If you’re reading this, you know that all true chefs have a collection of knives essential to their practice. And what better blade to have in your bag than a set of premium Japanese chef knives?
Japanese chef knives, generally made from stainless steel or Hagane, use unique Japanese blacksmithing methods.
These knives are top-rated amongst professional chefs due to their light feel. They’re your best pick if you are looking for balance and precision in your everyday cooking.
For centuries, Japan has produced the best blades, with swordsmiths shifting from battle blades (katana) to chef knives after the era of industrialization.
Moreover, there is a Japanese knife available for every form of cutting. Whether it is boning meat or slicing bread, you can find a special knife for everything.
However, identifying an authentic Japanese chef knife could be tricky, especially if you are new to cooking.
There are hundreds of available options in the market, including some famous types such as Gyuto, Yanagiba, Santoku, etc.
All these options can be a bit intimidating. There’s also a high chance that you may purchase the wrong product. Hence, we created a buying guide to ensure you select only the best quality Japanese chef knives.
This article discusses everything you need to know before going knife shopping and how to find the best Japanese chef knives.
How to Find the Best Quality Japanese Chef Knives: Factors to Look Out For While Shopping
Shopping for knives is an intricate process. Hence, there are several factors you need to consider before selecting a product.
Here is a list of some things you should look for to choose the best-quality Japanese chef knives.
Specialty and Purpose
Before purchasing a knife, it is crucial to assess your needs and decide what task you need it for. If you need a private kitchen knife for everyday use, you could choose multipurpose knives like Gyuto or Santoku.
However, if you need a knife specifically for butchering and cutting meat apart from the bone, go with Hankotsu. Purchasing the wrong knife could be a waste of money and prove dangerous.
Durability and Maintenance
Knives are a long-term investment. Thus, selecting knives that could last you years at a stretch is very important. While Japanese knives are not as durable as German or French knives, they have better blades.
Most Western and European knives have blades made from softer steel that lasts long but requires sharpening very often. Since Japanese knives are made from special hardened steel, most do not require sharpening for several years.
Moreover, if you care for these knives properly, they can last you just as long as any European blade.
Therefore, before purchasing a Japanese chef knife, you should ensure that it has reputable makers. If you buy the product from an authentic brand, it promises better durability.
When it comes to knife blades, there are several variations. You have sheep’s foot, drop-point, gut-hook, etc.
While most Japanese knives have double bevel blades, some have single bevels. These blades can alter your knife’s precision and ability. You should also be mindful of the width of a blade since it often determines the knife’s slicing power.
Another thing you should look for while shopping for knives is the length of the blade. Knives like Gyuto have a wide selection of blade lengths from 150-390mm.
However, these knives can still fall short of performing several tasks even with such variety. Hence, other specific knives with certain blade lengths like the Petty knife are introduced.
Select shorter blades like Petty knives if you need knives for fine-chopping and delicate tasks. Similarly, select heavier and longer blades like the Chukabocho knife if you need to chop heavy bone or meat.
The shape of a knife’s handle could also significantly contribute to its performance. The handle makes up most of the knife’s weight.
So, it is vital to select knives with lighter handles that provide a better grip. However, you must choose straighter and heavier handles if you need more slicing power.
If you select a heavy blade with a light handle, it could be prone to accidents.
Types of Japanese Chef Knives
There are over a dozen Japanese chef knives. These knives came into existence around the 19th century and are primarily based on French and German cutlery ideas.
Japan added unique cutting techniques and ideas to these European knives during the Meiji (1868 – 1912) period. While Japanese blades are generally slimmer than most others, they are also tougher.
However, there are several types, each with its function. Therefore, you must understand the purpose of each of these knives before looking for the best-quality Japanese chef knives. Here is a list of the ten most famous Japanese chef knives.
1. Gyuto – Chef’s Knife
Popularly known as the Chef’s Knife, Gyuto is an all-purpose knife that is perfect for beginners.
This knife has a double bevel or two-sided blade, which is highly efficient for cutting softer meats or finely chopping vegetables with the tip. Moreover, you can find these knives with both Japanese and European handles.
Since Gyuto is dynamic and versatile for tasks like chopping, slicing, boning, dicing, etc., most people choose to own only this one knife. However, using different knife lengths to perform various tasks would be ideal.
For example, you could select a longer blade for more slicing power and a shorter blade for more handy use. Generally, Gyuto blades are between 200mm to 270mm long, with a 1-1.5 width.
An example is Usuki’s Gyuto Chef’s Knife.
2. Santoku – Three Virtues Knife
Santoku is a multipurpose knife with a straightedge and a “sheep’s foot” blade. The term Santoku translates to “three virtues” in Japanese.
While these three virtues are unspecified, people assume it refers to the knife’s ability to cut fish, meat, and produce. This knife is also called “Santuko” in some parts of Europe, but its original name is santokubōchō or bunka bōchō.
The knife is a double slope with a 160-180mm blade. Makers use steel from traditional Samurai swords with a slimmer and shorter design than a conventional knife.
While the Gyuto blade has a slightly curved spine, the Santoku knife is straight. This is excellently depicted in Shun’s Premier Grey Santoku Knife.
3. Nakiri – Vegetable Knife
Cutting vegetables and thin meats can often be exhausting as the knife may not cut through the item in one go. However, the Nakiri vegetable knife is designed to make veggie-chopping easier for you.
These knives sport a thin, straight blade that cuts through any vegetable in one slice. Whether you need to chop tiny garlic buds or larger cabbage leaves, the Nakiri blade is a great choice.
Since Nakiri is designed for vegetable chopping, it is not advisable to use it to cut bones and thick meats.
Further, since the blade is not curved, you do not need horizontal pulls or pushes to slice the vegetable. The entire base of the blade would reach the cutting board in a single push.
This design makes chopping faster and more efficient, making Nakiri ideal for at-home cooks. These blades usually have a sharper right side for right-hand use. Although special Nakiri knives are available for left-hand use.
An excellent example of a Nakiri blade is TUO’s Nakiri Knife.
4. Petty – Utility Knife
The Petty knife is the Japanese version of the French Petit Knife. This knife is petite, perfect for your everyday kitchen tasks. While this knife can not handle heavy cutting and boning, it has a light grip for quick cutting.
The Petty knife is perfect for jobs that Gyuto and Santoku knives can not perform due to their large sizes.
These knives have a slight build with a blade ranging from 120-150mm. Most people use Petty knives, like Misono’s Molybdenum Petty, for smaller tasks that involve presentation.
For example, these knives are ideal for cutting herbs needed for garnishing. They’re also suitable for peeling and presenting small fruits.
5. Sujihiki – Meat and Muscle Cutter
The Sujihiki knife is popularly called the “muscle cutter.” This knife has a steep bevel ideal for slicing meat and fish. Moreover, this knife displays both precision and strength.
You could use it for delicate tasks like fileting fish or heavier ones like carving meat and poultry.
The knife has a long, narrow, graceful blade for separating sinew from fat and meat. Since the knife performs such artful tasks, it has a curvier handle than most Japanese knives for a better grip. An example of this is Dalstrong’s Ultimate Sujihiki Slicing Knife.
6. Hankotsu – Butcher’s Knife
The Hankotsu knife, like Misono’s Molybdenum Hankotsu, is perfect for heavy-duty tasks with its immense slicing power. This knife has a tough and sturdy design to separate meat from bones.
Traditionally, these knives were used by butchers in ancient times to slice thick beef. Hence, the blade is thicker in contrast to most Japanese chef knives, which are more delicate.
7. Usuba – Professional Vegetable Knife
The Usuba knife is the counterpart of the Nakiri vegetable knife. Like Nakiri, the Usuba knife is also ideal for chopping vegetables. However, Usuba is more suitable for professional use due to its chisel ground.
This means that one side of the blade is flat while the other is ground. This structure gives the knife higher accuracy for expert use.
This knife also has a traditional Japanese handle for a firm grip. If you care correctly for the knife, its blade can remain sharp for years at a stretch. This quality makes Usuba one of the most durable Japanese chef knives.
Furthermore, the knife has blades with different tips. While most Usuba tips are rectangular, some are semicircular. Both these shapes are ideal for cutting various kinds of vegetables.
However, remember that these knives are better for expert use than private use. If you’re an expert user, Yoshihiro’s Hammered Damascus Usuba Vegetable Knife might be a great place to begin shopping.
8. Honesuki – Deboning Knife
Honesuki is the best Japanese knife to debone a chicken. Another version of this knife, Garasuki, has a thicker blade that could even slice through these bones. An example of a great Honesuki blade is the Zelite Infinity Honesuki Knife.
9. Yanagiba – Sashimi Knife
Yanagiba is the most popular knife for slicing fish. While Sujihiki knives can be helpful for fileting fish due to their precision, Yanagiba is designed explicitly for this purpose.
This knife allows easy cutting through thick flesh, as seen on squid and octopus. All professional chefs use these knives to make sashimi and one that’s relatively well used in the industry is Dalstrong’s Yanagiba Sushi Knife.
Tips for Buying and Maintaining Japanese Chef Knives
As discussed earlier, there are several factors one should be mindful of before buying Japanese chef knives.
So, here are some extra pointers about purchasing and maintaining Japanese chef knives.
- Japanese chef knives are great for people who don’t want to sharpen knives often. Their sharp and precise blades will last around six months to a year between sharpenings. Don’t sharpen them more than that, though. You could turn your perfectly sharp knife into a wedge blade if you overdo it.
- If you are a beginner, you may not be familiar with handling professional knives. So, try buying the Japanese Gyutou all-purpose knife. You can use this knife for all your tasks till you get a better grip on chef knives. Later, you can select different knives for all purposes.
- If you do not want to put effort into maintaining your knife set, Japanese knives may not suit you. Since these knives have thin and sharp blades, you need to be more careful with them so they do not break. Hence, if you require knives for rough everyday use, you should not use these products.
Whether you are a professional chef or an at-home cook, knives are some of the most vital culinary tools. Japanese chef knives are some of the best cooking tools that are a must for every kitchen.
In this article, we’ve shown you exactly how to find the best quality Japanese chef knives. You now know everything from Japanese knives to tips to ensure that you keep your blades sharp. It’s time to go knife shopping.