Japanese knives come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Here we will break down the differences to help give you a better understanding of your options.
The Gyuto is a multipurpose knife modeled after the Western Chefs knife. This style of knife has a sweeping curve from tip to heal allowing for a comfortable rock-chopping motion.
The Santoku is the traditional Japanese chefs knife. Santoku (三徳) translates to 3 virtues and refers to this knife's ability to handle meat, fish and vegetables. Santoku knives have a flat portion towards the heal and a quick curve just at the tip. A Santoku works most comfortably when using a push-cut chopping motion where the entire blade is lifted from the board with each cut.
The Petty knife ranges in size from a small paring knife to one that is just smaller than a Santoku. These knives are very versatile and can be used for in hand pairing work as well as chopping on a board. Great for vegetable and fruit prep!
Watch our video to hear more about the differences in double bevel knife styles!
The Nakiri is a vegetable chopping knife. Often referred to as a "vegetable cleaver" this knife has a rectangular shape and no tip.
The Sujihiki's long and slender profile make it the perfect knife for slicing. From steak to poultry, this style will be your go to for all of your carving needs. Have a sushi night coming up? while it won't cut as cleanly as a Yanagi (single beveled slicer) the Sujihiki will work great as a fish slicer.
The Yanagiba is a traditional sushi knife designed for cutting thin cuts of fish in sushi and sashimi preparation. The thin edge allows for extremely sharp feel and breaks less cell walls preserving the flavor of the fish. The narrow profile allows for less resistance when slicing. The downside to a Yanagiba is the very delicate edge that can be prone to chipping if used for a task that it is not designed for.
The Usuba is a traditional sushi knife designed for cutting thin cuts of vegetables especially as decoration in sushi and sashimi preparation. The thin edge allows for extremely sharp feel and breaks less cell walls preserving the flavor of the vegetables and allowing for more precise cuts. The downside to a Usuba is the very delicate edge that can be prone to chipping if used for a task that it is not designed for.
The Deba is the perfect fillet knife, while it takes a little getting used to, with practice, you will be able to quickly and effectively remove your filet, leaving minimal meat on the bone.
Watch this video to learn about Japanese single bevel knives.
Japanese boning knives or Honesuki (also see Garasuki, and Hankotsu) are designed for meat butchery. They have a more robust spine to protect from damage when going between bones and through cartilage. Generally sharpened asymmetrically (~90/10) these knives have a very sharp edge that cuts quickly and easily through fatty meats and slippery proteins.
A cross between an Usuba and Yanagiba, the Kiritsuke was traditionally reserved for use by the executive chef. This was a designation of skill for only when you have mastered the Usuba and the Yanagiba were you permitted to use a Kiritsuke.
Today these knives have become much more mainstream, and offer more versatility to the slicing knife.
The Menkiri or Noodle knife is the traditional Japaense perfered tool for cutting Soba and Udon. The long straight edge allows for control and presicion when trying to cut the perfect noodle thickness.
Knives we think you'll love
Iseya VG10 33 Layer Damascus Japanese Chef's Gyuto Knife, 210mm
Kunihira Sairyu VG10 Damascus Nakiri Japanese Chef Knife 165mm
Seisuke AUS10 Hammered Kiritsuke Santoku Japanese Knife 195mm with Blue Pakka wood Handle
Sakai Takayuki VG10 33 Layer Damascus Gyuto Japanese Chef's Knife 210mm
How to build your set
When putting together your first knife set, you want to think about what you will be cutting most.
If you are mostly chopping vegetables, but are looking to build out a set with a few different types of knives, we recommend a Nakiri & Petty combo. The Nakiri will handle most prep tasks and chopping, while the Petty knife will allow you to do hand pairing work and finer detail cutting. It can be helpful to have a couple different sizes of Petty knives on hand, something in the 80mm range as well as one a little longer 120mm-150mm. This will give you the range to tackle all tasks from hulling strawberries and tomatoes to coring an apple or chopping an onion with ease.
If you are looking for knives to handle various meat cutting and butchery tasks, We recommend having a Gyuto and Sujihiki, as well as a Honesuki. As mentioned above, the Gyuto was developed in Japan after the introduction of beef to the Japanese diet in the mid 1860's and was modeled after the Western chef's knife. Its sweeping curve and longer length allows it to smoothly cut through the fibers of beef, pork and poultry while still handling a variety of vegetable chopping tasks with ease. The Sujihiki's long slender blade allows for thinly slicing cooked meat like flank steak or carving a turkey around the holidays. Finally, the Honesuki is the perfect boning knife. While it may not look like the boning knives you're used to, the thicker spine and nearly single bevel grind gives this knife the perfect mixture of strength and durability. Watch our tutorial on breaking down chicken Yakitori-style for a closer look at how to take full advantage to the Honesuki.
Fish is where the single beveled Deba and Yanagi knives shine. The super thin grind leaves you with an extremely sharp edge that damages less of the flesh of your delicate fish preserving the flavor and freshness. The Deba is the perfect fillet knife, while it takes a little getting used to, with practice, you will be able to quickly and effectively remove your filet, leaving minimal meat on the bone. The Yanagi & Sujihiki will then be your slicing knives. The Yanagi's single bevel grind gives you the best cutting edge, where as the Sujihiki will be more versatile.