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Why Culinary Pros Prefer Japanese Knives

Why Culinary Pros Prefer Japanese Knives

Ready to take your kitchen prep to the next level? These are the knives you need.

My mother taught me many things about cooking, but knife skills were not among them. I learned to chop, dice, and slice by watching Jacques Pépin and Martin Yan on 1980s public television. Pépin chattered effortlessly while rendering an onion into perfect squares. Within seconds, Yan smacked and smeared garlic into a minced state.

I wanted to be like them and practiced whenever I could. A dull knife accident that led to stitches didn't deter me. It only underscored the need for sharp blades.

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In college, my brother indulged me with a set of Cutco knives. For my first restaurant job, I bought a Chicago Cutlery chef's knife. Our wedding registry included J.A. Henckels. I sharpened the blades often, but they never held their edges long. I wasn't yet chopping at Pépin and Yan levels.

One day at a Japanese hardware store in Los Angeles, I bought a MAC knife for my sister as a housewarming gift. She wasn't a great cook, and the light, thin blade gave her confidence. I added inexpensive Japanese knives to my collection, too. We marveled at how the Asian knives were easier to work with than their European cousins. I was chopping more like my PBS heroes.

My local knife-sharpening guru taught me to gently draw a blade along a steel to maintain its edge between his intense sharpenings. He has sharpened more than 60,000 knives in 13 years, but "no one makes knives like the Japanese," he told me. Their craft developed from making samurai swords centuries ago, and their knife designs are formulated for efficiency.

The hardware-store Japanese knives were fine tools, but over time my cutting hard and forearm began to tingle and hurt. A tendinitis brace helped, but the pain lingered. Would pricier blades relieve my pain?

I spent hours researching blade steels and knife designs (going down the Japanese cutlery rabbit hole is an adventure characterized by metallurgy and artisanal makers). I eventually settled on a gyuto (aka gyutou) chef's knife and a nakiri vegetable knife featuring HAP40 semi-stainless blades, a high-tech combo of metals that enable blades to stay sharp longer.

You must wipe these knives dry after prep sessions or prevent them from rusting. (Any careless rust spots got removed with Flitz metal polish.) But the slight inconvenience was worth it. As I chopped, diced, and minced like a crazy fool, the edges barely dulled. My quarterly knife tune-ups are now needed just once a year.

Tackling a dish involving lots of knife work became less of a chore. Paper-thin sliced onion, matchstick-cut jicama, and finely chopped ginger? No problem with the gyuto. A mandoline for potatoes au gratin? Nah. The nakiri glides through the potato like butter. My arm pain disappeared.

I had developed pretty good knife skills during decades of cooking, but using the new Japanese knives upped my game—and it may do the same for you, too.

Try It Out: Shrimp-and-Orange Salad

Practice and show off your knife skills by making this main course salad. To give precooked shrimp a refresh, toss them in a good 1/2 teaspoon salt, rinse, and pat dry. Cutting the shrimp in half symmetrically makes it easier to cut.


6 Chefs Share Their Favorite Knives

A good knife is any cook’s most important tool. We’ve shared our favorites, but it’s always cool to see what the pros use. Six rockstar chefs recently shared their top knife picks with Details magazine, and interestingly enough, they all had one thing in common:

They’re all Japanese knives!

April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig, New York), Stuart Brioza (State Bird Provisions, San Francisco), and Stephanie Izard (Little Goat, Chicago), among others, all cited various Japanese knives as their go-to favorites. Three of the knives in the list are by Korin: the Deba knife, the Misono 440 Molybdenum Santoku, and the Misono UX10. Another — the Asai Aogami Tsuchime chef’s knife — is made by a fifth-generation blacksmith.

All of these knives are expensive, with prices running into the hundreds. You certainly don’t need one of these knives in order to cook a good meal — and in fact, there are great budget knives out there — but it is something to keep in mind when you really want to splurge.


Best kitchen knives and how to buy them, according to experts

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Despite large, alluring knife block sets on the market, truly upgrading your cooking game is less about quantity and more about quality. Ask any culinary pro and they will likely have the same advice: A few quality knives are all any chef needs to more than cover their bases in the kitchen. "Knives are a chef’s best friend and the most essential tool in every kitchen. You’ll pick one up literally every time you cook,” says chef Dennis Prescott, co-host of Restaurants on the Edge and author of “Eat Delicious: 125 Recipes for Your Daily Dose of Awesome.” “For most households,” Prescott said, the three knives that will “do the trick” are a chef’s knife, a paring knife and a serrated knife. “Do I have more shapes and sizes of knives in my kit? Yes. Do I need more than these three? Not really.”

But just as essential as narrowing down the right type of knives for you in the sea of gadgets and accessories, is how you care for them once you start cooking. “The most important thing about knives, no matter the kind, is to keep them sharp,” says celebrity chef David Burke. “To keep them sharp, hand wash and dry them – don’t put them in the dishwasher, which can dull blades and destroy handles – and then store properly in a knife drawer, block or on a magnetic wall strip.”

Another thing to keep in mind before knife shopping is that it all comes down to personal preference and how that option feels in your hand. “Whether you prefer the Japanese-style santoku or German and French-style chef’s knife, you want to love your knife. Like, actually love,” says Prescott. “It’ll make cooking so much more enjoyable.”

I always suggest going with individual knife purchases rather than buying the ‘block-style’ bulk sets. That way you can customize your knife collection to suit your individual needs.


Daniel Boulud — Michel Bras collection

One of the most highly regarded chefs in the world, Daniel Boulud is an undisputed master of all things culinary. Perhaps best know for Daniel, his eponymous, Michelin-starred restaurant, this French maestro also helms his own culinary empire around the world, including the recently opened Boulud Sud in downtown Miami, and high-end marketplaces in New York City.

His go-to knife brand: The Michel Bras collection. “It’s the perfect combination of Japanese precision and sharpness, and French balance,” Boulud says. For the collection, acclaimed French chef Michael Bras “collaborated with Kai of Shun knives to make these out of stainless steel and PakkaWood in Japan”. According to Boulud, “it’s the finest collaboration of expertise between a chef and a steel master, with a beautiful design”. And though the price tag might be a bit shocking, Boulud offers this: “While they are very expensive, they will last a lifetime.”


How to Take Care of Carbon Steel Knives: Extra Tips

The following suggestions generally apply to all chef knives, but keep them in mind, especially when you’re using carbon steel blades:

  • Never use the knife for other purposes than its chief function.
  • Always wash the knife after you’ve finished using it. Food juices and particles are hard to remove when dry (and they will eat away at the blade).
  • Do not let carbon steel blades dry in the dish rack. Instead, always dry them by hand and store them immediately afterward (just as we mentioned above).
  • Always cut on boards and not on your table or countertop. The best cutting boards for carbon blades are soft wooden and plastic ones.

The One We Tested: Kasumi 88020

We’ve tested the Kasumi 88020 Japanese Chef Knife and we got to say that this is the sharpest knife ever.

We’ve cut vegetables, fruits, a whole chicken, a sponge and even a soda can. It cut through them like a hot regular knife through butter.

It has a Damascus pattern made of 33 layers of stainless steel. The cutting edge is made of V-Gold No.10 that helps the sharpening process and increases the knife’s durability.

The handle is made from multiple layers of wood and offers the knife great balance.


Are Japanese knives better than German knives?

Japanese knives are generally lighter and sharper than their German counterparts. Since they're thinner, they're a little more prone to the tip breaking or the blade chipping, so Japanese knives tend to need more maintenance. Their thin, light construction makes Japanese knives great for fine, delicate tasks, like cutting vegetables or slicing fish. &ldquoSushi is a prime example,&rdquo says Lau. &ldquoYou don&rsquot cook it, so the freshness of the ingredients and how you prep it, is how you distinguish a great sushi chef and a mediocre one.&rdquo

German knives, meanwhile, are often heavy and bulky, but also more sturdy with thicker blades that require sharpening more for good edge retention.. German knives are good for more heavy duty tasks, like breaking down chicken. Ultimately, which knife is better is based on need and preference.


Buyer’s Guide: All You Need to Know About the Best Chef Knife

Types of Chef’s Knives

There are not a lot of different chef’s knives out there since that is the main particularity when it comes to classifying them. However, some sort of clarification can be made when it comes to the materials used to manufacture the blade. So, when you are looking at chef knives for sale, take this into consideration as well.

Carbon-Steel

This is the most used alloy when it comes to building blades for top chef knives. There is a different amount of carbon in blades that make them more durable over time and better at blade retention, however, all carbon blades are known to be very reliable and light.

Ceramic

Ceramic blades are a newer approach that knife manufacturers embraced and it was a hit for a long period of time. It still is actually, however, due to the fact that it is a lot easier to break the blades or damage them, most people prefer the convenience that steel brings.

Other Alloys

While these blades are still made of steel, there are different metals that are combined with the highest quality stainless steel to give it different properties. One of the most common metals used to form an alloy with steel is molybdenum for its light weight and strength. Make sure to check the chef knife reviews for any mentions of alloys.


I hate Japanese knives - what's wrong with me?

I absolutely despise them. My father is an accomplished professional chef (and is the son of two German immigrants) and has used the same set of knives for his entire career (I shit you not) that were hand forged for my grandfather by some long dead knife maker in Germany. I've grown up using German knives and they have a special place in my heart.

Recently I was with a fellow culinary enthusiast friend of mine and we were cooking at his place. I'm a broke college kid and use an Ikea knife that I have sharpened to hell and back to make into a decent knife, and my friend was showing off his new Japanese knife (I don't remember the exact brand). I got to use it for a bit, and I fucking hated every second of it. It felt too light, I felt like I had no control over the knife, and it just felt.. wrong.

I know the steel in Japanese knives is usually superior to that of Western knives, and I know that most chefs and cooks will say to get Japanese until they're blue in the face.. I just don't understand why people like them so much.

I'm moving into my first home with my boyfriend in a few weeks and want to pick up a set of knives before we move in together. I have the distinct pleasure of being friends with an owner of a knife shop in my city (in Germany, for context) and he lets me come in and just try out knives to my heart's content. I'm going to be picking up some knives from him within 2 weeks and just want to see if there's something HUGE I'll be missing if I don't get a Japanese knife.

So AskCulinary, is there anything wrong with me for disliking Japanese knives? Will I be making a bad decision if I go for a Wüsthof or Güde knife (they are my favorites) and not a Japanese one? Is there a really huge difference between Japanese and Western knives?

Horses for courses. Some people prefer different weights and balances. no biggy.

I know the steel in Japanese knives is usually superior to that of Western knives

It's not necessarily superior, it's just harder. Harder steel will chip easier if you don't handle it the right way.

There is a huge difference between Japanese and western knives, but that's a difference in style, not in quality. German knives are heavier and a bit thicker than Japanese knives, and French knives are a bit in between. For the chef's knives: The German knives have more "belly" than Japanese or French knives. It's all a matter of preference.

Wüsthof is a great brand, and cheaper than most Japanese knives. If you wan't to try something in between, I would recommend a Sabatier (a certain French style, there are different brands), or on from Robert Herder (German knifemaker, with a mill as logo your German friend will certainly know it). I personally love the Herder knives: they are very thin, exist in both German of Japanese style, and are made of an awesome carbon steel. they are the knives I can make so sharp, I can comfortably dry-shave my face with a paring knife. Oh, and the stamped (not forged) knives are pretty cheap, the forged knives are in price comparable to Wüsthofs.

Edit: If you want to try German style, but Japanese steel: Zwilling's Cermax line is made of a super-hard (66 HRC), super high carbon and chromium Japanese powder steel called ZDP-189 (zwilling calls it M66).

I have no experience with these knives so feel free to disregard me and you definitely know knives better than I, but as a person majoring in mechanical engineering, I wouldn't touch highly hardened powder steel knives for general use with a ten foot pole. Powder steels tend to be kind of brittle and have pretty poor durability (in the metallurgical sense of durability not the literary sense), which are negative characteristics already shared by very hard steels. Long story short, unless they are formed with a very well designed composition in an incredibly well done process, which they may very well be, they will shatter if you look at them funny.

different strokes for different folks.

different knives for different tasks, too. I'll chiffonade parsley with a heavy-ass german knife because I think the weight and shape helps me get the right motion, but I'll dice a melon with a santoku that weighs next to nothing. I can perfectly and evenly fine dice a whole honeydew in well under five minutes with a santoku but it takes almost ten minutes to do it as perfectly with the ultra-heavy knives we keep in the kitchen.

(With all that said you really don't need to keep a massive collection of knives around, just one you can rely on)

The only Japanese knife I use regularly is my santoku. Great blade.

It depends on what you mean by "Japanese Knives". There's a distinct difference between traditional Japanese carbon steel knives (single edge, rusts easily Yanagiba, Deba, Nakiri, etc.), and double-edged, compound steel, western style knives (Santoku, Gyuto, etc.) that companies like Kai (Shun) makes. There's also hybrid types (double edge, carbon steel) to take into account. All of these types are very different in the way they handle you can't just lump them all into the "Japanese Knife" category.

Another thing to take into account is that Japanese Knives, especially those that are high-end, tend to have specialized purposes. You can't use a Yanagiba to chop vegetables or bone a chunk of meat and get good results. It's made to slice fish just so perfectly, and that's it.

Lighter knives are harder to control, but they do different things. Not all Japanese knives are light. What type of knife was it? From what I recall there are over 600 different types of Japanese kitchen knives.

You really can't form your opinion of all Japanese knives based on one sample. Chances are, the one you used was designed with a completely different technique in mind than what you were using.

I honestly couldn't tell you. I can message my friend but he lives out of the country now and is not easy to get in contact with (works as a game designer for CDProjekt Red and works lots of hours).

It was a general knife, he used it for almost everything except making fine cuts and bread, de-boneing fish, and other particular things.

I have a knife block full of Henkel Pros that don't get used at all anymore. I have three japanese knives I use for nearly everything (except whacking open squash). That said, it's all about individual preference. The japanese knives are lighter and shaped differently, but there are also about a thousand different knives to chose from and they all feel slightly different. As far as steel goes, the german steel gets dull in a day and the japanese can go for months. If you know how to sharpen them, and sharpening them is an art form in it's own right. I use waterstones and the sharpening system alone cost close to $200 (I also use japanese chisels when I make guitars).

One plus side of a japanese knife is that, because you can create such a sharp edge, you can do things you simply can't do with a duller knife like slice 1/16" (approx 1mm) slices off tomato or accurately trim silverskin off of meat. If you have a ton of cutting to do the lighter knife will reduce hand fatigue (really). A downside is you need to clean them relatively soon after use or they will rust (assuming they are carbon steel at the edge and not stainless). A good website to go to is japanesechefsknife.com

All that said, it's still about the food, not the knife. Have fun, I hope this helps a little. It's actually such a complex topic that a reddit post doesn't quite do it justice. At the end of the day some people love them, some don't. I do.

Now Not every Japanese knife is a super light laser.

If you want more heft and a Nipponese knife you should try out clad knives, or what ever they are called. That is a knife with a core of high carbon steel in a sandwich of softer steel. They tend to be a bit thicker and heftier.

You should also check out the Masahiro Virgin Blue steel knives, they are a bit heavier than usual.

However you absolutely do not HAVE to have a Japanese knife, if you like the others use them.

I might have that Ikea knife you are talking about. Is it the Slitbar VG10 steel knife? I think it might actually be VG10. It takes on a Japanese quality edge if you have the stones. If you like a European knife profile and heft and a Japanese quality edge, it's a very good choice for you. At $50 it's a very good purchase.

Japanese knives often do not have as deep a belly radius on the bottom. Gyuto's are kind of close to a European profile, but they still tend to have a straighter cutting edge. It may be that you are very used to rocker style cutting in your technique and dislike the straighter edge of many Japanese profiles.

Myself, I've got a jumble of knives. A good friend of mine sets up high end kitchens and equipment sellers keep throwing him samples and personal gifts. His knife roll is chock full so I have been fortunate to be the eventual destination of several Shun and Global knives. Very high end knife aficionado's would turn their nose up at my shiny collection which isn't the best value, but at the cost of my sparkling repartee I am very happy with my knife block.

Enough of this banter (I'm kind of hammered right now). I started with lighter knives in my progression of knives. Not that I was particularly looking for a light knife, but my first two knives were carbon steel santoku and yanagi-ba knives. As a first foray into seriously sharpness, the yanagi-ba was a poor choice because of it's shape. Anyways, from the start I appear to have developed a fine touch, sensing when my edge is in contact and cutting and the angle of the engagement even though both blades have little inertia.

When I bought my Ikea Slitbar (just to see if it was actually good) I found the mass to be clumsy. It didn't really affect my cooking. I just felt I was working harder to whiz out a rapid fine dice. That being said, the heavy blade gives you a very strong tactile sense of when you are accelerating it. It may be that you are used to the feedback of wielding a heavier knife. Personally, I don't like it, but I can see how someone used to a heavy knife feels that a light knife feels flimsy. Whenever I hand my Slitbar to someone who has a block full of German stuff, they love the sharpness of the edge. When I hand over a Shun, they love the edge, but are distracted by the lightness.

I note that the sense of heft is very slowly becoming out of vogue in tool design. I remember when the first cordless Makita drills came out. Many craftsmen felt they were cheap Asian products with no heft. Eventually opinion turned and many carpenters began to prize the reduced fatigue of operating lighter cordless tools. Dental picks have progressed from smaller diameter heavy handles to, huge diameter tubular handles made of titanium that are very light. I just slammed in some nails with a titanium hammer. When I waved it around the store it felt like a toy, but man does it blast nails all day. Titanium hammers have become the Porsche standard in the roofing industry.

Personal preference and job performance have not exactly been in-line with many tools. That being said, in the pursuit of happiness in the home kitchen, be in touch with what you actually like and who cares what other people think?


10 Best Chef’s Knife Sets Reviewed [2021]

The kitchen gadgets in this article have been all tested in my kitchen and reviews are based on my personal experience. This article might include affiliate links to Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, but the cost to you is the same whether you purchase through the link or not.

What is a chefs knife? Also referred to as cook’s knife, this tool is usually used for cutting fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients used for food preparation. Generally, it is used for slicing and peeling, however, it can also be used for disjointing large cuts of meat.

Typically, it has a length of eight inches and a width of 1.5 inches. Nowadays, the lengths may vary from one model to another. Sometimes it can range from 6 to 14 inches.

Blades come in different shapes, the most common ones are German and French. The German style has a continuous and deep curve while the French style is straighter with a curve at the tip. A Japanese chefs knife is named as a “gyuto” which means “beef knife”. It looks the same with a French knife, however, a bit flatter. Today, a chefs knife is an all-purpose knife. This means that it is capable of doing various kitchen tasks such as mincing, chopping, slicing and disjointing.

The blades of a chefs knife can either be hot-forged or stamped. A hot-forged blade consists of numerous steps and it’s also costly. Generally, it also has a full tang. This means that the metal starts at the tip and ends at the handle. On the other hand, a stamped blade is trimmed directly from the steel, heat-treated, grounded, honed then polished.

The materials used for the blade of a chefs knife can either be carbon steel, stainless steel, ceramic or a lamination of two metals. Carbon steel blades are easier to sharpen, however, they are susceptible to stains and rust. Most professional chefs prefer carbon steel blades because of its sharpness.

Lower grade stainless steel knives are not as sharp as high-quality carbon steel blades. They are inexpensive but are prone to corrosion. Moreover, higher grade stainless steel blades are extensively sharp and have an outstanding edge retention. Most often, it can even outperform carbon steel blades.

Ceramic blades have a tendency to break when dropped. Also, they chip easily and needs extraordinary tools and skills to resharpen. Laminated blades are a combination of the best of each material.


When it comes to the best chef knife, Japanese is the way to go. And, if we had to pick just one for the best Japanese chef knives for chefs, we would pick the Sakai Takayuki Gyuto Chef Knife. It blends beauty, quality, and reliably all in one. It’s why it is a go-to knife for professional chefs around the world. With over 600 years of knife crafting knowledge handed down over the generations, it’s hard to beat this knife.

The answer to this question comes down to preference. We’ve already told you our pick for the best chef knife, in the Sakai Takayuki Gyuto Chef Knife. But, that’s not to say German blades are bad. There are some kitchen tasks that German chef’s knives tackle more easily than Japanese, and vice versa. Think about what you’ll be slicing through the most. Will it be something like fish or fruit that can demand a more precision cut? If so, a Japanese blade may be best. If you’re butchering large volumes of meat where you may be chopping through bone and cartilage, a heavier-duty workhorse German steel knife might be the ticket.


Watch the video: Ιαπωνικά μαχαίρια (January 2022).