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Eyeing a Japanese Chef’s Knife? These Are the Three Brands to Know

Don’t buy a Japanese-style chef’s knife made by a European manufacturer.

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Unlike the Western-style chef’s knives, which count household names Victorinox, Wüsthoff, Zwilling and others in their ranks, the Japanese chef knife establishment is less obvious to Western shoppers. This issue is amplified thanks to a number of major European and American manufacturers offering “Japanese” or “Japanese-style” knives that, without the stamped-on kanji script, share little with traditional Japanese design. And while there are thousands of craftspeople creating gorgeous knives in limited quantities throughout the country (their wares can be shopped at these stores), Japan has its staples, too. These are the three brands every shopper should start with.

Global

What Is It?
Global’s knives are one of the few Japanese knives to have successfully penetrated the American market. The blade line is flat, unlike the curving shape of Western knife, which means it’s tailored for push-pull cuts instead of the rocking motion most American and European chefs use.

Why Buy It?
Global’s offerings are many, but they’re all made of the same Cromova 18 stainless steel, a proprietary blend of chromium, molybdenum and vanadium that’s similar to VG10 stainless steel, a popular steel for many kitchen knives. But thanks to higher chromium levels, Global’s secret steel is significantly hardier than VG-10, and most stainless knife steel in general. Also like many Japanese knives, these are very light.

Price: The G-2, the brand’s flagship knife, hovers around $100 on Amazon and most other retailers, and provides a nice barometer for the brand on the whole — premium, but not too pricey.

Buy Now: Here

Mac

What Is It?
Mac blades are designed and manufactured in Seki, one of Japan’s famous blademaking cities, but they aren’t Japanese design hardliners. The handles sport ergonomic curves not found on uber-traditionalist wa handle and the blades are ever so slightly curved, allowing for both the push-pull and rocking cutting styles. Plus, some have dimples in the sides of the blade to help separate foods, which are never found on a classic Japanese knife.

Why Buy It?
These knives are made with stainless steel that harbors more carbon content than most in the category. This means the knife can be ground thinner and made sharper, but is slightly more susceptible to losing an edge (and developing small stains) than a standard stainless steel knife. That problem is remedied with every-so-often honing, and because the blade shape allows for most cutting styles while not abandoning all semblance of Japanese design.

Price: Unlike Global and others, Mac makes knives out of a number of different steels and at a few different quality levels. Its most recommended knife, the MTH-80 Professional (make sure it’s the Professional, the other MTH-80 is very different), is just under $150, but Mac does make knives well under $100. The difference is quality of steel and whether the blade is forged or stamped (forged creates hardier steel).

Buy Now: Here

Tojiro

What Is It?
Because of price and a commitment to classic Japanese knife design principles, Tojiro has earned a rep as the gateway into the world of Japanese kitchen knives. Expect flat blade lines, a 90-degree heel drop and an ultra-thin knife.

Why Buy It?
You buy Tojiro is you want a truly Japanese knife but aren’t sure you want to be a Japanese knife guy. Other than the inclusion of a more ergonomic handle, its blades sport every feature a Japanese knife should don.

Price: Most Tojiro knives fall into one of two categories, one of which is available widely on Amazon while the other only on specialty sites. Tojiro DP is the more available and more affordable series, with the price for the standard gyuto chef’s knife parked around $85. It’s likely the most recommended “budget” Japanese knife you can buy. The Tojiro R-2 line is about twice as expensive, and is made with higher quality stainless steel and keeps its edge longer

Buy Now: Here

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