Japanese knives vs European knives
Hey guy, I have a customer wanting a set of kitchen knives for his wife. She was a chef for 13 years. She is wanting a set of Japanese inspired knives. I have done a bit of reading about the differences between Japanese cooking knives and European cooking knives. My question is. What are your guys experiance with the 2 different knives and what are the major differences?
traditional Japanese tend to have chisel grinds vs full flat or s grinds on western knives. they were usually hidden tangs as well with simple octagonal handles with a bolster of some kind. and then of course theres the actual shape of the knives themselves.
of course im generalizing here, and there have been so many different constructions used. nowadays Japanese knives are being made full tang and with more western shapes and grinds as well.
I generally take " Japanese" to mean thin and hard. It depends on where they're drawing their reference point from. It could be as simple as, in the customer's eyes, a Shun knife is Japanese and a Wustof knife is European. That's a fairly surface-level differentiation, but it may be as deep as their knife knowledge goes.
Japanese knives tend to have an intended use and design. Debas are fish knives, A Funayiki is a general purpose or fisherman's knife, a Yanagiba is a single bevel slicing knife almost always used for sushi prep. A Gyuto is a "beef sword." A Honesuki is a poultry boning knife. You get the idea.
The Western world has knives for specific use, obviously, but they tend to be fairly different in idea and design than their Japanese counterpart. Japanese stuff, traditionally, was almost always some sort of laminated construction, often single bevel. Hard core, soft cladding. The core steel is usually very hard carbon steel with the outer cladding being soft "mild" steel or "soft iron."
Japanese stuff is traditionally ground on a big rotating, circular water stone. So, by default, the knives tend to be ever so slightly hollow ground. This makes a difference on the single bevel knives like a Deba and a Yanagiba and on double bevel knives, like a gyuto, it allows you to get very thin behind the edge without taking the grind line up to the spine.
It's sorta as in-depth as you want it to be. I'd ask them some more questions about what they're looking for.
Might be throwing stones in this crowd but personally I have never been a fan of the feel of American/European style chef knives in particular. Possibly with the exception of the French chef knife but have no experience using one. I am also no where near “chef” level so take my opinion with a grain of salt. But as Smith Knifeworks was saying there is a strong connection between form and function in Japanese cutlery. The idea behind japanese cutlery design is that the right knife for the task performs that task better than any other knife can. Most American and European chef knives try to be good at a lot of things and end up being just that, good at a lot of tasks but not the best at any (which to me makes them less fun to use, despite being more efficient). That means though when you choose which knives to include in a set of Japanese knives you need to make sure you have enough variety to cover the necessary motions or functions that someone would want to perform with a typical chef knife.
As far as a list, my ideal block would have the following in it:
For slicing my favorite is a slightly curved kiritsuke (or a flatter k tip gyuto depending on how you want to describe it) because it allows the majority of the blade to be in contact with the food while a little belly helps with with the cutting performance.
For chopping and push cuts like julliening peppers it’s hard to beat a nakiri, especially on something like loose herbs that like to stick to everything. (My go to knife for most tasks)
For rock-chopping the santoku is a favorite of many (personally not a fan but that’s my own beef lol)
Then you have your smaller petty knife for small veggies and such but is still usually designed with a slope that can be used on a cutting board as far as I’m aware. I don’t have one though.
A utility knife is probably the one exception to the specific form for specific function that I would add
Filet, boning, paring and bread knife (not exclusive profiles, but necessary)
And as far as “Japanese inspired” knives go, I would ask if they want a traditional style wa handle, a more ergonomic D shaped handle or some sort of western handle. And for the bevels, I have never owned a single bevel knife to speak from experience, but I have heard they can be very difficult to sharpen, which is a considering factor
Hope this actually helps and wasn’t just rambling garbage lol
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