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Every Serious Home Cook Needs a Japanese Chef’s Knife. Here Are the 8 Styles You Need to Know

The mythic and weirdly specific world of Japanese kitchen knives, explained.

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Japan’s long-standing tradition of crafting high quality blades extends beyond katanas. The country produces some of the world’s best kitchen knives. Professional chefs and home cooks alike tend to lean either German or Japanese when it comes to their blades, with Japanese knifemakers leaning more on specialization and task-specific designs. From the gyuto to the yanagi, these are the eight most important Japanese kitchen knife styles to know.

Deba

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Deba knives are sturdy, somewhat petite blades used primarily for working with fish. Fishermen and fish mongers use deba knives to scale, behead and filet fish without damaging the flesh, and the blade is strong enough to cut through thin or weak bones. Don’t try to chop through thicker bones, however, or you’ll risk damaging the knife. Instead, opt for the yo-deba knife, which is more adept for cutting through bones and shellfish.

Three to Consider (From Left to Right)
Global Deba Knife ($95): Global knives are funky. The holey, hollow handle makes the knife lightweight, and the single piece of Cromova stainless steel is tough and corrosion-resistant.
Goh Umanosuke Yoshihio Kasumi Deba Knife ($125): This is a single-bevel deba knife made for right-handed people. The Yasugi steel is native to Japan, and the handle is made of magnolia wood.
Kajiwara Blue #1 Kurouchi Deba ($165): This knife looks like it’s done its fair share of chopping off fish heads. That worn-in look is due to the kurouchi finish, which protects the carbon steel blade from corrosion.

Gyuto

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Gyuto knives have impressively sharp tips for precision cutting, versus softer-tipped santoku knives. The original purpose of the gyuto knife was to cut and break down beef (gyuto translates to “cow sword”) but they’re good for chopping, slicing and mincing basically anything.

Three to Consider (From Left to Right)
Akira-Saku White #1 Funayuki Gyutou ($125): The carbon steel is graded White Steel #1, which means it’s made with more carbon than a carbon steel of grade White Steel #2. The added carbon makes the blade harder, which can be sharpened to a finer, but also more brittle, edge.
Global 8-inch Chef’s Knife ($159): A durable, interesting-looking knife that is always on sale for nearly half-off (around $85, usually).
Sakai Takayuki Damascus Hammered VG-10 Gyuto ($160): Japanese knife makers pride themselves on their handles nearly as much as their blades. This knife’s octagonal handle is a mix of keyaki and mahogany, and the blade features 33 layers of Damascus patterning.

Nakiri

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With its rectangular blade, nakiri knives resemble western-style cleavers. Unlike cleavers, nakiri knives are too thin to cut through animal bone and are typically used for chopping vegetables. The nakiri knife can produce ultra-fine cuts through a guillotine cutting motion (sometimes called the “push-pull” cut) rather than a rocking action.

Three to Consider (From Left to Right)
Kotobuki Teruhisa Nakiri ($20): You get what you pay for, but Kotobuki’s nakiri knife is surprisingly efficient and sharp for a $20 pickup.
Miyabi Hibana Nakiri ($180): The 49-layer Damascus patterning is sure to draw in knife shoppers, but the knife’s ability to seamlessly cut through a veritable field of vegetables is the main selling point.
Kintaro Aogami Super Kurouchi Nakiri ($210): Yoshimi Kato, a licensed craftsman based out of Fukui, Japan, hand forges, grinds and finishes every Kintaro-branded knife. The nakiri’s blade is a combination of carbon steel and stainless steel, so you get the benefits of carbon steel minus maintenance and reactivity to food.

Petty

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The Japanese petty knife is essentially a smaller version of the Japanese gyuto knife, perfect for small tasks like peeling produce, creating decorative cuts and completing other delicate tasks. It’s basically a Japanese paring knife, but a little bigger.

Three to Consider (From Left to Right)
Seki Petty Knife ($17): Seki, Japan is known for its knife production, much like Sabae, Japan is known for its output of high quality sunglasses. These are cheap and get the job done without much fuss.
Kyocera Innovation Ceramic Kitchen Knife ($40): Kyocera’s patented ceramic blade is meant to be more durable than standard ceramic.
Shun Classic 6-inch Utility Knife ($70): Shun is one of few Japanese knife manufacturers that’s seen success in the American market. Its petty knife has a lightweight handle that makes for easier control when working on precise cuts.

Santoku

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Santoku knives may be the most common style of Japanese knife to make headway in western kitchens. This style of knife is as versatile as the gyuto knife and chef’s knife, but typically shorter in length and feature a straighter edge and less sharp tip. The term santoku translates to “three virtues,” which either represents meat, fish and vegetables or chopping, slicing and dicing.

Three to Consider (From Left to Right)
Henckels Forged Premio Hollow Edge Santoku Knife ($35): It’s not made in Japan it’s not made with Japanese steel, but Henckels’ German-inspired knives are still a great value for amateur cooks. Its santoku knife also features dimples so wet foods slip off the blade when chopping.
Global G-48 7-inch ($85): Santoku knives rarely run longer than 7-inches. The Global santoku knife maxes out that standard and does so with its hardwearing Cromova 18 stainless steel.
Bob Kramer by Zwilling 7-inch Santoku ($200): Zwiling’s collaboration with Bob Kramer produced a line of knives signed off by the legendary bladesmith you can actually buy.

Sujihiki

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Sujihiki knives are comparable to the common carving knife and can be used for the same tasks. The long thin blade glides through protein without having to saw back and forth. The sujihiki knife is also a more approachable version of the yanagi knife (more on that later), which is used for slicing sashimi.

Three to Consider (From Left to Right)
Kanetsugu Molybdenum Sujihiki ($42): If you’re not carving meat very often, you probably don’t want to drop stacks on a knife that carves meat. This one is under $50 and made of molybdenum vanadium, a stainless steel with a reputation for being cheap, sharp and durable.
Sakai Takayuki Damascus Hammered VG-10 Sujihiki ($188): Sakai’s 9-inch blade offers enough length to cut meat in one fell swoop, minimizing friction.
Yoshihiro Mizu Yaki Black Finish Blue Steel #1 Kurouchi Sujihiki ($190): Blue Steel #1 refers to the added carbon content in the steel, making for better edge retention and durability.

Usuba

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Usuba knives may look like the nakiri knife, but are recommended for expert knife users. The usuba knife is a single-bevel knife, which means only one side of the knife is sharp. Because it has a single bevel, usuba knives come in either left-handed or right-handed options. These knives require more precision than cutting with a nakiri knife, and inexperienced knife users are more likely to injure themselves without proper training.

Three to Consider (From Left to Right)
Masahiro Seki Japan Usuba ($63): Masahiro’s usuba is made of yellow steel, which some might deem an inferior steel. But the knife is made in Seki, Japan, and it’s hard to find a crappy knife from there.
Shun Pro 6-1/2-Inch Usuba Knife ($165): Shun owners can attest to the brand’s commitment to making superior knives. The Shun Pro line of knives are for those who take cooking seriously, and the knife features high-carbon VG-10 steel, pakkawod handles and a graffiti-etched blade.
Yoshihiro Shiroko High Carbon Steel Kasumi Edo Usuba ($220): Cooks who are willing spend over $200 on a usuba knife better know how to use one. This one from Yoshihiro will help cooks get those signature vegetable sheets.

Yanagi

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Unless you’re a sushi chef, you probably don’t need a yanagi knife, but they’re cool enough to want anyway. Used for slicing sashimi, the yanagi knife is a single-beveled knife that makes delicate and precise cuts. The knife’s fine edge is dangerously sharp so it should be reserved for those who have spent years learning how to use it.

Three to Consider (From Left to Right)
Global G-11 Yanagi Sashimi Knife ($95): If you’ve picked up a recent sushi-making hobby, Global’s ultra-sharp yanagi knife is a great pick for cutting perfect slices of fish without butchering it.
Sakon Molybdenum Yanagi ($100): Get Sakon’s yanagi knife if you’re worried you can’t maintain one of the more expensive options. The molybdenum vanadium is still a great choice of steel and you won’t be upset with the results.
Sukenari White Steel 2 Yanagi ($290): The Sukenari yanagi knife is sharp. We wouldn’t be surprised if Jiro gave it a thumbs up. MTC Kitchen, the store selling the knife, writes that “the initial sharpening is generally headache-free.”

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