Zhen Knives Review: Affordable, Beautiful Japanese Knives

Written by Peter Allen on . Posted in Cutlery

If I was to describe the perfect knife, I would mention a few specific qualities. It would probably be made from VG-10 or high-carbon steel, it would have a classic wooden handle, and it would have a mild Damascus pattern that made it unique, special and not too gaudy. These three features would all make the knife very expensive: not only would the steel itself be expensive, but the intricate Damascus patterns would add to both the material and labor costs. On top of that, the carefully crafted wooden handle would be quite pricey on its own.

Not only does Zhen make this knife, Zhen makes this knife for a ridiculously low price. At the time of this writing, Zhen’s VG-10 Damascus Gyotos are notably cheaper than the most comparable Dalstrong, and Dalstrong knives are very fairly priced for their quality. In other words, Zhen makes very, very good knives for a very low price.
 
Are there any tradeoffs? Yes. While Zhen’s knives themselves are excellent, there are a few small design features they’re missing, and their customer care, packaging, and other amenities aren’t quite as nice as Dalstrongs. Still, I think that Zhen is an absolute killer brand for the knife enthusiast. You get wonderful pieces of cutlery at a very low cost.
 
Want to know more? Here are some of the top Zhen knives that I would want as permanent fixtures in my kitchen.

Zhen Japanese VG-10 Knives

* Zhen Gyuto Chef Knife

This might not be the perfect knife, but it’s pretty darn close. As I mentioned above, the killer trifecta for me is a combination of Damascus patterns, VG-10 steel, and an elegant wooden handle. This is one of the cheapest knives that I can find that offers all three of these things.
Of course, low price comes with a tradeoff somewhere — or so you would think. As far as the blade quality and the aesthetics go, there’s really no downside to this knife. The genuine Japanese VG-10 is sourced from the same company that makes steel for Shun knives, meaning you’re getting the same edge retention as a much more expensive knife. The handle is well crafted, smooth, and looks absolutely stunning. Balance wise, it handles very well. It’s not quite as light as a French Sabatier knife or as nice to hold as some of the Dalstrongs, but it’s still very, very nice.
 
As far as the edge goes, you’re looking at roughly 62 HRC steel, so your maintenance can be pretty infrequent. Luckily, VG-10 is fairly easy to care for as far as hard metals go — it’s not going to patina and it’s difficult to chip accidentally. You’ll still want to avoid cutting anything with bones and make sure that you carefully hand wash this knife, but that’s about it. It’s worth noting that the factory edge isn’t amazing, but a few minutes of polish on a high grit stone should give you a blade you can shave with.
 
For normal home use, you can go up to 4 weeks in between stropping or honing the edge. This is a crazy long time. With a soft German knife, you’re looking at a few days in between each use of your honing steel at most. If you’re a serious chef who doesn’t like using the steel, this might be the knife for you.
 
Frankly, there’s nothing that isn’t good about this knife. The only thing I could possibly complain about is that it could be better. For a few dollars more, the Dalstrong Shogun has slightly better ergonomics in a pinch grip, at least in my opinion. For more than a few dollars more, Shun makes some knives with more striking patterns and arguably better-looking handles. These are not major concerns, however, especially given the price of this knife. If you want a VG-10 blade, this is probably your best option as far as value for money goes.
 
This means that this knife gets my 100% unqualified recommendation. If you’re on a budget, you prefer the aesthetics of this knife over the competition, or you simply want a cheap, hassle-free knife, this Zhen VG-10 Gyuto is your best bet. The low cost, excellent materials, and wonderful design make this a solid choice for any kitchen.

* Zhen Damascus Steel Knife Set

If you want a full set of kitchen knives to the specifications of the above gyoto, this 6-piece knife set is the package you’re looking for. Sets like these tend to save you a little bit of money when compared to buying each knife individually. This set comes with boxes but no knife block, which may or may not be a good thing. This means you can simply stick them in your existing knife block, strip, or drawer, or you can pick up an empty knife block to put them in. In either case, the elegant pakkawood handles go pretty well with everything.
 
Just like the knife above, I wholeheartedly recommend this set. It’s a great way to get a series of beautiful, high-quality knives with the right combination of functionality and aesthetics.

* Zhen Damascus Steel Knife Set With Wooden Block

If you don’t have a knife block already, this set comes with a very striking oak block to store the same 6 knives. The block itself is somewhat showy and modern, fanning out your knives while presenting a stark contrast to the dark wood in the knife handles. Like other Zhen cutlery, this is priced quite reasonable given the quality of the materials, the excellent workmanship, and the great design of each piece. If you don’t have a block already it’s probably cheaper to pick up this set than it is to buy the above set and a separate block.
 
Again, I highly recommend this set for anyone who’s in the market for a fully loaded knife block. As long as you take the time to care for these knives, they’ll stay sharp and vibrant for many years.

Other Zhen Knife Reviews

* Zhen VG-10 Forged Steel Knife Set

Damascus is pretty, sure, but sometimes you just want a knife that works. If you don’t like the showy stylings of the sets above, this VG-10 knife set can score you some pretty hefty savings. It sports luxurious pakka wood handles and hard VG-10 construction that gives it astoundingly good edge retention.
 
Like I said above, one of the biggest benefits of VG-10 is how long it can maintain a fine edge. With a more normal grind you can get away with honing your knives maybe once a month. This is quite nice in shared kitchens, since your spouse, housemates, or other family members might not always remember to hone your knives. More importantly, however, it means that you can put in a crazy sharp edge and keep it without too much work. If you plan to reprofile your knives, the VG-10 steel is an absolute godsend.
 
Just like the Zhen knives above, these are very, very good knives. Again, they’re not quite as nice as they could be. Like the set above, the handling and ergonomics of these knives are not QUITE as good as a comparable set of Dalstrongs. You’re not looking at a major difference, but if a Dalstrong Shogun’s balance and handling score a 10 out of 10, these knives probably score a 9. The edges of these knives are quite sharp out of the box, but they can be improved immediately by a decent amount with some attention from a high grit stone. In other words, they’re machine sharpened but not stropped or polished.
 
So should you buy these knives? Again, I say yes. The small downsides are more than acceptable given the fairly low price on this knife set. While you might have to sharpen it out of the box, that’s not a big deal — you’re buying expensive knives because you don’t mind caring for them. Any small differences in feel or handling will effectively vanish after you spend a few days with these knives and learn their quirks. For the price, I think this may very well be the best knife set you can buy.

* Zhen Carbon Forged Stainless Steel Chef Knife / Santoku Knife Set

We’ve gone from Damascus to a more plain VG-10. When we go down one step further we get this incredibly cheap knife set. Made from 57 HRC 440C stainless, this 5-piece knife set is even more affordable than the sets above. It’s an incredible bargain for anyone who wants to put 5 high-quality knives in their kitchen.

 
So why is this knife set so cheap? First of all, let’s examine the materials. 440C is very, very good steel, but it’s definitely a step down from VG-10. It’s cheaper, too, meaning that the manufacturer can pass some savings along to us. Similarly, the handles of these knives are made from a non-slip material instead of wood. Not only is this cheaper as a raw material, it doesn’t need to be polished and treated like the beautiful wooden handles on the knives above.
 
Just like the knives above, these aren’t quite perfect. The biggest flaw again is the factory edge: you’ll definitely want to run these knives over a fine grit stone as soon as they come out of the box. Once you’ve refined and polished the edges, however, you’ll have an extremely high-quality knife set.
 
While the handles aren’t as elegant and the edges won’t last for quite as long as the sets above, this knife set is still an extremely good purchase for just about any chef. Whether you’re just starting out in the kitchen and you want a set of affordable knives to use for a while, you’re an experienced chef that wants some cheap, no-nonsense knives, or anything in between, I cannot recommend this set enough.

Zhen: The Cheapest High-Quality Knives?

Zhen is a Taiwanese company that makes some pretty incredible Japanese-style knives. While their knives might not be quite as nice as offerings from Dalstrong, Shun, and other top brands, they’re nearly 95% as good (if not better) for a fraction of the cost. If you’re looking to score a great set of knives for cheap, Zhen is an excellent option.

Tags: , ,

Peter Allen

Peter Allen

Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.

Leave a comment

//