Welcome back to Knife Care 101!
Now that we've gone over the basics of taking care of your knife, let's take a step back and talk about choosing the right knife for you.
It's usually best to choose your knife in person, but with the pandemic raging on that's obviously not an option for most of us right now, so we're going to lay out some good things to know and look for when choosing a knife online.
We've broken it down into five sections: Steel Types; Shapes, Sizes, and Use; Handles; Aesthetic; and Price.
One of the easiest and most important places to start is deciding between stainless and carbon steel. If you read our first Knife Care 101 blog, you'll know the difference between the two and how to take care of carbon steel properly. If not, no worries! We've got you covered.
Stainless Steel: If you've never used a Japanese knife before, odds are all of your knives have been fully stainless steel. For example Global, Wustof, Shun, and many other big name brands will be stainless and very easy to take care of. There are lots of Japanese knives made with stainless steel as well, so if you're looking for something low maintenance or just prefer stainless steel we have lots of options for you.
Carbon Steel: This steel needs to be taken care of properly to prevent rusting. Carbon steel will oxidize when it comes in contact with moisture, so it's good to get into a habit of wiping down your knife with a dry cloth before you put it down. You also want to be mindful when chopping high acidity foods (onions, tomato, citrus, etc.) as the acidity can speed up the oxidization and therefore rust faster. Now we don't want to scare you away from carbon steel! These are just things to be aware of when choosing a knife for yourself or someone else. *Head over to Part 1 of this series for more information on carbon steel and how to take care of it.*
Semi-Stainless: While not as common, semi-stainless steels are a great option if you're not ready to commit to carbon steel but you want to try something that's not fully stainless. A prime example of a semi-stainless steel knife is anything from the Sugimoto CM line. CM is Sugimoto's house blend of Chromium and Molybdenum steels; this blend gives these knives great edge retention while allowing more time before they will start to rust. You still want to keep them clean and dry to prevent rusting, but they won't rust as fast as a carbon steel blade.
Shapes, Sizes, and Use
Next, another very important thing to know is the type of knife you're looking for. This may be where you start, rather than steel type - everybody's different!
If you're looking for your very first Japanese knife or a general use blade, you should start with Gyuto and Santoku shapes. These are two versions of an all purpose knife. Gyuto is the Japanese version of a Western style chef knife, so most people are going to be used to a knife of this shape. Gyuto's are great for rocking, slicing, chopping, and pretty much all your everyday cooking needs (bones and frozen foods not included). Santoku is the Japanese style of an all purpose knife, and is used in a slightly different way. Santoku's have a flatter profile and are more comfortably used in a push-chop motion. Usually the choice between Gyuto and Santoku comes down to your personal preference and cutting style. Some people like to have both for different jobs. It really is up to you!
The Mcusta Zanmai Green Gyuto vs. Santoku - you can see the difference in profile here. The Gyuto has a more curved profile toward the tip - great for rocking and slicing!
If you already have your all purpose knife, you might be looking for a petty or something else more specialized. Petty knives include everything from 75mm paring knives to 150mm+ utility knives. Petty's are great to have around for times when you don't need your big chef knife. Maybe you're cutting up some fruit in the morning or adding some herbs at the last minute - pull out your petty and you're good to go!
From left to right: Mcusta Zanmai 90mm petty; Kotetsu Type 3 135mm petty; Fujiwara Wa-Denka 150mm petty.
From here you might be looking for a knife made for a specific job. Looking for a designated veggie chopper? Check out a Nakiri! These knives are basically a smaller version of a Chinese Cleaver and are made to chop veg to your hearts content. Looking for a slicing knife? Go for a Sujihiki! These knives are made for slicing all your proteins; from carving a turkey or roast, to fish and raw meats, a Sujihiki is the best for getting that perfect, long slice - no sawing here!
*This post does not cover the shapes and uses of single bevel knives. Stay tuned for another post dedicated to single bevels.
These are just three examples of the many nakiri's, cleavers, and sujihiki's that we carry. From left to right: Yoshimi Kato 165mm nakiri; Sugimoto #6 220mm cleaver; Kei Kobayashi 270mm sujihiki.
The two options for handles are Western or Wa-Style. Western handles are riveted and have metal through the entire handle, which connects to the knife blade. This makes them generally heavier than Wa-Style knives and can't be replaced if damaged. Wa-Style handles are the traditional Japanese version and are generally lighter, as the handle and knife are essentially two separate pieces that have been fused together. Choosing between the two often comes down to how it feels in your hand. Some people only like Western and vice versa - again, it's totally up to you!
From top down: a standard western handle with rivets; a hexagonal twisted wa-style handle; octagonal wa-style handle; and D-shape wa-style handle. Again, these are just a few of the many styles of handles!
When it comes to choosing a knife, the aesthetic can play a huge role. Some people choose their knives based off of how they look, some people don't really care, so again it's really up to you! The basic aesthetic differences will be on the blade, such as Kurouchi, Tsuchime, Migaki, and Damascus. Kurouchi is the black finish that many carbon steel knives have and will fade over time. Tsuchime is the hammered effect that many of our knives have. This can come in a variety of designs, from uniform circles to small hammer marks and more. While Tsuchime is mostly aesthetic, it may have some affect on food separation while cutting. Migaki refers to knives with an even polish. Think sleek, simple, and sexy. Damascus is the process of folding steel during the forge. This leaves you with a gorgeous 'wavy' design on the blade.
Kurouchi is the black finish on the Fujiwara Denka. The Fujiwara Maboroshi and Yu Kurosaki Shizuku are two examples of the many different styles of Tsuchime.
Migaki is the polished Takamura on the left. The Kato and Mcusta are two examples of the different styles of Damascus.
For some people this may be where you start when choosing a knife and it's definitely important to check the price as you go. One thing to know, though, is that higher cost does not mean a better knife. Choosing and using a knife is a very personal thing. I truly believe that there is a 'best' knife for everyone, and this has nothing to do with cost and is often very different from person to person.
We hope this blog post is helpful on your search for the right knife! Of course, if you have any questions don't hesitate to contact us. We're here to help as best we can during this unusual time.
Thanks for reading,
Your friends at KNIFE