Best Chef Knives – Three From Japan

This is not a Top Ten List (or Top Three) and it’s not comprehensive. But it should aid in making some sense of the kitchen knife world and give you some ideas! Each knife is manufactured by a different world-class Japanese knifemaker and the prices generally run from $120 to $170. (Please don’t gasp – they’ll last for 30 years or more.)

Global 7-inch Santoku (G-48)

Global revolutionized the kitchen-knife world in the 1980s by creating a series of high-performance knives that were on the cutting edge of fashion (forgive the pun), yet still affordable. Like traditional Japanese knives, they’re extremely light with a thin, razor-sharp edge. Yet in blade design, they generally owe more to Western tradition than Japanese. That’s why I call them Japanese hybrids in that they graft one tradition of knifemaking onto another.

No major knife brand stands out as so stunningly modern – pure steel from tip to base, including the trademark pebbled-steel handle. (Interesting detail: Global injects the perfect amount of sand into the hollow handle to make it balance correctly.) Most of Global’s knives are not forged, but made of a high-quality steel that has been tempered and heat treated to new levels of sophistication.

This particular model, the G-48, is perfect for someone who craves performance, but wants to stay nimble. The short-but-broad santoku style offers the handiness of a wide blade (you can scoop up chopped celery) minus the cumbersome length. As mentioned earlier, if you prefer a more Western-styled chef’s blade, Global has plenty of those also. Try a G-2 or G-61.

I own this santoku and am embarrassed to admit I treasure the edge so much that I can’t bear to do much chopping with it, but save it mainly for slicing. Which it does amazingly!

MAC MTH-80 – Professional Series 8″ Chef Knife with Dimples

MAC knives seem to be one of the best kept secrets of the consumer kitchen knife market. Professionals seem to know all about them with famous chefs like Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter unabashedly endorsing them as the ultimate cutting machine. But ask your average home gourmet, and odds are they’ve never heard of them.

Japanese designed and manufactured, like Global, they’re a new breed of knife, a hybrid – that incorporates the harder and thinner Japanese steel with a Western-shaped blade. They’re not as stylish as Global, but probably even sharper. And (like Global) they’re also not forged, but highly machined.

The MTH-80 Professional is the workhorse of MACs various product lines and I’m guessing it’s the most popular because it offers the maximum sharpitude for your dollar. Plus, the welded-on bolster creates an unusual combination of super-thin blade with added weight that keeps it balanced in your hand more like a German-style knife. According to Gourmet Magazine, a MAC knife is “the difference between a minivan and race car.” Care to take one out for a spin?

(Note: Be careful not to confuse the MTH-80 Professional with the TH-80 – Chef Series 8″ Chef’s Knife with Dimples, a lower-level model that goes for $40 or more less.)

Shun Classic 8-Inch Chef Knife

Shun, along with Global, is probably one of the most popular and well-known Japanese brands in the U.S. It’s no wonder – their flagship line, Shun Classic, is very attractive and very sharp. They’re manufactured in Seki City which (along with Solingen, Germany) is one of the knife-making capitals of the world.

Don’t let the beautiful wavy pattern on the blade fool you – it’s much more than a pretty face. Sandwiched between 32 layers of swirly-patterned softer steel (16 layers per side) lies a thin hard core that creates the edge. At Rockwell 61, it’s a hard steel. Which gives it the ability to hold a 16-degree edge for a very long time.

I have to admit when I first unpacked my new Shun 6-inch chef’s not so long ago, I was stunned at how light it was. For someone used to weightier German blades, the lightness felt almost chintzy. Silly me. Over the past year I’ve now come to fully appreciate the way the thin sharp blade can slice through denser foods with ease and less resistance than my thicker German knives.

One final thing to note about the Shun Classic is its distinctive Pakkawood handle. It’s similar to the nimble feel of a traditional Japanese knife, but different. The unique D-shaped contour might fit certain cook’s hands better than others. So, if a typical Western-style knife handle always feels too clunky, here’s another way to go.

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