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What is a Kiritsuke Knife?

The Kiritsuke is one of the few traditionally multi-purpose Japanese-style knives, and is a hybrid between the Yanagiba (raw fish slicer for sashimi) and the Usuba (Japanese-style vegetable knife). This versatile knife features a long blade like a Yanagiba and a straight cutting edge like an Usuba, resulting in a hybrid design with dual personalities; it can be used like an Usuba for cutting vegetables, or like a Yanagiba to easily slice raw fish. Its long and flat blade, straight edge and angled ‘reverse tanto’ or ‘clip point’ tip lends the Kiritsuke its signature sword shape.

Like most traditional Japanese knives, the Kiritsuke is a single bevel knife, meaning that only one side of the blade is ground to form a razor-sharp edge. A double bevel Kiritsuke usually refers to a variation of the Gyuto knife with a Kiristuke-style edge, and is often labeled as a Kiristuke Gyuto or a K-tip Gyuto.

Because the Kiritsuke is essentially a combination of both Usuba and Yanagiba knives which are developed for very different tasks, considerable skills are required to master the use of this unique Kiritsuke design with its considerable length, height, weight and its single-bevel edge. For this reason, the single bevel Kiritsuke is traditionally reserved for use by only executive chefs in Japanese kitchens, and is regarded as a symbol of status, expertise and seniority.

What does Kiritsuke mean?

Literally translated, ‘Kiritsuke’ in Japanese means to ‘slit open’. True to its name, the long and tall blade combined with its straight, sharp edge and angled ‘reverse tanto’ tip makes the Kiritsuke an all-rounder for preparing Japanese cuisine, such as to slit and finely slice vegetables, or prepare glossy and smooth slices of raw fish for sashimi.

What is a Kiritsuke knife best for?

The Kiritsuke is best for cutting vegetables and slicing fish, just like the Usuba and the Yanagiba. It can also be used to thinly slice or portion boneless proteins, such as chicken. However, it is not a substitute for a Chef’s Knife or the Gyuto, and should not be treated like one.

As one of the few multipurpose traditional Japanese knives, the sword shape of the Kiritsuke features a straighter edge than a Yanagiba for cutting vegetables, and a longer blade than an Usuba to allow the knife to slice fish with ease. The long, flat blade is great for chopping large vegetables, however the straight edge doesn’t allow for the rock-chopping technique that is favored by many Western cooks. Rather, the Kiritsuke requires a pull-cut motion for slicing raw fish and a push-cut motion for slicing vegetables.

Kiritsuke knife characteristics

Size

The single bevel Kiritsuke knife is a versatile knife that can be used to perform tasks usually done by the Yanagiba and Usuba, namely for slicing fish and cutting thin slices of vegetables. The Kiritsuke is available in a variety of blade lengths, ranging from 240mm to 330mm. The larger 270mm size is our recommendation, as it is long enough to perform the long drawing cuts when slicing fish, as is usually done with the Yanagiba.

The Kiritsuke is traditionally taller than a Yanagiba, so if you find a knife with a long and narrow blade and an angled tip, it is most probably not the standard Kiritsuke but the Kensaki Yanagiba, which is also called the Kiritsuke Yanagiba and features the distinct ‘reverse tanto’ tip on a Yanagiba blade.

Shape

The Kiritsuke has a sword-like shape with its long and flat blade, straight edge and angled ‘reverse tanto’ or ‘clip point’ tip. The edge of the blade is straighter than a Yanagiba, and the length of the blade is longer than an Usuba. If you’re familiar with the Kiritsuke Yanagiba (also called the Kensaki Yanagiba), the traditional single bevel Kiritsuke has a similar profile, but is a wider version of the Kiritsuke Yanagiba with more height and a flatter edge.

The heel section of the Kiritsuke is virtually flat, and can be used just like an Usuba. The flat profile of the Kiritsuke works best with a push-cutting technique, and is great for chopping thin slices of vegetables. The angled tip is useful for precise cutting, and the long length of the blade allows you to easily slice through raw fish and proteins in one swift pull-cut, which helps to preserve the texture of the food and minimize damage to the cells which can discolor or change the taste of the food.

Edge

The Kiritsuke knife has a single bevel edge, which means that it is only ground on one side of the blade to achieve an extremely sharp cutting edge. The other side of the blade is slightly concave, which gives the Kiritsuke an unique non-stick property that allows the perfectly thin slices to be removed easily without sticking to the blade. When using a single bevel knife, only the cutting edge of the blade lightly touches the food being cut, making it ideal for preserving the natural freshness, flavor and texture of the food.

However, single bevel knives require a learning process to master cutting straight with this “handed” knife. Right-handed Kiritsukes tend to pull to the left while cutting, whereas left-handed Kiritsukes tend to pull to the right. It should also be noted that most single bevel knives are created for right-handed use, so if you are left-handed, be sure to look for a left-handed Kiritsuke knife.

Handle

Kiritsuke knife handles can be categorized into two categories: the traditional Japanese ‘Wa-Handle’, or a Western-style handle. Most Kiritsuke knives feature a wooden Wa-Handle.

The most common Wa-Handle shapes are the D-shape, oval, or octagonal. While some prefer the ergonomic grip of a D-shaped or octagonal handle, the choice of the handle comes down to personal preference.

How are Kiritsuke knives made?

To understand how exactly the Kiritsuke knives are made and to decode the common phrases that are found in descriptions of Kiritsuke knives, it’s necessary to look at how traditional Japanese knives are forged and what materials are used.

There are two basic categories of Japanese knives - honyaki and kasumi - which are defined by the materials and methods used in their forging.

honyaki (“true-forged”) knives are manually forged by hand following traditional Japanese blacksmithing techniques, and are created entirely out of one single material: high-carbon steel (hagane). The hagane is generally a type of White Steel (Shirogami) or Blue Steel (Aogami), and this style of knife blade is also called a mono steel blade.

The method of creating a honyaki knife is similar to how Katanas (Japanese traditional swords) were made in the past. Forging a Yanagiba knife is a lengthy and difficult manual process that begins with a single high-carbon steel blank, and involves multiple rounds of heat treatment, steel hammering, kilning, polishing and sharpening - all done manually by the hands of skilled Japanese blacksmiths in traditional knife-making cities such as Sakai (in Osaka), Seki (in Gifu), and Echizen (in Fukui).

Because honyaki knives are forged from high-carbon steel, its blade is extremely hard and can be sharpened to incredibly thin and sharp edges, which will remain sharp for a long time. However, they are challenging to resharpen and prone to chipping, cracking or breaking if used improperly. Due to the small-scale production and the highly-skilled artisan nature of the blacksmiths, honyaki knives are more expensive, and recommended for experienced and professional chefs who can maintain them.

On the other hand, kasumi (“mist”) knives are made by joining together a piece of soft iron (jigane) with a piece of high-carbon steel (hagane) to create a laminated blade. After forging, hammering and shaping, the carbon steel (hagane) becomes the cutting edge and backside of the blade, while the soft iron (jigane) forms the body and spine of the blade. The hazy appearance of the soft iron body of the blade in contrast with the glossy carbon steel gives kasumi its signature ‘mist’ appearance, as referenced by its name. Thanks to the added soft iron, kasumi blades have reduced brittleness overall, and are cheaper and easier to sharpen than honyaki knives.

In relation to kasumi knives, Hon Kasumi or Hongasumi knives are also commonly found, and refers to a higher grade of kasumi knives. Although Hongasumi knives are made in the same way as kasumi knives, they are often made from higher quality materials and involve extra attention and steps in its forging, tempering, polishing and finishing processes.

For more information on how Japanese knives are made and the types of steels used, check out our blog on how Japanese knives are made. (link coming soon).

What are common types of Kiritsuke knives?

Kiritsuke knife variants are often a source of confusion, as some retailers tend to ambiguously label different variants as simply ‘Kiritsuke’, when in fact they are a Kensaki Yanagiba (also called Kiritsuke Yanagiba), or a Kiritsuke Gyuto (also called double bevel Kiritsuke or K-tip Gyuto). These are the most common types of Kiritsuke knife variants.

Kiritsuke Yanagiba - also called Kensaki Yanagiba

The Kiritsuke Yanagiba is a variant of the Yanagiba knife, and is also called the Kensaki Yanagiba. The Kensaki Yanagiba also features a single-bevel edge and the distinct ‘reverse tanto’ tip, however it has a narrower blade than the Kiritsuke and is specifically designed for slicing raw fish for dishes such as sashimi or nigiri sushi. The blade length ranges from 240mm to 330mm.

Kiritsuke Gyuto - also called Double Bevel Kiritsuke or K-tip Gyuto

The Kiritsuke Gyuto is a variant of the Japanese chef’s knife, the Gyuto, and is often referred to as the double bevel Kiritsuke due to the blade being ground on both sides, just like a typical Western-style knife. The Kiritsuke Gyuto is recommended for those who are attracted to the style of the Kiritsuke and its angled ‘reverse tanto’ tip, but are looking for more versatility in terms of use. The double bevel grind also helps users to avoid the learning curve that is associated with single bevel knives.

The Kiritsuke Gyuto tends to have less of a blade curve (or ‘belly’) than the typical Gyuto, making them less ideal for rock-chopping but better suited for push-cutting, or tap-chopping. Kiritsuke Gyuto knives are typically available in blade lengths between 240mm to 330mm, with the 270mm size being a popular alternative to the Gyuto.

If you’re trying to decide between the Kiritsuke and the Gyuto as your next general all-rounder knife, here’s a helpful quick video that highlights the differences between the Kiritsuke and the Gyuto based on their cutting techniques, versatility, ease of use and more:

What are popular Kiritsuke knife brands?

Kiritsuke knives originated from Japan, and to this day, there are traditional Japanese blacksmiths in famous knife-making cities such as Sakai (in Osaka), Seki (in Gifu) and Echizen (in Fukui) who still forge Kiritsuke knives manually by hand. Some popular Kiritsuke knife brands include:

  • Gekko
  • Shun
  • Masamoto
  • Yoshihiro
  • Suisin
  • Tojiro

How to choose a Kiritsuke knife

If you’ve got your heart set on buying a Kiritsuke knife, it can seem difficult to figure out which particular Kiritsuke knife will be perfect for you, especially if you haven’t had the chance to try out a few models in person to get a feel for which size and weight of the Kiritsuke feels the most balanced and comfortable in your hand.

You can see our best recommendations here, but here are some factors to first consider that will help you to choose your Yanagiba knife:

  • Types of steel
  • Handle styles
  • Ideal size
  • Your budget

Which steel should I choose for my Kiritsuke knife?

Generally speaking, you have a choice between carbon steel and stainless steel when buying a Yanagiba knife. The type of steel you choose will determine the knife’s edge retention, how easy it is to sharpen, level of resistance to corrosion and rusting, and its overall durability. You can first evaluate which of these factors is the most important for you, and narrow it down from there.

Carbon-steel blades are easier to sharpen and maintain their sharp edges for longer, but require more maintenance as it is prone to rust and corrosion. Over time, a dark patina will form on a carbon-steel knife, but some people like the look of a patina. Popular options include White Steel (Shirogami) and Blue Steel (Aogami).

stainless steel blades are generally less expensive, tougher, less likely to chip and more corrosion-resistant, however are harder to sharpen and tend to dull quicker. Popular options include VG-10, SG-2, AUS-10, Gingami #3 and Swedish stainless steel.

What is the best handle for a Kiritsuke knife?

The handle of your Kiritsuke knife will determine how balanced the knife feels in your hand and how comfortable it feels to use.

Consider your usual grip on a knife. If you mostly hold the knife by the handle, a shaped or tapered Western-style handle will feel more comfortable and familiar to you.

If you hold the knife by using a pinch grip, a traditional Japanese-style handle (also called a ‘wa-handle’) will feel great in your hand. The most common Wa-Handle shapes are the D-shape, oval, or octagonal. While some prefer the ergonomic grip of a D-shaped or octagonal handle, it all comes down to personal preference.

Most traditional Kiritsuke knives have a Japanese-style handle made of wood.

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How do I take care of a Kiritsuke knife?

When purchasing a Kiritsuke knife, it’s important to think about how you will care for and maintain your Kiritsuke knife. Kiritsuke knives should only be sharpened with water whetstones, and always be hand washed and dried after use to prevent rusting and corrosion.

There are lots of detailed videos on YouTube which show you step-by-step how to sharpen your Kiritsuke knife. Otherwise, some Kiritsuke knife sellers offer a paid sharpening service by trained Japanese knife sharpeners, which can be a wise option to preserve the sharpness of the single bevel blade.

How much should I spend on a Kiritsuke knife?

There are countless options for a Kiritsuke knife, with many Kiritsuke Gyutos available at entry-level prices to traditionally hand-forged single bevel Kiritsuke knives for over $500. Setting your own spending limit will help narrow down your hunt for the best value Kiritsuke knife.

Because of the steep learning curve related to the single bevel Kiritsuke knife, it is harder to find entry-level priced choices for a single bevel Kiritsuke knife. If you’re looking to try out the Kiritsuke style but feel more comfortable with double bevel knives, the Kiritsuke Gyuto is a nice compromise.

Our favorite entry-level Kiritsuke knives include the Dalstrong Kiritsuke Chef Knife from the Shogun Series with Japanese AUS-10V Super Steel and the Findking Prestige Series 9-Inch Kiritsuke Knife, both of which are good value for the types of steel used. If you’re looking to invest a little more, the Shun Dual Core CG0017 8-Inch Kiritsuke Knife comes highly recommended as the winner of the 2014 Knife of the Year at The Blade Show held in Atlanta, Georgia. Winners are judged on a wide range of criteria such as design, innovation, function and craftsmanship, and selected by the vote of industry professionals, so it’s sure to be a lasting investment piece.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I buy a Kiritsuke knife?

Traditionally, single bevel Kiritsuke knives are regarded as ‘master chef’ knives and reserved for only the executive chef in Japanese kitchens, as they require a great deal of knife control and skills to master its unique design. If you already have some experience with single bevel knives and are searching for a versatile knife that can be used for both vegetables and fish, the single bevel Kiritsuke knife will meet your needs.

However, as the Kiritsuke is a hybrid knife, some of the exceptional slicing abilities of the Yanagiba and the Usuba are compromised when blended together into the Kiritsuke. If you’re serious about getting the best slices of sashimi or expertly thin slices of vegetables, the Yanagiba, Usuba and Nakiri are our best alternative recommendations. If you wish to own a hybrid of the Yanagiba and Usuba but are hesitant because of the significant learning curve of a single bevel knife, a Kiritsuke Gyuto is a nice compromise.

How do you sharpen a Kiritsuke knife?

Sharpening a Kiritsuke knife should only be done with water whetstones. To sharpen a single bevel knife, follow the bevel and begin at the tip of the knife, followed by the rest of the cutting edge from the tip of the knife to the heel of the blade.

Here’s a quick video on how to sharpen a single bevel knife, which will work on a Kiritsuke as well:

For more information, visit our page on how to sharpen Japanese knives. (link coming soon)

Who makes the best Kiritsuke knife?

At Japanese Knives Guide, we believe that the best Kiritsuke knife is one that fits your budget, grip style, expected steel type and your chosen size of the blade. Of course, this will differ from one person to the next, so our ‘best’ recommendations are always those which present great value for money for a relatively new Japanese knife enthusiast.

If you’re new to the world of Japanese knives, our foolproof recommendation is this: before jumping at the first chance to own an expensive, high-end Kiritsuke knife, be realistic about the learning curve that is involved for using and caring for Japanese knives.

While the exquisite hand-crafted Kiritsuke knives with the hardest and most expensive steel may catch your attention, it’ll become quite a different story when you realize that the hefty price tag also comes with the need to re-learn the basics of cutting straight with a single bevel blade, as well as the high-maintenance care routine that is required for the finest Japanese knives. Rather than dish out a few hundred dollars from the beginning without much experience, why not try your hand with a budget-friendly Kiritsuke knife to see if it’s the right fit for you?

Amazon is an accessible and reputable retailer with plenty of Kiritsuke knife options, a transparent customer review section and an incredibly generous returns policy, which makes it the perfect hassle-free and worry-free option for first-time owners of a Kiritsuke knife. There are many specialized smaller retailers out there, but you’ll be hard pressed to find one that can provide as much peace of mind with the same level of service and returns policy as Amazon.

For those who have never used a Kiritsuke knife before, our recommended entry-level Kiritsuke knives include the Dalstrong Kiritsuke Chef Knife from the Shogun Series with Japanese AUS-10V Super Steel and the Findking Prestige Series 9-Inch Kiritsuke Knife, both of which are good value for the types of steel used.

If you’re looking to invest a little more, the Shun Dual Core CG0017 8-Inch Kiritsuke Knife comes highly recommended as the winner of the 2014 Knife of the Year at The Blade Show held in Atlanta, Georgia. Winners are judged on a wide range of criteria such as design, innovation, function and craftsmanship and selected by votes from industry professionals, so it’s sure to be a lasting investment piece.

Where to buy a Kiritsuke knife

Amazon is our retailer of choice for purchasing a Kiritsuke knife, as they’re easily accessible, have a standing reputation for great customer service and a transparent customer review section and offer a variety of options for Kiritsuke knives

While there are many smaller retailers who specialize in just Japanese knives, Amazon offers a very generous returns policy, so you can make your purchase hassle-free with further peace of mind.

Some of our favorite Kiritsuke knives include:

Kiritsuke Knife

Name: 
切付包丁 (切りつけ)
Rōmaji:
Kiritsuke Bōchō
Sizing:
240-330mm
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