Japanese cooking knives are world-famous for a reason. The centuries-old tradition of forging kitchen knives is well-preserved in Japan, and even today it’s not hard to find true masters of the skill across the country.
Lucky for us, in this day and age, we get to order and have these top-notch, masterfully crafted Japanese kitchen knives delivered straight to our doorsteps. However, due to their high quality and long tradition, a Japanese knife can be quite an investment.
Before making a purchase, I decided to get down to work and research the most important things to consider before choosing the right Japanese kitchen knife. I put all my findings together in this comprehensive Japanese knife buyer’s guide to help you find your perfect cooking companion.
What is Knife Bevel and Why Does it Matter?
If you go into a shop that sells a wide variety of knives, you’ll quickly notice all blades fall into one of two categories: uniquely Japanese single-beveled or Western-style double-beveled knives.
The bevel refers to the way the knife’s edge is formed – how it tapers to its sharp tip. The main difference – whether it tapers on both sides, or the knife has one straight and one tapering side. The Japanese call them Ryoba and Kataba.
- Ryoba, or Double-beveled knife – You’re probably very familiar with double-beveled knives. Most western knives are double-beveled, but Japanese artisans make and use this blade style quite often too. When you take a look at it from the front, most often the blade tapers down to a letter V shape. That’s because both sides of the knife get sharpened to create an angle. Ryoba knives are very versatile and prove ideal for straight cuts.
- Kataba, or Single-beveled knife – The Japanese traditionally make single-beveled knives that have one completely straight side, and one angled side that forms an edge. Kataba knives are not constructed for cutting down straight, but they’re are amazing at diagonal slicing. Single- beveled knives are unmatched at performing specialty tasks like filleting fish due to their shape and extreme sharpness. Due to their construction, single-beveled knives can be uncomfortable to left-handed people.
Types of Japanese Cooking Knives for Every Kitchen
There are many types of Japanese knives out there, some of which were designed for very specific purposes. Here, I’ll cover the types of Japanese knives that are most frequently used and loved by home chefs around the world.
The Japanese version of the Chef’s knife, Gyuto (牛刀), is the most versatile kind of knife out there. Every kitchen needs at least one Gyuto, since it’s an all-round amazing knife that can tackle almost every task in everyday cooking.
Gyuto knives have a double-beveled edge, and they’re typically between 18 and 30 cm (7” and 12”) long.
Ichi, ni, san – you probably heard that before. That’s how the Japanese count to three, and “san”, their word for three, appears in the name of this versatile knife for a good reason. Santoku (三徳, “three virtues”) is an incredibly useful knife that can tackle three types of food – veggies, meat, and fish.
At first glance, santoku knives are similar to gyuto, but besides santoku being shorter, they come with two very important differences:
1. Santoku rocks a flat-profile belly, which makes it ideal for chopping and push cutting, but not suitable for rock-cutting since its edge is not curved.
2. Unlike gyuto, a santoku knife’s spine curves down, making the tip point downwards. Called the sheepsfoot blade, this type of construction makes the knife less pointy and lets you slice without piercing your food with the tip.
Santoku knives are double-beveled, and typically range between 13 and 20 cm (5” and 8”).
With its name originating from the French Petite, a petty (ぺティ) is a small utility knife that’s a must- have for most kitchens. Used to peel, shape, trim, slice, and chop, the petty fits right into your hand and gives you a lot of control and agility with its short blade and sharp tip. Slightly bigger than a paring knife, the petty can handle a wide variety of tasks, big or small. The petty typically has a double beveled edge, and the sizes can range between 90 mm and 18 cm (4” to 7”).
Nakiri (菜切り) is a knife specifically designed for cutting vegetables. The flat and rectangular design resembles a vegetable cleaver with a rounded tip. This knife excels at cutting through long vegetables like zucchini and carrots. The double-beveled nakiri knives typically range between 15 and 18 cm (5” and 7”).
If you prepare fish often, it’s time to gift yourself an outstanding filleting knife – the Japanese Deba (出 刃). This thick-spined, heavy-weight knife is curved to form a super sharp point, and it has a traditional Japanese single-beveled blade which makes it perfect for diagonal cuts.
The heavier weight contributes to easier handling of small bones in poultry or fish. However, though sturdy, don’t apply pressure perpendicular to a deba blade to avoid damaging it.
The single-beveled Deba knives typically range between 15 and 33 cm (5” to 13”).
Join me in part 2 of this post when I explain how to choose your own perfect Japanese kitchen knife.