As insignificant as it may sound; the type of kitchen knife you use, dictates the degree of convenience and proficiency you experience in your kitchen. This holds true for both, amateur and seasoned chefs. While it may be different for different people based on their level of expertise, their budget and personal preferences, what really matters is that you own a knife set that eases your time in the kitchen and helps enhance your culinary skills with time.
Among other popular options, enthusiastic chefs and food connoisseurs are seemingly inclined towards traditional kitchen knives. More specifically, there has been a sharp predilection among people towards Japanese kitchen knives. As opposed to their western counterparts, Japanese steel knives come with single and double bevel options, traditional light handles made of pure wood and are crafted by skilled artisans all the way back in Japan.
We’ve discussed several aspects where traditional Japanese chef knives (Gyuto) and Japanese santoku knives are unambiguously superior to other types in our comprehensive buying guide later in this article. Whereas, if you’re only here for our top recommendations, here’s our list of the top 5 Best japanese knives.
5 Best Japanese Kitchen Knives
Shun, in our opinion, produces the best Japanese chef knives that are sleek in appearance, meticulous in performance and have that sought-after traditional feel to them. This particular gyuto knife however differs from the conventional Japanese gyuto. Unlike how you’d have in a traditional Japanese chef’s knife, the blade profile is noticeably more curved giving it a kind of a hybrid look. The design tweak grants the knife with a marginally bigger belly increasing its utility at tasks like slicing, slashing and rock chopping.
However, the superior quality and augmented design comes at a slightly higher cost. The one linked here, has an 8” steel blade and is priced at around $120 at the time of writing this article. The higher cost is compensated with great value nevertheless. For instance, the steel alloy used by Shun is enhanced with higher percentages of tungsten, chromium, cobalt and carbon given the resultant compound its augmented durability and toughness.
Sitting lower on the price spectrum, this 8.2” gyuto knife from Tojiro is arguably one of the best Japanese chef knives on a budget. True to its core values, the Tojiro DP is an excellent display of the brand’s high-quality Japanese kitchen knives in a rather affordable price range. Combining great value with affordability, Japanese knives from Tojiro are a great way for aspiring chefs to get into professional Japanese knives.
The blade of the knife combines three layers of steel. The core is a much harder VG10 steel alloy giving the knife it’s durability and resistance to chipping. The harder core also contributes in maintaining the sharpness of the knife for longer. The outer steel layers are comparatively softer and account for easier sharpening of the blade. Further, the blade profile is double bevelled, making the knife suitable to both left and right-handed users. Additionally, the handle is ergonomic and uniform on both sides further enhancing usability for amateurs and expert chefs.
Right out of the box, the gyuto knife is very sharp and the construction further ensures that the knife maintains its sharpness. You can play your part by using the Japanese chef knife with a soft wood board. For the factored price that you pay for this handmade traditional Japanese kitchen knife, it’s the least that you should be willing to maintain this fine piece of work.
With a striking yet traditional appearance, this 8.25” Japanese gyuto knife is for chefs that have a thing for rare hand-crafted Japanese kitchen knives. Giving the knife its unique appearance, the outer layer of hammered Damascus steel sets this one apart from other Japanese chef knives on this list.
As with most premium Yoshihiro knives, this one too is hand-made by skilled artisans in Japan. The knife’s blade comprises of 3 layers of steel that differ in their alloy composition percentages. The inner core is a harder VG10 steel giving the knife its required hardness. The outer layer is proportionately softer making it easier to sharpen the knife as and when needed. The knife comes ready and extremely sharp right out of the box and even maintains its sharpness given you use it on softer boards with recommended slicing motion chopping.
The steel used is highly stain and rust resistant adding to the durability of your beloved Japanese gyuto. Further, the knife features a handcrafted premium mahogany handle that’s symmetrical along the length of the handle. Its ergonomic build, smooth finish and thoughtful design facilitates convenient usage for beginners and culinary experts.
- Lightweight; can be used for various cutting techniques
- Handmade in Japan
- Tough, corrosion resistant VG-MAX steel blade
- Even double bevelled blade profile
- Pakkawood ergonomic handle
- Hard steel core combined with 34 layers of hammered Damascus cladding
- Might require some time with whetstone before first use
Slightly shorter than conventional Japanese chef knives and better at tasks including chopping, slicing, dicing and mincing, a traditional Japanese santoku knife has its own place in modern kitchens. The blade profile for this one is rather straight and is double bevelled. This eliminates the existence of a correct side of the knife and hence eases with your daily chopping needs.
While the knife can be virtually used for any type of slicing, chopping and dicing; the 7” Shun santoku knife is ideally and professionally used for down and forward cutting motion. The knife’s low self-weight and the razor-sharp blade combine to give chefs unmatched precision. The blade of the knife is made from a superior steel alloy that the brand calls VG-MAX super steel. The hard core is combined with 34 layers of Damascus steel cladding on each side.
Next, the handle is a symmetric western style handle made out of pakkawood, a composite made form hardwood and resins. The handle curves on both sides alike and thus has no correct side. Hardwood combined with resin gives the resultant material excellent water and stain resistance. Further, the Japanese santoku knife’s handle has an embossed steel cap adding to its overall traditional look.
Yet another highly virtuous traditional Japanese santoku knife that’s comparably more affordable than our selection from Shun. The 7” stainless steel Japanese knife is layered like others on this list and isn’t crafted out of solid stainless steel. This gradation in the material enables the knife to retain certain desirable properties in correct proportions.
To elaborate, the Japanese knife has a VG10 steel core that is a harder variant of the alloy. More tungsten in the VG10 steel imparts the core and hence the knife its required hardness. The exterior layers of steel are relatively softer to keep the knife easy to sharpen. While the knife comes out of the box extremely sharp, it might require some whetstone sharpening with time. The softer outer steel layer ensures that you can yourself very effectively sharpen the knife as and when required. But if you want to avoid that hassle then you can get an electric knife sharpener.
Like all other models from yoshihiro, this one too comes straight from Japan carefully crafted by skilled artisans. The knife comes in pretty light with regards to self-weight making it extremely convenient to manage. Finally, the handle is again made from a composite of hardwood and resin and is water resistant, ergonomic and highly durable. To maintain the quality of your traditional Japanese santoku, you must never use it on a hard board and also refrain from trying to slice through bones, nutshells and frozen food.
How to Buy the Best Japanese Knives
What is a Japanese knife and how is it unique?
Japanese knives have become popular among both amateur and world’s top chefs as they can create some incredible things. They are manufactured with extremely sharp, thin and lightweight blades which are pinpoint precise and make food preparation a lot more convenient and amusing. They come in a lot of distinct varieties and are often constructed using traditional blacksmithing techniques. Their blades are made using stainless steel or hagane and it is a similar kind of steel using in the production of Japanese swords.
The layering of hard steel on a soft base of iron is one of the unique attributes of Japanese knives, and this technique originates from sword making. They are mostly single bevel which states that they are sharpened from one side only and to a much finer angle as it offers the advantage of easy food cutting.
Japanese Knife vs Western Knife : Know the Differences
The central distinction between Japanese Knives and its western counterparts is that they are honed from one side only. Whereas, western knives are honed from both sides of the blade. That’s why they have a more symmetrical bevel.
Japanese knives are made using hardened steel and they don’t require frequent sharpening. Additionally, they are lighter and their edge is cut at a steeper angle that offers precision and exactness. On the contrary, western-style knives are made of softer steel and their edge is less lasting than the Japanese knives. Also, it requires frequent sharpening which can be done easily at home.
What to consider while buying a Japanese Kitchen Knife?
1. Steel Type
The type of steel used in the manufacturing of the knife is one of the crucial aspects to consider. The steel utilized in Japanese knives is popular for its strength, sharpness, edge life, quality and ease of honing, however, each blade is somewhat unique. For instance, if we incline towards a higher price range, you can get extremely high carbon steel (also referred as blue or white steel), which is a lot harder, yet also can chip more easily and require much more maintenance.
You are more prone to be searching for an entry-level Japanese knife, which is typically produced using stainless steel. Stainless steel knives are more durable, resistant to rust and are comparatively easy to maintain. But, one of their disadvantages is that they don’t hold their sharpness for a longer period especially if they are used frequently.
The authentic Japanese style knives come with a domain of a varying price range starting from around $100 to over $1000 which is quite high as compared to their western-style collection, which starts from around $70. If you have got some professional chef skills, then you must invest in a single bevel knife. But, if you are an amateur, then you should consider the double bevel options as they would be more convenient for you.
As a general rule, most traditional Japanese knives are costlier than other western knife sets. .One of the few knife brands that we’ve reviewed on this website costing less than the industry standard are kamikoto knives and timeless classic; Ginsu Knives. These combine the traditional feel with an affordable price to bring you a top-notch option all thrifty kitchens.
3. Blade Style
Japanese knives are categorized into either a single bevel blade or double bevel blade. Single bevel is generally referred to as a traditional Japanese style knife, as it is sharpened from only one side of the blade. On the other hand, the double bevel is termed as a western-style knife and it is honed from both sides.
The single bevel design is usually manufactured for professional chefs as they are capable of making detailed and precise cuts during sushi and other food preparations. It requires a lot of practice to hold a great command over its ideal usage. That’s why you should go for the double bevel if you are a beginner. On the contrary, if you are looking for an authentic Japanese knife set, then you should consider the single bevel knife.
4. Type of Knife
The array of Japanese knives is loaded with different styles used for different tasks in the kitchen. For instance, Sujihiki knives are used for carving, filleting and for general purposes, petty knives are used for small and gentle cutting including fruits and herbs and honesuki is used for deboning poultry and making soft cuts.
Gyutou or Chef’s Knife is the traditional all-purpose Japanese knife which is equivalent to the European style knives. The word Gyutou means “beef knife”. They feature a lightweight and thin design which is made by using harder steel and therefore, they have got a long-lasting edge. On the other hand, Santoku is another multipurpose Japanese knife featured with a tall blade profile. They are mostly used for fish, meat and vegetable cutting and are often used for chopping as well. Nakiris are used for chopping greens, stalks and fruits. These may sound all overwhelming at first, but these indeed are meant for specific tasks and work best with them. If you happen to be looking for something specific, check out our roundup of the best Nakiri knives across major brands.
5. Brand Authenticity
Some local brands too manufacture Japanese-like knives, but they may lack some signature features. You can buy them at a much cheaper price (Ginsu , but they will not offer you that precision cuts and solid blade construction as that can only be found in the collection of authentic Japanese brands. Make sure that you purchase from a seller that has them hand-made by skilled artisans in Japan. They will be a bit costly, but surely worth your investment.
Best Japanese Knife Brands
Yoshihiro cutlery is one of the most seasoned knife making company of Japan. They have a past filled with seven centuries. They used to make swords. Throughout the previous 100 years, they are making knives. Their sword smiths slowly became knife smiths. Their strategies of making swords were one of a kind that days and their knife making methods are the remarkable present-day too. They make premium quality knives with premium quality materials. Yoshihiro cutlery has 600 choices of knives. Among all the Japanese knife brands they have a vast variety of knives. The collection incorporates all the types that a chef needs in his master kitchen.
Among all top Japanese knife brands, shun cutlery has acquired a unique spot by their quality creations for a long time. Shun is well-known for the production of sharp knives and we all know that sharpness is one of the crucial aspects of a knife which guides the chef through precise cuts. Along with this, Shun utilizes the best quality of steels as well, which are used to make distinct types of blades. Blue steel, white steel and Kasumi steel are some of the commonly used steel types. Overall, shun cutlery is very rich in their production and concentrates on both quantity and quality.
It is a popular Japanese brand making kitchen knives for more than 60 years. They believe that the production of fine knives requires a blend of modern technology as well as traditional techniques. The knives are manufactured after multiple numbers of trials and experiments to attain their ideal procedure. They have a patented method as well, which is referred to as DP or Decarburization Prevention. They use distinct steels including Damascus steel, Stainless steel, Shirogami steel and many more. Overall, the company is selling around 800 products worldwide with pride.
An ideal Japanese style knife makes the food preparation more delightful and experimental. Ensure that you analyze all the crucial aspects including steel type, blade style, knife type, budget and handle type while purchasing your first traditional Japanese knife. All the discrete types of knives starring advanced appearance and material may tempt you a bit, but we recommend you to go for a decent entry-level knife, especially if you are an amateur.
The Asian mastery of culinary precision also extends to other countries besides Japan if you truly want to explore all your options. We’ve also reviewed a prominent Chinese knife manufacturer celebrated for their razor-sharp knives and unmatched robustness. Check our review of Cangshan knives and see if those seem more compatible with your style.