In this section we will break down the various knife types and give you a general idea of why they all exist. It's important to have a general idea of what knife types are available and why you might need them before you invest in your tools as a home or pro chef.
Everyday Essentials For Your Kitchen
CHEFS KNIFE & GYUTO
Gyutos & Chefs Knives are the most versatile knife and are the perfect 'daily driver.' Gyuto literally translates to "Beef Sword." It is a Japanese Chefs Knife, but typically, the blade thickness is thinner & lighter, with less curve in the blade than their Western counterparts. There are two types of Gyutos; A Wa-Gyuto, referencing a Japanese-style handle, and Yo-Gyuto, referencing a western style handle. A western-style Chefs knife (German, French, or American) has more camber in the blade design, lending itself to a rocking style of cutting. Furthermore, Western Chefs Knives are thicker and have a full tang handle and metal bolster, which makes for a weightier knife. No matter the type, Gyuto or Chefs Knife, they offer some of the most versatile cutting applications and can tackle everything from vegetable prep to meat and fish butchery.
Càidāo, 菜刀, translates from Chinese into English as Kitchen Knife or Vegetable Knife. It is, for all intents and purposes, a Chinese style Chefs Knife. Much the same as Chefs Knives and Gyutos, it has multi-purpose functionality. They are great for chopping, slicing, dicing, and mincing. The tall profile makes for a good scoop. Because of the heft of the blade, the knife can be turned over to use the spine to tenderize meat. Although it has a square profile, it’s important to note this is not a meat cleaver. The thinner blade is not strong enough to withstand heavy strikes on bone.
The Santoku's real name is Santokugata Nakiri, 三德包丁なきり. It rivals Gyutos & Chefs Knives in its functionality and multipurpose ability. They are the most common knife in Japanese households and are a favorite among Americans and Westerners. Santoku translates to 'three virtues,' referencing fish, meat, and vegetables. For all intents and purposes, a Santoku is a small Chefs Knife. The blade is recognizable with its clipped tip and modest camber, making it user-friendly and versatile.
UTILITY & PETTY KNIVES
Petty & Utility Knives are the ideal tool every kitchen needs for general-purpose tasks. The Japanese Petty Knife gets its name from the French word 'petit.' These are great for intricate work, peeling, slicing, & even chopping herbs. The small design lends itself to being agile and easily controllable.
Serrated knives are always a helpful addition to any kitchen. They are perfect for food products with a hard exterior and soft interior, such as crusty bread. Another quintessential item for serrated knives is tomatoes. Serrations can be configured in different ways and are only on one side. Serrations can be saw-toothed, micro, scalloped (inverted or reversed), wavy, or any combination. Fundamentally a serrated knife works like a saw. The teeth or 'peaks' catch and bite into the food, while the 'valley' slices.
SPEAR POINT PARING KNIFE
The most common & versatile design of paring knives is referred to as 'Spear Point,' having some curve in the cutting edge. Typically, but not always, it is used in your hand off the cutting board.
SHEEPSFOOT PARING KNIFE
A Sheepsfoot Paring Knife has a straight blade and clipped tip. This allows for complete contact with a cutting board or more connection with the food product.
TORNÉ PARING KNIFE
A Torné (sometimes called a Bird's Beak) has a re-curve and is excellent for French-trained chefs, and is especially good for cutting Torné vegetables.
Designed For Specific Tasks
A Nakiri, traditionally called Kakugata Nakiri Bōchō, かくがたなきり包丁, is a double-bevel knife specifically designed to work with vegetables. Recognizable by its squared shape and little-to-no curve in the cutting edge, it will make quick work of your veggie prep. They excel at the Japanese 'push forward' style and are fantastic for slicing, chopping, and mincing.
Boning Knives are used to remove meat from the bone, trim fat, remove sinew, and connective tissues. Boning Knives can be stiff, semi-flexible, or flexible. Most common at 5 to 6 inches, designs will range from a narrow taper towards the tip, a slight re-curve close to the handle, or a curved upsweep.
Fillet Knives usually have a flexible blade and taper more towards the tip than a boning knife, allowing greater success when removing skin and delicate meat from fish. Generally, Fillet knives range from 6 to 11 inches.
A Hankotsu Honesuki, also called a Maru Honesuki, has a thick-bodied blade with a slight curve. Its handle design excels when held with a reverse grip, removing meat from hanging carcasses. Chefs also find the Hankotsu Honesuki works well for general purpose boning tasks.
The Kaku Honesuki, sometimes referred to as a Sabaki, has a straight blade and triangular shape and narrow tip. This allows clean separation at joints and cartilage. This knife also works very well for cutting smaller fish like Aji, Kodai, and Kohada. Additionally, many chefs find that it works well for general purpose boning tasks.
A Garasuki, がら空き包丁, is a Japanese poultry boning knife. Larger in size than a Honesuki, it has thick blade and narrowed tip. Not only does this knife great for poultry, it excels at cutting through lobster shells and butchering small fish.
CARVING AND SLICING KNIVES
Sometimes pointed & sometimes having a blunt end, Carving knives are long, thin, and narrow. This profile assists in uninterrupted thin slices. Often paired with a Carving Fork, which helps stabilize and serve the food.
Soft, creamy, and hard cheeses can cling to a blade. A well-designed Cheese Knife will have holes cut out of the blade, reducing the blades surface area, thereby passing through your cheese more easily.
This heavy and stout knife is rectangular in design, almost resembling a hatchet. It is very thick with a broad edge angle. Not to be confused with a Chinese Chefs Knife, which does not have enough strength to withstand heavy strikes on bone, cartilage, and cutting boards. A Meat Cleaver is a fantastic tool for taking apart chicken, separating animal bones, mincing beef or pork for hand-chopped burgers or dumplings, and even cleaving very hard root vegetables, & squash.
A Scimitar is a large, curved butcher's knife. Primarily used for removing fat caps, trimming silver skin, and portioning large cuts of meat into smaller sizes.
A Sujibiki is a slicing knife. Its long and narrow blade assists in slicing through boneless meats and fish smoothly and precisely. A Sujibiki has a profile similar to a Japanese Yanagi, which is used for cutting sushi, sashimi, and rolls with ease and uninterrupted slices. Many chefs find that a Sujibiki, with some flex in the blade, allows it to function like a Fillet knife.
Every household should have a great set of steak knives on hand. Help your family and guests enjoy that perfectly cooked cut of meat. Sharper and most often larger than table knives, Steak Knives are designed to effortlessly slice through red meat, poultry, and pork at the table. They come in either straight-edge or serrated.
Traditional Japanese Knives For Professional Kitchens
A Yanagi-ba-bōchō, 柳刃包丁, literally 'willow blade knife,' is traditionally used for cutting thin slices of fish for nigiri and sashimi. Although today, many chefs are discovering that these knives excel at slicing any boneless meats. Its long narrow blade offers the ability to cut cleanly and smoothly without damaging food products. Furthermore, the reverse side is slightly concave, which helps keep food products from sticking. Additionally, the length of a Yanagi allows the slicing motion to be uninterrupted.
Kiritsuke Yanagi-ba-bōchō,切付柳刃. Kiritsuke translated means 'cut, cut off, or be sharp'. This variant of a Yanagi with a 'reverse tanto' allows for fine and precise work. Its long slender blade makes cutting sashimi and nigiri effortless. The delicate shape is also suitable for other small tasks. Sometimes a Kiritsuke Yanagi is referred to as Kengata or Kensaki.
A Takobiki, 蛸引, was originally designed for cutting octopus (Tako) and originates from the Kanto (Tokyo) region. Ultimately it is a variation of a Yanagi. Recognizable by its squared-off tip, it is typically thinner at the spine and narrower than its Yanagi counterparts. This helps slice through dense items such as octopus.
Sakimaru Takobiki,先丸蛸引, is a variation of the Takobiki and, in turn, a variant of a Yanagi. Maru means 'round' in Japanese, a reference to its rounded tip. Originally designed for slicing octopus (Tako), its long slender blade and single bevel make cutting rolls, sashimi, & kiritsuke (slices of fish for nigiri) effortless.
The Fugubiki, 河豚引, has a profile much like a Yanagi, except it is thinner and narrower. This design enables the user to slice Fugu (Blowfish) extremely thin. This is important when presenting the fish in the Usuzukuri technique (very thin sashimi).
The Deba, 出刃, often referred to in Japan as Hon Deba (true Deba), is a thick and heavy knife with a broad profile. The Deba is designed to butcher and fillet fish, and it can also be used to dress small & medium fowl. Chefs find they are also great for heavy chopping, & large mincing tasks such as making tartare.
A Mioroshi Deba, 身卸出刃, for all intents and purposes, is a hybrid of a Deba and Yanagi. Like a Deba, it exhibits similar characteristics needed to butcher whole fish. It should be noted that because it is thinner than a Deba, it is more fragile. The user should take greater care and have more expertise. The narrower profile and slightly thinner spine allow for finer detailed work when needed.
SOBAKIRI, そば切 • UDONKIRI, うどん切 • MENKIRI, 麺切包丁
These are very specialized knives for making soba, udon, & ramen noodles, respectively. Its handle uniquely rests above the blade. The heft and straight-blade profile aid in cutting folded and flattened dough using the Japanese push-forward cutting style.
Usuba in Japanese means 'thin'. The Kamagata Usuba, 鎌薄刃, literally "sickle-shaped," originated in the Kansai (Osaka) region of Japan. The straight thin blade accommodates the Japanese push-forward & katsuramuki cutting styles. Furthermore, a thin blade is useful when cutting firm vegetables. The blade will cut, not split, which can happen with thicker knives. Many consider the Kamagata Usuba to be more versatile than the Kanto Usuba because it has a point.
The Kanto Usuba, 関東薄刃 originates from the Kanto (Tokyo) region of Japan. Usuba in Japanese means 'thin'. Its straight thin blade excels at the Japanese push-forward & katsuramuki cutting styles. Furthermore, a thin blade is useful when cutting firm vegetables. The blade will cut, not split, which can happen with thicker knives.
A Kiritsuke, 切付, is a cross between a Yanagi and an Usuba. Note; since the blade design is a hybrid of two knives that differ greatly in their tasks, it requires a high-level skill set to master using one. In Japanese restaurants & sushi bars, it is considered a status symbol of expertise & seniority, and only executive chefs wield them.
Learning Center Sections
Dive deep into the fascinating world of knives, exploring their history, varieties, and the essentials everyone should know.Learn More
Uncover the intricacies of a knife's structure from tip to handle, enhancing your knowledge and appreciation for this indispensable culinary tool.Learn More
A comprehensive guide to distinguishing between German and Japanese cutlery, highlighting their unique characteristics, strengths, and uses.Learn More
Learn about the different bevels and grinds that give a knife its cutting edge, understanding their impact on your culinary adventures.Learn More
Delve into the art of knife-making with an overview of various forging techniques and finishes that contribute to a knife's performance and aesthetic.Learn More
Acquaint yourself with the fascinating science behind knife metallurgy, exploring various steel types and what makes a truly great blade.Learn More
Your guide to knife maintenance, ensuring the longevity and sharpness of your blades with proper care and handling.Learn More
Navigate the factors that influence the cost of a knife, assisting you in making informed decisions when adding to your collection.Learn More