You may not be aware of it but in the world of professional cooks and chefs there is a continuing debate as to which country makes better kitchen knives. This industry has long been dominated by European companies, most commonly German. However Japan is making a name for itself by manufacturing knives that have clear and distinct qualities over their European counterparts. So what actually makes a Japanese chef’s knife stands out among the rest? Are they really any better than knives made by the established and experienced Western companies?
Most chefs would say that Japanese knives have their own strengths and weaknesses but pretty much the choice depends on which one will feel ‘right’ in the cook’s hands. And at the end of the day it will come down to personal preference because at the basic level Japanese, German, or French knives can all deliver the kind of excellent performance that seasoned cook’s require. It’s about the quality of the knife, not the country of origin.
How Is A Japanese Chef’s Knife Different?
There are unique and distinct attributes that distinguish Japanese knives over the others and those will be pointed out here. The method used to make Japanese knives is strongly rooted in Japan’s age old traditions and culture and is very much influenced by the techniques used in making the famous samurai sword. Thus a Japanese knife is known for its sharpness and efficiency.
However knives manufactured by Japanese makers differ on the main material used to make the blade. These knives are made using a harder but more lightweight steel with a very acute edge which makes them extremely sharp. On the other hand, those made by European manufacturers use a softer but stronger and heavier steel which makes the blade solid and tough. This makes them more durable and heavy duty. The edges of their blades are thicker but are easier to hone. European knives will never be as sharp as a Japanese one, but European knives will hold the sharp edge for far longer.
When it comes to the look and design of Japanese chef’s knives they are traditionally defined by a single-edged blade and rounded handles with no grip marks. The handle of Japanese knives are also smaller compared to Western knives like those made by German companies. These features make the knives more ideal for chopping, dicing, and slicing. However the latest innovations and developments in Japanese knives are incorporating more Western like styles such as hand grips and double edged blades thus expanding their cutting capabilities.
For additional reading, check out The Japanese Santoku vs Chef knife.
Japanese Chef’s Knife Top Picks
There are many Japanese kitchen knives to choose from these days, however we believe that the following are the best of the best without going through the trouble of getting a custom made knife.
The Global G-2 chef knife is made using a combination of materials including chromium, molybdenum, vanadium and stainless steel making it strong, lightweight, sharp, stain resistant, and able to maintain its edge for a long period. The blade is hand crafted in Japan and ice tempered in order to allow the blade to keep its edge longer. Chef’s and cooks gave this knife positive reviews for having a special steep grind with a gradual curving edge that makes cutting easier and eliminates the tendency of food ingredients to stick to the blade’s surface.
Another excellent design from the Global chef knife is that the blade and the handle are all made from a single piece of steel. To provide balance, the handle is made hollow and filled with either sand or metal materials. The handle is also smaller in size when compared to more traditional knives thus making the Global an ideal knife for people with smaller hands.
This is another great example of an outstanding Japanese knife that provides effortless slicing and dicing with a comfortable and solid hold. The blade of a Shun Classic knife is made extra strong through the use of stainless steel clad with as many as 16 layers of high carbon stainless steel. This knife’s design displays the beautiful Japanese craftsmanship that has been around for thousands of years.
The Shun Santoku knife for instance is particularly designed to deliver excellent performance when dicing, slicing, mincing and chopping various ingredients. It has a D shape handle made from Pakkawood which fits securely in the user’s hand for a firm and solid hold. This means accidental slipping will be greatly avoided.
Shun classic knives may cost more when compared to other brands, but the excellent quality of this knife means this could very well be the last chef’s knife you ever purchase. Maybe the beauty of the knife blinds us, but because of its high quality and durability, we like to think of the Shun classic as cost effective, especially when compared to cheap infomercial knives. Just ask Alton Brown. The Shun is his go to knife.