Carbon Steel & Food


February 13, 2008, 03:48 AM
Tonight I fixed dinner, including an over-the-top salad, with tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, red/yellow/green bell peppers, and a side dish of cut veg (celery, carrots).

All the cutting was done with a large carbon steel sodbuster (Böker, Tree Brand, Argentina).

The only thing I did to the blade before (and during, actually) the prep work was address the edge to make it a bit sharper than the factory edge. The second attempt did the trick (diamond steel), and I got a very acceptable edge that did not need further attention.


Early on, and especially with the more acid foods (like tomatoes), there was a distinct metallic "tang" in the air. You could smell the reaction of the acids with the steel of the blade.

By the time I had finished prepping dinner, the blade had a pronounced patina over the whole surface. Having worked with carbon steel blades before, the patina thing is expected, so no surprise there.

What I wonder, though, is that, with carbon steel, is there something that should be done with the blade prior to such an exercise (like an oil wipe with veg oil) to reduce the reaction and associated smell, which I presume also translates to a certain amount of taste transfer to the food.

It's been years (okay, decades) since I used a brand new carbon steel blade in the kitchen, and any knowledge I might ever have had about pre-conditioning or treating the blade prior to use has faded from memory.

So . . .

Those of you who use carbon steel regularly . . .

. . . what can you tell me?

Is there some pre-use thing that's a good idea?

Post-use (between uses) thing to do?

I did a wash & dry, followed by oil wipe before putting the knife up.

What is it that you do, and what results does that give you?

What other things do you recommend?


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February 13, 2008, 04:03 AM
Try knifeforums. I shoot my tomatoes in half...

February 13, 2008, 10:13 AM
In my experience the only thing that will really help prevent that metallic taste from being transfered to your food is for your carbon knife to see more use. I'm a big fan of carbon blades for regular use (cutting rope, tape, boxes, hunting, camping etc etc), but I don't use them much for food preparation for this very reason.

I'm not familiar with those particular knives (and so I don't know what the finish is like on any of those), but I'm guessing that the steel on the side of the knife is kind of like those Ontario wood handled kitchen knives in that it's not really all that glossy.

February 13, 2008, 10:37 AM
I dabble a bit in knifemaking using primarily 5160 carbon steel as it is easy to work and plentiful. I'm not skilled enough yet to move to more difficult steels. I've made a few kitchen cleavers for myself and friends and have advised that they wipe them down with olive oil or the like (mostly to protect the blade). I've done this myself and haven't noticed any metallic taste. Not sure if that is the reason or not, but it might be. :D.

February 13, 2008, 11:18 AM
I prefer good carbon steel to stainless. Some will patina more quickly than others but I've never noticed a tainted or metalic taste. I've got several forged carbon Scandi knives and even a Kaj Vikstrum cleaver and some other carbon steel blades. The patina is self limiting so I would assume the chemical effect you describe would be also?

February 13, 2008, 11:36 AM
It is an acquired taste.

Seriously, just like foods cooked in cast iron.

I grew up with and still use carbon steel, Case chrome vanadium blades and cast iron, if foods are not prepped and cooked with these, the foods have a "funny taste" to me.

Introducing the patina before food prep, is akin to seasoning cast iron .
Same reason why food tastes better from an established diner, or pizza joint with the old griddle, grill and ovens, than new diners and pizza joints with new equipment, that has not taken a "seasoning" yet.

Old Hickory kitchen knives: I smooth any metal to wood fit, drill a hole in the end of handle, and touch up the blade freehand.
I introduce patina.
Dr. Pepper ( any soda) and just fill a container and set blade point down, into.
It takes an hour or so, then I just strop the edge.

Food Safe Mineral oil , the same one seen in drug and grocery stores as "laxative" is inexpensive and will retard any rust.
I just wipe off, or rinse under hot water, wipe off and do food prep.

When done, I do not let knife set out, instead wash, dry and apply Mineral oil, or even PAM, or any other food cooking spray.

My Case Peanut, with CV for example, I introduced Patina using Dr. Pepper, and there was no metallic taste, even cutting tomato's, onions, apples, and spreading mustard with it.

Now I don't oil pivots with mineral oil , or PAM with it, not often anyway.
Most times just Kleen-bore Formula 3 or Singer Sewing Machine oil.
Oil goes onto pivots, bladed opened to half stop, and apply behind tang.
Oil gets into pivots, and while I use very little there will be some work out and I just spread with fingers.

Before using for food, wipe on jeans , or wash knife, then food prep.

My Peanut and other CVs have this neat gun metal gray /blue patina. The edge is real shiny against that patina.
Old Hickory's, have a similar patina, with that edge.

Mineral oil is what I use on wood cutting boards as well.

Note: Sharpening methods play a part in this taste too. *really!*

Akin to why foods prepped on a wood cutting board tastes different from those done on "plastic" cutting boards.
Why food mixed in glass mixing bowls differ from those in plastic.
Mustard, ketchup , soft drinks , etc, that come in glass, taste better than those that come in plastic, and are stored in plastic.

Just 'cause its new - don't make it better.

February 13, 2008, 11:41 AM
It is an acquired taste.

Yup, I think of it as seasoning. I've always used carbon kitchen knives (as did my mom & dad) so I guess I equate the tang with home-cooking.

I'm weird like that.

February 13, 2008, 12:34 PM
Have you ever watched a sushi chef? The wipe their knives every few cuts to remove anything from the surface. Fold a wet bar towel up into a pad and keep it beside where you're cutting. Wipe the blade on it from time to time to prevent the reaction you're getting. Keep a lightly oiled towel handy also for the same purpose. You're continuously cleaning the surface of your knife using the damp towel and you should wipe it dry and oil it when you finish any one cutting choir.

February 13, 2008, 12:58 PM
Have you ever watched a sushi chef? The wipe their knives every few cuts to remove anything from the surface.

They got from Southern Folks wiping knives on jeans. It is twue! *grin*

hso is correct ( again!)

Seriously, butchers, wipe knives, and have cloths handy. Ever notice how they change knives?
You walk up, they are cutting pork, they change to another knife, to cut you a steak. Besides different meat, cross contamination and all, taste is one reason.

In the kitchens, be these diners, nice restaurants, catfish joints, BBQ Joints - Mom & Pop Dairy Bars...
It does not matter if they are using Old Hickory's, Chicago Cutlery, if carbon, stainless or make, model or price range.

They wipe knives.

Scoot closer <looks over shoulders> Proper way for Southern knife use is, to wipe the Case CV blade on weak side blue jean pants leg, after cutting the big friggin' rack of ribs into that will not fit onto the plate.

Strong side blue jean pants leg is for wiping hand.

Napkins are stealing another piece of pie.

Sushi Chefs know this, while you are wide eyed and jumping back after they flip a shrimp onto your plate, they are wiping blades on blue jeans.
Just folks don't see this - like a magician, you were distracted and were watching the shrimp.

I know lot more of what goes on that some give me credit for...

February 13, 2008, 01:29 PM
I use a thin layer of food oils on my carbon kitchen knives, I have been experimenting with beeswax lately and it seems to work quite well.

February 13, 2008, 02:12 PM
The only knives I'm aware or that simply won't ever leave any taste are the ceramic-bladed knives.

I, on the other hand, use Globals. They're stainless and made about as well as any kitchen knife in the world. Don't wash good knives in the dishwasher, don't throw them in the sink when you're done with them, don't keep them in a drawer with other knives, and don't cut on glass cutting boards.

People abuse knives worse than just about any other tool I've ever seen (with the exception of rental cars.)

Joe Demko
February 14, 2008, 06:03 PM
I have some Old Hickory knives and a Cold Steel scalping knife that I use in the kitchen. What I did was cold blue them. I still handwash and coat them with vegetable oil after use, but the cold blue cut down on food acids reacting with the steel pretty dramatically.

February 14, 2008, 07:23 PM
Joe, I'd be interested in seeing a picture of one of those Old Hickory pieces with the cold blue.

I like the thought, I'm just not sure what the end result looks like.

February 14, 2008, 08:26 PM
I use daily a Case brand 5" boning knife in our kitchen I bought well over 35 years ago. In a old time hardware store. It is the most used knife in the house and has been for a long time. The whole blade is hollow ground, It is carbon steel, has never had any special treatment except I take care not to wear it out on a stone as I have not been able to find another in 30 years of looking.
Wiped down before being put away and the wooden handle gets a coat of Veggie oil now and again. Nor is it ever put in a dishwasher. There are several other Carbon steel knives here of various manufactures none of which are treated much if any different. Discoloration won't hurt a thing and the "taste" thing will go away soon I guess as I don't recall that.

Joe Demko
February 14, 2008, 08:56 PM
My digital camera is visiting Ukraine (with my wife) right now. I'll see if I can make a photo with my phone or something that'll have enough detail to be worth posting. For right now, I'll say the blades are kind of a mottled black. I don't find it unattractive but maybe your tastes would differ from mine.

February 15, 2008, 01:20 AM
What's the prep for Cold Blue application?

Wash & dry?

Scrub? Scour? Heat?

Or is it more of a dip-and-go kind of thing?

February 15, 2008, 01:32 AM
I've used the various OTC bluing from G96, Birchwood Casey, Outers, Hoppe's and all.

Most come with a alcohol pad, recommended alcohol to degrease.

Tip: to see if something is degreased, run water over it.
If it beads, it is still greasy/oily.
If water runs off, it is clean.

Do not handle and get fingerprints once de-greased and clean.

Knife blade: Hot soapy water, rinse well, it will run right off and use alcohol pad, or rubbing alcohol with a soft , lint free cloth.
I used the same cloth material (cloth diaper) to apply the bluing, or a cotton swab.

This will work fine...
Oxy-blue from Brownell's is the best bluing for guns, but for a knife ,OTC will be fine, being handy and not having to order.

Seriously - I really do use Dr.Pepper on mine.

Some folks have theirs "RC-ed", "Coke-ed", "Pepsi-ed" , "7-UP-ed" ...
That run what ya brung bit ya know? *wink*

February 15, 2008, 01:59 AM
It's a knife just ues it.

February 15, 2008, 03:14 AM
address the edge

Helloooo edge...

February 15, 2008, 04:26 AM
have taken a nice patina over the years. A couple of them look almost as if they have been blued - the man who said "They're knives-just use them." had it right. Bluing a good carbon steel kitchen knife is like ironing a flannel shirt - you can do it but there's not much point to it. Once the patina is there you won't notice the metallic smell or taste it in your food either.

February 15, 2008, 05:33 AM
As owner of a carbon steel knife (th' Kabar)
often pressed into camp kitchen use,
I vote for this advice.

Have you ever watched a sushi chef? They wipe their knives every few cuts to remove anything from the surface. Fold a wet bar towel up into a pad and keep it beside where you're cutting. Wipe the blade on it from time to time to prevent the reaction you're getting. Keep a lightly oiled towel handy also for the same purpose.Um hmm.

Joe Demko
February 15, 2008, 06:06 AM
What's the prep for Cold Blue application?

As sm described. I applied the bluing with a cloth pad. Will try to get a picture of some kind up today.

February 15, 2008, 10:42 AM
Wash after use. When dry apply a little mineral oil. I've got carbon steel knives nearly 40 years old, some from the old Herter's, that are still just fine. They do have a patina. Never noticed any unusual taste. I soak the wood handles in mineral oil every few years or more often if they get too dry. About an hour does the trick.

February 15, 2008, 05:17 PM
I do use mineral oil on my carbon steel camp knife that I use in the kitchen, but if you're concerned about using mineral oil, use a vegetable oil, instead.

I also have one high-carbon blade that I cold blued to help protect against rust.

February 16, 2008, 02:32 PM

February 16, 2008, 02:45 PM
Here is what a picture . . .

Pictures not showing.

Evidently a system problem.

Sorry, man.

February 16, 2008, 03:09 PM

February 16, 2008, 04:48 PM
For the record ...

There appears to be a server glitch preventing posting images at the moment.

I understand how to do it. I have posted dozens of images to THR over years. But there's something preventing it right now. I'm trying to post an image in another thread, and having the same problem that Charcoal is having: post "says" there's a thumbnail present, but there's no thumbnail: only a URL, and the URL doesn't open a file.

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