Sharp knives are an essential part of the home chef’s arsenal or the professional cook’s toolbox. A keen blade will ensure your food is sliced faster and more safely than using a dull edge. Of course, when it comes to cutting-edge precision, Japanese knife sets are known for their superior quality.
For this article, I experimented with a range of sets available on Amazon. As a chef who’s worked at a leading cooking school, my verdict follows on the best Japanese knife set to suit your needs. Whether you’re a professional restaurant chef cooking commercially or a hobby cook looking to buy good quality tools on a budget, keep reading to find out.
I’ll also give you an overview of what to look for when choosing Japanese knives, with a particular focus on how the handle structure and knife weight affect overall balance and versatility.
It’s also essential to appreciate and understand how regular knife sharpening is necessary for slicing and dicing in the kitchen.
You might believe that the best Japanese knife set is out of your price range, but as you’ll discover in this article, there are lesser-known brands that’ll deliver good results while falling within your budget.
Look at your knife purchase as an investment. High-quality knives will last a lifetime and provide the edge you need to move from home-cook to serious foodie. Think of the impression your Japanese knives will make when your friends enjoy one of your professionally cooked meals.
It’s not for nothing that Japanese chefs are held in high esteem for their culinary prowess. Their cooking is all about precision, style, and quality. Think of a sushi chef slicing a fresh tuna belly for sashimi, and an image of razor-sharp blades comes to mind.
While these chefs will likely use professional grade Global Kabuto knives in their Japanese kitchen, an entry-level Yatoshi brand will probably satisfy your needs, especially if you’re a novice home cook. I’ll cover the range of Japanese knives in between, and we’ll explore the best available options.
Japanese knives come in sets because each blade has a different function. For example, specific knives are long and thin and designed for deboning poultry. Others are smaller and meant for paring vegetables. A versatile, general-purpose chef’s knife should also feature prominently in each complete set. I’ll consider the various types of blades included in Japanese knife sets as we learn about their size, material and function.
Meat and fish knives made in Japan include:
Fruit and vegetable knives made in Japan include:
All-purpose utility knives:
Considering that quality ensures durability and value for money, you want to look out for the following features when shopping for the best Japanese knife sets:
The length of the blade is relevant because you need to consider your daily food-prepping needs when choosing a knife set. Personally, I avoid using a one-size-fits-all knife. I prefer using different blades according to the job.
I’ve already outlined the types of Japanese knives and their functions. Think about how you will be using your knives. Perhaps you like to prepare a lot of fish or hope to learn more about sushi? In this case, a Yanagiba style of knife would need to be included in your set.
Or you might be looking for a small, easy-to-manage type of blade, like the Santoku knives. The Santoku is a great multi-purpose option to have in your set.
A traditional Japanese knife handle has a hidden tang. They have a sleek look because the rivets are not visible, either. The actual handle is lighter, cylindrical, and often made of wood. This is relevant because the weight distribution is more toward the blade, while western-style knives tend to balance between the handle and blade.
While wooden handles are sleeker and have a smooth grip, a downside is that wood is porous and can trap bacteria if not properly sterilized after each use. In addition, they can absorb water and crack if not hand-washed and immediately dried. Saying that, I prefer the wooden handles because they are authentic. Besides, as a professional chef, I take great pride in maintaining my knives and usually apply food-grade oil to enhance the wood.
Other popular handle materials used when making Japanese knives include plastic and stainless steel.
Traditional Japanese knives are light and balanced toward the blade. Western-style knives are heavier and evenly balanced between the handle and the blade. While weight and balance are personal preferences, consider that a full tang knife (where the metal backbone runs right through to the handle) will be heavier.
I prefer knives with a bolster as I like a bit of weight and heft closer to the handle.
While traditional Japanese knives are made with a single bevel, modern variations are double-beveled. And just as well, because although single-bevel is known to be sharper, double-bevel is more suitable for home cooks. In addition, single-bevel blades are only suitable for right-handed people, while double bevels will suit lefties as well.
Versatility is important because it relates to your exact needs. A small set will contain around three to five knives, ideal for those starting out. But if you’re looking to experiment, then I’d recommend going with a seven-piece set.
Many Japanese knife sets will come with a knife block for storage. This promotes ease-of-use, knife safety and will prevent damage to the blades.
Some sets may include a honing steel for knife maintenance. These steel rods do not sharpen the blade in the same way that a stone would, but daily use will enhance functionality.
Some sets might include steak knives or kitchen shears.
Before you choose a knife set, you might have heard about German knives. For what it’s worth, German blades tend to be thicker and heavier than Japanese knives. This means they’re great for utility purposes, whereas Japanese knives are more specialized. In other words, their thinner, lighter blades are best suited to more delicate slicing.
While both knives are made of steel, the Japanese blades tend to be harder and typically measure 60 to 63 on the Rockwell scale measuring indentation hardness. German knives measure around 57 to 60. This means that the Japanese knives tend to be sharper and will keep their sharpness. The German blades will be more durable and less inclined to chip.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Japanese blades are angled at 10 to 15 degrees per side (compared with 17 degrees for the German knives). A narrower angle is sharper and will not damage the food.
Now that we understand what constitutes the best Japanese knife set let’s discover which brands live up to the benchmarks of sharpness, durability, and versatility.
If you’re a knife novice, then this good-looking set is a great way to get started. While it only contains three knives, you can quickly build up your collection as you progress. I’d suggest purchasing a knife block separately.
The blades are made of Japanese Damascus stainless steel, equating to fantastic rust resistance while ensuring a lifetime of performance.
I found the ergonomic handles provided superb agility and comfort.
This set is well priced for Japanese Damascus (see Amazon.com for the most up-to-date price).
This set is a good choice for the above-average home cook or professional chef.
These knives are made from 67 layers of high-carbon stainless steel layers and are razor sharp. The edges are hand-finished to an impressive 8-12° per side and are rated against stain and corrosion resistance. I liked the balance of the knives in that they are evenly weighted.
A stylish acacia-wood block gives this knife set excellent value and places it among the best Japanese knife sets (see Amazon.com for the most up-to-date price).
While this set is not made from real Damascus Japanese steel, its high-carbon stainless steel blades come with a striking wave pattern.
And it must be mentioned upfront that this set falls into the great bang-for-your-buck category (see Amazon.com for most up-to-date price).
I liked the look and feel of the pakkawood handle, not too heavy yet bolstered for a comfortable ‘pinch grip’. While the slim knife blades are undoubtedly hard, they don’t fall into the same category as the knives listed above.
That said, it’s still a great knife set and comes recommended, especially at the listed price.
The Global Kabuto range is exceptionally sleek and ergonomically designed. This seven-piece knife set surprised me, but clearly, it is a famous brand for a reason. Simple to clean and easy to sharpen, the knives are perfectly balanced, though lighter in hand than I expected.
Interestingly, the blades are stamped, not forged. Not that this affects their performance, for I found myself instinctively reaching for one whenever I needed to chop something. Their handles are perforated, providing superior grip and comfort, especially when using them over an extended period.
I’d recommend washing them by hand immediately after use. A dishwasher would ruin them as it will lead to rust spots.
The set includes a knife storage block and ceramic sharpening steel. Excellent value in its class (see Amazon.com for the most up-to-date price).
A beautiful-looking five-piece knife set, these blades are made from superior Japanese steel with added cobalt and cryogenically treated steel cores.
I found this slim knife to be well-balanced and enjoyable to work with. I especially liked the durable black pakkawood handle.
The blades are ruthlessly sharp and handcrafted to a mirror polish of 13-15° per side – I diced onion in double-quick time. The material is incredibly hard yet still corrosion-resistant.
Considering that it’s a five-piece block set, it represents an excellent value (see Amazon.com for the most up-to-date price).
Another knife set that is stamped rather than forged, Imarku knives are German-engineered and made with a high carbon stainless steel core.
The steel has a carbon content of between 0.6 to 0.75%, meaning it’s harder than a regular stainless-steel blade but not as hard as the TUO Damascus or Dalstrong listed above.
Even so, it’s a good knife set and fair value (see Amazon.com for the most up-to-date price).
One upside of the blades is their corrosion-free properties (thanks to an 18% chrome content). This makes them stain and tarnish-resistant.
The bamboo knife block and chopping board give the set great authenticity.
Now that you’ve bought yourself a set of Japanese knives, you’ll need to learn how to keep them sharp.
Besides doing a better job of chopping and slicing, a sharp blade enables you to work faster and more safely. A blunt edge requires you to apply more force to the item being cut. This means the chance of knives slipping and cutting your fingers is greater. In addition, a blunt knife causes a severe wound that takes longer to heal. Believe me, I’ve worked with knives long enough to know that you do not want to be injured with a blunt edge.
Sharp knives cut food better. For example, if you cut herbs or other delicate ingredients, you’ll damage fewer of the cells that surround the cut. This slows the speed at which fruit and vegetables discolor, or wilts. Besides, sharp knives are far more enjoyable to work with.
You’ll need a honing steel and a whetstone to sharpen your Japanese knives. Soak the whetstone in water for about 15 minutes. Place the stone on a cloth to prevent slipping while you sharpen the knife.
For single bevel knives, begin sharpening from the reverse side (around three strokes down the stone). Flip the blade over and sharpen for about seven strokes. Flip and repeat three times.
Wash the sharpened knife with hot water and dry properly.
Use the honing steel daily to maintain a sharp edge on your knives.
I tested a very broad range of knives I believe that new home cooks should consider the TUO Damascus Kitchen Knife Set 3 Piece, as the collection can always be added to. Just remember to purchase a knife storage block.
More accomplished cooks might prefer the Global Kabuto range, both for its reliability and comfort of use. That said, when it comes to authenticity and style, the Imarku 10 Piece is difficult to beat. The set comes in at an excellent price and also includes a knife block, honing steel, and kitchen shears.
Once you’ve determined your culinary needs, you should be well prepared to make an intelligent choice when choosing from the best Japanese knife sets.
The benefits of a good knife set include the speed of food preparation, which enhances the overall joy of cooking.
If you’re still undecided, then the following frequently asked questions and answers will help.
It depends on your needs. Home cooks just starting out should go for a three-piece knife set and look to build up your collection as you progress. Professional chefs would need to look at a seven-piece set.
Proper knife storage is vital. Besides making your knives easily accessible, the knife block will protect the blades from damage. And what better way to show off your new collection than a professional knife block set?
No. While Japanese knives are traditionally forged from a single bar of steel, many top brands stamp their knives out of a sheet of metal without affecting quality.
Yes. If the steel backbone runs right through to the end of the handle, you will have greater knife control and durability.
Japanese knives are traditionally single bevel blades. Saying that modern knives often have a double bevel blade because they are easier to sharpen at home. Professional chefs might prefer the single bevel blade as they are easier to sharpen on a stone.
By hand. And be sure to dry them properly after washing. Do not place knives in a dishwasher, as it might lead to staining or rust.
If you battle to slice soft foods like a fresh tomato, then your knives need sharpening. Note that it’s easier to keep sharpening a relatively sharp knife than waiting and trying to sharpen a very dull blade.
A lifetime. Japanese knives are made from quality materials and should come with a lifetime guarantee. This assumes proper knife care and maintenance.
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