If you want to buy Japanese knives but don't know which knives you need, this article is for you. Here are listed the most important Japanese chef's knives that are needed for everyday cooking.
Japanese knives are very special and can break or be permanently damaged if used incorrectly. Therefore it is very important to choose the right knives.
1. Gyuto: Chef's Knife
The Gyuto is the most important Japanese knife in the kitchen. It is the equivalent of the European chef's knife. It is suitable for cutting meat, fish, vegetables, fruit etc., so to speak the all-purpose knife of Japanese cuisine. Compared to the European chef's knife, however, it is somewhat thinner and not as suitable for hard foods or foods with a hard shell.
In contrast to the European chef's knife, the Gyuto must not be used for coarse chopping or separating meat from bone. European chef's knives can handle this without problems. A Japanese chef's knife can be damaged if used incorrectly by breaking off part of the blade.
Therefore, Gyutos should not be used to cut fish, meat with bones or hard foods such as pumpkins.
Gyutos are usually between 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) long. The optimal length for chef's knives is between 8-10 inches (20-26 cm) for most. With this length, both long and short precise cuts can be made.
If you are looking for good and extraordinary Gyutos, we can recommend the Shikoko Chef's Knife shown above. It is of very high quality and at the same time very beginner-friendly.
The Santoku knife is a relatively new Japanese knife. It was developed in the middle of the 19th century in the course of changing Japanese eating habits. The Santoku is a mixture of the Gyuto (chef's knife) and the Usuba (vegetable knife) and is suitable for fish, vegetables and meat.
Santoku knives are slightly shorter than Gyuto knives and have a front, downward pointing tip. The length of Santoku knives is between 6-7 inches (15-18 cm).
The Santoku is an alternative to the Gyuto and can be used as the sole cook's knife. Whether you choose a Santoku or a Gyuto is up to you. Most professional chefs would probably choose the Gyuto, as it is more similar to the European chef's knife and usually longer. With the Santoku, the length of the blade may be too short for some tasks.
But as said, in the end it is important to get along with the knife. That is why the Santoku can be more suitable for women, because it is lighter and shorter.
Our Okinawa Signature Santoku shown above is one of our most popular Japanese Santokus and is often used in professional kitchens and by cooks.
3. Serrated knife: Bread Knife
The bread knife is useful for many tasks in the kitchen. First and foremost the knife is of course intended for bread. However, if you don't eat bread or only buy sliced bread, you may still want to consider this knife.
The serrated blade is designed to cut through hard shells or crusts. Therefore bread knives are not only suitable for bread, but also for all kinds of fruit and vegetables with a hard skin. For example melons, pumpkins or pineapple.
Although the bread knife is not a traditional Japanese knife and therefore does not have a specific Japanese name, it is still useful for most households to have this knife in the house.
Bread knives should generally be slightly longer than chef's knives. The length is usually between 9-12 inches (23-30 cm). Here it may be better to buy a longer knife, as a large and heavy knife can cut through hard slices better.
The bread knife from the Classic Edition shown above is of high quality and also reasonably priced.
4. Nakiri/Usuba: Vegetable Knife
Nakiri and Usuba knives are designed exclusively for vegetables. Although Gyutos and Santokus can cut most vegetables, this is difficult for hard and large vegetables. Nakiris and Usubas are very well suited for larger and harder vegetables because of the thin blade and the blade height.
If you frequently cut vegetables such as pumpkins, sweet potatoes, cabbage or even normal large potatoes, you should definitely consider buying a Nakiri or Usuba knife.
The Master Sado Nakiri shown above is a high performer and a feast for the eyes at the same time. Nobody you know has this knife, guaranteed!
Other Japanese knives that may be useful
With the Gyuto or Santoku you can already cover most of the kitchen work. That means these knives should not be missing in the kitchen. With the bread knife and the Nakiri many other applications are covered, for which the Gyuto is not suitable. However, as Japanese knives are very special and not suitable for every task, it might be wise to consider buying additional knives.
Nevertheless, this decision depends on the individual cooking habits. Therefore we will list some more knives that might be useful under certain circumstances.
Hankotsu: Boning Knife
The high-quality and hard Japanese knives are very sensitive to bones. A wrong cut that touches the bone can lead to a part of the blade breaking off.
If you cut meat from the bone more often, you need a boning knife. The Tsumiwakashi boning knife shown above is of very high quality and an inexpensive and reliable addition for every carnivore kitchen.
Chuka Bocho: Chopper
Anyone who frequently buys meat with bones should definitely have a cleaver in the kitchen. The cleaver is suitable for large, heavy pieces of meat with thick bones, which would be too thick for the deba.
As Japanese meat cleavers are specially made for this work, you do not have to worry about damaging the blade or that the handle might fall off or break, unlike other Japanese knives.
The two most important Japanese kitchen knives are the Gyuto and the Santoku. These two Japanese knives should not be missing in any kitchen. The bread knife and the Nakiri/Usuba is intended for the hard fruits and vegetables that the Gyuto cannot handle. With these 4 Japanese knives, most hobby chefs will be able to handle all kitchen tasks.
Those who often process bones with meat or fillet fish should additionally buy either a Hankotsu (boning knife), a Chuka Bocho (cleaver) or a Deba (fish knife).
Of course there are several more Japanese knives, but these Japanese knives should be able to handle all the tasks of most cooks.