How to Use a Nakiri Knife - Techniques, Tips, and Care

Posted by Tara Hohenberger on

No matter what type of knife you are using, chef’s knife, gyuto, santoku or Chinese cleaver, having a well sharpened blade is paramount. Blades get dull by the friction of the edge dragging through the ingredient you are cutting as well as the impact with the cutting board. For this reason soft synthetic or end grain wood cutting boards are best for the edge life of your blades. No matter what, all blades will get dull over time and will need to be sharpened on whetstones from time to time. In this article we will discuss the nakiri knife and the proper way to use this popular vegetable knife.

What is a Nakiri Knife

Nakiri knives are the double-edged Western style equivalent of a single edged Japanese usuba or vegetable knife.  They feature a straight square blade, like a small cleaver and are ideal for vegetable centric cuts such as julienne, brunoise and allumette. Nakiri are ideal for precision vegetable cuts and is a great option for cutting into dense, hard skinned veggies like pumpkins, squash and root vegetables.

Can you cut meat with a nakiri? It’s possible cut thought boneless pieces of meat with a high quality nakiri knife, but it’s not ideal. Sooner or later a user will find the need for the pointed tip of a gyuto - chef’s knife or santoku when preparing meat.

What does nakiri translate to? Literally na-kiri means leaf or vegetable cutter. This is the knife most commonly reached for in Japanese home kitchens when dealing with any number of vegetables, whether hard-skinned items like squash, potatoes and root vegetables or leafy greens like spinach. A nakiri produces clean cuts like you would expect with a high quality Japanese kitchen knife.

    The Design of the Nakiri

    • Shape: A nakiris is a small rectangular cleaver, usually around 7” in length with a flat blade perfect for precision cuts for vegetables.
    • Type of steel: Our nakiri collection features several steel options including stainless steel and high carbon options.
    • Texture: Texture on the blade, like hammered tsuchime details are useful for nakiri knives. This texture helps dense ingredients like potatoes from clinging to the blade. This quick food release allows for quicker efficient chopping.  
    • Weight and balance: Weight and balance varies by knife maker but in general Japanese Nakiri knives tend to be light to medium weight.
    • How and Why the Nakiri works so well: The rectangular blade shape of a nakiri is designed to enable efficient vertical chopping for large hard produce. One of the greatest aspects of a nakiri is the effortlessness in which you can cut items that are traditionally hard to cut. Take a watermelon for example, a simple tap with the blade of a nakiri can easily split the fruit in half. The same goes for super hard items like pumpkins and butternut square. The blade really does all of the work without straining through the difficult produce.

    Types of Nakiri Knives

    There is little variation on a typical double bevel nakiri knife. The rectangular blade is generally uniform in size and shape. One unique variation is the Edogata Nakiri, a traditional style of vegetable knife used by households in the Kanto (Tokyo) area.   This knife's profile has a forward orientation, with the blade gaining height from heel to tip.  Although it may look unfamiliar at first, this style is a tried and true classic that performs extremely well. Other styles of vegetable knife is the bunka - which is basically a nakiri with a pointed tip and usuba, a single-edged vegetable knife with either a square tip or a curved option for the kamagata usuba.

      What Makes a Nakiri Different From Other Knives

      • Nakiri vs Santoku - A nakiri is more square than the all purpose santoku knife. it has a blunt tip in place of the pointed tip on a santoku.
      • Nakiri vs Chef’s Knife - Again, a nakiri is more square that a gyuto or chef’s knife. It’s also typically an inch or two shorter than an average chef’s knife.
      • Nakiri vs Usuba - both of these knives are great for slicing vegetables and decorative cutting, but a nakiri is double-edged, meaning the blade is sharpened on both sides for right or left -handed use, whereas the usuba is completely single-bevel, sharpened on one side (left handed usuba knives can be special ordered).
      • Nakiri vs. Other Cleavers - Nakiri blades are much shorter in length and less wide from blade edge to spine than a Chinese cleaver or meat cleaver however, they feature the same sharp edge and flat blade for precise cuts.

      The Nakiri Cutting Technique

      Nakiris are made for a straight up and a down, vertical chopping motion, rather than the push and pull or rocking motion for a gyuto or chef’s knife.

      What You Can Cut With a Nakiri

      Nakiris are made to cut any number of fruit or vegetable. The following is a list of items that a nakiri can cut extremely effectively.
          • pumpkins

          • butternut squash

          • watermelons, cantaloupe and honeydews

          • potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes

          • onions

          • radishes

          • cucumbers

          • peppers

        Cutting Different Types of Vegetables

        How to cut leafy greens - First, cut out the hard stems, roll up and make slices of the desired width like a chiffonade

        How to cut apples - For apple slices, remove the core and cut off the four sides. Slice the desired width in one motion.

        How to cut onions - Cut in half from root to top, lay the flat side down and cut towards the center for slices. For a dice, make even cuts from top of the onion towards the cutting board, rotate the onion 90º and slice again for perfect cubes.

        How to cut herbs - For leafy herbs like basil, remove the leaves from the stem and stack them, then roll and cut to desired thinness. For parsley and basil, remove the hard stems and cleanly chop the leaves to the desired fineness.

          Hand Placement

          Different grip methods: A pinch grip where the thumb and pointer finger pinch either side of the blade and the remaining fingers wrap around the handle allows for good control of the blade. The other option is a hammer grip, which is exactly what it sounds like. Grip the knife handle like you would for a hammer, thumb on one side with the remaining fingers wrapped around the handle.

          Knuckles against the blade: With the non cutting hand, bend your four fingers under and use the knuckles as a guide to coax the ingredient toward the cutting blade, while keeping the fingertips out of line of the blade.

          Posture - stand up straight, with feet firmly planted on the ground. Relax your shoulders and keep your neck comfortable.

            Care

            Be careful not to scrape your blade against the cutting board when clearing it of chopped ingredients. This will dull the blade faster.

            How to care for your knife - wash with soap and water, dry immediately this is important will all steel types including high carbon stainless steel.

              How to sharpen a Nakiri - Sharpen a nakiri like any other Japanese style knife using whetstones. Find sharpening tips and techniques in our video guide featuring an expert knife sharpener here.

                How to Buy a Nakiri

                The best nakiri knife for you will depend on several factors. As is the case in choosing any knife, you will want to consider the steel type, high carbon or corrosion resistant stainless steel. Second you will want to decide if you prefer a western style handle, or a traditional wa style handle. Then choose if you want a lighter or heftier model and what price point is right for you.

                Our Top Recommended Knives

                Here are some of our top selling nakiri knives
                This knife offers exceptional value for the price. Clad in stain-resistant steel with a VG10 cutting core, these knives get razor sharp and have excellent durability. At 60 on the Rockwell scale, Tojiro DPs maintain a great edge even under professional use.
                  These knives are completely hand-forged and shaped from Blue Steel #2 by blacksmith Shoji Yoshida in Shimabara, Kyushu. Yoshida-san attaches soft iron ore completely by hand using no automation in the process, then leaves the blades unpolished in the kurouchi style that is typical of the region. This finish not only looks cool, but helps prevent oxidation of carbon steel.
                    Forged by Master Blacksmith Itsuo Doi from Homura Blue #2 Steel, these double-beveled knives are named Guren, meaning red lotus, inspired by the vibrant red color of the flames generated by the rare pine charcoal that Master Blacksmith Doi uses in the forge.  Meticulously alternating between low-temperature forging, cold hammering and traditional water quenching, Doi leaves the blade with a rustic kurouchi finish and the distinct pattern left by his hammer. 
                      Forged in Tosa, Japan out of stainless Ginsan (silver 3) steel. Ginsan is known for being a tough steel with excellent edge retention and easy maintenance. The blades are finished in the nashiji style, hand sharpened and fitted with octagonal oak handles. Kazan is made exclusively for Chubo.

                        Conclusion

                        A double bevel nakiri is a great knife to add to your collection. A nakiri’s straight edge, thin blade and wide cutting surface is perfect for precise cuts and will improve vegetable preparation for both home cooks and professional chefs exponentially.

                         

                         

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