Japanese Knife Types & Their Uses [Everything You Ever Wanted to Know]

June 7, 2022
Japanese knife types

You might be wishing for a Japanese knife if you have ever noticed the fine stylized food presented in sushi or the elegantly cut vegetables in certain Japanese dishes. This type of presentation is where food becomes an art form, and every art requires its media.

This wish could be the crossroad where your dishes turn from regular to stunning and puts your food on the map, whether you are a home cook, a gourmand, or a budding professional chef.

It is here that knowing your Japanese knife type, so to speak, becomes vital to your desired outcome.

The Japanese Knife Has a Cult Following

You are not alone, Japanese knives have a massive cult following, and many kitchens worldwide store their knives proudly. Many solicit the most expensive knives and build upon their collection, but the price point need not always be high.

The Japanese seem to have a world-class style of cooking that is all their own. Also, part of that is down to their amazing knives.

It is for a good reason. Some Japanese knives’ thin blades and delicate spines are unique and satisfying to use. You will love Japanese knives if you adore the intense sound of chopping and the resultant finely chopped vegetables, mushrooms, carrots, and other fairs. Even if you are not into Japanese cooking, you might add a few Japanese knives to your wishlist.

Luckily, Japanese knives have you covered if you are a keen meat eater.

Like all things, cultures learn from each other, so that is not to say that your regular chef’s knife or other western culinary feature you currently own is no good. Most people carry various kinds of knives to satisfy their need to produce exciting food.

See also: Serbian Chef Knife: Supreme Buyer’s Guide [Top 10 Picks]

The Trend is More Wholesome Food

People are moving away from fast food and focusing on the home and cooking; even regular cooks at home want to hone their skills. With a broad spectrum of information available on the internet, there should be no stopping any budding home chef. Most people don’t know where to start, so this guide might light the way to deciding which knife is best for your home or even your professional kitchen.

Not to mention that your knife collection could garner some admirable stares!

So, whether it is excellent food, art, and design you are after or simply a knife that cuts effectively, there will be a knife for you.

Type of Japanese knife

The Santoku Knife – Multi-Task

The Santoku is one of the most popular Japanese knife types because it is primarily an all-purpose knife. If you have no Japanese knives, you could start here. The Santoku is like the chef’s knife, a staple in most kitchens.

All-purpose knives are in charge of most tasks, such as cutting potatoes, slicing tomatoes, meat, and chicken. So, if you have no excellent blades, think about how much easier it will be if you have your hands on an all-purpose knife that is superior to many knives. Again, this does not insinuate that the chef’s knife is beneath the Santoku; it is simply different.

Its boxy appearance and fine spine offer a thinner blade that will melt through most foods with ease, including meat products. It appears smaller than the longer western chef’s knife, and its weight can vary.

It does not have a curved tip like the chef’s knife, reducing the capacity for ‘rocking’ when cutting or mincing vegetables and herbs. Newer versions of the Santoku do have a slight curve, but the rocking motion is slightly different. If you love the chopping sound it offers, you will fall in love with this knife.

The Gyuto Knife – Meat, Poultry, and All-purpose

The gyuto is what many would term the ‘meat’ cutting knife. Keeping in mind that the Japanese are famous sword makers, they have encapsulated this ability in the ‘cow-sword.’

The gyuto can slice through meat effortlessly; this knife is ready for the task; whether you are looking for thin slices or cutting through bone, the gyuto will complete this task quickly.

The gyuto is one of the earlier Japanese knives made well before the Santoku and, by all accounts, is also a perfect all-purpose knife. Because it is a bit longer and curved at the end, you can still create the rocking motion needed for cutting vegetables if that is your style.

Its main feature is its thin blade which can be as slim as 1.5 mm. Depending on your needs, you can purchase the gyuto knife in various lengths and with or without a bevel, but, as mentioned earlier, it is a great all-purpose knife.

The Garasuki and Honesuki Knives – Deboning

Both of these types of Japanese knives are perfect for boning meat. They can both slide in between flesh and bone with ease. The angled head and shape are perfect for this task and make the job effortless.

The two knives are different sizes, although they perform the same task. The Garasuki is heavier, and although both knives are rigid and offer a hardy blade, they are not suitable for cutting through bone.

The Nakiri Knife – Vegetables

The Nakiri knife is a superb vegetable knife. The blade is double beveled, meaning it slopes down on both sides. The beveled edge gives it a finer cutting point without the blade losing strength. It also has a slightly rounded tip, enabling faster chopping or slicing. The Nakiri makes short work of any vegetable and can also yield extremely decorative results.

Mushrooms can readily be parred-down to slim slithers, carrots turned into extra neat batons, and this knife can turn any vegetable into super thin slices.

You may wonder why you would go ahead and purchase this knife rather than simply a Santoku knife, but there’s an easy answer.

These knives are specific in what they do. Their blade is designed for only dealing with vegetables. It focuses on precision and offers the user complete control at all times.

That is why we do suggest trying to accumulate a number of knives for various purposes. Also, it just looks cool in your kitchen if you manage to have them all on display.

The Petty Knife – Paring

A paring knife is superb with vegetables. The Petty knife is similar to the Nakiri knife but more minor; it is more suitable for delicate tasks. Think, taking eyes out of potatoes, cutting cores out of apples, and decorative work. If you are into making radishes into tulips, this is undoubtedly a knife for you.

Actually, this particular knife is perhaps the one people are most familiar with. So many kitchens worldwide own a paring knife, but the blades with the Japanese versions are certainly far superior.

Even the Japanese paring knife blade size is different from most Western versions. At times, you will probably even wonder how it can function so effectively. However, it undoubtedly can, as you will find out if you purchase one.

The Deba Knife – Fish

The Deba knife slices easily through fish bones and separates the skin from the flesh. It is also great at descaling. They come in various sizes depending on the fish you are preparing.

Getting a midpoint Deba knife, between 165mm and 210mm, if you are on a budget but still want the fish knife will be helpful for most fish jobs.

There are more fish knives within the Deba Knife range, the Ko-Deba, better for smaller fish; the Kanisaki Deba, used for lobster and shellfish; and the Yo Deba, which can be used for all fish but has the standard European handle attached.

Best Japanese knife types for slicing meat
Cooking beef steak fillets

Specialty Knives

The range of Japanese knife types is extensive, and the range also incorporates so many tasks it can become a little intimidating at first glance. There are also specialty knives used for sushi and more delicate cutting.

The Yanagibo is great for making those small square pieces of fish used in sushi, and the Fugu Hiki is even specialized to cut only puffer fish! As well as the Menkiri which cuts noodles!

Also read: 6 Best Knife Steels: Reviewed & Buyers Guide

Unless you have a specific goal in mind, such as becoming a sushi chef, sticking to the well-known multipurpose task knives will be easier and better for the budget.

However, it’s certainly worth checking out the specifics of each Japanese knife type and thinking about seeking to build your collection of Japanese knives.

You Might be Wondering Which Knife Would be More Suitable for You?

In an ideal situation, you should be able to handle the knife before purchase. Through handling, you get a natural feel for what the blade offers. Not only that, but you can also feel the weight in your hand.

Each knife will have a specific weight and shape because it has been designed for particular tasks. That is why you need to consider what you will use the knife for.

If you cannot do this, the next best step would be to read up as much as possible and start with a multi-tasking knife. This way, you can get familiar with how the blades feel. For example, you cannot go wrong with a multipurpose knife like the Santoku. You will be able to accomplish many tasks with this particular knife, including vegetable cutting, meat slicing, and dicing of herbs.

The paring knives and meat knives are Japanese knife types easy enough to understand, and once you use these, you can get a feel for performance. Some people start with a multipurpose knife and add the meat and vegetable knives. Adding the Gyuto Knife will enable you to deal with bones in the flesh, as the Santoku is not that great at cutting through hard bones.

Taking Care of Your Knives

If you are investing in a fine Japanese knife, you should consider the maintenance of the blade as well.

Some will argue that sharpening your knife will destroy the blade. While this can hold true regarding handheld or electrical sharpeners, there are other methods of sharpening your knives.

These types of sharpeners are more designed for western knives as opposed to Japanese knives. If you have spent the time, money, and energy purchasing an excellent Japanese knife, getting the right equipment to sharpen your knife makes sense.

Most master knife sharpening experts agree that Whetstone is the least damaging, but even Whetstone sharpening takes a bit of knowledge and practice. Whetstones are large pieces of stone formulated to a specific type of grit; this sharpens the blade and slightly reshapes it. The finer grit in Whetstone sharpening is for polishing and finishing off your edge.

If you are unsure, check with the manufacturer if they offer sharpening services.

It might sound tedious, but all knives require sharpening, and blunt knives are useless and cause hazards in the kitchen.

Other Tips for Knife Maintenance

Most should not use Japanese knives on marble or glass cutting boards; a solid wood cutting board is better and won’t damage the blade.

You will also want to avoid placing your knife in a dishwasher. A simple hand wash in a bar of mild dish soap will do, and after cleaning, wipe and dry well. No knife blades should be left to drip dry. It can stain the edge and also cause blunting.

A good knife is a joy in the kitchen. Food preparation becomes easier, presentation is better, and a happy cook makes excellent food! Japanese knives are a pleasure to own, and you may start to collect more of them after your first knife.

The simple rules for finding and owning the perfect type of Japanese knife are:

  • Find the knife – decide which Japanese knife type is the most critical for you.

  • Knowledge – Read up as much as you can or even visit a Japanese shop that allows you to handle the knife.
  • Price Point – Try and stay within your price point but paying more for less is the golden rule. That means don’t buy too many at once but pay more for the knife you buy; it pays dividends in the long term.

  • Maintenance – Make sure you understand your blade and can maintain its integrity.

The great news is you can shop for good knives online or even in-store. Whatever you choose, eventually, we are sure you will love your Japanese blade as much as any cult follower!

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