Whether you are crafting your first sushi roll, preparing some Nigiri, or you are a long-time sushi and sashimi creator – you need the right knife to get the right slice. Even the amateur at home, recreating their favorite sushi and sashimi, needs a decent knife. A sushi knife is key to creating a roll worthy of serving to friends and family.
The right blade guarantees clean, professional cuts on each sushi roll, slice of sashimi, or beautifully assembled nigiri. And, say goodbye to rolls sticking to your blade, mangled ingredients, and squashed rolls. Before we jump into three of our favorite sushi blades; there are a few things to cover about the qualities to look for in a great sushi knife!
Sushi vs. Sashimi Knives
If you are looking to purchase your first knife but keep getting lost in Japanese knife terminology we are going to break down some of the key features that differentiate sushi and sashimi knives.
When you are cutting through a sushi roll, you are not just slicing meat. You’ll also encounter vegetables, fish, rice, and any combination of sauces and avocados. Therefore, any sushi knife is going to be made to cut all those different options.
Creating sashimi is a different process and a good sashimi knife will be made specifically to cut fine pieces of fish.
Types of Japanese Sushi and Sashimi Knives
These knives are tools. And, as such each has a purpose and a reason for being. From slicing fish, to cleaving bone, to prepping vegetables… the following knives are crucial to preparing sushi and other Japanese cuisine.
Yanagi / Yanaiba
There are a few different knives for you to consider. The best for both sushi rolls and sashimi cutting is the Yanagi (or Yanagiba).
We also recommend the Yanagiba for your first, or only, traditional Japanese sushi knife. The Yanagiba will precisely slice through delicate sashimi and does fairly well on ingredient-packed rolls.
The Fuguhiki is a knife that’s very similar to the Yanagi. However, it is lighter weight and the blade is both thinner and narrower. It’s a great choice for even more delicate cuts. It’s perfect for both sashimi and nigiri.
Home Chef Tip: Sushi Kiri are both rare and expensive, so we advise home chefs and new sushi fans to skip this knife.
If you want to do nothing but cut sushi rolls… this is the knife to buy. It’s curved edge extends the length of the cutting edge. However the most important benefit of this design is that it cuts without crushing rice grains.
The downside to the Sushi Kiri style knife is that they’re rare here in North America, Australia, and Europe. Therefore, finding one at an affordable price can be pretty challenging. So… for most of us home chefs with sushi chef aspirations the Yanagi / Yanagiba makes a lot of sense. Is it the best option? No. However, if you’re looking at 25-100 dollars vs 200 plus dollars to make some rolls at home… we say go with the more affordable option.
Usuba / Mukimono / Nakiri
However, if you are a vegetarian, or just love adding extra veggies to your sushi, take a look at the Usuba knife which cuts thinly and can even be used when peeling.
For really fine thin vegetable cuts go for the Usuba. If you’re prepping vegetables for that perfect roll… go for the Usuba. It’s outstanding at dicing, julienne, and incredible brunoise cuts.
If paper thin slices aren’t necessary the Nakiri will probably do the trick. It’s geared more toward home cooks.
And, if you want to go even thinner and start getting creative with decorative vegetables go for the Mukimono. It’s pretty specialized and probably belongs in a professional kitchen. But… they’re also incredible knives.
This knife strikes a balance between the Yanagi/ Fuguhiki and blades designed to cut vegetables and less delicate meat. If you want a knife that slices fish well, but isn’t a one trick pony look at knives like the Kiritsuke.
Does the Kiritsuke perform well in preparing sashimi or cutting a roll? Yes and no. Yes in that it will outperform the knives in that set you bought from the chain kitchen store at the mall. However, compared to purpose built knives… it doesn’t compare very well.
This knife would be a great companion to a Yanagi or maybe a Sushikiri. especially if you’re preparing some really creative rolls. However, if you’re looking for something that skews more toward the traditional western chef’s knife check out the Deba… the next knife in our article.
A slightly more robust Japanese blade you’ll find in your local sushi house is the Deba. If your goal is to focus on cutting fish and meat, then you will want to select the meat cleaver-like Deba.
If you’re not keen to buy all three of these knives for each individual purpose the Western style Santoku does an adequate job on fish, meat, and veggies. However, the Santoku is much more similar to a chef’s knife with its double bevel and heavier design.
Santoku’s are not traditional Japanese knives per se, but they are a good gateway knife for the home cook.
Our Favorite Sushi Knives…
Now that you know a little more about different types of Japanese knives, we have three great options for you to choose from. They cover a spectrum of materials, construction, and price but we think any will get your kitchen sushi ready.
There are a ton of great options out there when it comes to these beautiful tools. Many of them are available exclusively in Japan, but thanks to the internet we now have some great options available elsewhere. The following knives are some of our absolute favorites spanning a wide range of budgets and users.
Yoshihiro Shiroko Kasumi Yanagi
If you have honed your sharpening skills and have a proper cutting board, you are ready to upgrade your knife and make delicious dishes for you and your friends. This awesome sushi knife will help take you to a new level of preparing sashimi and sushi. Think of it as the next step on your journey from amateur sushi fan to entry level sushi chef.
The knife features a beautiful 10.5-inch single-edged high carbon steel blade and handcrafted magnolia D-shaped handles. It also comes with an awesome sheath, knife oil and a rust eraser to care for its Japanese steel blade.
We adore this knife’s perfect balance and epic sushi knife appearance. Overall, it strikes a perfect balance between price, quality, and traditional styling. We truly believe it’s the best sushi knife in our list. That being said, don’t look for this knife if you do not have the skills to properly care for and use a quality sushi knife. Amateurs will end up with a chipped, rusty, formerly incredible knife after only a few uses.
|Blade Material||White Steel #2 (HRC 62-63)|
|Blade Length||10.5″ (Also available in 9.5, 11.8, and 13″)|
|Country of Origin||Japan|
Masamoto Hongasumi-tamashiroko Yanagi
Masamoto is one if the most highly regarded names in Japanese knife making. And, this Yanagi is an excellent example of their craftsmanship at a more affordable price point (Masamoto knives top out around $2,000). Their knives are works of art. They’ve also been in business for a pretty long time.
Based in Tokyo, Masamoto-Sohonten, is a family-owned 150 year old manufacturer of incredible knives. We’d be happy to own any of them, but truth be told… this is about as much as we’d spend on a sushi knife. But that’s just us.
From a blade steel and construction standpoint this is a significant upgrade over the Yoshihiro Shiroko Kasumi Yanagi.
|Blade Material||Blue Steel 青鋼|
|Country of Origin||Japan|
The Budget-Friendly Happy Sales HSSR400
This long and slender Japanese made knife will slice through both sashimi and sushi rolls without breaking the bank. Like most traditional blades it has one beveled edge, that measures up to 8 inches long. There are 6 additional inches added onto the knife for the wooden handle and a plastic bolster. This is knife is specifically made for a right handed user. If you are looking for a left handed sushi knife, those are will cost quite a bit more.
So how is this knife priced so low when compared to some of the “nicer” sushi knives? The materials themselves are not in the same league. The handle isn’t a finished wood and the knife blade will need to be oiled after each use. Low maintenance stainless is expensive, so to ensure the blade is razor sharp a more corrosion-prone steel was selected. You’ll find another compromise in the hilt of the blade. There is a small opening that might allow food to find its way into the knife’s bolster.
If you are looking for a great entry-level sushi knife, then this might be the right sushi knife for you. Clean cuts are totally attainable and the knife will slice through a variety of ingredients without trouble. Plus, you can practice your knife skills and sharpening technique without worrying about damaging your very nice knives. Pro tip: make sure to have a wet cloth nearby, this knife will cut cleanly and keep your sushi intact, but may get a bit sticky after a few rolls.
|Blade Material||Molybdenum Steel|
|Country of Origin||Japan|
Materials and Edges
Pro Tip: Nearly all Sushi Chefs prefer a high carbon steel blade over a stainless blade.
So, what really separates a Japanese sushi knife from the others in your knife block? There are a few things; the edge of the sushi knife,the handle, and the materials comprising the blade.
A good, perhaps basic, sushi blade is going to be made out of high-carbon steel. High carbon steel will take a very, very sharp edge. Other blade materials, like VG-10, add qualities like corrosion resistance and increased edge retention. Finding the perfect sushi knife for your budget may require compromises, but remember that it all boils down to the blade… or more specifically its razor sharp edge.
The incredibly sharp edge of a Japanese knife is created through a beveled grind. The single edge is a unique characteristic of the knife, and the other edge will be a flat grind. The purpose of this design is actually quite simple, after the sharp edge has sliced through your freshly rolled sushi the finished product cleanly separates from the blade. You definitely don’t want ingredients sticking to your knife’s blade. No one wants deconstructed sushi.
While the blade is incredibly important; it’s not the only aspect to consider in your knife search. The handles are also unique. The handle comes in multiple types of wood, each with unique qualities and price points. Beneath the handle you’ll find the knife’s tang, a reinforcing length of metal (from the blade) inside the handle. You can choose between a full or a half tang in your knife. Full means that the metal extends all the way to the butt of the handle, while half tang means that only half of the handle is supported.
What should you not cut when using a high carbon blade?
Anything acidic (tomatoes, citrus, etc.) will be hard on a non-stainless knife blade of any variety. So, we recommend that you keep a nice stainless steel knife nearby when preparing anything acidic. Doing so will keep your sushi knife in better condition indefinitely.
What is Honyaki?
Honyaki means “true forge”
This is another blade construction you’ll see mentioned in Japanese knife specs. This means that the blade is forged from a single piece of steel. You’ll find this method used in the crafting of high-end Japanese sushi knives and swords.
These tools are very difficult to make and require highly skilled craftsmen. Thus, these knives are out of reach for most of us – at least those of us who are not professional sushi chefs.
What is Kasumi?
Kasumi translates to “Mist”
Kasumi generally speaking refers to a finish of a Japanese blade. It’s sort of a haze or non-polished appearance. However, do not assume that Kasumi is always a finish reference.
Among other manufacturers… Kasumi is a type of blade construction common in high-carbon Japanese knives. It involves using two steels in the blade. A softer material makes up the majority of the blade while the cutting edge is made of a hardened high carbon steel. This is more accurately referred to as Awase (which we cover in the next question and answer below).
Generally speaking this construction method creates a more affordable knife while retaining qualities found in higher end blades. For a more in-depth discussion check out this blog post on Masamoto’s website.
What does Awase mean?
Awase is probably the more accurate term that is sometimes used interchangeably with “kasumi.” Not in regards to the finish definition we mentioned above, but the method of construction used in Japanese cutlery. It’s basically the process of combining a softer steel with a harder steel.
There are a few variations of awase, but the one you may have heard before is San-Mai.
San-Mai is basically a sandwich structure of two softer layers of steel “sandwiching” a harder steel center. The hard steel center (Hagane) is theoretically visible on the spine as well as the cutting edge. The cladding (Jigane) is the “bread” in our sandwich analogy and basically covers only the sides of the blade.
There is also an awase called “Warikomi.” It’s similar to San-Mai, but the cladding wraps around both sides and the top (spine). Thus making more of a taco shape than a sandwich around the hard center steel (Hagane).
Ni-Mai is the third and final Awase sub type and it wraps the harder (Hagane) on the spine and one side of the knife blade. This leaves the Hagane exposed on the cutting edge and one side of the knife.
What is Hongasumi?
Think of Hongasumi (or Hon Kasumi) as a similar construction method to Kasumi. It’s a two steel construction method, but involves the use of higher-end steel.
They’re slightly more difficult to make so expect to pay a bit more. But, nowhere near as much as you’d expect to pay for a hand-crafted forged Honyaki.
Yanagi or Takohiki?
These two knives look fairly different due to the blade tip. The Yanagi is pointed and Takohiki features a flat tip that looks a bit like a chisel. Both are designed to be outstanding slicers and excel at preparing Sashimi. However, the Takohiki provides a flat tip that allows you to lift and place the fish – sort of like a spatula.
Other than that the two knives are very very similar. One is from Tokyo while the other (the Yanagi) is from the region around Osaka and Kyoto.
Regardless of how often you prepare sushi and sashimi, having the proper knife to do so will not only create a delicious meal but will help you do so with ease. As you learn how to use a proper blade you will begin looking for nicer knives to compliment your collection. These knives need to be properly cared for, cleaned and sharpened, so if you are just starting out go with a good quality but less expensive option. With the right knife, you will get a perfect slice.
Discontinued, But still Great
From time to time knives get replaced, removed from a product line, or liquidated. When they do, and we’ve featured them in a guide or review we move the info to a section like this. Why? Because we hate when we find a great deal on something in a bargain bin or garage sale and can’t find relevant information.
So, the following information is for products that are still great choices even though they’re not widely available.
Shun Pro 8-1/4-Inch Yanagiba Knife[easyazon_image align=”center” height=”68″ identifier=”B0000Y7KO0″ locale=”US” src=”https://thebrilliantblade.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/21ETXP8W2VL.jpg” tag=”brilliantblades-20″ width=”500″]
The Shun Pro is a little more expensive but you are getting a higher quality blade constructed from VG-10 stainless steel. Unlike our last knife, you won’t need to sharpen as much, and it will be easier to sharpen when the time comes. This knife is a Yanagiba, which as we mentioned before is excellent for both sushi and sashimi cutting. The 8 ¼ inch blade is slim and the wooden handle is D-shaped for comfort. Like all good sushi knives, it is single beveled with a comprehensive 16-degree angle.
Aesthetically, this knife has some laser etching on the blade, and while some love the look, others complain that it makes it difficult to clean.
This is a fantastic knife to gift to yourself or your friend if they have some experience in using and caring for a quality knife. Your money is going towards excellent steel, a balanced knife, and a smaller grip for more precise cuts. If you find yourself preparing sashimi or sushi rolls more frequently, it is time to upgrade a blade like this Yanagiba from Shun. It is a high-quality knife you will be proud to own.
If you have your heart set on a Shun Yanagiba check out this beauty.