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Regardless of our ability levels in the kitchen, a good knife is a crucial piece of kitchen equipment. A chef’s knife is one of the smartest investments one can make because they are versatile and are beneficial for all kinds of tasks, from finely chopping herbs and cutting fruits and veggies to ideal slicing of big chunks of meat.Without doubt, a top quality chef’s knife will save you a lot of time and trouble regarding slicing and dicing and the overall food preparation. However, before you decide to purchase a chef’s knife, you need to take into consideration some important aspects like the price, the brand, and the various types of knives available, for example, Japanese and Western chef’s knives and their characteristics.
The Difference between Japanese and Western Chef Knives
Did you know that the basic difference between these two types of knives is that the Western ones are sharpened on both sides and on the blade? So, sharpening tools for Western knives need to be able to sharpen the both sides of the blade. It is also crucial to note that there is an overall angle one needs to pay attention to during sharpening. This range is between 18 and 28 degrees, which is higher than the range needed for Japanese knives.
Another distinction is the curved design along the blade which is used for the application of several pressure amounts to specific points of the blade. This is why the sharpener for such knives should be able to sharpen the entire knife all along the curved edge.
Western knives are thicker and sturdier than the Japanese ones and they are built with softer steel and with more material due to the necessary density and strength. Since the steel is softer, the edges will become dull quicker than that of Japanese knives. However, this and any other imperfections along the blade can be solved with adequate sharpening.
On the other hand, Japanese chef knives have a single bevel, not a symmetrical one as it is the case with the Western types. And, this means that the blade is sharpened on one side only. This also increases their sharpness, which is higher than that of their Western counterparts. These knives are made with harder steel which prolongs the sharpness of the edges.Nonetheless, the harder steel can be brittle so one needs to use the proper Japanese knife for specific tasks. For example, using a Japanese chef’s knife to cut through a chicken bone may result in a ruined edge, which will not happen if you use a Western knife for this task. This type of knife does not come with a curved blade shape and it is long and straight.
What Makes a Quality Chef’s Knife?
As a lot of experts like to say, a knife ‘is like a dance partner’ and if it is comfortable in your hand, it does not mean that it will not feel bulky to others. For a precise, effortless, and enjoyable experience while chopping and dicing, you need to find the perfect knife according to your preferences.
It is important to pay attention to its weight, i.e. whether you find it easier to cut with a lighter or a heavier model; the second aspect is balance which it is determined by gripping the knife’s handle and assessing if it feels comfy and stable or not. Adequate size of the chef’s knife is also necessary. Namely, knives longer than 8 inches may feel intimidating while shorter knives like that of 6 inches are not recommendable for cutting through more voluminous foods like watermelons.
If you opt for a forged knife, you will make an excellent choice because these are some of the most durable and balanced models. These stainless steel knives are made through the hammering of a red-hot billet of steel into a shaped die. You will not make a mistake by purchasing laser-cut stamped knives from sheets of steel, as well as ceramic knives.
In this review of chef’s knives, our focus will be on the best Japanese models.
Our 4 Top Choices for a Japanese Chef’s Knife
The 8-inch Chef’s Knife by Global is a lightweight and ideally balanced model which is made of high-tech stainless steel. The chromium present in the blade elevates the knife’s stain resistance while the molybdenum and vanadium prolong the longevity of the blade’s sharpness. The 8-inch length is recommendable for cutting larger veggies and meat, but it is also suitable for chopping herbs and dicing onions. This knife has one-of-a-kind hollow handle filled with sand that shifts while you maneuver the knife to adjust it to the hand. Its dark dimples allow a strong grip and prevent slips even in case of a wet handle; the finger notch where the blade meets the handle elevates safety. At the price of $99.94 and a lifetime warranty for breakage and defects, this is a reasonable long-term investment.
Some users were disappointed in the low quality of the blade and the quick rusting and pitting within the first week of use.
The company Global is a Japanese brand of kitchen knives owned and manufactured by the Yoshikin factory of Japan. This brand is recognizable for their iconic designs, innovative methods of manufacture, and cutting performance. Their knives are made of harder steel, have a thinner blade, and are ground to a narrower angle producing a sharper knife with a longer edge and more precise work. They offer knives are lightweight and with proper balance.
Gyuto Chef’s Knife by Yoshihiro comes at a higher price than the previous model, i.e. $129.99 but it is definitely worth it as it is the most adaptable chef knife ever; it is perfect for dicing, chopping, and slicing, but for carving meat as well. It has a 3-layer construction with VG-10 stainless steel that is used in high end Japanese cutlery. Its hardness is higher than that of other stainless steel cutlery. The hammer clad is from Damascus steel and it reduces friction and averts the sticking of food onto the blade. This is certainly an elegant, stylish, stain-resistant, and handcrafted knife that has it all. You can choose between an 8-inch and 9.5 inch model, depending on your liking.
However, some users wrote that the knife lacks in sharpness and there is no solidness while cutting. Also, they complain of the heaviness, low balance, and handle shortness.Yoshihiro Cutlery is a company that specializes in handcrafted and top quality Japanese kitchen knives and it has a long history of more than hundred years. Their techniques originate from the 14th century medieval Japanese sword smiths who were experts in the technique of handling iron, fire, and water. Since then on, these knives have gained an increasing recognition from both professional and novice chefs throughout the world. Their philosophy is that every moment is an once-in-a-lifetime chance and that a good knife can be cherished for a lifetime. They are recognizable for their modern innovations, tradition of beauty and excellence, and the combination of traditional techniques and cutting edge metallurgy.
The Hiro SG2 Chef’s Knife by Shun is an all-purpose knife and it can perform a lot of different cutting tasks with fruits, veggies, proteins, and other foods. The core is from Japanese stainless steel and the clad has 32 layers of Damascus nickel and stainless pattern on each side. The handle is constructed from dark charcoal Pakka Wood and it has deep crimson striations and mosaic-like Samurai family crest. The bolster is from nickel silver while the hammered tsuchime finish increases the dramatic look and aids the release of food from the blade. The 8-inch model is priced at $299.95, but it is undoubtedly a proof of the exquisite craftsmanship of Japanese blades with unparalleled durability.
Some users reported that the blade does stick to the foods being cut, which impedes the cutting process.
Shun Cutlery knives have amazingly sharp edges and unique aesthetics which sets them apart from all other chef knives on the market. The knives are handmade by skilled specialists and the process is comprised of more than 100 steps. This is a company that is an expert in maintaining a perfect balance between a 100-year-old blade-making tradition and modern technology and advanced materials. Their knives are certainly a functional piece of art.
The 8-Inch Chef’s Knife by Mac Knife is not among the more affordable chef’s knife ($144.94), but it does offer excellent features like lightweightness, dimples that enable easy food glide, and a classic black handle made from Pakka Wood. The blade is thin which makes it superior in cutting, dicing, and slicing all kinds of foods. While using this knife, you will not experience hand/thumb fatigue and it will enhance your experience in the kitchen every time.
Nonetheless, some users were disappointed in this model because it did not prove as sharp as advertised and it became pitted only after three days of use.
The main focus of Mac Knife Company is to manufacture knives that are polished, assembled, and sharpened by Japanese craftsmen who are experts in the field. They have sold more than 25 million knives since 1964 and their products are a hybrid between traditional Japanese beveled chisel edge and the Western V shaped edge characterized by sharpness and control. Superior in their designs and craftsmanship, the company has a ‘finest knife’ reputation and an abundance of positive experiences by users who never go back to their previous knives after trying out some of their models.
Final Thoughts on Choosing a Japanese Chef’s Knife
Though deciding on a quality and affordable chef’s knife is not a straightforward process due to the abundance of models available on the market, the reviews above help us learn what to look for and what to avoid when deciding on a knife. This being said, if you can invest in a more expensive knife, you will not be in the wrong if you go with the models by Shun or Mac Knife because they are durable, come with an artistic touch, and are perfect for both novices and professionals.
However, those who are not yet prepared to spend more on a chef’s knife, but still want to better their slicing, cutting, and dicing skills and their time spend in the kitchen, should definitely purchase a Yoshihiro or Global knife. Their models are versatile, effective, and safe.
With certainty, high end knives are a viable and clever option because they do not only speed up the food preparation process, but also give you an opportunity to enjoy your time spent in the kitchen and make it a more pleasurable experience.
What knife do you like? Let us know in the comments! If you have any questions we are here to help, so don't hesitate to ask.