all the way to the tip. You will want to press every so gently here, really letting the stone do the work. The motor isn’t super powerful, and if you press down too hard you risk stopping the wheel. Worse, pressing too hard might result in more chips to your blade.
- STEP THREE – After you’ve completed one pass on the left groove, place the knife in the right groove, and again, gently pull the knife from heel to tip.
- STEP FOUR – Repeat this process up to half a dozen times on each side before testing your blade for sharpness. You can use a sheet of paper or newspaper, or simply test your knife on some vegetables.
- STEP FIVE – If you think your knife could be sharper, simply repeat the process above until you achieve the desired edge. Remember, ceramic is a super hard material, and it will take longer to shave the edge down than on typical steel knives. But have patience! It will work!