5 Types of Japanese Chef Knives
by HexClad Cookware
Finding the right knives is a fun and maybe sometimes confusing adventure. All home cooks and professional chefs know how valuable each piece of cookware and kitchen utensil is.
Here at HexClad, we are all about providing our customers with the knowledge to make buying pots, pans, knives, and beyond the easiest and simplest experience. We believe that you should have the expertise at your fingertips that you need to make the right choices when you buy, so you never have to second guess the trust you put into our or other brands.
That’s why we want to give you all the information you’ll need before buying any Japanese kitchen knives. We will explain the top five Japanese knife options and give you the basic uses for each. Then we will give you a little insight into why Japanese knife styles are so popular compared to Western knives before explaining our knives and why you can rest assured that you’ve picked a winner.
1. The Gyuto (Chef’s Knife)
Perhaps the best Japanese knife for versatility, the gyuto, or Japanese chef’s knife, is similar in utility, size, and shape to the traditional Western-style chef’s knife. This type of knife has an elongated blade and a pointed tip and can be used as your primary knife in the kitchen.
The high-quality chef’s knife should be considered your go-to in the kitchen and the knife you turn to first and foremost, as it has the most universal use. It will provide plenty of aid in the kitchen, so treat it nicely and keep it lasting.
While HexClad doesn’t have a gyuto knife per se, the 8” chef’s knife is the straight equal. You will bust this cutlery out for every dish and every meal, and it will love the work and always come back for more. No matter how big the meal or difficult the dish is, your chef’s knife is always up for the challenge.
How Is the Gyuto Used?
The gyuto offers the most universal use in the kitchen, and it is meant to be the most used and most reached-for option on your knife block. The tip will aid with tight spaces where you need to slowly insert your knife to create a very slight and fine opening in the packaging or on the casing of a sausage.
You will also be able to put your gyuto to work dicing veggies and creating a variety of culinary knife techniques.
2. The Santoku (Multi-Purpose Knife)
The santoku is a slightly smaller version of the gyuto, usually measuring a 7” inch blade versus the 8” gyuto. This knife is a multi-purpose tool, as it can provide a lot of functionality to keep your kitchen running smoothly during mealtime.
While the santoku is close in size and use to gyuto, don’t think of this knife as an either-or situation when comparing it to the gyuto. You will need or use your santoku knife alongside the gyuto, not in replacement of it.
HexClad features a 7” santoku knife that becomes the best friend of our chef’s knife. These guys will be closer than Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Step Brothers, and you won’t be able to have one without the other.
Even if you think it sounds like overkill, having your chef’s knife perform the bulk of the work and the santoku to provide backup at every turn, you will never come across a list of diced ingredients you can’t face.
How Is the Santoku Knife Used?
As we said, think of the santoku as the trusty sidekick to the gyuto or the one-two punch you need during mealtimes. The gyuto will take the heavy load, trimming meats and cutting fillets. The santoku will pick up the slack, slicing and dicing the veggies and chopping fresh herbs with ease.
These knives, working side-by-side, will make even the most difficult dishes feel basic. There’s no stopping you when these guys get together.
3. The Bunka Knife (Multi-Purpose Knife)
The Bunka knife is very similar to the santoku knife, as it is also known as a multi-purpose knife and performs many of the same knife techniques and functions as the santoku. Some of the big differences have to do with shape. The Bunka knife has a flat head and wider blade with a more pronounced and pointy tip. Whereas the santoku has a more narrow and rounded tip.
In recent years, the santoku has become a more popular and more frequently used multi-purpose knife, so the Bunka knife isn’t seen as often as in past years.
HexClad created the santoku knife that will perform the multi-purpose function as the backup to the chef’s knife, but an option we also feature that the Japanese staples don’t have is the serrated bread knife. The ridges in the blade allow you to easily cut through hearth-baked bread without damaging that warm, fluffy center.
There isn’t much need in Japanese cuisine for a bread knife, but in Western culture and other areas of the world where bread is heavily incorporated into mealtimes, this guy will come in handy.
How Is the Bunka Knife Used?
The Bunka is ideal for cutting strong, starchy vegetables. The shape of the blade gives it a lot of power to cut easily through heavy veggies like potatoes, carrots, and parsnips. The pointed tip also makes it ideal for cutting through heavy stems on veggies like broccoli and cauliflower and makes it a great option for trimming meats.
4. The Nakiri Knife (Vegetable Knife)
The nakiri is a very popular style of knife in home kitchens all over Japan and provides a lot of ease of cooking, especially for those cooking for families, as it will cut down on chopping time.
Nakiri knives have a double bevel-edged blade and a flat end versus a pointed tip. While this knife is strong and durable for cutting vegetables, it isn’t an ideal option for meats, especially those with a lot of bones, like poultry.
This is similar to the HexClad 5" utility knife. It is the smaller knife that is mostly utilized to cut vegetables, as the smaller blade allows you more control to cut precise sticks and squares out of your ingredients.
Because of the smaller blade, you can really only use the utility knife for smaller amounts and weights of meat, so don’t be afraid to reserve this knife for jobs where even and clean cuts are a top priority.
How Is the Nakiri Knife Used?
These blades are strong and durable, but they are primarily used for cutting vegetables. The flat end and beveled edge make it easy to use for dicing and chopping, so it is a staple item in homes with vegetarians.
5. The Petty Knife (Paring Knife)
The petty knife is the smallest knife in the bunch, and it is necessary for really precise and small jobs. You might not use a petty knife daily, maybe sometimes even weekly, but when you have a job that requires a very delicate touch, you are going to be so glad you invested in this little guy.
Petty knives are more of a Western tradition versus a Japanese staple, but they do show up in many home chef kitchens as their small design makes them easy to use quickly and very efficiently.
Those with smaller hands also note a high use of these knives as they can make those precise cuts with less difficulty than a vegetable knife or a chef’s knife. While those precision and even cuts aren’t always necessary, there’s nothing like making big and small pieces than having your carrots or potatoes roast unevenly.
The HexClad 3.5” paring knife, which is slightly smaller than a Japanese petty knife, is the perfect tool to keep in your kitchen as it can provide many functions in a smaller, more compact design. It can provide help for proteins, vegetables, fruits, and fresh herbs and can create perfect knife skills due to its small size.
You will know how deep you’re cutting something as well as at what angle a veggie or herb is being cut, so you will be able to adjust if necessary before you cut something either wonky or wrong. It is just peace of mind that other knives won’t give you, as you may not realize the error in technique until it’s too late.
How Is the Petty Knife Used?
Petty knives are capable of almost anything that their size can handle. They are great for peeling fruits and veggies, cutting garnishes for drinks and dishes, and deveining shrimp.
These knives have a ton of versatility, especially considering how small they are. You can expect to get accurately chopped veggies and the thinnest slices of fresh herbs like basil without exerting too much energy or effort.
It can be hard with larger knives to accurately chop parsley and other herbs, as you need to hold them really close to the blade, and larger knives can make it hard to see. With a paring knife, you’ll be able to watch where your knife is cutting and watch out for fingers at the same time, providing you with a better slice and dice and a safer experience.
What Sets Traditional Japanese Knives Apart?
Japanese knives are some of the most coveted pieces of steel in kitchens around the world, but why? Some of it has to do with the shape and intentional design behind each variety. The blades, tips, and width of the knives are designed so that each knife provides the most function. But most of the desire behind Japanese steel is the Damascus pattern and the material itself.
Damascus steel is a style of knife-making in which the steel is layered and folded over itself to create lines and striations in the end result. This is a very traditional, old-school way of creating beautiful knives, and this, coupled with the carbon steel material, makes for an unbeatable sharp edge.
Carbon steel is resistant to rusting, corrosion, and mold, so your knives are not only durable and strong, but they will resist being compromised by various ingredients you use in your meals. It provides a sharp blade and a strong one that will stand the test of time.
Damascus Steel Japanese Kitchen Knives: The Best a Chef Can Get
Here at HexClad, we only feature Japanese Damascus steel blades in our designs, and it’s no wonder. When you start with the best, you don’t need the rest, so we designed knives with the best and strongest steels and most beautiful designs the first time, so we never have to do it again.
Couple this with the stylish and comfortable pakkawood handles, and you have yourself a kitchen knife that is easy and painless to use and gorgeous to display.
We are confident that you have all the information you need to understand the nuances of Japanese knives and why we chose their time-honored traditions for our own creations. Buying HexClad knives gives you a part of culinary history in a modern design that you can be proud to use and proud to show off to guests.