An Expert Guide to Cangshan Knives

Published on 02/25/2024 · 11 min readSlice through culinary challenges with our expert guide to Cangshan knives, featuring their sleek design, exceptional sharpness, and durability for every kitchen task!
Ethan Hauck, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Ethan Hauck

Photo courtesy of Cangshan

TL;DR: Cangshan uses German, Japanese, and Swedish steel in tandem with both German and Japanese techniques to make affordable and durable blades. When buying knives (Cangshan or not), consider how you specifically intend to use them. Check their rating on the Rockwell Hardness Scale to find out how flexible, brittle, and suited to broad general use they will be. From there, consider how you cut: A rolling chop is more suited to German-style knives, whereas a push chop is preferred with most Japanese-style knives.

As a chef of over a decade, I’ve used dozens of knives from countless brands. I’ve made do with true bottom-of-the-barrel blades and used hand-crafted, bespoke knives made specifically for me. During those experiences, I’d like to think that I learned quite a bit. One of my favorites, Cangshan, is beloved by professionals the world over — including the French Laundry’s Chef Thomas Keller.

At the end of the day, knives are one of the most personal decisions any chef can make. While I don’t expect to make you a die-hard Cangshan Stan in this short article, I do expect to show why I love these knives and how to pick the best for you, and I’ll explain the finer details of how each knife is crafted. And if you find that you’re still feeling lost, reach out — our Curated Kitchen Experts are here to help guide the process.

What Are Cangshan Knives?

Photo courtesy of Cangshan

Cangshan is a well-known brand of Chinese-made knives. For years, they’ve been seen in the hands of James Beard Award-winning and Michelin-starred chefs, such as Thomas Keller, and for good reason.

Where many knife brands tend to try to keep to one style (German made with German steel, for example), Cangshan uses German steel in tandem with Japanese knife-making techniques to create an interesting middle ground. This makes them tailored to two types of chefs:

  • Chefs who need an affordable, easily-maintained daily workhorse
  • Home cooks who want quality knives without the need to invest in tailormade bespoke blades.

This puts Cangshan in the same general boat as similarly endorsed brands, such as Henckels and WÜSTOF.

What to Consider When Buying Cangshan Knives

When looking to invest in quality knives, it’s important to ask a few questions. The queries we’ve gathered below are an excellent place to start, as they can help you narrow down what you want and what you don’t — and, crucially, understand why.

Does Cangshan Make European-Style Knives? What About Japanese-Style Knives?

Cangshan makes knives in two general styles — Japanese and German. Their German blades (like the Thomas Keller Signature Chef Knife) fit the classic European mold of knives designed to be used with a rocking chop. In contrast, Cangshan’s Japanese-style knives (such as the kiritsuke 7”) target a more traditional Asian push chop method.

Where Is Cangshan Cutlery Made?

Up until recently, Cangshan made their knives in China’s famous knife district, located in Yangjuiang, China. While many of their blades are still manufactured by hand in China, they recently partnered with both German (located in Solingen, Germany) and Japanese (located in Seki, Japan) factories.

As for steel, Cangshan uses Swedish SANDVIK 12C28N steel in all of its knives. This is a powdered steel Damascus “imitation” that provides a sheen similar to Damascus without the need to obsessively maintain the blade.

What Are the Three Knives That Everyone Should Have?

This is a question I get asked a lot, and the answer is a bit more difficult than one might expect. Because knives are extremely personal, it’s hard to provide a definitive answer; instead, I’d like to offer some suggestions:

  • One large knife, such as an 8”-12” chef knife or santoku. If you’re hurting for space, consider an 8” blade.
    • Longer, heavier knives are well suited to most tasks, ranging from chopping vegetables to butchering meat. They’re ideal as an “all-in-one” option.
  • One smaller blade, such as a 3.5”-5” paring or utility knife
    • Smaller blades make fine tasks, such as cleaning veggies or fruit, far simpler than with a more unwieldy, heavier knife.
  • One long (6”-8”), thin, boning knife
    • Even if you don’t butcher your own meat or fish, the ability to easily slip your knife between bones, skin, meat, and the like is priceless. Where your chef’s knife might get caught or chip, a flexible boning knife will do the trick every time.

What Are the Different Types of Cangshan Knives?

Photo courtesy of Cangshan

Cangshan generally offers three main lines of knives: German knives, Japanese knives, and full cutlery sets. Let’s see the differences and talk a bit about what each offers.

Cangshan Cutlery Sets

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cangshan’s cutlery sets tend to be on the higher end of their price range, as they offer sets containing anywhere from 2 to 23 knives. This makes their cutlery lines ideally suited to home cooks who need to stock up on multiple styles of well-made blades. Most sets include the standards (a chef, paring, and boning knife), alongside kitchen shears, steak knives, and more specialized utility knives.

Users who only own one knife will quickly be spoiled for choice. However, professionals or enthusiasts who would rather own a few nice blades will find that the cutlery sets can be overwhelming. In fact, I made that mistake as a young chef, thinking that more knives was always good — right? Wrong. This is because knife rolls can only hold so many knives, making it crucial to pick the best workhorses out of the bunch and leave the remainder for home use.

Benefits:

  • Cutlery sets provide a lot of choice, often allowing users to acquire more knives at a lower total price per knife.
  • Cangshan makes lots of fantastic knives, and a set allows you to see what styles you enjoy and which ones you don’t — and learn why.

Keep in Mind:

  • Cutlery sets tend to cost more upfront than standalone knives, making them less suited to budget shopping.
  • Large cutlery sets run the risk of giving you too many knives to reasonably use, so consider opting for their smaller sets if you’re just getting into cooking at home.

Cangshan German Knives

Cangshan’s German knives are made in Germany using a combination of German and Swedish steel. Their German blades tend to lean more toward the classic European-style knives, meaning they’re perfect for users who prefer a rocking chop or those who grew up using European styles of knives.

Their Haku and OLIV series of knives embrace the simple, traditional shape and use of chef’s knives, while their utility and paring knives offer a good balance of small form factor and broad application. Generally, Cangshan’s German-made knives range in price from $59.95 to $129.95, making them excellent for those who need one high-quality knife (or two, or three …).

Keep in mind that German steel tends to be softer, meaning you’ll need to sharpen and hone the blades more often than their Japanese counterparts. Similarly, their slightly softer steel allows them to dent or scratch rather than chip or shatter when dropped.

Benefits:

  • Lots of choices both in design and aesthetic
  • High-quality sheathes included with most knives
  • Fantastic for rocking chops

Keep in Mind:

  • Not suited to a push chop because of soft steel and blade shape
  • Requires slightly more maintenance than their Japanese counterparts

Cangshan Japanese Knives

Cangshan’s Japanese knives use a combination of Swedish and Japanese in tandem with Chinese hand-crafted production and Japanese methods. This results in an interesting intersection between true Japanese blades and European-style knives.

Their santoku and nakiri lines offer an excellent introduction to Asian cutting techniques, as they’re weighted and shaped with the intent of using a push chop (chopping with a pushing motion rather than rolling). While some home cooks may be unfamiliar with this style of cutting, it allows a (generally) more efficient means to quickly process hefty vegetables and meat.

Keep in mind that, as they use Japanese steel, these knives will be slightly harder than their German-made siblings. They’ll need less daily maintenance but regular sharpening (every 3-6 months, depending on use) and can be more brittle than softer German steel.

Benefits:

  • Excellent for processing large pieces of meat or tough vegetables, such as rutabaga or beets
  • Holds an edge for far longer than softer steel
  • All Cangshan Japanese knives are hand sharpened and polished, so they’re ready to use right out of the box.

Keep in Mind:

  • Requires a different cutting technique than traditional European chef knives
  • Requires regular maintenance long term but less daily upkeep

Features to Look Out for When Buying Cangshan Knives

Photo courtesy of Cangshan

Cangshan uses standardized practices when making each of their knives. While this doesn’t mean that they’re flawless, it does mean that you can expect each blade to perform its specific job quite well. Unfortunately, it also means that individuals will each want something slightly different with their blades.

Where I prefer Japanese knives (I almost exclusively use a nakiri for veggies and a santoku for just about everything else), you might not. This means that you need to take a moment to nail down what, precisely, you want.

If you want a single workhorse to do everything, look for larger (8”-12”) chef or santoku knives. While there will be jobs they struggle with (deboning a fish, for example), they allow a good bit of flex to tackle meat, veg, fruit, and garnishes equally well. In contrast, if you want a quick “all-in-one” set, options like the Yari 2-piece or TS Starter Set provide an excellent selection without being a full-blown cutlery set. No matter what you need, though, keep an eye on the following features:

What Is the Rockwell Hardness of Your Knife?

The lower the score, the softer your steel will be. While this isn’t a 1:1 of hardness to quality, it’s important to keep in mind.

What Do You Regularly Cook?

If you don’t process meat or fish regularly, don’t worry about a boning or carving knife. Similarly, if you prep a lot of veg, consider a nakiri or santoku (rather than a standard chef’s knife) to power through even the toughest of veggies.

Do You Want One or Two Multitaskers or a Tool for Each Job?

If you answered with the former, opt for a chef’s knife with a longer blade. If the latter is more your speed, consider one of Cangshan’s knife sets to ensure you always have the right tool for the job.

How to Choose the Right Cangshan Knife

Two types of people will generally be looking at Cangshan knives: professionals and home cooks. Let’s break that down a bit more.

Professional Chefs & Cangshan

Professionals are going to understand what each knife type is intended to do and will want a suite of tools to accommodate any task. As such, they’re going to consider:

  • Knife hardness
    • Professionals differ on what’s best: long-term care or daily (small) maintenance.
  • Blade shape and flex
    • Where the weight sits on the knife, how it tapers to a point, and how well (or not so well) it can flex when hitting bone will affect which jobs each knife is suited for
  • Space
    • Professionals tend to work within the confines of a knife roll. This means each blade needs to have a purpose and, importantly, fit in the knife roll.
    • Chefs working in small kitchens will likely value shorter chef’s knives (~8” versus 12”).

Home Cooks & Cangshan

Home cooks tend to be a bit less experienced with varied styles of knives (and their cutting methods). This means that it can be beneficial to pick one type of knife, learn its ins and outs, and then learn another.

This, in tandem with (generally) more kitchen space for a knife block, can make cutlery sets excellent for home cooks. Most home cooks will consider:

  • Price
    • Bang for your buck is important when shopping on a budget. This makes sets that offer everything in one (relatively small) package tempting.
  • Use Case
    • Not everyone preps fresh fish or breaks down animals regularly, and that’s okay. If that’s not you, don’t worry about finding carving, boning, or butcher knives.

Find the Best Cangshan Knife for You

No matter which category of chef you fit into, Cangshan makes a blade (or seven) for you. They offer quality steel in tandem with an affordable price point, sleek design, and a wide range of styles to suit each person’s individual flair. Whether you want the appeal of Damascus and hardwood, the utilitarian simplicity of straight steel, or something in between, Cangshan is a solid option that combines quality and affordability.

If this is a lot, reach out to a Curated Kitchen Expert. We have decades of combined experience in professional settings, making us an ideal resource if you need someone to chat with and help find the right fit for you.

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

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