Sunday, November 18, 2007

East V. West

Can Shun and Global Take the Title From Wusthof?

Kitchen knives are a lot like underwear: basic, necessary, and extremely personal. But, unlike your tried and true Fruit of the Looms, trying a new style can be an expensive and daunting decision. But the Asian knife houses of Shun and Global are begging for a chance to win you over. Below, some factors to consider when upgrading your collection--be it with Asian knives or more of what you've always used.

Beware the...
  • Partial Tang: Insist on a full tang knife--the blade is one piece of metal that extends through the length of the handle. Improves balance and maneuverability.
  • Stamped blade: Insist on a forged blade--the metal is poured into a mold instead of bashed into the shape of a knife.
I'll take these two features as givens for the rest of the discussion.

Now, to attack the onslaught of options. First of all, the way a knife feels in your hand surpasses any manufacturing specs anyone could ever offer. Sure, you might follow a learning curve and adapt to a knife you at first disliked. But you might not. This makes much of knife talk highly subjective.

FEEL: The top brands, and even lines within the same brand, all feel much different. Global is the lightest, and the one people feel the strongest about, either for or against, as it is much different. These differences come down to matters of preference--weight and shape in one's hand. Go try them out.

STEEL/BLADE: More objective are the differences in the steel and blade. The Asians are made of significantly harder metal-- Shun at Rockwell 61, Global at Rockwell 58 and Wusthof Rockwell 55. This supports a more acute cutting angle. Sources vary on specifics, but
generally agree Wusthof and Henckels cutting angles are 18-22 degrees, Shun and Global 15 -16 degrees ... a razor blade is 4 degrees.

SHARPNESS: When people say they want "sharp" they usually mean "requires less cutting force." Cutting force is a product of the profile of the edge of the knife, i.e. concave or convex or flat, the edge angle in degrees and the coeficient of dynamic friction between the side of the knfe and what it is cutting. Global knives stay "sharp" so long partially due to the fact that they sharpen the edge without a bevel and instead employ a straight V shape--check it out at a Williams-Sonoma.

MAINTENANCE: For all knives, match the brand of honing steel with the brand of knife and get them sharpened once a year or so. I use different brands of knives, and I hate honing, so I just get mine sharpened every six months. Asian knives hold their edge longer, but are more difficult to revive. Solution is to not let them go too long, and the very hard, very thin blade will be very good to you.

GLOBAL: I appreciate the light weight because it's more nimble, and so sharp that it doesnt REQUIRE heft like my Wuthof does. (I used to love a good heavy Wusthof...) Specifically, the shape of the Asian Chef's knife by Global is delightful--its the third knife down pictured in
that link above, its a hybrid of a santoku and chef's knife. I suspect anyone would love these, if they can get used to the handle.

SHUN: Shun is great, too, with its own special steel production technique that I could spend more paragraphs on, but they cost 2 to 3 times more than a Wusthof Classic, while Global is only slightly more than Wusthof. With my huge discount, price was of no concern to me, and among chefs that came in the store all the time, Global was the most common for them to brag about, purchase, and generally adore. My parents love their set of Shuns, but I still prefer Global.

Bottomline, Asian knives are equipped to surpass European in popularity among gourmets. They are sharper, and no harder to maintain, just different to use. I suggest you try one out,
Williams-Sonoma has a VERY lax return policy if you find it unadapatable.

No comments: