Okay, so which knife should I get?
There are a bajillion possibilities, but I will concentrate on two classes of knives: gateway knives and step up knives in the gyuto style. The gateway knife is under $100 and will whet your appetite for Japanese knives. You could live quite happily with it forever, or you may want to get a better quality knife—the step up knife. Step up knives generally range from $200-$300, (you can go as high as $1000, but you’re no longer paying for cutting performance; you’re paying for art.). Note that many knife makers have several lines of knives at different price points with different steels and quality.
This list is by no means exhaustive. It just lists a few of the more common recommendations.
- Tojiro DP gyuto. Tojiro’s have a reputation for being a phenomenal value, having great steel, and being very sharp right out of the box. This makes the Tojiro an awesome gateway knife. (Apparently many Japanese knife makers do not pre-sharpen their knives so the buyer or retailer can customize the edge.) On Amazon with Prime shipping, you can get the 210mm (8.2 inch) for $62, the 240mm (9.4 inch) for $73, and the 270mm (10.6 inch) for $95. You could get the 210 and the 240 for the same price as a Wusthof Classic 8 inch chef knife at $135.The steel scores about a 60 on the Rockwell scale and has a VG-10 clad with a softer steel. The Tojiro DPs have large boxy handles, and in the past the fit and finish of the knives have supposedly been underwhelming.
Update: The prices are now even more compelling: $50 for the 210mm, $58 for the 240mm, and $72 for the 270mm.
- Fujiwara FKM gyuto. The Fujiwara’s are a monosteel that is just a little softer than the Tojiro, and has a repuatation for inconsistent fit and finish (sometimes better than the Tojiro, sometimes worse). The handles are supposed to be better. The softer steel is easier to sharpen, but the edge won’t last as long. Cost is $83 on Chef Knives to Go for the 240mm.
- Richmond Artifex gyuto. Marc Richmond is the proprietor of Chef Knives to Go, and the Richmond is his house brand, meaning that he designed the knife, but it’s made by another company. The Artifex is the low-end of the Richmond line and the GT wa-gyuto can be had for ~$90 in 240mm. There is some controversy regarding the knives and the owner. Depending on who you listen to, the Artifex is either a great value, or so cheap because it’s—well, so cheap.
- Gesshin Gyuto in 210mm. Slightly out of our target-under-$100 range, but undeniable quality. If Mark Richmond is controversial, Jonathan Broida is the exact opposite. Gesshin is Jon’s house brand, and this is as inexpensive as his line gets at $105.
When it comes to destination knives, you have to decide whether you want to stick with a “do anything” knife or go for a more specialized knife. If you frequent the kitchen knife forums much, you’ll find talk of lasers which is a very thin, very light knife that cuts so easily, it might as well be a laser. The major downside of lasers is a propensity to bend in harder substances and their fragility.
First, for the “go to gyuto” I’ll just quote from boar_d_laze (BDL):
There are a lot of excellent “pro” knives in the next couple of price groups above the entry-levels — say, between $120 and $200. But, there’s also a lot more I’d like to know before making recommendations. Exactly how flexible is your budget for a chef’s knife and stones? Would you consider carbon (as opposed to stainless)? How about a semi-stainless tool steel (feel free to ask if you don’t know what that is)? Do you like very large or very small handles? Do you pinch grip? Claw? Cut and retreat? What’s your chopping style (German, French, push cut, don’t know)? Anything else you can tell me would help, too. “I don’t know” is a perfectly good answer.
In better than entry level stainless, I most often recommend Hiromoto G3, Kagayaki VG, MAC Pro, Masamoto VG, and Sakai Takayuki Grand Cheff… depending. In addition there are a lot of other great knives and several are bound to suit you…
The two knives I most often recommend for people more or less looking for the same things you are and with the same set of concerns [read the thread] are the MAC Pro and the Masamoto VG. The Kagayaki VG is more bang for the buck and uses a prestige alloy; but I don’t like its handle as much, nor the feel of its profile on the board, and there can be some issues with deburring.
The Masamoto has a profile as good as — and very much like — a Sabatier. In short, as good as it gets. There are some quality control issues, mostly centered around the handle, but these can be taken care of by the seller at time of purchase. You just have to make sure to tell them you want good F&F and a well-fitted handle before you give them your credit card number, and they’ll select a good one for you.
MACs are stiffer than any comparably thin gyuto and consequently feel more sturdier and more comfortable. The MAC Pro handle is the best I’ve ever used. F&F is typically very good — and if it’s not their warranty and U.S. support is almost in Henckels’ class. It’s the knife I recommend most often.
If you’re interested in a carbon steel gyuto, BDL raved about the Richmond Ultimatum Carbon wa-gyuto in 245mm for $199. Apparently it’s out of stock more than it’s in stock, so you may have to wait for it. Richmond also has a $99 Artifex 210mm Carbon Gyuto made from the same steel. As for the differences between the two knives other than the handle, 30mm of blade, and $100, you’ll have to ask Marc Richmond.
I’ve had a 52100 Ultimatum for not quite a year, and the more I use it the more I like it. In it’s own (and very different, robust) way, it’s as good as my Konosuke HDs [see below]. Last night I wanted to slice one (count them, one) tomato and was practically in tears because all I could find were my three Konos and a drawer full of Sabs [Sabatier]. Well maybe not tears, but my lower lip was trembling. It’s completely pushed the Sabs out of the rotation. It’s actually a lot like a Sab. Strong, agile, sweet-profile, comfortable, gets sharp, stays sharp, etc. But wa and a much better alloy. If you want to discuss it in more depth, of course we can.
Richmond’s expecting to get a lot in very soon; they don’t stay in stock long, but stay out of stock heap much plenty long. So if you’re thinking about jumping… Geronimo already…
If you’ve ever spent time with a carbon Sabatier chef’s knife, you have a very good idea of what to expect. The differences are that the Richmond has a wa-handle, weighs 3 ounces less, is balanced much further forward than a Sab, and is made of hugely better alloy.
Same sweet profile. Same lively feel on the board. Same indestructibility. Same versatility. Even more comfortable (although it took me awhile to get there). And there’s that alloy.
Takes a great edge, holds it a long time, can be steeled — but it won’t need it much. Fantastic feel on the stones. I’ve always been a carbon guy, 52100 is the best carbon I’ve ever used, and because of this knife it has become my favorite alloy. Which would matter a lot more if the differences between one really good alloy and another were significant, but they aren’t — not really.
I use my Ultimatum for everything; and that means things I wouldn’t dream of doing with the Kono, like trimming and portioning spareribs; and stupidly includes things I shouldn’t do, like splitting the occasional chicken. Bottom line: I’ve been abusing the knife for a year and haven’t hurt it yet.
The right face of the knife is convexed quite a bit. It should help keep food from sticking, but as a lefty it means nothing to me. On the other hand, my chopping action is a glide (which tends to knock stuff off) and I’m pretty conscientious about keeping the knife straight and moving it quickly, so I don’t have much of a problem with sticking anyway.
On the down side, the knife is a bit thick (but that’s the price you pay for anything that strong), and the blade came with some tool marks which were supposed to have been polished out by Richmond (the knife is made for them OEM by Lamson) but weren’t — although not much of a downside because fit and finish were otherwise very good to excellent. The cosmetics are mediocre.
The OOTB edge was adequate, 15*, minor convexing (probably incidental), 50/50 asymmetry, not much polish. I like my geometry much better, 12* flat bevel, 2:1 lefty, 8K finish. 8K is really too much, but I own the stone, so wotthehell. The ideal finish is probably somewhere in the 3K to 6K range. The asymmetry made a much larger positive difference than I’m used to mild asymmetry making — which may have something to do with the right-handed asymmetry of the blade’s grind, and/or may have been just enough to stop the knife from wedging. Whatever. I don’t know why it worked but it did. My advice to a left handed user is “you absolutely must,” and to a right handed user, “you should.”
It weighs 2 oz more than the Kono gyuto, 3 oz more than my 300mm Kono suji (which I use as a gyuto fairly frequently), and the Ultimatum not only feels quite a bit heavier than either Konosuke, but less neutrally balanced as well.
At the time I got the Ultimatum, I thought that I was beyond balance issues — but apparently having nothing but Konos and Sabs spoiled me. When I first started using it the knife felt awkward and heavy… with its balance point making it feel as heavy as one of my 10oz Sabs. Between that and the tool marks, I seriously considered sending it bacl. But after using it for a few hours, my grip adjusted a bit forward and I started to like the knife. After establishing my first edge, like turned to love; and although I never made a conscious effort, my grip kept evolving until the knife became an extension of my will; and it just keeps getting better and better.
Would I trade it for the Kono [see below] or vice versa? It’s not a decision I have to make, and am ecstatic not making it. If you’re asking me which would I recommend to someone buying one gyuto, the recommendation would be made on the basis of which class of knife — laser, robust, or something in between — would best suit. One size does not fit all. And in many cases, one size doesn’t even fit one.
Sharpening note: A well sharpened edge with lot of asymmetry — say 90/10 — will make the knife so sharp that it becomes difficult to handle. That is, unless you consciously hold it back it will fall through just about anything it touches. I prefer a more moderate asymmetry for its greater durability, and — it pains me to admit it — because I’m not as adaptable as I used to be, my skills are eroding and I don’t want a knife I have to think about.
And a review of the Konosuke HD2 ~$300
The Kono HD is a laser. The first thing to understand about a laser is that it’s a laser. You either want a laser or you don’t. They all have the same weaknesses, and most of them have the same strengths. While there are differences between the top stainless lasers as compared to one another, they are extremely subtle — if ever there were a “U Pickem,” this is it. And, the same is true about the the same thing about the top carbon lasers. There are minor differences in F&F and appearance, but the different identities of the various stainless alloys doesn’t mean anything in the way of performance; and I think all of the carbon lasers are made of the same alloy, White #2. If there’s one made of VS2, then same same.
The Kono HD2 (the “2” represents a minor upgrade to the alloy) is slightly apart from other lasers in that its semi-stainless alloys has the same pleasant feeling on the stones as a carbon laser while being nearly as stain resistant as any of the true stainless knives.
It’s extremely light because it’s a laser. Because it’s so light, it seems fairly well balanced. It gets ridiculously sharp, because it’s a laser. The edge seems to stay sharp even as it dulls, because it’s a laser. The knife should not be steeled because it’s a laser. It doesn’t wedge because it’s a laser. Food doesn’t stick to it because it’s a laser.
You need to be careful around bones, partly because it’s a laser and partly because that’s just how it is with alloys which are stronger than they are tough. It doesn’t stain easily because it’s HD. It has an extremely sweet feel on the stones, because it’s HD.
The profile is excellent, if not quite Sabatier.
Mine is a 270mm HD from the first production run and has a handle most people don’t like, but I like very much. I’ve never heard a complaint about the current handle, which is a well-done ho-wood octagon. You can get all sorts of semi-custom wa handles as extra cost upgrades if you want.
So there you have it. Generally speaking your first Japanese knife should be a gyuto. Future posts will include:
- Primer on Japanese Knives
- Choosing your first Japanese knife
- Review of my first Japanese knife, the Tojiro DP 240mm gyuto
- Sharpening process and tips
- Vendors, Experts, and Forum Denizens
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