You're interested in purchasing your first Japanese knife but have no idea where to start. Answer the following questions to help yourself better understand your needs.
What you’re willing to spend?
One of the most common questions I get in the store is “what is the difference between a $500 knife and a $100 knife?” This discrepancy in price is largely to do with the size of the knife, the steel used, the experience of the person making it, the handle and the overall fit and finish of the knife. Of course a 120 mm petty knife will almost always be less expensive than a 210 mm Gyuto due to the amount of steel needed to make the knife. Typically you can expect to spend an extra $10-30 CAD per 10 mm of length when shopping for a knife.
What do you like to cook most?
Think for a moment about the food you find yourself cooking most. If you’re a vegetarian and find yourself chopping a lot of vegetables, you should consider a Nakiri as its designed specifically to do just that. Maybe you’re on the other end of the spectrum and find yourself cooking a lot of meat, in that case a Gyuto may be the best option; Still capable of cutting up vegetables but much better at slicing than a Nakiri. If you’d like a detailed description of some of the most commonly used styles of Japanese knives check out our previous article here.
What size is your kitchen?
The size of your kitchen has a large impact on the size of knife you should consider. If you have a large kitchen that can accommodate a large cutting board, it’s perfectly acceptable to have a large gyuto if that’s what you want. If you have limited space and a small board then consider something smaller like a santoku. This of course applies to professional kitchens as well. Having the biggest knife isn’t always the best or most efficient choice; you’ll find something appropriately sized for the space you have will help you work faster, cleaner and more efficiently.
Is Easy Maintenance important?
Carbon steel knives require much more attention with regards to their maintenance. They must be wiped down with diligence to avoid oxidation and/or rusting and must be completely dry before being put away after use. When cutting foods high in acid such as onions or citrus they can oxidize in a matter of seconds and should be wiped down periodically during use. They are much easier to sharpen however and keep their edge much longer as well. The routine of diligently cleaning your knife after every use is one that some people really enjoy. We likin it to the routine of playing a record. Some of us would rather throw spotify on choose a playlist and be done. Others enjoy picking out a record to listen to, gently removing it from the sleeve, placing it on the player and adjusting the needle then enjoying the music; then gently replacing it in its sleeve and returning it to its correct, alphabetized spot in our collection, To each their own! Stainless steel is like the spotify of knives? (the analogy makes sense in my mind) You should still take care with regards to its maintenance but failure to do so won’t result in as bad a tragedy as with a Carbon steel knife. Use your knife without worrying too much about having to wipe it down all the time or if a family member unknowingly puts it in the dishwasher its not the end of the world and if it does go into the drawer at the end of prep time a little damp you’ll be fine. You’ll sacrifice ease of sharpening and edge retention but for some that might be a worthwhile trade.