Dating back to the fifth century A.D., Japan has been the global epicenter for the world’s highest quality chef’s knives. Regardless of what’s in front of you in the kitchen, there’s a Japanese chef’s knife perfectly suited to chop it, slice it, or break it down. Specific Japanese chef’s knives cover everything from deboning chicken to filleting fish to thinly slicing any vegetable you can think of.
Below is a quick guide to all of the styles of Japense chef’s knives referenced above and the applications to which they refer.
The Gyutou is the Japanese equivalent of an all-purpose chef’s knife and can be used for almost all kitchen tasks if need be. Literally translating to “beef sword,” the gyutuo is great for slicing all types of meat and holds an edge better than its heavier and thicker European counterparts.
The Japanese word santoku refers to the knife’s “three virtues”: its ability to cut fish, meat and produce. The santoku has a taller blade than the gyutou making any repetitive, up-and-down chopping motion easier and less susceptible to rocking.
Perfect for filleting fish and slicing or carving meat or poultry, the sujihiki is an exceedingly precise Japanese chef’s knife with a steeper bevel than similar European knives.
Often times used interchangeably with a cleaver by American chefs, deba knives possess a thick spine and blade and a gently curved, single-sided edge. Deba knives are heavier than most other Japanese chef’s knives and are especially great for filleting fish and butchering poultry.
The yanagi is the Japanese chef’s knife used around the world for cutting precise slices of sushi and sashimi. Its especially long blade (ranging from 8-12 inches) is used for long slicing motions and is also perfect for breaking down large fish fillets.
The takobiki–or takohiki as it’s sometimes spelled–is very similar to the yanagi with the exception of its blunt and square tip, which was originally instituted to prevent cutting customers. Takobiki knives are especially good for slicing eel and octopus (tako), the latter of which the knife is named after.
The kiritsuke is a cross between two different Japanese chef’s knives, the gyutou and the yanagi. It’s longer than the gyutou, but with an angled tip unlike the yanagi. The kiritsuke is excellent for slicing fish and is traditionally used only by executive chefs, due to its status symbol and difficulty of use.
One of the two most common styles of Japanese boning knives, the honesuki’s triangular shape and rigid blade make it especially great for breaking down poultry. The honesuki can also function as a paring knife when needed.
In contrast to the honesuki, the hankotsu is specially designed for deboning meat rather than fish. Its thick spine and stern blade make the hankotsu especially durable and versatile.
Pankiri knives are solely used for slicing bread and baked goods. This serrated Japanese chef’s knife is designed to cut through crusts without crushing the bread itself.
The Japanese take on the French petit knife, the Petty knife is the quintessential paring and utility knife and perfect for all of the tasks that a gyutou or santoku are simply too large for. Specifically, petty knives are great for tasks involving small fruit, like peeling citrus, and both vegetables and herbs.
The nakiri resembles a smaller version of a Chinese cleaver and is especially good for precise vegetable slicing and dicing, along with cutting into thicker-skinned produce. The nakiri possesses a double-edged blade and is considered the standard vegetable knife for home use in Japan.
The usuba is the most traditional Japanese vegetable knife and is used more commonly in professional kitchens than private homes. Usuba knives are singled-edged and are known for being especially sharp when cared for correctly.