In Defense of the Shun Ken Onion Chef’s Knife

The Shun Ken Onion Chef’s knife is a unique re-imagining of the kitchen knife. And I’ve seen a fair bit of negative press for this particular cooking utensil. Personally, I really like the knife, though it’s not a regular fixture in my kitchen at home. It’s a high-performance blade, creative in its design, and its form borders on art. Click this link to see a full review of the Shun Ken Onion Chef’s knife.

But even a short search online will reveal that not everyone has as high an opinion of this knife as I do. There are several stories of the knife’s edge chipping, and there are numerous reports of the blade going dull quickly with very little use. With such a hefty price tag, the Shun Ken Onion should be better than that, right?

No, as it turns out.

This knife is definitely NOT for everyone. Anyone who doesn’t have the time or dedication to care for this knife shouldn’t buy it. There are fantastic knives that may not be as beautiful, or as scary sharp, but they will be more than serviceable. The Global chef’s knives are a personal favorite. For something of a very Japanese style, you can check out this Shun 8-inch chef’s knife. Then there are the fantastic Wusthof European-style blades: Wusthof Classic and Wusthof Classic Ikon.

The reason why this knife’s edge chips is because of its high-carbon steel core. High-carbon steel is notoriously brittle. There are even stories of old-school chef’s knives shattering when dropped. But nothing takes an edge like high-carbon steel, not even the various additives used to give stainless steel its finer grain and better cutting edge. The Shun Ken Onion chef’s knife compensates with that lovely, rippled Damascus steel outer layer. This is a more flexible material that protects the brittle inner core. The edge is still brittle, though, so if it’s abused, it’s likely to chip. This means that one needs to be using the right cutting board (wood is generally best), and the knife should be used on anything hard or bony. Frozen foods should be left alone.

As for the dullness, this is a common complaint among people who get their first high-end knife. The expectation is that a more expensive knife retains its edge almost indefinitely. This is pure fantasy. The materials are still largely the same, and a good knife needs good knife care. Check out this article on knife steels for basic information. If you don’t have one yet, check these ones out. But that’s just honing. When it comes to sharpening, I generally recommend leaving it to the professionals. Anyone who shells out $200 or more for a knife doesn’t want to make a mess of it sharpening it on a stone in their kitchen. Kitchen supply stores will often have a knife sharpening professional on hand, or at least be able to recommend one.

Now could some of the complaints about this knife be valid? Absolutely. There are manufacturing flaws to consider, and the fact that the knife may be poorly suited to reasonable demands in the kitchen. However, the majority of the time, I just think that it’s not the best knife for that particular task, or that particular cook. One of the many other chef knives on the market today could be just as good, or better, for a person’s individual needs. Which is why I write this blog, incidentally.

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