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A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing the Japanese Kitchen Knife

by Info Hephais 19 Jul 2022

Japanese kitchen knives have been gaining popularity in recent years for their quality, functionality, and ergonomic design. Unlike many kitchen knife sets, a single, high-quality Japanese kitchen knife can usually handle most of the cutting tasks in the kitchen. When buying your first Japanese kitchen knife, it's important to consider factors such as the type of knife, size, material, and sharpening abilities.

  1. Design and Material: The basic design of a kitchen knife has remained the same for thousands of years, consisting of a blade and handle. However, the quality of materials, especially steel, and their treatment have improved greatly. The quality and price of a Japanese kitchen knife are determined by the quality of steel, the method used for transforming steel into a blade, the sharpness and longevity of the blade, the balance between the blade and handle, and the quality of the handle and manufacturing.
  2. Choosing the Blade Design: The wider the blade, the more it is designed for cutting vegetables and fruits, while a narrower blade is better suited for cutting raw meat or fish. Multi-purpose knives such as the Gyuto (Chef's knife) or Bunka are ideal for cutting larger quantities of meat, fish, and vegetables. Shorter blade options include the Santoku knife, while the Nakiri and Usuba are more vegetable-oriented. Yanagiba, Sujihiki, and wider Gyuto knives are best for large pieces of meat and fish. For simple cutting tasks, sharpness is key, and a thinner blade is usually preferred. For tougher tasks, such as cutting bones or filleting fish, a thicker knife like a Deba or Cleaver is necessary.
  3. Differences between Steel Types: Most stainless kitchen knives do not maintain their sharpness for long periods of time due to lack of proper tempering or steel hardening techniques. The hardness of steel can be determined by the Rockwell scale, with a minimum hardness level of 56 HRC for a decent kitchen knife. Knives with a high content of chromium (Cr) and low carbon (C) are not recommended, as they quickly lose their sharpness. A better option is stainless steel with a lower level of chromium (Cr) and the addition of vanadium (V) or molybdenum (Mo) and a hardness of 56 HRC or higher. Steel with a high carbon content (C > 0.8%) remains sharp for longer, but develops a patina, while stainless steel with high carbon (C > 0.8%) and chromium (Cr > 10%) stays sharp but is slightly harder to resharpen. The best option is technologically advanced tool steel with high carbon (C < 3%) and sufficient chromium to prevent rust, but it is more difficult to resharpen.
  4. Advantages of Laminated Steel Blades: Laminated steel blades consist of two or more different types of steel, with a hard core covered by a softer, stainless steel layer. The hard core allows for long-lasting sharpness, while the softer layer makes sharpening easier. The softer layer also protects the core from external factors. In case of patina formation, only the external layer is affected, leaving the core intact.
  5. Size and Handle: The size of the knife should fit comfortably in your hand, allowing for relaxed use. The handle should also be comfortable and of high quality. There are different handle materials to choose from, such as wood, plastic, or composite materials.
  6. Sharpening: If you want to learn how to sharpen your Japanese kitchen knife, it's important to choose a knife that is easier to sharpen. Knives made from high carbon steel are usually easier to sharpen than those made from stainless steel.
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