Best Japanese kitchen knives for at home chefs according to experts

·8-min read
 (Unsplash)
(Unsplash)

The last year, we’ve likely all spent more time than ever before whipping up culinary delights in the comfort of our own homes, so it’s high time that our kitchen utensils lived up to the task.

Widely considered to be the best knives in the world, Japanese-made iterations will stand the test of time. They come in all different shapes and sizes and are able to handle any and all tasks that you throw their way.

We’ve consulted the experts - some of the greatest chefs across the capital - to find the knives they couldn’t live without.

But first, here’s everything you need to know about the difference between German or Japanese-made, proper knife maintenance and your shopping guide.

What makes Japanese knives different to European knives?

Eduardo Aguiar, the chef at Issho-Ni explains, “Japanese chef’s knives are more delicate, the blades are generally much thinner, the grinds of the blade are asymmetrical, the edge angle is much more acute and the steel used in the knife is significantly harder.

“This design has evolved to match the delicate and precise cuisine in which they were intended for. That’s why people should choose to buy a Japanese knife if they are looking for quality, sharpness, high cutting performance, durability, and ease of maintenance and sharpening.”

How do you care for your Japanese knife?

Aguiar advises, “Avoid cutting hard ingredients, especially bone. Hard surfaces like glass, steel and ceramic are not suitable for cutting on as this will quickly dull the edge of your knife and can lead to you chipping the blade.” He adds, “Hand washing is essential as the powerful detergents, heat and moisture in a dishwasher can ruin your knife and handle over time.”

How do you sharpen a Japanese knife?

Hisato Hamada at WAGYUMAFIA explains that, “If you have a good knife, you don’t need to do maintenance everyday. It will also depend on how sharp you want your knife to be. The more you sharpen your knife, the more you will lose the width of the blade so that is important to keep in mind.

“Use a sharpening stone or whetstone. When I seriously want to sharpen, I use three different kinds of whetstone: the starter, sharpener, and finisher. Knife sharpening can be very meditative and therapeutic. It takes about an hour to sharpen the petite knife so if I have some time, I’ll play some music on vinyls and sharpen my knife as a bit of a ritual.”

How do you choose a Japanese knife?

“Aside from deciding what you will use the knife for, the most important things to keep in mind when choosing a knife is the sharpness of the blade”, Hamada reveals.

He encourages you to look out for “A bit of bite or toothiness so the knife slices well through the product, the balance of the blade’s sharpness, the thickness of the knife body, and the most importantly to me, the knife’s weight. A knife should be very, very light, as you don’t want to hold a heavy knife all day long.”

See the best Japanese knives to invest in right now...

Sakai Takayuki

Chef Loic Flesh & Buns Seven Dials

Sakai Takayuki are great traditional-looking knives that are beautifully designed and have a lot of variation in their arsenal. Kai Shun are another, especially their premier range that are sturdy and a little on the heavier side if you find that more comfortable. They also have a slightly more western style to them. Stainless steel knives over steel are going to be easier to maintain too and they won’t rust or chip as easily.

When I started out as a chef in the very early days I had a Global knife, which are generally seen as inferior to more traditional Japanese sets. I get it, they’re pretty brutal in design and are heavily mass-produced but honestly, for a beginner they’re a great knife to get used to working with. Light, very comfortable and wholly durable. Once your skills are more polished, you can get into something made from harder steel which needs more skill to handle.

 (Sakai Takayuki)
(Sakai Takayuki)

From £59 | The Sharp Chef

Kai Shun Classic (KAI-DM-0718 Scalloped Santoku 16cm)

Dayashankar Sharma Executive Chef, Heritage Dulwich

I would recommend the Kai Shun Classic. This is a Santoku knife, which has many uses and is incredible versatile – it’s fantastic for everything, from mincing and chopping, to dicing. The weight is balanced well, and it is very sharp.

Maintenance is key with special knives. Some things I do to keep my knife from getting damaged is to always hand wash the blade, treating the blade with care and making sure it is clean. Never use the dishwasher! Store the knife in its own box to keep it from being damaged or blunted, which can happen when stored in utensil pots or drawers.

 (Kai Shun)
(Kai Shun)

£174.50 | Amazon

Brieto M9 vanadium steel

Kerth Gumbs Executive Chef, Ormer Mayfair

I recommend the Brieto M9 vanadium steel. It’s probably my most used knife and is very versatile. The 180mm & 240mm blade provides a good ratio to handle jobs such as filleting, and slicing and dicing of raw meat and fish. It’s also really also easy to sharpen. I also really like the Tsuki T7 Damascus VG-10 Stainless Steel as a day-to-day chef’s knife. It stays sharp well, and helps you get through chopping/ cutting prep type of jobs smoothly and precisely.

 (Brieto)
(Brieto)

€179 | Japanese Knives

SUNLONG Chef Knife 8-inch Gyuto VG10

Sameer Taneja – Executive Chef, Benares Mayfair

First and foremost, all knives are good if they are well kept and sharpened regularly. Sharp knife equals good knife. I love to work with Japanese Knives, and the SUNLONG chef knife 8-inch Gyuto VG10 is my go-to when in the kitchen at Benares. It’s a well-balanced knife made with high quality stainless steel. The blade is very thin and has been hammered to allow you to glide easily through meat, fish and vegetables.

 (SUNLONG)
(SUNLONG)

£99.92 | Amazon

Miyabi 6000MCT Santoku Japanese knife

Ioannis Grammenos Executive Chef, Heliot Steak House

Japanese knives are an investment, but it’s one that’s definitely worth making as they are truly the best knives in the world. Generally speaking, they have thinner, lighter and sharper blades, and which you choose really depends on how you will be using it.

One of the best knifes that I use is the Miyabi – it has a premium blade with over a hundred layers of two different steels. It is so sharp that it could cut almost everything. I also like the Kuma range, which is one of the more affordable Japanese knives makers available. They are made with strong carbon steel that is ideal for meat work and butchery. Finally, I have a Shun knife which has a thinner blade and is fantastic for more intricate, fiddly jobs.

 (Miyabi)
(Miyabi)

£200 | Nordic Nest

Glestain WAGYUMAFIA model knives

Hisato Hamada WAGYUMAFIA

Whether for work or home, my go-to knives are the Glestain WAGYUMAFIA model knives. For work, I recommend the sujihiki. It’s a long narrow blade that I always use in the kitchen as it makes slicing very effortless.

I worked with Glestain to make one for WAGYUMAFIA that has double dimples, or dimples on each side of the blade, so that you get better slicing even when you are slicing through a greasy or moist product. It will detach easily from the blade.

At home, I use the petite knife; I strongly recommend this knife for home use. You don’t need to have a long katana or sword-looking knife that is difficult to handle. I recommend an 11 or 13 cm knife, that should be well-rounded enough for home kitchens.

My Glestain WAGYUMAFIA knives are made of 18-8 stainless steel so they are very light, it’s one of the most lightweight materials that can be used to make that level of blade or knife. You can actually slightly bend it, which is useful for cutting lamb shank, for example, where you would want a bendable blade to follow the bones.

I do not think it’s necessary to buy the most expensive knife out there. For me, my knife is like a necktie - whenever I go to someone’s kitchen, I can give it away. The Glestains aren’t cheap, but they aren’t super expensive, and I can give it away as a way to show respect to the chef I am visiting. I take it as a cultural moment because I know people hold Japanese knives in high regard, and it can also be a nice conversational piece.

 (Glestain WAGYUMAFIA)
(Glestain WAGYUMAFIA)

From £95 | Wagyumafia

Kikuichi

Padam Raj Rai Executive Chef, Hot Stone

I have had many Japanese knives over the years, and my favourite brand is Kikuichi. All knives are hand forged, and I find them to be some of the easiest to use and maintain.

Do not wait until your knife gets blunt to sharpen it; sharpening a knife that’s still sharp is much easier and quicker. I sharpen my knives every morning before prep begins.

 (Kikuichi)
(Kikuichi)

$240 plus shipping from US | Kikuichi

Ichimonji

Eduardo Aguiar Issho-Ni

Gyuto (chef’s knife) is the Japanese version of the classic Western Chef’s knife. It is a true multi-purpose knife that can perform wide range of tasks, can be used with a variety of different cutting techniques and is suitable for cutting the vast majority of meats, fish, vegetables and fruits. The blade of the Japanese Gyuto is typically thinner and lighter than that of a Western ‘chef’s knife’, and the balance point of the Gyuto tends to be a little further forward towards the tip. The combination of these characteristics make it feel extremely agile and precise in use. Gyuto are often chosen by serious amateurs and professional chefs. The brand I use is Ichimonji.

 (Ichimonji)
(Ichimonji)

From £64.60 | Ichimonij

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