A Ceramic Knife

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In certain movies, there’s always a bad guy who thwarts a hero or a town from getting what he, she, or they want but, at the end, learns to love that thing for him or herself. For example, I’d like to cite “Footloose” and “Chocolat,” two movies that I’ve seen but totally forgotten. I do remember that Kevin Bacon wants the town to dance and Juliette Binoche wants the town to eat chocolate, but that Kevin Bacon is challenged by John Lithgow who hates dancing and Juliette Binoche is challenged by Alfred Molina who hates chocolate. Suffice it to say, the heroes win out and in my fantasy version of these movies–fantasy versions because I don’t really remember them–John Lithgow, at the end, sees the error of his ways and starts dancing and Alfred Molina gorges himself on chocolate.

I start my post this way, because I feel like the villain of a movie about knives–a movie in which a hero named SuperChef tries to convince the town to use the sharpest knives possible. I am a double villain because I wrote a chapter in my book about knives and keeping them sharp, I even bought a whetstone, but the truth is my knives really aren’t sharp enough. Which is why, the other day, after work at Food Network, I headed downstairs to the Bowery Kitchen to buy the sharpest knife I could. (I’m a pretty easy villain in the grand scheme of things, I cave pretty quickly under knife guilt….)

I’d read that Tom Colicchio (whose mostly self-taught status still astonishes me) bought a Henckels knife at an early age which he still has. I asked the people at Bowery if they had Henckels knives and they said: “No, we carry mostly Wuhstof.”

I have a Wuhstof knife; a huge, 10-incher that I’ve used for tasks as varied as carving a turkey to cracking a coconut. But as much as I’ve sharpened it and honed it on one of those long metal rods, it never quite glides through vegetables the way I want it to. Sure, I can take it in to be sharpened but it’s a little too big for the kitchen tasks I do most often; I needed a handy knife that’d glide effortlessly through an onion, that’d require minimal sharpening and that’d fit snugly in my hand.

“What’s this ceramic knife?” I asked the woman at Bowery.

“It’s really popular,” she said. “And you never have to sharpen it.”

Never have to sharpen it? That sounded like music to my ears. And as I studied it, I recalled seeing Ming Tsai use this knife on his show.

“Can I return it if I don’t like it?”

“You can exchange it,” said the nice woman.

“Deal,” I said, purchasing the knife for an even $86.65 (with tax).

When I got home, I immediately sped over to Key Foods where I snatched ingredients to make a salad. I also bought a chicken breast which I roasted, Barefoot Contessa style, in the oven (rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, roast at 350 for 45 minutes. Perfection!) I made my signature salad dressing: an egg yolk, mustard and red wine vinegar (I was out of balsamic) whisked with salt and pepper, olive oil slowly whisked in, drip by drip until it emulsifies.

Finally, I set to chopping vegetables. I washed and peeled a hothouse cucumber. I laid it on the board and Jacques Pepin style I curled my fingers, making a wall, and took my new ceramic knife which makes me think of Moby Dick because its whiteness somehow makes it MORE threatening than a normal knife, and sliced.

Friends, this is one of the great pleasures of your cooking life: to slice and chop with an extraordinarily sharp knife. It glides in so effortlessly, you almost don’t realize what’s happening. And before you know it, you’re done:

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The real test with a knife like this is an onion. According to Julia Child (and most chef experts), to prevent yourself from crying when chopping an onion, you just need a really sharp knife. The reason you cry is that a dull blade sends onion spray into your face, a sharp knife minimizes the spray.

And, sure enough, this ceramic knife penetrated the onion so cleanly, so quickly, that it was chopped before my eyes even had a chance to get misty, let alone cry.

Once all my veggies were chopped (and again, chopping with this knife was such a treat), I cut up the cooled/cooked chicken breast, and tossed everything together with the dressing, serving it all with some La Brea Bakery Olive Bread (which I think you may be able to buy at your grocery store like I can at mine; it seems to be everywhere these days).

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Since adopting this ceramic knife, I’ve been blissing over it all week. I chop any and every chance I get. I bought blood oranges the other day for no clear reason and the other night, just because I wanted to, I carved all the skin off and sliced the orange into perfect rounds. This knife is perfect for cutting fruit.

Not so perfect, however, for smashing garlic–a task I attempted to do yesterday when preparing lasagna. Lo and behold, I just read the insert that came with the knife (which is a Kyocera knife, in case you’re curious) and it tells you that this knife is ideal for straight cuts of fruits, vegetables and boneless meats. “Use your conventional steel knives for carving, prying, boning and cutting frozen food and cheese.” It also says: “Avoid turning the blade on its side to smash garlic or other items.”

There you go: a ceramic knife is perfect for cleanly cutting vegetables, but not much else. That’s fine by me: I’d rather have a knife that does a specific task exceptionally well than an all-purpose knife that accomplishes most tasks without any flair. This knife has flair and I love it. My inner John Lithgow/Alfred Molina is vanquished.

37 comments

  1. You’ve got to love ceramic knives. I really want one, but I’m cheap. I should start a savings account just for a ceramic knife.

    The reason your ceramic knife is so spectacular and never needs sharpening is the same reason you can’t use it to smash garlic. There is a very specific crystal structure in the knife, and like most crystal structures, it’s very strong in one direction, and not so strong in another. In other words, if you try to smash garlic with it or bang it around or bend it (yeah, crystals don’t bend), you may shatter your very expensive knife. That would be a tragedy.

    Like I said, I really want one! Thanks for the post!

  2. Thanks for this wonderful review/anecdote about the ceramic knife–I’ve wondered about those. I have a stainless Henckels santoku which has become my favorite knife and I use it for slicing chopping fruits and veggies and slicing cooked meat–works well, but I wonder when I’ll need to sharpen it. The only veggie/fruit thing it isn’t great at is cutting a pumpkin, melon, or squash in half–the blade is so thin I feel like it will break. For that I pull out the big 10″ chef’s knife.

    Another thing the santoku is great at, because the blade is perfectly flat and not curved on the honed edge, is cutting brownies or bars. Instead of dragging a knife through and getting crumbs/icing all over the place, I just slice straight down, then move the knife to the other end of the pan and make a 2nd straight cut that joins the first!

  3. Hooray! Ceramic knives are so fancy. I have the color coded Santoku knives (green for veggies and pink for meat).

  4. I love a sharp knife! I’m trying to break myself away from buying new ones instead of sharpening them (which seems to be a more expensive version of buying more socks intead of just washing them) but maybe this last one will break the cycle. Let us know if it really can go without sharpening.

  5. I love a sharp knife! I’m trying to break myself away from buying new ones instead of sharpening them (which seems to be a more expensive version of buying more socks intead of just washing them) but maybe this last one will break the cycle. Let us know if it really can go without sharpening.

  6. Adam – I want to know whether this knife is still sharp in 6 months. Will you keep us posted?

  7. That is a terrific knife. I’ve had a Kyocera for a year and love it. Just be warned that because it is ceramic, it is brittle. Meaning – don’t smack it against anything or tap the blade on the edge of a pot or bowl.

  8. Adam – I want to know whether this knife is still sharp in 6 months. Will you keep us posted?

  9. Nice! I can’t tell from the photo… is that a 5″ or 7″?

    Also, how resistance is it to chipping and/or shattering? Say you set it into the sink as a funny angle, lose it’s tip, will it?

  10. Dear Adam,

    As I was reading, I thought, “I missed that part!” then,

    “Gee, Footloose would have been a whole hellava lot more interesting if Kevin Bacon had a knife.”

    I think you’re the bees knees. Keep up the great work.

  11. Adam I own five from Kyocera and they have to be sharpened every year- I send them and they send them back at a cost….please do not drop it on the floor cause I guarantee you it will chip…and most definitely you will loose the tip of the knife….

    Do not cut anything hard like a melon in half, use your regular knife

  12. Adam, I know you are a fan of Alton Brown, and you know he frowns on single-purpose kitchen tools. It seems the fragility and lack of versatility of the Kyocera almost makes this a single-purpose tool. Get a sharpener like this:

    http://www.amazon.com/Wusthof-2-Stage-Knife-Sharpener/dp/B0009NMVRI/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=kitchen&qid=1210888616&sr=1-2

    And learn how to use it. Bingo. All of a sudden your steel knives will slice tomatoes like butter. And smash garlic. Your knife steel could do the same thing but it is harder to learn how to use.

  13. Congrats on the sweet knife! My partner works at Kyocera (their cellular division)… I wonder if she can get me some knifey discounts…

  14. You should be using Japanese steel knives. They are nearly as sharp as the cermaic, but they can be sharpened much easier, they don’t break if you drop them, and they stick to a knife rack. I use a 240mm Gyuto by Hiromoto.

  15. My brother gave me a Kyocera ceramic paring knife for Christmas, and I love it… however, I read the entire insert the first day I got it and I’m terrified of dropping it on the (tile) floor or cutting anything too hard that will break it! I use it, wash it, and put it immediately back in the box that it came in to isolate it from anything that could hurt it. But, it is wonderful to cut things like peppers and cucumbers and it really makes cooking even more fun.

  16. Watch out for staining! Cutting beets with your ceramic knife turn your otherwise perfectly opaque knife into a swirl of pink!

    ~Spec

  17. Watch out for staining! Cutting beets with your ceramic knife turn your otherwise perfectly opaque knife into a swirl of pink!

    ~Spec

  18. I have a Kyocera ceramic knife, and a Mac santoku. I use the Kyocera almost exclusively, except for smashing garlic and cutting hard things like melon. I send my Kyocera to Japan every 2 years or so for sharpening. They have a quick turnaround, it costs $10 or $15 just to cover shipping, and last time they even smoothed out a chip I put in the tip. I want a ceramic mezzaluna…

  19. I got the same knife for my birthday this year and quickly decided that it was one of the best additions to my cooking tools EVER! Plus, I just love the versatility of a santoku. Glad to hear you are enjoying yours.

  20. Steel (not stainless) knives will do the same. The way to keep them sharp is to use a sharpening stone regularly, at least weekly and keeping them dry as they will rust and things like lemon juice will corrode them.

    The good news is that usually the cheaper the steel knife the easier it sharpens and should you finally decide to pitch it you’re only out 10 bucks or so.

  21. Adam, thanks for the review of the ceramic knife. I’ve always been curious about them.

    Don’t be afraid of sharpening your metal knives, though. The long steel rod you mentioned is good for keeping a blade sharp but it won’t help an already-dull blade. All you need is a sharpening stone, some water, and 5 minutes. There’s a really good step-by-step walkthrough here.

  22. As was mentioned, ceramic knives can be sharpened and have knicks taken out. Most people I talked to have this done every two to four years. But they usually have to shipped back to the manufacturer for this.

    One advantage of ceramic knives is that you don’t have to worry about the knife’s metal reacting to food.

    But you can’t use it for anything where you will be putting significant pressure on it ( hence no cutting hard cheese).

    good steel knife can be just as sharp. We take ours to a professional sharperner about once a year. I think he charges a buck or two per knife. In between we just use a steel to keep the edge aligned. And they can all cut an onion without making you cry and slice wafer-thin slices out of a tomato.

    You definitely need a 6 or 7 inch “chef” style knife for most tasks. That’s my favorite size for everyday tasks. I’ve had mine nearly 20 years and it is still going strong, although you can see that the blade has gradually changed shape a bit over this time due to sharpening.

  23. As was mentioned, ceramic knives can be sharpened and have knicks taken out. Most people I talked to have this done every two to four years. But they usually have to shipped back to the manufacturer for this.

    One advantage of ceramic knives is that you don’t have to worry about the knife’s metal reacting to food.

    But you can’t use it for anything where you will be putting significant pressure on it ( hence no cutting hard cheese).

    good steel knife can be just as sharp. We take ours to a professional sharperner about once a year. I think he charges a buck or two per knife. In between we just use a steel to keep the edge aligned. And they can all cut an onion without making you cry and slice wafer-thin slices out of a tomato.

    You definitely need a 6 or 7 inch “chef” style knife for most tasks. That’s my favorite size for everyday tasks. I’ve had mine nearly 20 years and it is still going strong, although you can see that the blade has gradually changed shape a bit over this time due to sharpening.

  24. I know exactly what you are saying! My

    brother gave me a Kyocera extremely similar

    to yours and I love it! It makes tasks

    much easier and enjoyable. My only problem

    I have ever had was last week I was chopping

    some extremely hard carrots, and I was

    concerned I would break the knife.

  25. Ah…at first I didn’t think a ceramic knife would end being that sharp. I suppose it’s not good for meats and er…coconuts.

  26. Funny review of the knife. I would just warn that dropping one of those can be dangerous. High enough precipice and shattering. And as you said, it’s not much good for more than slice softer items like veg. End up in trouble if you get it near bone.

    Also a commenter above mentioned using a japanese knife instead. They are great. I’ve a couple and love, adore and worship my MAC knives. But I would never use them on anything that is hard. They are like the ceramics and just can’t handle the heavy and harder items.

    Just keep that wusthof ready for the tough jobs!

  27. I think Kyocera should be encouraged to create a ceramic knife sharpener….Adam considering the amount of people why don’t u put up a petition….i will sign it

    do not even consider sharpening ur ceramic by a regular knife sharpener or steel rod

  28. my husband just bought me a 3 stage knife sharpener for my Sabatiers. Does anyone still have those besides me? I love them and refuse to give them up. A wonderfully sharp steel knife is a dream when boning or butterflying chicken. “Like butter” I do want a nice Sankotu, but worry about the fragility of Ceramic.

  29. You’re right on that a sharp knife is a wonderful thing to have. I’ve never tried ceramic though. Still, I am more the kind of person that wants one knife to do everything well rather than many knives to do everything perfectly.

  30. Great post. The first time I learned about ceramic knife was from Ming Tsai on his TV show.

    As for sharpening knives, my family brings it to a knife shop in Chinatown.

    It is seldom that chefs use ceramic knifes in the industrial kitchen. Anyone know why?

  31. I know exactly what you mean about your Kyocera Ceramic Knife!

    I bought one a few months ago and its great for fruits, vegetables and boneless meats. Plus I don’t have to worry about leaving “metal residue”/reactions (read about this somewhere) in my food after cutting.

    The Kyocera Ceramic Peeler works like a dream too and I also love their Ceramic Grating dish.

    I use my Wusthof chef’s knife for more heavy duty stuff but for smashing garlic or anything else, my favourite knife would be a good ole heavy Chinese cleaver.

    The Wusthof ceramic knife sharpener works well on my Henckels (basic) knives too, which I tend to use more often as they’re cheaper to replace.

    It’s alot cheaper than most knives on the market but get a good quality cleaver and you’ll be smashing garlic and chopping thru bones for many years to come.

  32. I took two of our knives to be professionally sharpened on the weekend (a Henckel and a cheap one for back up). The man did a great job and even spotted a nick in one of the blades that he was able to work out. I was surprised though that he recommended AGAINST using the typical honing steel. Instead, he suggested I use a ceramic one to keep the edge.

  33. Its not as fragile as you think. Here is a link on you tube (called kyocera knife test … if the link does not work). This knife is dropped multiple times, and withstands abuse. Remember its stronger than steel, the strongest substance next to diamond. Key difference … steel is malleable while ceramic is brittle. Ceramics are also lighter making it less useful for heavy duty work like cutting bones. Meat cleaver have the weight/inertia to do so.

    Just got the damascus 5.5″ knife …. edge is simply outstanding.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s26oKM27O_U&feature=related

  34. I was never able to afford Kyocera’s prices and I always found their knives to be too thin, flimsy and awkward designs so I came up with a much better quality, design, price and is Eco Green too http://www.BestCeramicKnife.com mine are much better, thicker, comes in a nice box and is only $25, $45, $55!