Knife Types and Their Uses
Never try to use your Japanese knife to cut through hard bone, or hard surfaces. Japanese blades are made from very hard steel (60+ HRC) which allows it to retain a sharp edge for a long time, but also makes it more brittle. They are also much thinner, with a more acute cutting edge than a typical Western-made knife. This further increases the potential of chipping if used incorrectly.
Many high-carbon steel knives will rust, or discolour very quickly if left wet, ruining your beautiful knife. Therefore, it is also smart to have a towel on hand that you can use to quickly wipe off moisture as you prep food.
You should always hand wash, and hand dry your knife (don’t forget the handle). Never put it in the dishwasher. Some entry-level knives will say they are “dishwasher safe”, but I think it is best to get in the habit of hand washing and drying. Simply use a soft sponge, some dish soap, and hot water
Western Style knives
Paring (Utility Knife)
A paring knife is a short chef knife, with a blade of 8–10 centimetres (3–4 inches) long. The paring knife gets its name from its role, Paring basically means to cut away the outer surface or to remove the ends from a fruit or vegetable.
The paring knife is also great for peeling fruits and vegetables; slicing a single garlic clove or shallot; controlled, detailed cutting, such as cutting shapes or vents into dough; and scoring designs and patterns on surfaces of food.
The Japanese version, or Ajikiri (ko deba) were originally single bevel knives used for fileting and trimming of small fish like horse mackerel. They were also used to trim small cuts of meat and vegetables. However, with the increased sales to the western market several blacksmiths have made these knives with a double bevel making them a true paring knife.
Petty (Utility Knife)
"Petty" is the Japanese word for a paring or utility knife, it comes from the French word “petite”. Petty knife is a small general-purpose knife used for peeling, shaping, and slicing fruits and vegetables, chopping herbs, and making garnishes.
Petty knives commonly have a blade length of between 120mm and 180 mm, and are larger in size than Paring knives, but smaller than the similarly shaped Gyuto.. Some beginners also find Petty knives less intimidating than the larger Gyuto.
Whatever size you choose, the petty knife is extremely useful in the kitchen, the perfect partner to your Gyuto.
The Santoku bōchō or Bunka bōchō (文化包丁) (All Purpose Knife)
All-round knife for meat, fish, and vegetables (Santoku = the three virtues) are ideal for mincing, dicing and slicing, as they feature a straight edge with a narrow sheep's foot blade. These knives have evolved from the traditional Japanese vegetable knife which has a rectangular blade.
The Santoku, or home cook knife, is a versatile kitchen knife widely used throughout the world. It is one of the better starting points into Japanese knives.
The blade length of a Santoku is usually between 150mm and 180mm, however most commonly the 150mm blade is used as the compactness and width of the blade is what brings out its special qualities. Both styles of knife are multi-tasking machines that can be used for any and all cooking preparation tasks.
Like it's larger cousin, the Gyuto, this is your go-to knife for any and all tasks within the kitchen. Generally, Santoku knives are smaller in size than Gyuto, making them versatile in smaller home kitchens or for cooks with fledgling knife skills.
As is the case with most Japanese kitchen knives, the Santoku is thinner & lighter than other western chef knives, they are normally made from harder steel which can hold a sharper edge.
Gyuto (牛刀): (beef-sword), Western Chef’s Knife
The Gyuto, or Japanese chef knife, is widely considered to be the most versatile kitchen knife for both professional chefs & home cooks alike.
Gyuto are typically available in blade lengths between 180mm and 300 mm, although they can be as long as 360mm. Sizes from 180mm to 210mm are often recommended to home cooks, while the 240mm and 270mm sizes are often chosen by serious amateurs and professional chefs.
With the variety of sizes and shapes available, generally the Gyuto is similar to western style chef knives in shape, however thinner, lighter, made of harder steel and retains a sharper edge. They consist of a flat mid-heel section for chopping, a curve towards the tip for rock cutting and a pointed tip for precision work.
The Gyuto is ideal for cutting meat, dicing vegetables, disjointing some cuts, slicing herbs and chopping nuts.
The Gyuto is not ideal for cleaving meat bones, carving dense meats, disjointing heavy cuts, slicing bread or smaller precision tasks such as peeling or mincing.
If you are going to purchase just 1 good knife, the Gyuto (or perhaps the similar Santoku) would absolutely be the knife to choose.
Sujihiki (筋引): (muscle cutter)/Slicer/Carving Knife
The Sujihiki is the Japanese version of a slicing or carving knife. It started out as a combination of the Japanese Yanagiba, a single-bevelled blade used for thinly slicing sashimi and sushi, and a western carving knife. The second bevel was added to the blade making it ideal for cutting thin slices of meat, such as ham, chicken, pork, beef, venison, and fish.
The Sujihiki knife is a great knife to have in your kitchen, traditionally used in Japan as a slicing knife (the home version of a Yanagiba (Sashimi knife)), it also works very well for general kitchen duties as a utility knife. The Sujihiki is a light and nimble knife, long, thin and narrow with a double bevel grind. They obviously do work well for preparing sashimi, but also a wide variety of other slicing tasks.
The Sujihiki is a long knife with a narrow blade. Their blade lengths vary from 210mm to 360mm. The most common blade lengths for these slicers are the 240mm, 270mm, and the 300mm. Most people will be comfortable with the 240mm and 270mm blade lengths.
The long, narrow, graceful blade of the Sujihiki, is particularly useful for trimming away sinew and fat from meat, finely slicing meat or boneless fish, or for filleting and skinning fish. The long blade allows the meat or fish to be cut in one single drawing motion, from heel to tip.
Honesuki / Sabaki (さばき包丁 )
Sabaki just means butchery or meat breakdown, so the Honesuki is a Japanese style boning knife. It is not as flexible as its Western counter part and differs from its Western version, in that it has a triangular shape and a stiff blade. Honesukis have a thin, angled tip, which makes them agile enough to navigate in and around joints. The spine of a honesuki is generally thicker than other Japanese knives, which boosts the overall blade strength for when you are trying to crack through tough cartilage and small bones. A honesuki does not have that flex, but it definitely has the upper hand in efficiency and edge retention. You can also use the honesuki as a petty style of knife.
Garasuki ( ガラスキ )
The Garasuki knife is a larger version of the Honesuki, with a longer and thicker blade. Garasuki is a wedge-shaped knife that works great when cutting and deboning a chicken or many other types of butchering duties which require a heavy blade. It can be used for deboning chicken, beef, pork and also fileting fish.
Western Style Special Purpose Knives
The Japanese bread knife comes in many finishes from all stainless steel to the standard shape with the wooden handles. Not only will bread knives slice through soft yeast breads and crusty artisan loaves, they are also the blade of choice for delicate cakes, pastries, and biscotti, slicing tomatoes and soft fruits, trimming a pineapple or melons, cutting cheese, slicing salami, shredding lettuce and cabbage, and for carving up roasts.
Frozen Food Knife (Reito)
Designed to cut frozen food. Sometimes called "Reito" in Japanese. Common type of the Frozen Food knife has a sturdy blade with a coarse, saw-toothed edge. Another type of the Frozen is like a sturdy, thick and large chef knife with no saw-toothed edge for semi-frozen food.
Japanese Style Knives
Fish Preparation Knives – Single Bevel
Ko Deba / Aji-kiri (鯵切)
Aji are small horse mackerel in Japan and the word “Ko” means small or short in English, and the Ko-deba is a small Deba that is commonly used in coastal areas of Japan to fillet and butterfly small saltwater fish, particularly Aji (Japanese horse mackerel) - hence the alternative name of Aji-deba, or Aji-kiri. However, it is just as adept at dealing with small freshwater fish, such as trout.
Ko-deba / Ajikiri are most commonly available in blade lengths of around 100mm to 120mm. These knives are also used as a paring knife in the kitchen.
Deba or Deba bōchō (Japanese: 出刃包丁)
The "Deba" is designed for cutting fish and light mincing. The back of the blade can be used to chop thin bones. Thick and Heavier blade of Deba has good durable edge, suitable for cutting a Fish, a Chicken, also for filleting tasks. Its history goes back to the Edo era in Sakai, Japan.
Yanagi-ba-bōchō (柳刃包丁, literally willow blade knife)
A Sashimi Knife, for cutting and filleting fish or ham with a pull stroke. Slim blade in the shape of a willow leaf or Katana (sword). Long and Narrower blade is suitable for slicing tasks. Especially for preparing fresh, good & beautiful shape of raw fishes (sashimi). The Yanagiba is called "Shobu" and popular in Western Japan (around Osaka and Kyoto).
Even though the Yanagiba is known as a sashimi knife it is also exceptionally good as a carving knife. Its thin blade enables you to cut perfect thin slices off a roast, ham or even chicken.
Yanagiba are available in variety of blade lengths, typically ranging from 150mm up to 360mm, with the 270mm, 300mm, and 330mm sizes being particularly popular.
The literal translation of Kiritsuke is “to cut at / to slash at”. This knife is true to its name as the long, tall blade with its long straight edge and “reverse tanto” tip ensures it is a perfect all-rounder. It is especially good for preparing Japanese cuisine as it “slit” and finely slice vegetables and then be used to prepare smooth, glossy cuts of sashimi.
The traditional Kiritsuke (nicknamed “K-Tip”) is usually a single bevel knife with a sharp pointed tip that blends the purpose of the Usaba (vegetable knife) and the Yanagiba (sushi knife), this results in a general-purpose knife for preparing traditional Japanese food. It is particularly good at peeling vegetables into long wafer-thin strips (Katsuramaki technique). This knife is usually used by very experienced chefs in Japanese restaurants and as such is something of a status symbol.
In recent years there has been a move towards producing the double bevel Kiritsuke (Wa-Kiritsuke) and this knife blends the purpose of the Nakiri and the Gyuto. These knives have less belly (blade curvature) than the Gyuto which means they are not designed for “rock chopping” but are used with a push cut (vegetables) or a pull cut (fish – sashimi). The tip of the blade is very versatile for delicate work and the blade can also be used for used for “tap” chopping.
You find Kiritsuke knives in blade lengths from 210mm to 330mm with the 210 to 270mm blades being a popular alternative to the gyuto.
Usuba / Usuba bōchō (薄刃包丁, lit. thin knife)
The Usuba is the traditional vegetable knife for the professional Japanese chef. The Usuba are chisel ground which means they have the bevel on the front side of the knife and have a hollow ground urasuki on the reverse side. The urasuki creates an air pocket when slicing food which helps to reduce drag and creates a finer cut. Usuba literally means "thin blade" indicating its relative thinness compared to other knives, required for cutting through firm vegetables without cracking them. Due to its height and straight edge, usuba are also used for specialized cuts such as katsuramuki, shaving a vegetable cylinder into a thin sheet.
Nakiri / Nakiri bōchō (菜切り包丁, translation: knife for cutting greens)
While the Usuba is a knife usually used by professional chefs in Japan the Nakiri are knives for home use, and sometimes have a black finished, or Kurouchi, blade. The cutting edge is double bevelled, called ryōba in Japanese. This makes it easier to cut straight slices. Nakari have a straight blade edge suitable for cutting all the way to the cutting board without the need for a horizontal pull or push. These knives are also much thinner and lighter which makes them easier to handle and perfect for it is typically use of mincing, slicing, dicing or chopping vegetables.
Japanese Speciality Knives
Chuka Bocho (Chinese Cleaver) 中華包丁
The Chukabocho (Chinese Cleaver) - written in Japanese as 中華包丁 (ちゅうかぼうちょう) and pronounced as Chūkabōchō. It's a western style Japanese kitchen knife and is best used for: duck, fish, herbs, vegetables. These knives have a short handle and a tall blade used to gain a mechanical advantage and the blade is usually thicker behind the edge to cut denser ingredients and sometimes even bone.
Menkiri Bocho (麺切り包丁) also known as Udon kiri (うどん切)
The udon kiri (うどん切), soba kiri (そば切 or 蕎麦切り包丁), and kashi kiri are a group of specialized knives used in the Japanese kitchen to make udon and soba noodles respectively. The knife is usually heavy to aid in the cutting of the noodles, usually with a slight forward motion.
Photos compliments of Shimomura Co. Ltd