Once you’ve got your basic knives covered, it’s time to move on to more advanced cutting tools. A chef’s knife, paring knife, and bread knife might be sufficient for getting things done, but they won’t be quite as easy to use as knives that are dedicated to the specific task you’re doing.
When it comes to chopping vegetables, the specific blade you’re looking for is a nakiri knife. Short, light, and powerful, nakiri knives can make onerous food prep a breeze.
The Best Japanese Vegetable Knife?
Nakiri knives (sometimes called nakiri bōchō) are especially good at cutting vegetables due to their design. Like other Japanese knives, they feature incredibly sharp edges and hard steel, meaning they literally glide through things like onions, ginger, and eggplant.
The blade on these knives is rectangular, with a flat, dull tip and little or no belly. Many nakiris have totally flat blades, meaning you can put the whole blade in contact with the cutting board every time you move your knife up and down.
One distinctive feature among high-end nakiri knives is the hammered finish. Thought to reduce drag and speed up your cuts, this construction technique gives you a very distinctive knife that won’t stick to the food you’re chopping. Not all nakiri knives have this finish. It’s an optional style that’s pretty much only found in higher-end nakiris.
The closest western equivalent is probably the Granton edge. You can find nakiri knives with Granton edges, too, but they definitely don’t look as cool.
Nakiri vs Santoku
If you’re familiar with other Japanese knives, you may be wondering why I’m suggesting a nakiri over a santoku. Truthfully, the difference isn’t that big. Santokus share many features with nakiris: they tend to have fairly flat blades, fairly blunt tips, and they often have Granton edges to help release food more easily. Santokus are used for similar types of cuts, including scoring eggplant, chopping onions, and julienning herbs.
This makes it difficult to compare santokus and nakiris as whole categories. The most consistent difference is that santokus tend to have curved points (albeit dull ones) while nakiris tend to have flat points. Santokus often have a bit more belly than nakiri knives, although you can certainly find a sheep’s foot santoku with no belly if you want one.
Again, both knives are used for similar tasks. They utilize similar cutting motions and tend to be priced fairly similarly. Feel free to buy whichever style you find most appealing.
Nakiri vs Usuba
Usuba knives are a slightly more advanced variant of the nakiri knife. They’re very similar in form, style, and function. The difference between usuba knives and nakiri knives is the edge and intended audience. Nakiri knives are made for use by professional chefs.
They’re sharpened on only one side.
While this makes them sharper than similar knives with symmetrical grinds, it also makes the cutting edge somewhat fragile and means you can only cut food with the knife facing one direction.
Usubas are special tools that will require a bit more care than your typical kitchen knife. Be sure you know what you’re getting into before ordering one. The extra fine edge will require more maintenance, you’ll only be able to use the blade if you’re right-handed (unless you get a left handed knife, in which case the reverse applies), and you may have to vary your normal cutting techniques somewhat due to the asymmetrical grind.
That said, you’ll also get an incredibly sharp knife that will be capable of some pretty impressive feats when it comes to food prep.
Nakiri Knife Reviews
Shun Nakiri Knives
This Shun nakiri has it all. It’s made in Japan from incredibly high-quality VG-10 steel, it’s got a beautiful pakkawood handle, and it’s sharpened to an impressive 16 degrees on each side, making it about 30% sharper than a traditional Western chef’s knife. Perhaps most importantly, it’s got 16 layers of Damascus steel surrounding the VG-10 core, giving you an incredibly aesthetic knife that really stands out from the crowd.
Normally, I shy away from Shun. Their expensive knives are stylish, sure, but they’re not necessarily better than blades from other, cheaper brands. In this case, however, the combination of knife quality and aesthetics is very, very good for the price. While this Shun is on the smaller side, it’s quite affordable compared to other Damascus nakiris.
As far as branding goes, you basically can’t beat Shun. Shun is a well-respected, worldwide brand that’s known for its genuine Japanese blades. When your friends and family members see this beautiful knife in your kitchen, you’ll be able to tell them that it’s a Shun and enjoy their impressed reactions.
You’re not just buying this knife for brand recognition, however. It ticks off all of the important boxes when it comes to quality materials and workmanship. VG-10 is one of the best types of stainless steel. It’s hard, durable, and easy to care for. In this particular knife, the steel is thermally treated to an impressive 61 HRC, enabling it to hold the sharp 32 degree edge with very little maintenance.
The balance and feel of this knife are superb. The pakkawood handle is elegant, smooth, and comfortable in your hand, while the blade itself is perfectly balanced for chopping. It’s very easy to settle into a rhythm with this knife and blow through a colossal amount of food prep in just a few minutes.
For me, the most impressive part of this knife is the styling. Shun really knows their stuff when it comes to Damascus patterns. This knife features a simple, striking pattern that’s bold enough to be noticeable and subtle enough to let the clean natural lines of the knife shine through. It’s definitely one of the best looking blades on the market. The simple black wooden handle ties everything together nicely.
While I love pretty much everything about this knife, there are two things you’ll want to know before buying it. One, the handle has a “D” shape. It’s suited for right hand use. If you’re a lefty, you’ll want to contact Shun directly to order a knife that’s designed to work with your hands.
Two, this knife is on the slightly short side. Your average nakiri is about 7″ these days, while this blade is only 6 1/2″. This isn’t a big downside — in fact, the shorter blade length means it’s lighter and easier to use. I faintly prefer this length over a full 7″ blade for the majority of the tasks I perform in my kitchen.
If you want a beautiful, functional nakiri with a killer edge and a fair price, this Shun classic blade will be perfect for you. If you’d like a shorter blade with Granton edges, be sure to check out it’s smaller cousin below.
Like its larger cousin above, this small nakiri knife has a core of VG-10 steel, an impressive edge, and bold Damascus stylings on the blade. It’s got a similar asymmetrical pakkawood handle and the same impressive branding that will be sure to impress all of your dinner guests.
There are three important differences between this knife and the knife above. One, this knife is shorter. It’s a mere 5″ instead of the 6.5″ of the knife above. This means it’s lighter, more nimble, and perfect for making lots of quick chops. If you’re cutting a giant pile of onions, however, or you’re making full use of the blade’s length with each vertical stroke, you’ll find this knife to be a slight downgrade over the larger version.
Two, this knife features Granton edges. This helps to keep food from sticking as you chop and is said to also improve the aerodynamics of the blade, although I’m quite skeptical of that claim. In this case, the Granton divots also highlight the Damascus styling, adding a series of unique accents to each side of your knife.
Third, the Damascus patterns on this knife are a bit different. When compared to the knife above, this blade has more layers. This means the patterns are even more bold and striking. It’s definitely more distinctive, although I personally prefer the cleaner look of the knife above.
Overall, this knife is excellent for people with smaller cutting boards, smaller budgets, or people who simply prefer a smaller knife. It’s short, light blade is absolutely perfect for all sorts of chopping, while the astounding aesthetics are sure to impress.
One of the most distinctive features of a high-end nakiri knife is the elegant hammered finish. By covering the edges of each knife in small, round depressions, knifemakers give you a surface that won’t stick to food in the slightest. This means that your totally flat, thin slices of tomato, potato, or what have you will effortlessly drop of the blade at the end of each slice.
Of course, the big benefit of this feature isn’t a functional one. Instead, it makes the knife look absolutely amazing. Shun has paired this beautifully hammered blade with a pakkawood handle, allowing the wood’s grain to naturally contrast with the gentle hammered finish of the blade. It’s a great style that looks wonderful, even when compared to the amazing Damascus knives above.
The knife itself is made from Shun’s special VG-MAX steel, a stainless blend that’s designed for maximum hardness and ease of care. This allows the knife to have a razor-sharp edge right out of the box and require very little maintenance, even if you use it daily. Of course, you’ll still want to hone, strop, and sharpen the blade occasionally, but you won’t need to do these things very often.
The only real downside to this knife is the length. At 5.5 inches, it’s definitely on the short side of what you’d want. In exchange for about an inch of metal, you get a lighter, more affordable knife. Again, I don’t think that you really mind having a 5.5″ knife instead of a 7″ in most cases, but it’s definitely worth mentioning.
Personally, I think this might be the best option if you want a Shun nakiri knife. This blade is beautiful, very functional, and suprisingly affordable given it’s branding and quality. You’ll love looking for excuses to show off this knife in front of your family and friends.
Wusthof Nakiri Knife
If you’re after something with a slightly more subdued style, this Wusthof nakiri is a great option. While Wusthof might not be as fancy as Shun, the venerable German brand still carries just as much weight among culinary professionals. This knife is sharp, durable, and designed to be absolutely perfect for both home and professional use.
The most striking feature of this knife is definitely the Granton edge. A series of small, oval-shaped divots lie just above the nearly flat cutting edge of this knife. They’re designed to help food slide off of the knife more easily. While other knives feature similar edges, this particular blade has slightly smaller divots that repeat slightly more frequently than some competitors.
The blade itself is made from high-carbon steel. It’s forged in Germany by craftsmen to an exacting standard, ensuring that the blade you get is of the highest quality. Performance wise, this blade definitely rivals the Shun knives above.
There are two small advantages of this Wusthof nakiri over the Shun blades reviewed earlier. First, it’s longer. This means that you have a few more inches of blade to work with when cutting. This makes several tasks a bit faster and easier. It’s definitely not a big difference for every cutting job, but there will be times when you appreciate the extra bit of knife.
Two, this knife features a classic, symmetrical handle. There’s no fiddling around with getting a different blade for lefties. Instead of having a smooth not-quite cylinder, you get an ergonomic handle that’s shaped to keep your fingers from sliding off. Again, this isn’t a huge deal in most cases, but it’s arguably more comfortable for most people.
If you’d like a big, functional, comfortable knife that definitely won’t let you down, this Wusthof is the knife for you. It’s got the right combination of price, style, and performance to make it a great buy for many chefs.
The Best Usuba Knife?
Usuba knives are a bit more complex than nakiris. Due to the asymmetrical grind and higher maintenance requirements, they’re definitely a specialty item. If you want one of the sharpest chopping tools around, however, here are a couple of knives to pick from.
This Shun knife is made from the same materials as the Shun Nakiris above. It’s a totally different beast, however. Featuring a killer edge and a subtle yet beautiful graffiti etching on the side of the blade, it’s a total monster in the kitchen that is sure to blow you away.
How sharp is this knife? It depends on how recently you’ve sharpened it, but the answer is usually “twice as sharp.” While normal knives have triangle-shaped edges, this knife doesn’t have an angled grind on each side. Instead, the triangle is effectively cut in half down the middle, making the cutting edge very thin and very fine. It slices through just about anything with incredible ease.
Single bevels (or knives that are only sharpened on one side) have both their upsides and their downsides. The first (and most obvious) difference between this knife and a traditional double-beveled knife is the way it cuts. This knife pulls slightly to one side as you slice through vegetables, meaning you’ll want to enter the food at a different angle than you normally would. Getting used to proper single-bevel knife techniques is a fun challenge that will keep you occupied for a few weeks. Once you’ve got them down, you’ll be able to produce incredibly thin vegetable slices in record time.
The second downside has to do with the thickness of the edge itself. Because single bevels are so thin, they’ll get damaged if you accidentally cut into something too hard or drop your knife. This knife should definitely only be used by an experienced chef who knows what he or she is doing. Otherwise, you risk damaging the beautiful, expensive blade.
Finally, maintaining the sort of crazy grind that you find on a knife like this isn’t easy. You’ll definitely need to strop or hone this knife regularly and take it in for sharpening occasionally. You can sharpen it at home yourself if you want, too, provided you have the proper whetstones for a hard knife like this.
If these things sound like upsides to you and not downsides, this Shun usuba is a wonderful knife for you. The hard VG-10 steel and stylish etchings combine to make a knife that’s incredibly functional and incredibly beautiful. Best of all, this knife is fairly affordable, especially given the premium branding, high-quality steel, and top-tier aesthetics.
Single-beveled knives aren’t for everyone. Instead, they’re for the people who like taking the time to care for and tinker with their knives for optimal performance. If you’re one of those folks who loves spending time with your tools, this unfinished Mashahiro usuba knife might be a better choice than the Shun above.
By “unfinished,” I don’t mean that this knife isn’t complete out of the box. On the contrary, you get a wonderful tool that’s immediately usable. What I do mean, however, is that the handle is unvarnished and the blade tends to be slightly less sharp out-of-the-box than blades from top brands like Dalstrong or Shun. This means that you’ve got a unique opportunity to customize your knife. I personally wouldn’t varnish the handle (it looks amazing as it is), but you could easily do so if you’d like. Additionally, the slightly rough factory edge is a perfect excuse to put an incredibly sharp single bevel on this knife. The 60-63 HRC steel will hold just about any edge you decide to put on it.
While I’m keen to rave about the fancy graffiti etchings and Damascus patterns on the Shun knives above, this blade is no less beautiful. It’s subtle, but the dark steel on the edge of the blade has a visible wave where it meets the hardened, sharpened core. You might not get quite as many compliments from your dinner guests when you use this knife, but it’s still an incredibly aesthetically appealing tool.
The best part of this knife, in my opinion, is the low price. It’s hard to find a high-quality usuba this cheap. You’ll probably want to sharpen it, sure, and the handle and blade will require a bit more care than something made from stainless steel, but you’ll get some darn good cutting performance at a fraction of the cost of the knives above.
If you love spending time with your tools, this Masahiro knife is a perfect choice. It’s a fairly inexpensive knife that’s made from darn good steel. The single-beveled edge might not be as sharp as you want out of the box, but that’s just an excuse to spend some time sharpening it yourself and getting to know your new knife.
What Should I Use My Nakiri For?
Nakiri knife use is usually limited to chopping vegetables, although many home (and professional) chefs will use their nakiris for cutting any soft food. The flat blade of a nakiri is best suited for up and down chopping motions with little rocking. This makes it a perfect knife to use with onions, carrots, potatoes, eggplant, and other foods that you want cut into thin, even slices. You can use your nakiri (or usuba) to cut tomatoes into incredibly thin slices with ease.
In general, if you have to pull your knife across the food you’re cutting, you want to use a rocking motion, or you want to pierce food with the tip of your knife, a nakiri is not the knife you want to use. If you’re using mostly up and down cutting motions, however, a nakiri is perfect for the job, as long as you’re not cutting bones or other hard objects.
The Best Nakiri Knife
All of the above knives are beautiful, functional, and competitively priced. If you want bold Damascus stylings or a hammered finish, try one of the Shun blades above. If you’d prefer a more subtle German style without giving up any quality, try the Wusthof. Finally, if you want one of the sharpest knives around, try one of the usubas. These single-beveled tools can pull off some pretty impressive stuff in the hands of an experienced chef.