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What are Japanese chef knives called?

There are several different Japanese Chef’s Knives, and they all perform various tasks. No one knife is better than the other. However, you may find it easier to use one over the other.

Japanese chef’s knives are used for a range of tasks, including cutting meat and vegetables, deboning chicken, duck, and fish, and scoring food.

The main types of Japanese chefs knives are:

  • Gyutou
  • Santoku
  • Petty
  • Deba
  • Nakiri 
  • Honesuki
  • Sujihiki
  • Usuba
  • Yanagi
  • Kiritsuke
  • Pankiri 
  • Banku 
  • Yo-deba 
  • Takobiki

Despite this large range of knives, only a few will be used most of the time. Below I’ve gone into more depth on the more popular types of Japanese chef’s knives and their uses.

Gyutou

The Gyutou knife is the Japanese equivalent of the western chef’s knife.

This multipurpose knife is ideal for anyone looking for a knife that can perform various tasks in the kitchen. The blade length of the gyutou ranges from 180mm to 240mm. Typically, most home chefs find 240mm too long, and the perfect size is between 180mm and 210mm.

If you’re working in a commercial kitchen with more space, a 240mm blade length is ideal.

The Gyutou is primarily used for rock chopping.

Santoku

Santoku means “three virtues.” This refers to the 3 chopping styles the knife is used for. They are:

  • Slicing
  • Dicing
  • Mincing

The Santoku is a great all-around knife that most people will find the ideal for just about any task in the kitchen. It has a shorter blade length than the Gyutou and measures between 160mm – 180mm. This makes it ideal for home use and for those with smaller hands.

The chopping style of the Santoku is a push/pull chopping style. This makes it ideal for vegetables. The blade profile is relatively flat, so it will have more contact with the chopping board, allowing for long and uniform cuts.

Petty knife

The petty knife, also known as a utility knife, is incredibly versatile and has many uses in the kitchen.

A petty knife is a mini version of a gyutou chef’s knife. This makes it versatile as the blade is still long enough to make contact with the chopping board and short enough to use on small, more intricate chopping.

The fact that the blade is long enough to make contact with the chopping board makes it fantastic for julienning vegetables.

The petty knife can be used with a push/pull technique, meaning it’s great for chopping small vegetables. Because the petty knife is small with a pointed tip, it is fantastic for scoring.

The petty knife is the perfect knife to compliment your gyutou.

Deba knife

The deba knife is primarily used for fish filleting and other butchery.

Deba’s come in many sizes and can range from 90mm to 300mm.

Deba’s are single-bevel knives with a very thick spine. This additional thickness gives added strength to the knife. This is key as most Japanese knives are made from high-carbon steel, which is very brittle. Making the blade thicker makes it less prone to breaking or chipping.

This makes deba knives ideal for cutting through fish bones or cutting up harder parts of the fish, such as the head, if you need to break it down for making broths or stocks.

Just because the deba was created as a fish knife doesn’t mean you can only use it on fish. You can also use it for deboning chickens, ducks, and other small animals.

Nakiri

Nakiri is fantastic for cutting vegetables, significantly larger vegetables that are dense.

The blade length ranges from 165mm-180mm.

Nakiri’s tend to be fronter weighted, allowing you to put more weight through the item you are chopping, and the blade does more work for you.

The blade profile is very flat, making it ideal for push cutting, the most common chopping technique used on vegetables. The flat blade profile makes it easier to get even suits because the blade’s length will touch the board simultaneously.

Honesuki

The honesuki is a knife designed for deboning and breaking down chicken, duck, and other poultry.

The blade length ranges from 165mm-180mm.

The pointed tip of the knife helps with precision cutting and makes it easier to separate different cuts and closely run along the edge of bones.

Conclusion

The thing that stands out with the different types of Japanese shed knives and their uses is the number of other utensils, each with their specific use.

Despite the variety, you will find yourself reaching for 2-3 knives 99% of the time and only using the others on rare occasions.

If you’re wondering which knives to choose, I recommend selecting a gyutou or santoku and pairing it with a petty knife. The gyutou and the petty knife are my go-to combo for Japanese chef’s knives, as they can perform 99% of most kitchen tasks.

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