A santoku knife is a perfect example of a versatile Japanese knife.
- Many Japanese knives are mirror images of or complements to their western counterparts.
- Japanese knives differ from western knives in some important ways.
- Ultra-specialized Japanese knives won’t find frequent use in western kitchens.
From its Samurai swords to its kitchen knives, Japan has long been famous for making blades. And through a century and a half of cultural exposure, some of their best elements have ended up in western kitchens, and vice versa.
That said, many Japanese-style knives remain close to their original form. They have unique properties and signature craftsmanship that make them different from western cutlery even when they share many similarities.
Below, we'll go over some of the key differences between Japanese knives and traditional western knives and have a look at some of the more famous Japanese kitchen blades.
The Traditions of Japanese Kitchen Knives
Japanese and western knives, of course, share a similar purpose: to cut things. In recent decades, there has been a large amount of crossbreeding in which manufacturers from both traditions have borrowed designs from each other. However, there are some key differences that separate the two in their purely traditional forms.
- Japanese kitchen knives are often beveled only on one side.
- Japanese knives usually have a steeper angle in their bevel, giving them very sharp edges but also making them more fragile.
- Japanese knives often use high-carbon steel rather than stainless steel, making them susceptible to damage from acid but excellent for edge retention.
- Western knives usually rely on a full tang, whereas Japanese knives use a partial tang.
- Japanese knives are usually lighter and thinner than western knives.
- Most Japanese knives have straighter cutting edges than their western counterparts.
- Some Japanese knives can be quite plain-looking, while others are made with visually striking metal like Damascus steel.
With that out of the way, let's look at some of the more common Japanese knives — and what they're used for.
A santoku knife is shorter and lighter than a western chef’s knife.
A santoku knife has become one of the most popular knives in the world, rivaling even the traditional western chef's knife. Its name is Japanese for "three virtues," though which three virtues these represent is up for debate. Some say the three virtues of the knife are meat, fish, and vegetables, while others argue the virtues are chopping, slicing, and dicing.
Whatever the case, a santoku knife is an excellent all-around knife to have in the kitchen and can accomplish just about anything a western style chef knife can. Its shorter blade and lighter weight compared to a chef's knife make it a favorite for those with small hands.
Because its blade is flat rather than curved, using it requires lifting the blade each time you want to cut. With some practice, a chef can get very fast and very precise with this — and those who are familiar with finely-cut Japanese cuisine, like sushi, will appreciate its focus on precision.
A gyuto knife is the closest thing in the world of Japanese knives to a traditional western chef's knife. Literally meaning "beef sword," this knife has a slightly curved blade that allows it to rock back and forth on the cutting board. Professional chefs in Japan use it to prepare traditional western food in Japan, though it’s quite suitable for Japanese food as well. Realistically, the knife could replace a chef's knife in many western kitchens.
It can be used to cut a variety of meat, both tough and tender, but it also makes a good vegetable knife. Additionally, the sharp tip compared to a santoku knife makes this knife good for precision work — like making garnishes, for example.
Gyuto knives come in a wide variety of sizes, from typical chef's knife length (about 8 inches) to almost comically long. Generally speaking, the longer the knife, the more powerful it is but the harder it is to control. It can also be a problem if the knife doesn’t fit on countertops found in most kitchens.
A nakiri resembles a western-style meat cleaver.
A nakiri knife is a type of vegetable knife with a flat end instead of a point. Essentially, it looks like a lighter, thinner version of a meat cleaver.
Like a santoku knife, it has a straight blade that is intended to cut all the way through vegetables to the cutting board. The knife is designed so you don't have to push forward or pull backward when cutting: Instead, you cut straight down through the vegetables.
This type of cutting is great for ultra-fine cuts and helps prevent damage to the plants' cells. A Japanese chef would use it to get the precise cuts needed for high-quality presentation of a dish.
Note that a nakiri knife is usually thinner than knives meant for meat. It doesn't need to take a serious beating cutting through bone, tendon, or gristle. Instead, it's meant to glide effortlessly through vegetables.
Japanese knives can be general-purpose like the petty, closest in the picture above.
A petty knife is the Japanese answer to the western paring knife. In general, it's a short, multipurpose utility knife used for — well — just about anything depending on the knife’s size.
Speaking of size, a petty knife's size can vary wildly: anywhere from 3-8 inches, though they're more commonly on the smaller side. Smaller petty knives are valuable for traditional paring uses like peeling fruits or vegetables, while longer ones can be valuable boning knives or meat slicers.
One major difference between a petty knife and a western paring knife is that a petty knife is often used for precise tasks on a cutting board rather than something held in a hand. They especially shine when used for more elaborate or delicate cuts in high-end sushi.
A deba knife is a type of knife typically used for fish, though it can also be used for meat or poultry. It's sturdier than many Japanese knives but still isn't meant to handle heavy-duty work like cutting through thick bone. It can, however, be used to break down poultry or cut through connective tissue.
Because there are countless types of fish used in Japanese cooking, there are many types of deba knives as well. Each one is meant for a different function or a different type of fish. For example, one can be better at cutting heads while another is superior for filleting.
The sujihiki is a long, thin knife used for slicing meat or fish. It's very comparable to a traditional western carving knife and can be used for essentially the same tasks, like trimming a roast pre-cook or carving it afterward. Of course, like many Japanese knives, it's also useful for many fish-related techniques, like filleting.
The yanagiba is primarily a fish knife, used for filleting or scaling fish for sushi. It's a long, narrow knife that looks a lot like a western fish filleting knife. It's ideal for sliding between the meat of the fish and the bone to create boneless fillets.
Which Japanese Knives Do You Need?
Many Japanese knives would never see the light of day in a home kitchen.
The aforementioned knives are just the beginning of the world of Japanese knives. That world is a very deep rabbit hole that's easy to get lost in with specialized versions of already-specialized knives. You could spend a great deal of time reading about them and learning about them. On top of that, you could spend a small fortune on a full Japanese knife set like those made by Shun or Yoshihiro — but we don't think that's necessary.
Realistically, you won't be using most of these knives unless you're a professional sushi chef or otherwise get really, really into cooking traditional Japanese cuisine. Many of these traditional Japanese knives would be redundant in a western home kitchen and would simply end up taking up space.
Our vote for the most useful of these Japanese knives is the santoku knife. It's an excellent, all-purpose knife that's the result of cultural cross-pollination and can complement any kitchen. Because there’s been so much intermingling between Japanese and western traditions, most western chefs would feel right at home using it. It can sit proudly alongside your bread knife, steak knives, and other standards and will get regular use.
Every cook will need a chef's knife (Gyuto) but a Santoku is a great alternative. As is a Nakiri, specifically designed for chopping. A paring knife (petty) is necessary for more fiddly work and a Sujihiki or Yanagiba for slicing. Depending on the task in hand we have the knife for you.What are the 3 most important kitchen knives? ›
There are only three knives that are crucial in a kitchen: a chef's knife, a paring knife and a serrated knife.What is the most versatile Japanese knife? ›
Despite having the word for cow in the name (gyu), the gyuto knife is the most versatile and useful knife for your kitchen, whether you're preparing beef, fish, or vegetables.How do I pick a Japanese knife? ›
High quality, high cutting performance, durability, ease of maintenance and ease of re-sharpening, are all important factors to consider when choosing your first Japanese knife.What should my first Japanese knife be? ›
What style of kitchen knife do I need? Start with a "Gyuto", "Santoku" or "Bunka" as a first purchase if you're looking for an all rounder. A gyuto, santoku or bunka is a great starting point because these are a multi-purpose chef knife.Which knife is best for everything? ›
You can use this knife to chop, slice, julienne just about anything, plus carve a roast or break down a watermelon. It should be a strong, but lightweight knife, with a long blade and a handle that fits nicely in your hand.
That said, there's a reason the basic 6- to 8-inch chef's knife is ubiquitous: It's the most versatile knife. The chef's knife is capable of dicing veggies, slicing meat, smashing garlic, and chopping herbs and nuts. In a pinch, it'll even go through small bones without too much trouble.What are the top 5 best knives? ›
- Best Overall: Made In 8 Inch Chef Knife and Misen Chef's Knife.
- Best Budget Knife: Victorinox Fibrox 8-Inch Chef's Knife.
- Best Value: Hedley & Bennett Chef's Knife.
- Best for Butchering: Wusthof Classic 8-Inch Chef's Knife.
- Best Japanese-Made Chef's Knife: Shun Classic Western 8-Inch Chef's Knife.
Typically German knives are heavier, meaning that while they may not have the extremely sharp edge that Japanese cutlery is known for, they utilize the weight of the knife to do the work for them. This is the reason why chefs who are used to German knives prefer using knives that are heavier.What are the most sought after Japanese knives? ›
Nenohi Honyaki Dentokougeishi Sakimaru Takobiki with Corian Handle – Price: $6,980. This is one of our favourites: one of those traditional Japanese knives made by Master blacksmith Yoshikazu Ikeda that has been forging honyaki blades for decades now.
Famous chefs from around the world choose popular Japanese brands like Shun and Yoshihiro for their professional and personal knives because of how long they last and the perfect balance between the blade and the handle.What should you not cut with a Japanese knife? ›
Don't cut directly on hard surfaces such as a benchtop; stainless steel sink; plate or chopping boards made from glass, ceramic, bamboo, corian and other hard substances. An endgrain chopping board or soft plastic chopping board is best. Remember your knives do have limitations and are not indestructible.What are Santoku knives good for? ›
Santokus are most often used for chopping, dicing, and mincing. Because of their precision edge, they're especially useful for julienning thin slices of vegetables and meats. The wide blade associated with a Santoku also makes it useful for "scooping" food off of a cutting board and moving to a Saute Pan or other dish.What is a Japanese santoku knife used for? ›
Santoku knives or to give them their full name Santoku bocho knives, which translates as 'three uses', are ideal for mincing, dicing and slicing, as they feature a straight edge with a narrow sheep's foot blade. These knives have evolved from the traditional Japanese vegetable knife which has a rectangular blade.What is the 2nd most common knife in the kitchen? ›
A Paring Knife
Though he considers his paring knife to be the second most important knife in his kitchen, he also doesn't use it very frequently. For dealing with small or delicate items, though—such as when you're peeling a shallot or halving a lemon—the smaller size of a paring knife is a huge help.
- How to grip the knife properly. Before you start chopping anything, you want to make sure you're holding the knife correctly. ...
- How to cut properly. ...
- How to dice. ...
- How to mince. ...
- How to chiffonade. ...
- How to julienne.
German knives can handle tough jobs with ease; you can use them on joints and bones. On the flip side, Japanese knives are more suitable for precise cutting or chopping jobs. They are designed with thinner blades and demand more attention during usage.What is the difference between a Gyuto and Santoku? ›
Gyuto has a more curved edge profile and a less turned down spine than Santoku. As a result, Gyuto has a slightly sharper tip. These make cutting into a meat and rock cutting motions a little easier. Santoku's turned down spine is known as a sheep's foot blade, or sheep's foot tip.Why do chefs prefer Japanese knives? ›
Generally, Japanese knives are lighter, feel more balanced in the hand and feature steel that is harder, thinner and able to hold an edge for a longer time. These are exactly the reasons they're so popular among professional chefs, and why they're perfect for the precision tasks chefs do all day every day.What knife do chefs use the most? ›
The most popular type of knife among professional chefs is the chef's knife. A chef's knife is a versatile all-purpose knife that can be used for everything from chopping vegetables to slicing meat. The blade is usually between eight and ten inches long and is made of high-carbon stainless steel.
A classic chef's knife is the most important knife in your collection. McDermott recommends an 8- to 10-inch chef's knife, which he acknowledges may be slightly longer than most people are comfortable with at first. However, the longer edge makes the knife more versatile and efficient.
Gordon Ramsay uses both Wüsthof and Henckels branded knives; the brands are known for quality products, and they are two of the best knife manufacturers in the world. Wüstoff has been making knives since 1814, and Henckels has been around since 1895.What kitchen knife stays sharp longest? ›
Carbon steel knives are known to keep their sharp edges longer than most and make chopping, slicing and shaving safer and easier.What knife did Bourdain use? ›
He wanted home cooks to forget about all those big blocks full of expensive knives they'd never need and just get one really good chef's knife: the Global G-2 Chef's Knife. According to The Daily Meal, Bourdain is still sticking with that recommendation.What is the number one knife brand? ›
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Cooks generally agree that German-style, stainless steel knife blades are hardier than Japanese-style blades. There's less concern about chipping or breaking the blade of a German-style knife. Its durability means you can use it for more cutting and chopping tasks.Which knife is best Santoku or chef? ›
Although both are considered multipurpose tools for slicing, dicing, and mincing fruits, vegetables and herbs, when it comes to the meats, the chef's knife is more commonly used for cutting through thick cuts of meat and even bones, while the Santoku is the go-to for fish.What Japanese knives does Jamie Oliver use? ›
The Jamie Oliver by Tefal Japanese santoku knife features pits on its blade, which support food oxygenation and free-flowing movements. "It's a clever knife," says Oliver. "And fantastically weighted."How much should I spend on a Japanese knife? ›
The cost depends on the knife maker, company, and type of steel used, but I would plan on spending between $300 and $700 for a hand forged or hammered Japanese chef knife.What is the most valuable knife in the kitchen? ›
- Dalstrong 8-inch Chef Knife. ...
- WÜSTHOF Performer 8-Inch Chef's Knife. ...
- Nagomi Japan PROFESSIONAL Chef Knife. ...
- Artisan Revere Chef's Knife. ...
- Takeshi Saji R2 Diamond Finish Damascus TCR Japanese Chef's Santoku Knife. ...
- Tsukasa White Steel Unryu Kurouchi Damascus Knife.
The Difference Between A Santoku Knife And A Chef's Knife
Chef's knives are usually 8" - 12”, while Santokus are 5" - 7.9”. Santoku knives feature a boxier build. Chef's knives are heavier to hold. Chef's knives are traditionally made of stainless steel, while Santokus are made of high carbon Japanese steel.
Gyutou are the Japanese equivalent of a typical European chef's knife. They are the ideal all-purpose kitchen knives and can be used for most tasks. Japanese gyutou are typically lighter and thinner than a European knife, are made out of a harder steel and as a result, hold a better edge.Which is better shun or ENSO? ›
The Enso has a much better handle than the shun classic. It is closer to what you'd find on thee better lines of shun, or, of course, onall of Yaxell's lines. It is more comfortable if you're cutting for hours. Shun classics are generally used by home cooks.Do you need to oil Japanese knife? ›
Tsubaki Oil (Japanese Tea Seed Oil) is a must have for high carbon steel knives. Apply a few drops after use to prevent rust, corrosion and discoloration. It will also help shine and condition your knives. The Rust Eraser will help remove rust and stains on your knife.Do you oil Japanese knives? ›
Tsubaki oil(camellia flower oil) is a natural oil used to prevent rust on carbon steel knives, like traditional Japanese blades. Apply tsubaki oil when you're storing your knives for an extended period(like for a vacation).Do you sharpen both sides of a Japanese knife? ›
Japanese-Style Knives (Yanagi, Takobiki, Usuba, Kamagata Usuba, Deba Knives) Sharpen the entire cutting edge until there is a slight and even burr on the reverse side.Why do santoku knives have holes? ›
The holes help to keep food from sticking to the blade by letting more air pass between the blade and the food.Can santoku knives be used for meat? ›
A Santoku knife is a versatile blade that performs different cutting tasks. As mentioned earlier, it does an excellent job of slicing, dicing, mincing, and chopping different foods. You can use it for cutting meat, mincing herbs and meat, and slicing cheese.Is a santoku worth it? ›
A good santoku can certainly mince, slice, and chop as well as any good chef's knife (in fact, some testers even liked the Misono a tad more than our winning chef's knife from Victorinox), and if you prefer a smaller tool, one of our top-ranked santokus might suit you just fine.Are santoku knives good for cutting vegetables? ›
Known for its signature rounded-tip blade and flat cutting edge, the Santoku Knife is excellent for slicing, dicing, and mincing. It is suitable for slicing through a wide range of vegetables, including those with tougher skin (such as cucumbers and squash).
Santokus are most often used for chopping, dicing, and mincing. Because of their precision edge, they're especially useful for julienning thin slices of vegetables and meats. The wide blade associated with a Santoku also makes it useful for "scooping" food off of a cutting board and moving to a Saute Pan or other dish.Are Wüsthof knives 15 or 20 degrees? ›
On Wüsthof European-Style knives, the blade edge angle has been reduced to 28 degrees (14 degrees per side), while Asian-style Santoku, Nakiri and Chai Dao knives have a blade edge angle of 20 degrees (10 degrees per side).Do chefs use santoku knives? ›
Santoku knives and chef's knives are the 'go-to' knives for many professional chefs as they are versatile enough to perform a range of tasks in the kitchen. Technically Santoku knives are a type of chef's knife but they vary in shape and style to the traditional French and German style knives.Which knife is best santoku or chef? ›
Although both are considered multipurpose tools for slicing, dicing, and mincing fruits, vegetables and herbs, when it comes to the meats, the chef's knife is more commonly used for cutting through thick cuts of meat and even bones, while the Santoku is the go-to for fish.How long should Wüsthof knives last? ›
Despite the pricey start, a well-made quality knife will last beyond a decade with regular sharpening and blade straightening. Of course, there are ways to damage a knife (read: cutting frozen food), and one has to be careful not to over-sharpen a knife.What knife is Jamie Oliver using? ›
The ultimate Chef's knife from Jamie Oliver and Tefal
Jamie brings the passion and food knowledge; Tefal provides the technology and performance. Together they've proudly made quality, trusted products for nearly two decades that make cooking from scratch a real joy. The smart choice for feel-good food.
Please make sure to clean your knives thoroughly before returning them for sharpening or service. Please only send products manufactured by WÜSTHOF. Products not made by WÜSTHOF will be immediately returned to you.What is Gordon Ramsay's Favourite knife? ›
Gordon Ramsay uses both Wüsthof and Henckels branded knives; the brands are known for quality products, and they are two of the best knife manufacturers in the world. Wüstoff has been making knives since 1814, and Henckels has been around since 1895.What are the best Japanese chef knives in the world? ›
- Tojiro DP 8.2 inches Gyutou knife.
- Shun Classic 8 inches Chef's Knife.
- KUMA Professional Damascus 8-inch Chef Knife.
- Miyabi Kaizen 8'' Chef's Knife.
- Yoshihiro Gyuto High Carbon Chef Knife.
- Global Model X 8″ Chef's Knife.
- Mac Knife Series 8-Inch Hollow Edge Chef's Knife.
Apart from Japanese chef knives, professional chefs use other Japanese knives. They include Santoku, Yanagiba, Deba, Nakiri, and Sashimi knives. A Santoku knife is a multipurpose blade for slicing, chopping, and dicing foods. It is usually shorter than a chef's knife, with a 5-7 inches blade length.
The santoku has a shorter blade, sheepsfoot spine, and flatter edge. Gyuto blades are longer with a sharper tip and curved edge. Both are multi-purpose knives, but the santoku is better for vegetables and straight cuts, while the gyuto is better for meats and the rock chop technique.What are the dimples on a Santoku knife for? ›
What are the dimples on a santoku knife? Those indentations are sometimes called "granton" and they do serve a purpose! Two purposes, actually: They reduce friction during slicing and help keep food from sticking to the blade—although it's sometimes hard to tell whether or not these divots actually help.