The pure chopping power of a German chef’s knife is undeniable, but the elegance and precision of a fine, sharp Japanese chef’s knife might cannot be understated. For fine tasks requiring a lot of finesse, like slicing fruit and vegetables or making intricate cuts in meat, a Japanese chef’s knife excels.
Anybody who’s ever shopped for a chef’s knife – of any style – knows they can be expensive. Or, they might be affordable, but lacking in quality. Thankfully, that’s not always the case – and there’s still a good selection of excellent, affordable chef’s knives out there to stock your kitchen with.
Let’s take a look at some of the best out there for 2019.
What is a Japanese Chef’s Knife?
When we talk about Japanese chef’s knives, we are almost always talking about those in the Gyutuo style; this is the Japanese equivalent of the classic chef’s knife, a versatile tool that can be used for chopping, slicing and cutting virtually most food. They’re usually thinner and lighter than their European counterparts.
Another very popular style of Japanese chef’s knife the Santoku. Santoku means “three virtues” in Japanese and refers to the knives versatility; it can cut fish, meat and vegetables. The sheepsfoot blade’s flatter belly means it good for up and down chopping, and the whole knife is usually well-balanced.
There are other Japanese blade styles out there, but they’re more specialized, e.g. for cutting vegetables or cleaving meat.
What’s the Difference Between German and Japanese Chef’s Knives?
German chef’s knives are designed to be strong and durable, as well as contain an ample amount of chopping power. As such, they usually have a full-tang and bolster – meaning that the blade continues all the way through the handle. The bolster is the thickest part of the steel, found right before the handle. It adds strength and durability, keeping the knife from getting too flimsy during chopping.
The blade angle on a German chef’s knife is usually 20-22 degrees, while the blade geometry is slightly curved, making it particularly well-suited for chopping. They’re usually thick and heavy, but the blade is not particularly hard – only about 55 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale (HRC).
Japanese chef’s knives, on the other hand, usually have no bolster – whether Santoku or Gyuto. The angle is softer, at about 12 to 15 degrees, and the blade edge is usually much straighter, instead of the German knife’s curved edge. As a result, they are particularly useful for slicing and dicing. They’re also generally much lighter and thinner than your typical European-style chef’s knife, which gives them their agility and elegance. The blade is also harder, with a Rockwell hardness of about 60+.
Why Get a Japanese Chef’s Knife?
Japanese chef’s knifes are lightweight, versatile and razor sharp. With their fine edge and narrower blade, they are best suited for small slices and for very precise knifework – the kind of knifework that Japanese cuisine usually calls for. If that kind of work appeals to you, you’ll probably find that a Japanese chef’s knife fits your needs well.
Also, some people just really like the elegant, sleek look of Japanese knives – and that’s a good enough reason to get one.
The Best Japanese Chef’s Knife: The Reviews
Shun DM0706 Classic 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
This Gyuto-style chef’s knife from Shun is a quality, versatile choice, with an 8” blade that is perfect for slicing, cutting, and dicing virtually anything. It’s reasonably priced, and handcrafted to great standards of quality, making it another good value for a Japanese chef’s knife.
The blade has a VG-10 stainless steel core, with 32 layers of high-carbon stainless steel folded and clamped around it. This creates a folded, textured look, as well as an extra-hard, durable blade that is honed to a wicked sharp edge. The blade also has a bead-blast finish, and the stainless steel is corrosion and rust resistant. The handle is laminated PakkaWood; it’s weighted and well-balanced and feels confident your hands. The entire knife is dishwasher-safe and comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
The blade may be sharp, but it’s also fragile; it’s been known to chip, crack and break when banged on the countertop or even slicing through a tough piece of meat. VG-10 is one of the more brittle knife steels out there, and that’s apparent in a thin Japanese blade like this one; it also needs frequent sharpening.
Budget Buy: Simple Song Traditional Japanese Gyuto
This Gyuto from Simple Song is as good as it gets on a budget, thanks to a strong-yet-light stainless-steel blade, sturdy handle and that very attractive price tag. There are some issues with quality control and durability, but the low price point makes up for them.
The high carbon, 420HC stainless steel blade is excellent, heat treated for maximum hardness, as well as also corrosion- and rust-resistant. With a full-tang design and elegant rosewood handle, it feels solid and wieldy. The single bevel edge is sharpened to 15 degrees on one side, with a flat edge on the other; you can slice food neatly and easily with the sharp edge while separating slices with the flat edge. Altogether, it’s light (6.4 ounces) and well-balanced.
Quality control is lacking, perhaps as a result of the budget price. It’s not uncommon to receive a knife with a chipped blade edge or a spot of rust upon opening (you can always send it back). And, the blade is very hard, but that means it more easily dents or nicks in the dishwasher.
Dalstrong Chef’s Knife – Shogun Series x Gyuto
Dalstrong makes legit high-end knives, and this Gyuto is no different. It has an exceptionally hard blade made of 66 layers (yes, 66 layers) of Japanese high-carbon steel for a super-durable and strong build. It’s reasonably priced, and our Top Pick for the Japanese Chef’s knife.
The 66-layer Japanese AUS-10V “super steel” blade is as about as strong as it gets; it’s vacuum heat-treated and then nitrogen-cooled to a Rockwell hardness of 62+. The tsuchine (hammered) finish adds some flair. It’s sharpened to an 8-12-degree edge on either side, using the 3-step Honbazuke method – a traditional Japanese method of sharpening knives. This increases the strength, but more importantly, reduces drag and keeps food from sticking to the blade.
A full-tang construction means its rock solid, well-balanced in your hand, and built to last, and is paired with a G-10 handle – hard, non-porous, and impervious to heat. It’s also ergonomic and super comfortable.
Like many other knives in the price range, the Dalstrong Gyuto doesn’t have the best quality control, and many people have reported receiving a knife with an already dented or chipped blade, or a blade that is already dull. Some people find that the blade is just not that sharp upon unboxing, anyway. You can certainly sharpen it and keep it well-honed with regular maintenance, but it’s not quite high-end quality.
Yoshihiro VG10 Hammered Damascus Gyuto
This gyuto from Yoshihiro boasts premium craftsmanship from skilled artisans, as well as a blade stamped out of 16 layers of hardened Damascus steel. It’s another premium-quality, well-balanced chef’s knife that’s won’t break the bank.
With 16 layers of Damascus steel and a VG-10 steel core, the blade is the perfect combination of hardness, low friction and corrosion-resistance. It’s well-honed already, but can be easily sharpened at home, and holds its edge well. The rich mahogany features a full-tang construction, so it’s strong, well-balanced and nimble in your hand. It’s also light, weighing only 6.4 ounces. The spine thickness is 3mm. It’s handcrafted in Japan with expert craftsmanship.
The double-bevel blade means it is not a traditional authentic Japanese gyuto. That may not be a big idea for most of us but might turn a few people away. Food sticks to the blade when slicing, which is inconvenient. Also, the blade is so hard and sharp, it’s a bit brittle, and can chip and crack on hard surfaces. There are also some issues with the handle’s durability, which has been known to crack at the seams.
Mac Knife Superior Series Santoku
This Japanese-made Santoku from MAC Knife is a time-tested tool, with a design created and perfected by MAC 4 decades ago. If you want the versatility that Santoku knives offer, this is our Top Pick; It’s high-quality and well-constructed and has an attractive price tag to boot.
The high-carbon stainless blade is hard and sharp, 2mm thick but with a super fine, sharp edge that asymmetrically-beveled – the angle totals 45 degrees with a roughly 55/45 ratio. The steel holds an edge very well and is easy to sharpen. The 6.75” blade length, paired with a 11” total knife length, is large enough for most chopping and cutting jobs, while remaining well-balanced and wieldy. Finally, the handle is lightweight Pakkawood and feels strong and sturdy in your hands.
The bevel is designed for right-handed use and can be difficult for left-handed folks to use. It does not have a Granton edge or the dimpling to help food from sticking to the blade, which seems trivial but makes a huge difference in how well the knife works. You might also want to sharpen it a bit of the box. Also, it’s handwash only, so don’t stick it in the dishwasher.
Tojiro DP Gyuto
Tojiro knives are high-quality and respected knives, bringing professional-level quality at affordable prices. The DP Gyuto is an elegant, well-honed knife with a durable, sharp blade and offering excellent value for the money; for the price, it’s one of the best Gyuto styles you’ll find.
Like many of the best chef’s knives, the DP Gyuto has a VG-10 steel core, clad in several layers of a softer stainless steel. This combination makes it easy to sharpen, and provides a bit of support and flexibility, which can help prevent chipping and snapping. Food doesn’t stick to the blade, thanks to the slight convex shape; the symmetrical edge also means it’s comfortable for both left-handed and right-handed users. At 7.2 ounces, it’s light and nimble to use. Best of all, it is razor sharp, and holds its edge well, making quick work of all kinds of foods. Overall, a great wieldy knife.
There are complaints about the blade chipping and denting, which can be issue. Many of those complaints, however, come from the blade not being treated properly; don’t throw it carelessly in the dishwasher, cut on the wrong surfaces or leave it sitting in the sink, and it should hold up fine for a long time.
What Else To Look For In A Japanese Chef’s Knife?
Weight: Weight is important. It’s also a bit of personal preference. Some people prefer heavier knives, as they feel more substantial and can get behind larger cuts more easily. Others prefer the finesse and agility of lighter knives. For a Japanese chef’s knife, you want to find a well-balanced knife in the 5-9-ounce range that feels comfortable in your hand but lets you make precise, easy cuts.
Price: Good chef’s knives can cost under $50 or well into the hundreds. We think the best chef’s knives for the money will be found around $75-$100, though there are some budget picks for less than $50.
Size: Generally, a good chef’s knife is 8-10” long. Longer than 10”, and it will start to become heavier and unwieldy. If it’s only 6-8” long, it may be lighter and nimbler, but starts to become too small for making bigger cuts. About 8” is really the sweet spot.