A lot of people go through life without ever using a Japanese kitchen knife. When they finally do try one, they are amazed at the difference. They make cutting and preparing food feel like the stuff of dreams and once you try one, you’ll never go back.
When it comes to the material of the blade, this is the area that allows Japanese knives to stand out and be considered such high quality. A traditional Japanese knife is made from a combination of a hard high carbon steel core and softer iron steel outer later, very often Damascus steel. The material and construction process of these carbon steel blades results in a very fine edge that is sharper and more precise than the thicker blade of a Western knife.
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There are lots of different types of Japanese knives and this is one of the wonderful things about using these tools. The Japanese professional chefs have taken an approach that sees each knife being used for one specific purpose.
Japanese Kitchen Knives
That said, there are a couple of multipurpose knives that are ideal for beginners who need something with a little more versatility. But before we start to discuss the features that make these high-carbon stainless steel knives so effective, I’d like to give you a very brief introduction to some other types of Japanese knives.
If you’re interested in getting even better acquainted with any of the following knives, we have dedicated guides for each of them.
As well as being used for boning, many people double up the use of their honesuki as a petty knife since it’s around the shape and size.
However, one should not confuse the honesuki with the hankotsu which is another type of boning knife. These knives are thicker at the spine and have no flex at all. They’re incredibly durable and are intended for more heavy-duty jobs such as removing bones from hanging meats.
One of the great advantages of the sujihiki knife is how precise it is and this is thanks to the steep sharpening angle. They’re ideal for carving and filleting as well as for any other type of slicing work.
It’s no good me telling you that any one type of Japanese knife is better than the other. They’re all made with a specific purpose in mind so they’re all good at what they’re designed for. Equally, a Japanese knife can be just as bad if it’s used for the wrong purpose. For example, you wouldn’t use a petty knife to bone a chicken. If you did, it’d be pretty useless.
Of All the Japanese Knives, Which One Is Best?
However, if you’re just getting started with Japanese knives then you’ll want something that can meet most of your kitchen needs. There are two types of multi-purpose Japanese knives and these are what I would recommend to newcomers. However, each one has its pros and cons just like anything else so let’s get better acquainted with them.
Back in the day, blacksmiths in Japan were famed for their ability to craft glorious swords and a whole host of other weapons. However, the call for these products became less and less so they needed to meet a new demand, that of knife making resulting in blades such as the gyuto knife.
The knives made in Japan always used to be single bevel but with the invention of the gyuto, blacksmiths started making them as double bevel knives to meet the demands of the western user. These were called wa-gyuto although there are plenty of single bevel versions out there.
To look at a Japanese gyuto knife, you could be fooled into thinking you were looking at a western chef’s knife because the appearance is remarkably similar. However, they are different in that the quality of most gyutos is far superior to any western knife you’ll ever use. But that’s the same across the board with Japanese knives.
Where everything else is concerned, gyutos are pretty much the same as your standard western chef’s knife. However, the blade material, that of layers of Japanese steel, results in a thinner, lightweight blade with razor-sharp edges, which are rust resistant and fantastic for precision cutting.
They’re just as versatile and you’ll find yourself using them for chopping, slicing, dicing, and for use with a whole range of meats, fruits and vegetables. With their pointed tip, they’re surely the most multipurpose knife in the kitchen but there is one other Japanese blade that is constantly trying to pip the gyuto to the post in the battle over which is the best Japanese knife.
Instead of a pointed tip like the gyuto, a santoku has a flat, wide blade with a rounded or flat tip. This distinct appearance is one of the things that sets them apart from other knives so you’ll never have a problem recognising one. However, since the tip of the blade is flat, this means that these knives are not so adept when it comes to piercing food where the gyuto excels.
What’s more, the gyuto knife has a curved belly which means that you can perform the rocking motion cutting technique; a hugely popular and efficient type of cut favoured by chefs all over the world. But the santoku doesn’t benefit from this feature so you cannot perform this cutting technique.
On the plus side, santokus have a lovely wide blade which makes them ideal for transferring food from the cutting board to the pan. They are brilliant knives if you are looking for something to help you chop more efficiently and they are, much like every other type of Japanese knife, incredibly sharp. Again, this sharpness allows for much neater cuts and greater precision no matter what food you’re working with.
Santoku knives are made from hard, thin, quality stainless steel which means they have fantastic edge retention. You will find that these knives are designed for either left-handed or right-handed users thanks to the asymmetric grind. There are some examples of these knives that have a hollow grind as this allows for even greater sharpness.
Over recent years, the santoku has become one of the most well-loved Japanese blades for western users. As such, manufacturers have started producing them in vast quantities. You’ll be able to find a santoku with any feature you prefer whether that’s various lengths, different types of handles, varying angles and much more. The great benefit of this is that you can find a knife that really can become an extension of your hand; and that’s exactly what using a Japanese knife is all about.
Finally, santoku knives are really comfortable to work with. This is largely because they are so much more lightweight than a gyuto. While a gyuto is much lighter than a traditional western chef’s knife, they’ve still got quite a bit of bulk and can feel cumbersome, especially for people who are just getting used to Japanese blades.
On top of their lightweight design, santoku knives are a lot gentler on your hands. They allow the user greater agility when cutting so your hands won’t get as tired as quickly. Since the blade is smaller, they’ll work well with small cutting boards so things won’t be as awkward while you’re working.
When using a santoku knife, you’ll find that you get almost the same level of versatility as a chef’s knife but not quite. These knives are ideal for pretty much all kitchen tasks unless you’re cutting vegetables with thicker skin such as squash or pineapple. They may also be unsuitable for heavy-duty tasks like boning. Where you cannot use a santoku, you’d reach for your gyuto.
Choosing your first Japanese knife is really important as it will open up a whole new world for you in terms of food preparation. If you are only looking to buy a single Japanese knife then the obvious choice would be a santoku or a gyuto since they are both multi-purpose.
Which Should I Choose: Santoku vs Gyuto
But while it’s easy to narrow it down to these two from the many different types of Japanese knives, you then have a much more difficult choice to make. Or do you
When I started using Japanese kitchen knives, I really liked the idea of having a santoku. This was largely because I loved (and still do love) the way they look. However, I was advised that a gyuto would be the better choice in terms of what I could do with it and I’m glad I listened.
Gyuto knives just give you that little bit more versatility. While the santoku does rival it somewhat, it’s just missing that little something that makes it suitable for quite as many tasks.
Of course, it really does depend on what you’ll be cutting because in some circumstances, a santoku will serve you perfectly. If there won’t be any piercing or working with tough skins involved then go for a santoku. Not only will they work perfectly well in every other aspect but you also have the benefit of comfort.
Also, you should keep in mind that most santoku knives are slightly cheaper than gyutos. That said, we would always recommend buying the most expensive knife you can afford as this denotes quality and a knife that will stand the test of time, and believe us when we say that a sharper knife and a more durable blade, you will not fine.
Japanese kitchen knives are among some of the very best in the world. If you’re looking for a reliable, sharp kitchen knife that will last a lifetime then there aren’t any other knives on the planet that will serve you as well as Japanese knives.
However, there are a lot of different types and this leaves people wondering which is the best type of Japanese knife. Professional chefs will own an arsenal of knives, with each blade suited to a particular task. In truth, they’re all really good at what they’re designed for. But if you’re a beginner and want something that’ll work for all of your kitchen needs as well as being easy to use then a gyuto or a santoku knife takes the crown.
These versatile knives give you the freedom to work with fruits, veggies, meats and more and will become one of the go-to kitchen tools that you can’t live without.