The kiritsuke knife is one of the rare blades of Japanese knife collections, so it’s no surprise that people often ask, “what is a kiritsuke knife used for?” There is a lot of depth to this question. So, it can help you immensely to understand how the kiritsuke knife is built, its core functions, how it weighs up against other knives, and tasks you may want to avoid.
By the end of the article, you’ll know instinctively whether a kiritsuke knife would benefit you and the best ways to use a kiritsuke knife.
What is a kiritsuke knife used for?
At the most basic level, a kiritsuke knife is used to slice fish and chop vegetables. In many ways, it is a multi-purpose knife that can deliver solid results for various ingredients. In addition, it allows users to save on purchasing other knives.
One of the reasons the kiritsuke knife is relatively uncommon in the kitchen world is that it can be pretty difficult to use. They traditionally have a reputation for being used by executive chefs.
The kiritsuke knife is often referred to as the “executive chef knife” in Japan, a title given to it for its difficulty of use and its status symbol in the kitchen. Nowadays, the knife is relatively more affordable and has increased in popularity as a home kitchen knife.
That being said, its design remains the same as when it was first introduced. Albeit, the quality of materials used and handle ergonomics have slightly improved.
Essentially, the kiritsuke knife was built as a hybrid between two traditional Japanese knives, the yanagiba and the usuba knife. Yanagiba knives are fish slicer blades, while the usuba knife is a vegetable knife or cleaver. When combining the properties of these two knives, the fish-slicing, vegetable-dicing kiritsuke knife is born.
The kiritsuke knife is a versatile and multifunctional tool in the Japanese kitchen, often used by executive chefs due to its unique design. It features a long, thin blade ranging from 8-12 inches. In addition, it is typically made as a single-bevel knife, meaning that only one side of the blade is sharpened.
This design, along with the knife’s angled tip and slanted edge, can make it challenging to use for the average home cook.
However, there has been a trend toward shorter blade lengths in recent years. As a result, the availability of double-bevel kiritsuke knives offers more predictable results and better ergonomics for the user. These double-bevel knives are often referred to as variations of the gyuto knife, a Japanese equivalent to the western chef’s knife, and are more popular among home cooks.
The kiritsuke knife’s pointed tip, known as a “reverse tanto tip,” extends further out than the blade’s spine, connected at a 45-degree angle.
Its single-bevel edge is similar to a combination of a yanagiba knife (fish slicer) and an usuba knife (vegetable knife). In contrast, its double-bevel edge is similar to a sujihiki knife (double-bevel fish slicer) and a nakiri knife (double-bevel vegetable knife). This hybrid design allows the kiritsuke knife to excel at chopping and slicing vegetables and fish.
In addition to its unique blade design, the kiritsuke knife is known for its trapezoidal blade shape and relatively straight edge (1). This makes it easy to achieve clean, symmetrical cuts for vegetables. Its thin blade and angled tip also allow the slicing of thin pieces of fish and meat.
The kiritsuke knife is valuable to any kitchen, offering exceptional versatility and performance.
Pros and cons of the kiritsuke knife
- Multi-purpose Japanese kitchen knife, exceptional as a sashimi knife and vegetable dicer.
- Strong and durable materials in a high-carbon steel knife that is resistant to corrosion and rust and built for a lifetime of use.
- Forged steel blade offers greater durability and is less likely to snap, crack, or chip under high-pressure levels.
- The cutting edge is slanted just enough to promote rock-chopping vegetables but is straight enough to make slicing fish efficient.
- Excellent choice for highly skilled professional chefs to achieve precise cutting of fish and vegetables.
- Double bevel kiritsuke knives are available for common home cooks, allowing for a more effortless user experience.
- Single-bevel kiritsuke knives are difficult for non-experts, as cuts can become unpredictable without delicate blade handling.
- Handles typically come in D-shape wooden designs, which, while great for aesthetics, may not be ideal for ergonomics.
- It can be very expensive for a high-quality kiritsuke knife.
It has been said that the kiritsuke knife is similar to the gyuto, usuba, and yanagiba knife, but to what extent is this statement true? By understanding how these similar knives work, you can better understand what makes the kiritsuke knife stand out from the crop and what unique benefits it can bring.
The gyuto knife is the Japanese version of the western chef’s knife. It offers a multi-purpose functionality for chopping vegetables, slicing raw fish, and cutting thin slices of meat. The curved blade gives it a solid rocking motion capacity, and the sharp edge and pointed tip make it great for penetrating thick meats.
One thing the gyuto knife lacks, however, is its ability to specialize in any of its tasks, making it a great all-rounder knife but a poor executive chef knife.
The usuba knife is a vegetable cleaver knife with a square blade and a straight edge. This makes it exceptional for chopping vegetables in a symmetrical, streamlined manner. It resembles a kiritsuke knife in many ways, from design to functionality. However, it lacks the slanted “reverse tanto tip” and a thin blade for slicing raw fish.
That being said, the usuba truly excels in repetitive vegetable chopping tasks.
The yanagiba knife is every sushi chef’s favorite tool for slicing thin pieces of salmon sashimi, and tuna for Japanese cuisine. It is commonly referred to as the “fish sword,” it is built with an ultra-sharp point and a long, thin, narrow blade. It has a razor-sharp edge that is slightly slanted.
The blade length and slightly slanted edge are where the yanagiba and kiritsuke are most common. However, the yanagiba has little use outside of cutting fish.
Best ways to use a kiritsuke knife
The primary functions of the kiritsuke knife include chopping vegetables and slicing fish. A secondary role would be cutting meats such as beef or other miscellaneous ingredients like bread and fruit. You should use kiritsuke blades for fish-based dishes such as teriyaki salmon and vegetables, homemade sushi, or grilled fish and roast potatoes for best results.
The sharp and slightly slanted edge combined with the straight cutting edge and square-shaped blade. This makes the kiritsuke perfect for preparing Japanese cuisine that is heavy in fish and vegetables.
Using the kiritsuke knife is not easy, but it doesn’t have to be mission impossible with the right technique. To achieve the pinch grip technique, take your index finger and thumb and place them near the base of the blade or top of the handle. Then, use your remaining fingers to wrap around the middle and bottom section of the handle.
You can use a slight rocking or up-and-down motion to deal with vegetables against the cutting board.
Alternatively, you can apply a push-cutting technique. This involves placing your non-dominant hand flat on the blade’s spine for added power and control while chopping vegetables. This can be especially advantageous for a longer blade with a flat edge like the kiritsuke.
I recommend this cutting technique over the rocking motion for better vegetable-cutting results. However, in terms of slicing fish, you will need to apply more of the blade tip and ensure that you are always at a safe distance, preferably cutting in a motion directed away from you.
Kiritsuke knife vs chef knife
In some ways, the kiritsuke knife and the western chef knife are similar in that they can perform more than one cutting task. In that regard, it is essential to know that the chef’s knife can do more than the kiritsuke cutting different ingredients. Its primary functions encompass vegetables, fish, meats, and poultry.
This is because of the chef’s knife’s shorter blade length and more defined curved edge. This promotes flexibility, versatility, and adaptability with a broader range of ingredients and cutting motions.
In addition, the stainless steel blade of chef’s knives is made with a softer material that can bend more submissively to thicker textures.
In comparison, kiritsuke knives are made with tough Japanese steel. Often exceeding HRC levels of 60, it’s a stubborn blade more susceptible to cracking against thick ingredients. On the plus side, kiritsuke knives cut exceptionally well regarding the ingredients they were made for cutting.
Kiritsuke knife vs santoku knife
The santoku knife is much like a smaller, more user-friendly version of the Japanese chef’s knife. It encompasses the “three virtues” of cutting: vegetables, fish, and meat. Defined by its “sheep’s foot tip,” santoku knives are known to be easy for beginners. They are lightweight due to a thin, short blade ranging from 5-8 inches.
Like the western chef’s knife, the santoku knife fails to specialize in any task. However, this is typically not an issue for home cooks that benefit most from all-purpose “jack-of-all-trades” kitchen knives (2).
In comparison, the kiritsuke blade is made with a straight edge and a reverse tanto tip as opposed to a sheep’s foot tip. This makes it a more challenging knife to use but, in turn delivers more precise and exceptional cuts suitable for a high-class fine dining restaurant.
Unlike chef knives, the kiritsuke manages to simultaneously be a multi-purpose knife and a specialist knife. It takes on traits of the usuba vegetable chopper and the yanagiba fish slicer.
Related: What is a Santoku Knife Used for?
Caring and maintenance
As a chef, having a high-quality kiritsuke knife in your kitchen is essential for precise cuts and efficient food preparation. However, like any tool, proper care and maintenance are key to ensuring its longevity and optimal performance.
First and foremost, it’s essential to establish a cleaning routine for your kiritsuke knife. While some brands may claim to be dishwasher safe, hand-washing the blade with warm water and a mild soap or detergent is generally best. This will help to prevent rust and other wear and tear on the blade.
Sharpening is another crucial aspect of maintaining a kiritsuke knife. Japanese specialist knives like the kiritsuke are known for their thin, hard blades, which can be more prone to chipping and cracking than western chef’s knives. For this reason, it’s essential to use the right tools when sharpening your kiritsuke knife.
While a honing steel rod may be suitable for western chef’s knives, it can be too harsh for the delicate blade of a kiritsuke. Instead, consider using a wet, oil, or diamond stone for sharpening.
Each of these options offers different levels of effectiveness and price. However, all can help to keep your kiritsuke knife’s edge sharp and strong. Just be sure to sharpen the blade regularly, ideally after every few uses.
By following these simple care and maintenance tips, you can ensure that your kiritsuke knife remains a reliable and effective tool in your kitchen for years to come.
What is a kiritsuke knife used for FAQ
Can Kiritsuke be used for meat?
Yes, the kiritsuke is a hybrid knife that primarily slices fish and chops vegetables, but it can also be used for cutting meat as a secondary function. However, a better meet cutting knife would be the gyuto “beef sword” knife for its curved blade edge and extra long blade length.
Are Kiritsuke knives good?
Kiritsuke knives are great for executive chefs skilled enough to use single-bevel blades. The kiritsuke can deliver exceptional cuts with raw fish and vegetables when used to its full potential. These are two key ingredient categories for Japanese cuisine cooking.
Whats the difference between a Bunka and Kiritsuke?
Similar in appearance, the bunka knife differs from the kiritsuke by sporting a wider blade with a shorter length. This makes the knife easier to use and more user-friendly for home cooks than professional chefs.